I recently gave a class on writing for research to a wonderful group of health science postgraduate students. It was a great opportunity to gather some of my ideas about writing for research, and to offer a condensed version of what I try to teach my thesis students over their thesis writing period.
My main points can be summed up as follows.
- Writing is a learned skill
- Writing is an iterative process
- Academic writing is about constructing and communicating an argument
- There are well-established ways to edit our writing for both clarity and coherency.
Writing is a learned skill
If you do a quick search for internet memes around writing, almost all of them highlight the hard work that goes in to writing well. I offer a short selection here arranged around themes:
Writing is easy…?
Writing is hard.
Writing takes practice:
Do any of these memes connect with your feelings or experience of writing? The fact that these are so regularly shared and readily available on the internet is probably evidence that many people see writing as a learned skill, and have experienced improvement.
The point? When you read a beautiful piece of writing or a clear and coherent academic article or report, you might be tempted to think “Well, I’m just not that gifted at writing.” But my experience has been that people who find writing difficult often make the best writers. They go out of their way to learn good techniques of communication and they agonize over their words in a way the rest of us might not.
I have learned a lot about writing from my dear colleague Jenny Cameron. And she has told me previously that for her, writing is like squeezing blood from a stone. EVERY word and sentence is drawn out and thought through. But her academic writing is probably the clearest and most coherent I have yet to see. She has gone out of her way to learn and teach good academic writing, and it shows.
So take heart – you can learn to be a good writer with a bit of practice and guidance! See my next post on writing as an iterative process to get a few more tips.