Category Archives: Writing research papers

How to create figures from data

Figure 1: A line graph conveying a simple relationship between two variables. In this case, the variation of a measured hormone  over time.

 What is a figure?

Figures visually present information that cannot be clearly explained as written text or presented in a table. Figures can include graphs, flow charts, photographs, maps, illustrations, micrographs and diagrams. They can be simple; for example, a one-line graph that conveys a simple relationship between an x and y variable (see Figure 1), or they can contain multiple components, such as a graph, a diagram, a micrograph or photograph (see Figure 2). Figures have labelled components and a figure legend that clearly describes these components and summarises the key features.

 Planning your figure

As with tables, figures help the reader understand what you have found:  for example, key observations, statistically significant results, expected or unexpected trends in the data or any matter that needs further explanation. Figure design occurs after the data has been analysed and the main findings are apparent. The figures are usually presented in a results section and discussed in relation to  your research question or problem statement that was raised in your introduction. What figures you present also depends upon whether you are writing a report, journal article or thesis. A report can have a multitude of figures, while journal articles usually have strict page limits that force firm decisions on the number that can be included. Usually, there is more leeway for additional figures in a thesis.

Figure 2: An assembled figure contains multiple panels

When deciding how to place figures, prepare a mock layout to work out where each component will go, either by drawing boxes on  paper or by printing draft versions of what you expect the final version to look like. Will the figure take up one column or will it be a large multi-panelled figure that takes up two columns of a journal or one entire page of a thesis? (Figure 3)

 Preparing figures for journal publication

If you are preparing figures for journal publication, it is essential to first check the publisher’s requirements. Most journals have strict and detailed instructions with specific criteria: for example, image size, file type, resolution, colour space (e.g. RGB) and font types. If these criteria are not followed exactly, your publication may be returned by the editor for further changes.

Turning your raw data into a published figure: stay true to your data

Scientists are ethically bound to present their data truthfully and transparently. As a scientist, it is your responsibility to ensure that your figures accurately convey your original data and observations. In addition, universities and research centres must comply with the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research. As you manipulate your raw data into graphs and prepare your images for publication, your raw data is inevitably transformed in some way; even simple line graphs are a transformation of a set of experimental values. Photo-editing programs can also transform digital images by re-sampling (see fact sheet: Preparation of figures as digital images), which could result in an image that is different to the original.

Figure 3: Consider whether your figures are small enough to fit in one column to save space; larger figures may require two columns.

When preparing figures for publication in any form, it is important that you adhere to your organisation’s requirements for transparency and peer review. How you manipulated your raw data into the published figure  must be  transparent and repeatable. For example, does your final, published image look like the fluorescently-labelled image you saw down the microscope? Is the photo one actually taken of your study subject and not  another one similar to yours? Does your graph accurately explain the data, or have you left out some aspects of the data and inadvertently misrepresented your original findings? Make sure you save your files at each step of the transformation from raw data into a final published figure, and keep the files together in one folder.

What software do I use?

First, establish what software is freely available to you via your university or organisation.  Graphs and charts can be drawn in Excel and in a variety of statistical programs. CorelDraw or Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator are often recommended by publishers to draw diagrams, and to compile your images, graphs and diagrams into a publication-quality figure.

Some software is expensive while free software is readily available on the internet with workflows available to show  how to create publication-quality figures using free software.  For any type of software, open-source software is often a good choice as it is completely free and is supported by an online community that engages in ongoing support and development. For example, freemind software for mind-mapping and Gimp for photo and image manipulation, and see Wikipedia for software listing for graphic software.

Microsoft Powerpoint is often readily accessible and can be useful for drawing or compiling diagrams. Set the page layout to A4 portrait and add all components, using alignment tools and rulers to align panels and text. However, Powerpoint only exports lower resolution files for monitors, rather than higher resolution required for printing. A way around this is to print the Powerpoint file to a pdf (using Adobe Acrobat Professional) and select High-Quality Print (300 dpi) in “Preferences”. The resulting pdf file can then be cropped and saved as a TIF file with a 300dpi resolution (use either Adobe Acrobat or Photoshop to crop and save as a TIF).

The essentials of a good figure

Once you have created the figure, check the following criteria:
- Does it look good when printed on paper? Can all the features of each different components be clearly seen?
- Are the labels clear and specific?
- Is the resolution of the final assembled figure appropriate?
- Does the legend title convey the key finding?
- Do the details in the legend adequately explain all of the components?
- Is the figure referred to at the appropriate places in the results section? Does the figure accurately convey what is written in the results?
- Ask a colleague to proofread and check the clarity of your figure. Can they understand the overall message? Do they understand what the different components are?

© Dr Liza O'Donnell & Dr Marina Hurley 

Any suggestions or comments please email 

Find out more about our new online course...

How to be an Efficient Writer

Do you struggle with the amount of time it takes to write? When writing about science it is easy to drift off from your key topic when researching, planning and writing. 
Dr Marina Hurley shows you how to stay on track and be more efficient at each stage of the writing process. Irrespective of your topic, background, level of writing experience or document type, you can implement these steps to work on your first draft or rework a current draft.  Learn more...

Next course opens 30th January 2020

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Back to basics: science knowledge is gained while information is produced

Some terms used to discuss and describe science are often used interchangeably which can cause confusion: for example, terms such as fact, hypothesis, theory, knowledge, information, results and findings. In this blogpost, I define some commonly-used terms used to describe science, while also explaining how science information is produced. I need to acknowledge that numerous philosophers and have spent many years, even entire lifetimes, debating and discussing the precise meaning of some of these terms. So I encourage you to read some of the books by important science authors and philosophers including Thomas Kuhn, Karl Popper, Stephen Jay Gould and Stephen Hawking to develop a solid understanding of science philosophy and the current developments in science. Bill Bryson’s Short History of Nearly Everything is also an excellent coverage of science suitable for a wide audience.

Knowledge versus information

The term knowledge is often used instead of information. However, science knowledge is what people gain or learn through absorbing science information or through doing their own research. Science information is a collection of facts that is based upon evidence which is the result of peer-reviewed or peer-verified research. The degree to which science information is considered true and correct will vary according to when the research was published, how large or lengthy the study was and the amount of published evidence that supports this information. Undoubtedly, there is a lot of information that may be considered true but is yet to be scientifically tested; for example, some home remedies for illnesses. 

Facts, assumptions and opinions

A scientific statement of fact is an explanation of a phenomenon or something that is generally held to be true and can be proved by evidence. Facts can later be disproved, as can hypotheses and theories. Communicating information as a judgement or a statement of fact, but without providing evidence for it being true, is expressing an assumption while believing that something is true based upon little or incomplete evidence is forming an opinion. Scientific opinions are generated from science knowledge and may or may not be true yet they are important for developing new ideas, new hypotheses and new science. Scientific opinions and ideas need to be developed into hypotheses or problems that can be tested and supported (or rejected) by research.

What should be cited

Strictly speaking, all science information that is not common knowledge should be cited; that is, the source of the information should be presented so that the reader can verify that the information is supported by evidence. Where relevant, opinions should also be cited, otherwise, it may be difficult for a reader to understand the difference between a scientific opinion and an uncited statement of fact (common knowledge). Common knowledge is what would be generally be accepted as being true without question by a large proportion of a group of people familiar with a certain topic. What is accepted as common knowledge of a topic will depend upon the background, knowledge and experience of the reader.

Results versus findings

The science information produced by a study and published in a research paper is also known as the study’s findings. Collectively, both the Results and the Discussion parts of a research paper represent the authors findings. The Results present the data or observations of the study and the Discussion presents the author’s interpretations that explain what these results mean in relation to the scientific problem under investigation. Traditionally, the format of the research paper is to distinctly separate the Results and Discussion sections so that the bare measurements of the results are not mixed in with, and made indistinguishable from, the author’s discussion or interpretations of their results. As different people may interpret the same data differently, it was (and still is) considered important to allow the reader to clearly see the results in isolation.  However, it may be difficult to separate results and discussion with some types of projects and within some disciplines.

Scientific interpretations are based upon the author’s knowledge, which is gained through their experience, through their reading and through their analytical (inductive and deductive) skills. If these scientific interpretations are accepted by peer-review and published, they may then be considered scientific facts. If other authors disagree with the interpretations in a published paper, they are expected to publish their own papers accordingly and a scientific debate may ensue. Individual interpretations will develop into a scientific consensus when similar studies produce similar results and different authors develop similar conclusions.

Similarly, a theory is supported by consensus. A theory describes the behaviour or activity of a phenomenon or phenomena. It is a statement supported by accepted hypotheses and empirical evidence. A hypothesis is a statement that describes the properties or behaviour of an object or phenomena. A hypothesis is either supported or rejected based upon the evidence developed from testing the hypothesis. A specific, simple hypothesis or null hypothesis is one designed to be easily tested; it can be either accepted or rejected or upheld or discarded. If repeated tests under different circumstances support the hypothesis, then the hypothesis can be developed into a theory. From this theory further hypotheses can be generated. A theory can be supported, validated, reframed, modified or rejected according to evidence. A theory that has been refuted must be discarded and is no longer referred to as a theory.

My next free online mini-lecture in on the topic When to Cite  via our new free facebook group Q&A Sessions, You can join up here and come along and ask questions and view my previous Facebook live videos. If you subscribe to the Writing Clear Science newsletter you will receive information on upcoming workshops, recent blogposts and live lectures.

© Dr Marina Hurley 2018

Find out more about our new online course..

How to be an Efficient Writer

Do you struggle with the amount of time it takes to write? When writing about science it is easy to drift off from your key topic when researching, planning and writing. 
Dr Marina Hurley shows you how to stay on track and be more efficient at each stage of the writing process. Irrespective of your topic, background, level of writing experience or document type, you can implement these steps to work on your first draft or rework a current draft.

Next course opens 26th September 2019

SUBSCRIBE to the Writing Clear Science Newsletter to keep informed about our latest blogs and writing workshops.

Ten ways to get the most out of a writing workshop

If you are considering signing up for a writing workshop, at the very least you will receive a course overview or outline, a statement of what you will get out of the workshop and what to bring. Once the workshop starts, you will then be taken on a series of educational steps to achieve predetermined learning goals. This is the case for both online and face-to-face workshops. While the facilitator will do their best to help you learn, there are important tasks you need to do before, during and after the workshop that will enhance your learning and ensure permanent improvements in writing skills. In my thirteen years’ experience of running over 150 face-to-face writing workshops, I have observed how many different people approach the task of learning. Here are ten ways to get the most out of a face-to-face writing workshop.

Before the workshop starts:

1. List your learning goals 

Why do you want to do a writing workshop? What do you want to achieve? How does your writing need improvement? If you are not clear on the answers to some of these questions then consider how productive and enjoyable you find the task of writing. List any stages in the process of writing where you lack confidence or initiative. When you start and continue through the workshop, you will find that you will gain a deeper understanding of what areas need improvement and how to improve.

2. Consider your motivation for attending the workshop 

Within my workshops, I find that the largest proportion of people are self-motivated, aware that their writing needs to improve and are keen to learn whatever they can. Then there are some who are happy with their writing but want to brush up on their skills and pick up new perspectives and extra tips. With many In-House workshops, there will be an entire team expected to attend, including some people who are confident and capable writers yet still content to brush-up their skills. Then (very rarely) there are those who are happy with their writing, are instructed to attend by a boss or supervisor but really don’t want to be there. If you really do not want to attend a writing workshop, the facilitator would probably prefer you were not there either. If you are a supervisor reading this, avoid forcing staff to attend if they indicate they don’t want to. Having people in a workshop who don’t want to be there can make it hard for others to learn and reduce the engagement of the entire group. Even worse is a recalcitrant attendee.

If, at any time, you change your mind about staying and completing a workshop and need to leave, then leave. You can always quietly excuse yourself without any disruption.

3. Come prepared 

Triple-check the date

It is incredibly easy to get dates wrong.

Read the pre-workshop information at least a week before the workshop

Thoroughly read everything that is given to you prior to the workshop. There may be important information that will help you get the most out of the workshop; for example, you might be asked to bring a summary of your project for a writing exercise. If you only realise this the day before, you may not be adequately prepared to get the most out of the workshop.

Email questions beforehand

If you have any questions at all relating to the workshop, ask them. If you know what to expect, you will learn more easily.

Bring a printout of pre-workshop information

Bring along any pre-workshop information provided for you, including the address of the venue. You would be surprised how many people forget to do this.

You can download my Writing Workshop Preparation checklist here.

4. Complete any pre-workshop surveys or writing tasks

Completing surveys can seem tiresome, a waste of your time or not much fun; you might not be sure how you will directly benefit from completing a pre-workshop survey. As a facilitator, I cannot emphasise enough how important it is to know, beforehand, what people want to get out of the workshop. Understanding your science background and writing challenges and reviewing your questions before the workshop starts allows for the best preparation for teaching. The more prepared a facilitator is, the more you will get out of the workshop. Even if you mention topics that won’t be covered in the specific workshop you are attending, the facilitator might be able bring along extra resources to help you.

If you are invited to submit a sample of your writing or complete a pre-workshop writing task, do it. Getting direct feedback on your writing is invaluable and writing immediately before a workshop can help you identify what you want to get out of the workshop. Submitting samples after the workshop is not productive as the opportunity to discuss and learn throughout the workshop is lost.

5. Don’t be late or just on-time: arrive early

If you are late you will likely miss crucial introductory information that cannot be repeated. I no longer wait for late-comers, even if I receive a text from someone saying they are running ten minutes late. While it is good to know that people are still coming, waiting for late-comers disrespects the efforts of those who have gone out of their way to arrive early. Strictly honouring the start time also creates a clean and industrious atmosphere for everyone present.

Triple-check the starting time

Events don’t always start at 9 am and you might be asked to arrive 15 minutes before the start time.

Aim to be 15-20 minutes early instead of on-time

If you aim to get to an any event early and there are road closures, lift faults or random buckets of hail, you still might arrive on time. Aiming to get anywhere on time, especially if you live in an Australian capital city, is optimistic. If you do arrive early, you will have time to settle in and meet other workshop participants before you start.

It’s never ok to be purposely late

Never assume that it’s ok to be late or that the facilitator will wait for you before they start. Those people who can turn up to a workshop 20 minutes late without sweating or looking stressed have probably practised the art of arriving late. I expect the habitual late-comer thinks this way: “It says an 8.45 am start, but they only say that to allow for late comers, which means they will really start at 9.00 am and even then, there will just be 10-15 minutes of an informal welcome and chat and they probably won’t actually start until 9.15.”

If you are unavoidably late or unable to attend at all, text or email the facilitator.

During the workshop:

6. Participate: ask questions and make comments

We learn by listening, thinking and doing. We also learn by working out what we don’t know. In any workshop environment, those who readily ask questions and make comments add immense benefit to the learning atmosphere as their participation encourages others to also engage by asking questions and in making comments. If you don’t understand something, ask for clarification. Asking questions is the most important thing that you can do during a workshop.

Some people are worried that their question will be out of place, not immediately relevant, mundane or too obvious. Don’t worry; invariably others will also want to know the answer to your question. A good facilitator will answer all kinds of questions and place the answers in context to the workshop topic. Facilitators also use questions as opportunities to reinforce important principles.

If you don’t understand something and want it repeated, ask. If your mind wandered and you missed what you thought was a crucial point, ask for it to be repeated. Don’t worry if you feel you are the only person that doesn’t get something; even if that were true that’s ok. You are there to learn. If you want to know how a principle might be applied in different circumstances, ask. If you think a suggestion might not work in your circumstance, say so. Your comments might open up a fruitful discussion with other attendees.

Don’t worry if you feel a bit shy or nervous about asking questions, ask anyway. The facilitator aims to ensure that everyone in the workshop feels comfortable and is able to participate. Remember that attending a workshop is not a performance; experienced facilitators will ensure that you will not be judged or criticised or made to do anything you don’t want to do.

However, avoid dominating the workshop with too many questions or comments

Try to avoid taking centre stage too often as you may inadvertently prevent others from participating. A good facilitator will help balance the participation efforts of different people throughout the course of the workshop.

7. Answer questions

As a facilitator, I find that one of the best ways to deliver an important teaching principle is to phrase it as a question. If the facilitator asks you a question, try to answer it even if you are just guessing. Having 2-3 people answering a question is a lot more interesting than silence. Occasionally, facilitators will throw open a question from someone to the entire workshop to see what different answers or perspectives might arise.

8. Ensure you are physically comfortable

Some people find it difficult to sit for an hour, or even for 20 minutes. If you need to stand up for a while, stand up. No one is going to mind. Ask for an extra short break if you feel one is needed. Always bring a jacket to account for unresponsive air-conditioners.

9. Take notes

This may seem an obvious piece of advice but some people think that they don’t need to take notes if they are given lecture handouts. Even if you never read your notes again, the act of taking notes reinforces your learning and helps you to focus on what you consider are the most important points.

After the workshop:

10. Review your notes and resources

After the workshop, review the notes you took and the handouts and resources provided by the facilitator. List the most important things that you learned from the workshop and think about what you need to do next. Create your own checklists to help you remember what you have learned. If you have the opportunity, email the facilitator with further questions. Aim to review your training notes with 1-2 weeks after the workshop to help reinforce what you have learned. Also aim to review your writing before and after the workshop and look for improvements in your writing. Itemise any areas that may need further training and investigate what resources there are to help you with your next stage of learning.

Any suggestions or comments please email 

SUBSCRIBE to the Writing Clear Science Newsletter to keep informed about our latest blogs and writing workshops.

© Dr Marina Hurley 2018

Over the next 3 months (until December 2018), I will be giving regular live mini-lectures in our new free facebook group Q&A Sessions, You can join up here and come along and ask questions and view my previous Facebook live videos. If you subscribe to the Writing Clear Science newsletter you will receive information on the date and topic of the next mini-lecture.

Handwriting notes and to-do lists is still a good idea

Writing to-do lists on paper might seem a waste of time if you already prepare to-do lists with software. Project management software such as Asana and Trello are effective and powerful tools and I am not suggesting we stop using them and go back to paper. My concern is that relying on software might cause a lack of spontaneity when doing research and in capturing ideas when working on other tasks. Well-designed paper lists and organised note-taking can still play an important role in project management and be used in conjunction with software. 

There are important benefits to hand-written note-taking that we might overlook if we decide to only write electronically:

1.  It’s quick and easy to jot down short tasks and simple ideas on paper

When we are in the middle of a task and come up with a good idea or something we need to remember, it may be easier and less distracting to just jot these thoughts down on paper. Having to open up software, allocate an idea or task to a project description, describe the task, decide who is responsible for a task and when it should be completed is time-consuming.

2. Not everything we write needs to be kept

 Not everything we write down will be worthy of further consideration. Occasionally, ideas or tasks will become inconsequential or lose attraction if they are left for a period of time. If paper lists are reviewed every 1-2 days, items or ideas that are no longer relevant can simply be crossed off or ignored. While improved technology may allow us to collect more information, it can contribute to information overload. Using electronic tools to capture everything we have to do or every idea we come up with might mean we end up with huge lists of items that will all need to be reviewed at some point.

3. A paper list is easy to refer to and doesn’t need batteries

Using paper lists to record tasks and ideas is easy to refer to. Even with multiple computer screens it is difficult to keep more than 2 or 3 pages of anything open at the same time. You can also take a quick snap of your paper list with your smartphone if you need a quick backup.

4. Handwriting can force you to summarise effectively

Note-taking helps to focus attention on more important items and reviewing notes is also beneficial for recall (Kiewra 1985, Kiewra et al. 1991). While note-taking by typing or vocal recording is effective and easy with software, what you record still requires effective classification for easy retrieval. If you tend to take too many notes indiscriminately, it may be difficult to later decide what is important. As the act of handwriting is usually slower than typing, we are forced to highlight what is most important. Therefore, compiling paper lists may help you to summarise important information quickly. Ideas and tasks that remain after reviewing paper lists can then be transferred to software.

What are the features of a well-designed to-do list?

Ultimately what works best for you will depend upon how you work and organise your time. I have developed the Daily Task & Ideas Workbook for my own use and am offering it here free of charge. This workbook is designed to be printed out and used to capture ideas and tasks on paper, while simultaneously allocating the priority and stage of completion of different tasks. This workbook can also be used to help you identifying new tasks and projects. The workbook has two pages (Page 1 - Daily Task List and Page 2 - Ideas & Brain Dump) with the following sections:

Page 1 – Daily Task List.

ROCKS (Must do today); PEBBLES (Must do soon); SAND (Short, discrete tasks)

The three sections in the first column are used to record tasks of different priorities. I use the ROCKS/PEBBLES/SAND analogy where the difference in sizes between ROCKS, PEBBLES and SAND mostly relates to the priority of the task. The general idea is that you can only fit in a certain number of large ROCKS in a container but the container is not yet full as you can still fit in smaller PEBBLES. After you have placed in all the pebbles that will fit into the container, you can still pour in SAND.  I have adapted this idea so that ROCKS are the tasks that must be completed today, PEBBLES are tasks that must be completed soon while SAND tasks are the short, important tasks that can be completed in between other tasks or when you lack energy or time to complete larger tasks.  When your list is reviewed, invariably, PEBBLES and SAND will become ROCKS if they are left incomplete and grow increasingly important.

The three sections in the second column are used to record tasks that are COMPLETED; STARTED/ONGOING; and OVERDUE/SCRUB TICKS.  Personally, I like to highlight tasks that have been COMPLETED during the day as this gives me a visual reminder of what I have achieved and helps me to feel productive.

Page 2 – Ideas & Brain Dump

This page is designed to capture brand new ideas and to identify new projects, sub-projects and tasks. It also includes a section to record topics that need research and projects that need updating.

My recommendation is to use the Daily Task & Ideas Workbook it for 1-2 days then review the content. Items that haven’t been crossed out or completed can be either moved to a fresh workbook or to project management software. The workbook can be downloaded here: version 1 or version 2. You can also download an example workbook that includes hypothetical tasks and ideas. 


Kiewra, K. A. (1985). Investigating notetaking and review. A depth of processing alternative. Educational Psychologist, 20, 23-32

Kiewra, K., Mayer, R., Christensen, M., Kim, S., & Risch, N. (1991). Effects of repetition on recall and note-taking: Strategies for learning from lectures. Journal of Educational Psychology., 83(1), 120-123.

Over the next 3 months (until December 2018), I will be giving regular live mini-lectures in our new free facebook group Q&A Sessions, You can join up here and come along and ask questions and view my previous Facebook live videos. If you subscribe to the Writing Clear Science newsletter you will receive information on the date and topic of the next 

© Dr Marina Hurley 2018

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How to build and maintain confidence as a writer

Why is it crucial to develop confidence?

If writing is central to your profession, it is crucial to build and maintain confidence in yourself as a writer. Being confident about your writing is being able to:

  • rely on yourself to regularly produce high-quality material
  • concentrate on creating and developing new ideas and solutions to new and existing problems instead of worrying about whether what you’ve written is good enough
  • consider writing as a tool rather than a chore
  • find writing enjoyable and rewarding

If you are committed to improving your writing, then your self-confidence will build as your writing improves. No matter how you feel about your current level of skill, commit to continual self-improvement and aim to feel satisfied with what you have achieved so far. This is what I do.

Realise that writing consists of separate tasks

Rather than considering writing as one thing that you do, identify the different tasks that writing is comprised of and review how proficient you are at each. Then work on improving the different tasks separately. For example:

  • Getting started
  • Conceiving and developing ideas
  • Word choice: Choosing the right words to say what you mean
  • Phrase construction: Choosing the right group of words to say what you mean
  • Clause and sentence construction: Expressing ideas concisely, logically and coherently
  • Paragraph construction: Linking ideas in a logical order and developing a stand-alone story
  • Developing an argument: Identifying different viewpoints and effectively stating your case
  • Forming unique conclusions: Outlining your contribution to your discipline

Be kind to yourself

It is important to critique your writing and identify what can be improved - but avoid harshly criticizing yourself.

(Everyone knows this but…) Be realistic about the time it takes to write

The time needed to complete a document is always underestimated. You need to allocate sufficient time to write regularly. Be realistic when working out how much time is needed to write. Avoid work procrastination.

Never compare yourself to others

Only compare your current level of skill to your past level of skill. Regularly look back at your past work and identify how your skill has improved. Observe how far your skill has progressed and allow yourself to feel satisfied with any improvement, no matter how small. Identify areas that need further improvement and allow yourself to gain confidence from your ability to identify what needs improving. An important part of skill development is getting better at recognising what needs improvement.

There are many ways to improve your writing

Identify the ways you can learn to improve your writing; for example, resources, books, blogs, writing workshops or one-on-one coaching assistance.

Get regular feedback

Always ask colleagues for feedback. Always. But make sure that you critique the feedback you receive, as not all of it may be useful or correct. Avoid taking any constructive criticism personally and avoid seeking feedback from those who regularly deliver overly-harsh criticism.

Find a mentor or a colleague who can regularly give you constructive feedback. Join a writing group and share drafts with each other for peer-feedback and community support.


Set up a blog. Even if it is on a topic unrelated to science writing. Find a type of writing or topic that you really enjoy. Any type of writing will help improve your science writing skills, especially if you blog regularly.

Break through writer’s block

Use the tools that help break through writer’s block. Regularly having problems getting started may add to a lack of confidence. One quick and easy way of getting your thoughts down for a first draft is to record yourself speaking about your topic. Most smart phones and tablets have voice recognition software that can easily record or transcribe your speech.

Keep a portfolio (or library) of everything you complete

Keep a record of everything you produce. Create hard-copy portfolios of all your documents and include a table of contents with dates and titles. These portfolios can serve as a physical reminder of your productivity. Write one-page summaries of all completed projects in plain English with an eye-catching photo or diagram, and a good title. These one-page project summaries can be used to promote yourself and can also be prepared as a portfolio to show prospective employers.

Build confidence from your ability to learn

Remember that writing is like any other task with obstacles to overcome. Although it takes time for to become proficient at any skill, you can still be confident about your ability to learn.

Keep going

Keep writing, keep putting your work in front of an audience and keep getting feedback.

© Dr Marina Hurley 2018

Find out more about our new online course...

How to be an Efficient Writer

Do you struggle with the amount of time it takes to write? When writing about science it is easy to drift off from your key topic when researching, planning and writing. 
Dr Marina Hurley shows you how to stay on track and be more efficient at each stage of the writing process. Irrespective of your topic, background, level of writing experience or document type, you can implement these steps to work on your first draft or rework a current draft.  Learn more...

Next course opens 30th January 2020

SUBSCRIBE to the Writing Clear Science Newsletter

to keep informed about our latest blogs, webinars and writing courses.