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Reverb10 – Day 2: Writing

December 2 – Writing.
What do you do each day that doesn’t contribute to your writing — and can you eliminate it?
(Author: Leo Babauta)

I write, and then I wait for the input of my supervisors.

I usually write a draft (conference) paper in a concentrated writing wave of about 2 or 3 days. In the best cases, I just sit down in my office, connect to grooveshark for my favorite music, and start writing and writing. I then print out my first draft. About a week later, I proofread this draft, make some changes (typically this involves considerable changes) and then I submit it to my advisors for their input.

There are two things I would like to discuss in further detail concerning my writing.

Avoiding writer’s block

I’ve found my way to avoid writer’s block and to actually enjoy writing.

All through my childhood and teenage days, I enjoyed writing. I wrote short stories, kept a diary and I wrote poems (and participated in an organization for poetry and young people, and in competitions and all fun stuff I enjoyed back then). Acknowledging the fact that, in essence, I enjoy writing was a first step to overcome my fear of an empty white screen.

Knowing this, I started to write intensely for my PhD. I started to write discussions and summaries of interesting papers and documents I had been reading. I started to write out the results of my parameter studies. I started writing a large literature review which I update every time I come across an interesting paper.

You might wonder, what is the use of my overactive typing? To me, the value of this is that I always have some information ready to pull contents from. When I write a paper in which I compare my experimental results to code methods, I don’t have to spend much time on explaining those code methods. I can simply pull the information from one of my documents, and then alter it a bit to fit the contents and purpose of the paper under consideration.

The value of other people’s input

I don’t feel confident about my scientific writing yet. By the time I write and defend my dissertation, I hope will have found this confidence. As for now, I still heavily rely on the input of others. But, since my advisors are very busy people, I have the impressions they do not really have the time to deeply check my writing and will only get what I call the “first level” errors out of it: typos and little lacks in the text and drawings. However, to really learn to become a better writer, I hope to get some more structural feedback: leave out a certain section, discuss something else…

Therefore, I have tried to determine for myself why and when I find a paper well-written. I am trying to learn from other people’s writing style and implementing this into my own style. However, I still feel that I need a guiding hand in my writing.

What helped you to become a better scientific writer?

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