Facing the Fear of Writing

Writing is an essential skill in academics. Metrics of productivity are often quantified by number of publications and funded grants. Very few people are naturally talented scientific writers. One of the most daunting tasks for early career trainees is writing and then receiving the subsequent deluge of feedback and critiques from mentors, co-authors, and reviewers.

Like any other technique, refining one’s scientific writing skills takes time and practice. Scientific writing can be challenging, especially early in your training. Here are some tips that may help you develop this important scientific skill:


  • Try to write as much as possible. Writing scientific papers is different than preparing grant proposals. Try to gain experience in both by either submitting papers and grant applications and/or attending mock grant writing courses during your training.


  • Set aside time to write and minimize detractions. This can be challenging when we have smartphones, email inboxes, and social media accounts. Try to write in chunks. When preparing manuscripts, I like to start with putting together the figures and figure legends; then writing the results and methods, introduction, discussion and finally the abstract.


  • Do not worry about putting together a perfect draft. It is better to try to overcome the writing inertia by free writing and then later revising.


  • Keep multiple versions of your drafts. You may like how you previously described something or organized the document.


  • Do not be horrified about the amount of edits that you will receive. I remember how dejected I was when one of my drafts was littered with red tracking changes and comments. However, receiving drafts back with a plethora of feedback and revisions is a sign that your mentor/co-authors care about what you wrote and want to further your professional development. I am extremely fortunate that my mentors take the time to provide detailed and specific feedback on how to improve my writing. Also, do not take the critiques personally. If needed, look at the comments, put them aside, and come back to them another time when you are less emotional – this is especially relevant after you receive critical negative reviews on your manuscript and/or grant submissions.


  • Read the literature and other people’s grant applications. There is no correct way to write a good manuscript or successful grant application. However, you can learn many stylistic approaches by examining others’ writing.


I also recommend checking out some of the great blogs on scientific writing that my fellow AHA Early Career Bloggers wrote:


Good luck!


“The views, opinions and positions expressed within this blog are those of the author(s) alone and do not represent those of the American Heart Association. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them. The Early Career Voice blog is not intended to provide medical advice or treatment. Only your healthcare provider can provide that. The American Heart Association recommends that you consult your healthcare provider regarding your personal health matters. If you think you are having a heart attack, stroke or another emergency, please call 911 immediately.”