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:
- “Writing is Hard – And Here’s Why You Should Do It” by Elizabeth Knight
- “5 Tips for Science Writing” from Bailey DeBarmore
- “Building Your Brand: Research Career Planning and Scientific Writing” by Zain Ul Abideen Asad
- “Greatness in Grant Writing” and “Conquering the K99” (multiple parts) from Jennifer Kong
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