Archive | January, 2013

January is for writing

9 Jan

A new month has started and I decided to use it to focus on becoming a better writer. For me, writing is one of the favorite parts of being a scientist. Obviously, writing is also very important for my work, because the written word is one of the main communication tools in science. January is a good month to write. No holidays, no conferences, just four-and-a-half weeks of uninterrupted time to work. So, as I plan to write both a paper and a grant proposal this month, it is the perfect time to “become a better writer.” My goals are simple:

1. Learn to write more convincing and easier to follow texts.
2. Learn to write papers and proposals more efficiently.

In order to do this, I plan to follow other people’s advice.

1. I will watch videos and read blogs on writing papers and proposals.
2. I will read the relevant chapters in the HHMI lab management book. If you don’t own this book already, you should definitely order it. It is useful and free.
3. I will read parts of The Elements of Style book and apply what I learn.

A one page narrative

I already watched one video on writing papers and thought it was pretty good. What I took from it is to write a one page narrative of the contents of a paper before starting to actually write the paper. If you cannot write this one page narrative, you are not ready to write the paper.

I use a similar rule – or rather a set of rules – for presentations. Before even thinking about the slides, I need to have the story ready (usually written out entirely). Before I start to write the entire story, I prepare an informal abstract. And before writing the abstract, I will write a one-sentence take home message. This way, I am sure that I don’t end up with slides but no story. The other way around (a story but no slides) wouldn’t be so bad – but in reality this never happens: as soon as the story is there, the slides can be made in almost no time.

By the way, I used this site from the Purdue Writing Lab to check that my use of commas in this blog post is correct. Commas are complicated, especially in English and German.

If you have tips on how to become a better writer, I would love to hear from you!