Top Writing Tips for Researchers

Paula Sledzinska
Paula Sledzinska compiles top tips on writing from Graduate Students and Early Career Researchers.

Despite Terry Pratchett’s famous quip denying the existence of writer’s block, it is a challenge that impacts the best of writers – even researchers; a problem further compounded by the lockdown. I have worked with Graduate Students and Early Career Researchers to put together these ten writing tips for researchers to help you get out of a rut:

  1. Be kind to yourself and don't expect to work as normal - the current situation is not normal and it's understandable that productivity will be affected.
  2. Try sending yourself calendar invitations to do some research. You'll give yourself a gentle reminder that you've planned something - it will ping in your email box or on your phone just when something else will be ready to distract you!
  3. Take it one step at a time. Set yourself very achievable, clear and specific goals i.e. rather than say 'I'll do research' try saying 'I'll work on the first paragraph of this chapter for one hour between 4 and 5pm.' Visualise how good it will feel to have it done. It's beneficial to focus on smaller tasks rather than worry about the big picture. 
  4. Accept that there will be distractions. Family life? Other work duties? Tempting comfort of the sofa? Try to be ready for them. Can you prepare a strategy to overcome the challenge in advance? Perhaps working for one hour in the morning when children are still asleep? Keeping your phone/social media/literature/films out of sight during a certain part of the day? 
  5. Surround yourself with people who have the same goal. We're away from research hubs and offices but you can join the Focused Study/Shut Up and Write! on Thursday at 11:00 or set your own session with friends if you like. Working with colleagues has been proven to boost motivation, improve social connectivity and wellbeing. It should also give you a bit of an 'accountability nudge'!
  6. Try 'Pomodoro Technique', (with us on Thursday or in your own time).  It's a useful method for getting into writing after a break - you only need to do 25 minutes of focused work and already get a mini break! Chances are you'll be hooked on your task by the time the 25 minutes pass. You can use a Pomodoro timer app on your phone or open it online.
  7. If you get a 'spark of genius' moment in the middle of doing something else - hold on to it. Write down your brilliant idea and you'll be able to come back to it. It's frustrating if you can't quite remember what the breakthrough idea was later.
  8. Do some reading - immersing yourself in research related to your subject will trigger ideas and should ease your way into your creative zone.
  9. Keep your reading notes, references/quotations and ideas in one file - you will know that all your material is in one place even if your 'office' gets turned upside down, (pets are fantastic writing companions until they EAT your work!)
  10. Write down even the smallest work goals for the day and tick them off as they're completed - it will make you feel good and help you stay positive about your work.

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