Writing in the Sciences - Writing Process

Updated

This post covers the topics mentioned in Writing in the Sciences offered on Coursera.

Writing Process

The writing process includes three steps:

A lot of people often convolute step 2 and 3. They try to write and revise at the same time, which is anything but efficient. It’s hard to resist the impulse to be perfect. Paying too much attention to details obfuscates the whole picture. Unsurprisingly, the class poll shows most people focus on the writing step:

writing-poll

A better time allocation would look like:

  1. Prewriting (70%)
  2. Writing the first draft (10%)
  3. Revision (20%)

The Prewriting

The key to prewriting is to get organized first. What it means is you shouldn’t try to write and gather information simultaneously. Instead, you should gather and organize information before writing the first draft. That means you need to have an organization system to help you keep track of various thoughts. I personally found writing this blog a really good way to keep myself motivated but there are definitely alternatives.

Compositional Organization

Here are some simply tips to help organizing ideas:

The Writing

This is hardest step for most people. This where you pop up a blank windows and start up writing. The biggest tips is to not be a perfectionist. The first draft should aims to get the ideas down in complete sentences in order. You should even purposefully set a low bar to get the first draft out quickly.

Focus on logical organization more than sentence-level details.

The recommended order for writing a manuscript is:

Step 1 to 3 involve the most concrete things to put down. They help you frame the introduction.

Tips for Writing Results

Here are a few tips for writing results:

Writing Introductions

The good news is that the introduction is easier to write than you may realize. Typically, the recommended range for an introduction is 2 to 5 paragraphs long. The introduction forms a cone structure:

introduction-structure-cone

The idea is to start from something general, then quickly narrow down to your specific study. So an introduction starts from some general background, then to what’s unknown. Then we narrow down to our hypothesis. In summary, the introduction is divided into:

The structure corresponds to roughly 3 paragraphs: step 1 = paragraph 1; step 2 = paragraph 2; 3-5 = paragraph 3.

Some of the tips for writing an introduction include:

The Revision

Surprising to me, the first big tip is to read your writing out loud, because the brain processes the spoken word differently than the written word.

The second tip is to do a verb check. You should underline the main verb in each sentence, and watch out for:

Some words should also be cut out:

In addition, watch for

Most of these tips are already covered before in Cut the Clutter and Verbs

The next tips is to do an organizational review. For example, you can tag each paragraph with a phrase or sentence that sums up the main point in the margins of the paper. Then you can move paragraphs around to improve logical flow and bing similar ideas together.

Another interesting tip is to get feedback, especially those from people without any technical background. Ask if they can grasp the main findings or significance of the work, as well as those hard-to-read sentences and paragraphs. If an average Joe can understand your paper, chances people in your field can understand it are much higher.

More Tips

Other notes including Cut the Clutter, Verbs, and Structure are also available.