Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Writers' Lab: A Writing Diet

My thesis, after the help of Mr Kitty
Do you have a plan for improving your writing?

Or do you simply assume that one glorious summer morning, you will open your laptop, start typing your dissertation, and finish happily a few months later?

Do you assume that you can get a journal paper published without practicing your writing?

If you are a non-native speaker, do you think reading a few English papers is enough practice for your English? Maybe watching movies counts too?

One of the most powerful decisions I took during my PhD*, was to take writing very seriously.

I put myself on a diet of writing.

With even more determination than my plunge into the literature (I read a little less than 700 papers and reports during my PhD), I decided that writing is the single most important communication tool in academia.

Your dissertation depends on your writing skills. Your publications depend on your writing skills.

If you read academic blogs, you will find tons of posts on writing - because it's so important.

I started the writers' lab - because writing is so important.

For my writing diet, I decided that I would write as much as I could, about as many things as I could.

To give you an idea, here's a list of the many different ways in which I tried to improve my writing:

1. Test reports
The complete description of my experiments is reported in 3 massive reports.

2. Background reports
I tried to keep the number of pages in my dissertation limited, so my theoretical work is described at length in a few background reports.

3. Paper summaries
In the beginning of my PhD, I wrote summaries, critiques and comparisons of the papers that I read. I compiled documents in which I compared all the references reporting on parameter Y on the shear capacity.

4. Analysis reports
I kept a clear distinction between the pure observations of the experiments, and then the lessons learned from the experiments. The parameter studies and comparisons to the code predictions are all reported in separate analysis reports.

5. Meeting preparations
I often prepared short summaries of my work to discuss at meetings with my funding organization.

6. Conference papers

I've been around a bit over the past years, so you can say.

7. Journal papers
Something that is becoming more and more a priority for myself is working on my papers. I published some of my experiments already, but I've identified 11 papers that I would like to write from the material in my dissertation. It's of course not granted that any of these will get published, but at least the idea is there.

8. The dissertation
This guy simply doesn't need more information. I'll bombard you with pictures once the baby is printed and published.

9. Blog posts

Since September 2010, I've been writing here at PhD Talk, and I've settled for 3 posts to be published per week.

10. Guest posts

As you can see in my list of guest posts, I've been writing posts for other websites regularly. Especially the last few months, I've tried to write a guest post every week.

11. CD reviews

Since October 2012, I've been reviewing new releases for Grave Concerns. Writing CD reviews is yet another skill, and I've clearly noticed a learning curve in here.

12. Journaling
First in 750 words, and then in a pretty Moleskine, I've been just blurting out sentences on paper without really caring for what I write. it's incredibly liberating.

In practice, my weekly meal plan writing plan looks like this:
- at least 2 hours of writing for my research every workday
- 7 days of journaling
- 2 CD reviews
- 3 posts for PhD Talk
- 1 guest post

Do you have a clear plan for your writing? Or do you just wait and see and hope for the best?

* I'm almost finished and scheduled to defend, and thus I think you allow me to look back on the past years already.


  1. Writing indeed needs frequent practice. If you want to be a champion you need to practice a lot. Even the best ones keep on practicing in order to further hone the skills and in order for them not to rust. One of the most renowned actor said, that to rest is to rust. So keep it coming, let your thoughts flow and translate it to texts. This way, even the hardest writing that you would encounter, like thesis, won’t be as hard as you thought.

  2. Do you have a personal “why” statement?  Why do new investors and entrepreneurs need to write and share their “why”?  How can this help you achieve greater success? read more