Tuesday, February 19, 2013
Writer's Lab: Seven Lessons from Academic Writing
These different styles of writing have merged into my head, and have influenced each other. Today, I want to share with you how academic writing has improved my writing in general.
1. Brevity and clarity
Communicating research and writing non-fiction require a style that is cleared from all hyperboles and metaphors. For poets, metaphors and images are their daily bread.
Practicing the complete opposite, and describing a process in a succinct manner, is an enriching experience.
You can try out the following exercise: write a short story, in your personal writing style. Then, write a revised version, in which you replace all metaphors by factual descriptions. Next, write a version in which you replace all descriptions, movements and objects in a creative new way.
2. All practice is good
The key to successful writing, regardless of your style of choice, is practice, practice and more practice. All writing practice, whether it is blogging, journaling, writing poems or writing academic publications, helps you developing writing as a skill.
Scientific publications are held together by their structure, which functions as the skeleton of the piece of writing. When the structure is not clear, it becomes impossible to communicate the findings of the research to the readers.
Learning how to precisely distinguish if an idea belongs to the introduction, survey of the literature, methods, results or discussion section teaches the author to think deeper about how text structure helps to convey a message – a skill very useful for blogging.
For most publications, the abstract is written before the actual paper. Upon acceptance of the abstract, the paper is written. Many authors finish the writing process of their publication by improving their abstract once more.
This circle of going from summary to full text to a summary, is interesting for fiction writers as well as bloggers. This exercise helps you to analyze if you can stay on track with your idea, or if during writing your main ideas start to wander.
5. Taking the reader by the hand
As new scientific ideas are communicated mostly by publishing research papers, it is absolutely necessary to take the reader by the hand and guide him/her through the development of a new idea. If the author fails to keep the red tread very clear, or does not explain parts of the reasoning behind the idea, the initial goal of the publication –to convey a novel idea- goes lost.
6. Review process
Submitting a paper for review is a process that feels similar to sending in poems to a contest, or pitching online editors with a blog post idea.
Sometimes you are met with complete incomprehension, sometimes your work is ripped into pieces and you feel worthless after reading the comments. Other times you receive feedback that helps you grow as a writer.
A final, interesting aspect of publishing research, is that almost all papers are the joint effort of several authors. Writing a piece together with others, discussing your ideas, merging writing styles and working towards a great result all contribute to continuous learning as a writer.
If you usually write from the beginning to the end all by yourself, I’d strongly encourage to try out writing a piece together with other authors – you will not only learn from them, but also about yourself.
Have you gone back and forth between different styles of writing? Did you experience how this influenced your writing? Share your thoughts in the comments section!