research writing tips

Research writing: five top tips

Whether you are an undergraduate, an academic researcher, or a lecturer who is responsible for giving feedback on academic writing, hopefully there is something thought provoking for you in these writing tips.

Can you manage to write more efficiently?

How can you recycle what you write and get that message (and profile) out into the globally crowded world of research?  Deborah Lupton explains some quick tips:

Turn your conference papers into articles, chapters and blog posts.

Instead of deleting when you edit your writing, make ‘edits’ computer files under different topics and ‘paste’ this material after cutting it.

Sign up to email alerts with publishers of the main journals you use so you receive some news on the contents of each new issue, punctually and regularly.

Go for a bike ride, jog, etc. when you get stuck but make some kind of a start first or after.

(A start is a title and some brief notes. You can organise these starts into different files with ideas for articles.)

Her complete article is here:

Do we interrupt ourselves when we write and make it overly complicated?

Peter Elbow claims academics tend to rely too much on using evidence to defend themselves against the imagined arguments of those who might disagree with them. A typical article might look like:

“X, and yet on the other hand Y, yet nevertheless X in certain respects, while at the same time Y in other respects.”

More from Peter Elbow here, though there are no quick ways suggested about how to get over this.

How can we convey the importance of our research?

It is likely that we will confine our conclusions to the context, method and results we have used. But does this do your work justice? Can you offer some suggestions for further research which actually underline the extended meaningfulness of your research aims (without blowing the trumpet too loudly of course)? Is there a wider context for your research?  For instance, can we underline the value of exploring mathematical models about how two species, where one eats the other, survive or do not survive under different conditions? Perhaps we could add some facts about climate change’s rapid consequences for ecosystems and species survival.

How can you explain your research in easy terms?

When you meet people socially is it hard to explain quite what you are researching, even apart from the issue of why? Katie Burke has some basic suggestions about how to make your research meaningful to the non-specialist. Briefly, some recommendations are:

Write about I and we;

Let readers know in the first page the story, the point of the writing;

Make your paragraphs shorter;

Consider where the sections (or the aspects) of the story start and end.

Here’s an example. The writer describes a home-made tool. Several times he emphasises the importance for future food production of developing perennial seeds rather than ones that need planting and harvesting annually. The story is published here.

More from Katie Burke here (American Scientist blog):

Perhaps you could use some of these ideas the next time someone asks you “What is your research actually about?”

Finally, if you are feeling stuck because you are at home…

New Zealanders Lucy Hone and Denise Quinlan have some suggestions to stay positive.