Tag Archives: Productivity

How to write when you don’t feel like it

There are many obstacles that can prevent us from being productive and efficient writers, especially procrastination. Even if there is a looming deadline and we are well aware of what needs to be written, sometimes we simply don’t feel like writing. And if we don’t feel like writing, procrastination can creep in, and we might put off writing until the last minute and then produce something that is substandard or incomplete.

Here are four ways to set you on the path of writing, even when you don’t feel like it.

1. Write intensively for short blocks of time

Set a timer and commit to writing for only 30 minutes. Thirty minutes of writing might seem achievable when you don’t feel like writing. Tell yourself that after the 30 minutes is up, as a reward, you will allow yourself to do whatever you want for one hour. Commit to only write for 30 minutes and make sure that you don’t do anything else during that period: no re-reading what you wrote previously, no stopping to google something, no telephone, no talking. Just write. If you find this too hard, start with ten minutes.

If you are normally a productive writer, 30 minutes might not seem like a long time, yet 30 minutes writing is much better than not writing at all. We can write a lot within short time periods if we don’t allow ourselves to get distracted, especially with other work tasks.

Avoid setting the timer for too long a period. Avoid setting unrealistic goals for yourself as you will feel unproductive and unsatisfied if you don’t meet them.

When you set a timer, try placing it out of reach so you have to get up from your computer to turn it off. After 30 minutes, stand up and walk around, print out what you have written so you have physical evidence of your productivity. You may find that you want to reset the timer for another 30 minutes and keep going. Ultimately, you may find that setting these writing blocks allows you to break through the barrier of just getting started.

2. Don’t switch between writing tasks during a designated writing session

During your writing sessions, only compete one type of writing. If you are getting your thoughts down, just write freely and don’t switch to editing or proofreading halfway through. If you are rewriting a section of your document, don’t switch to writing new material on a related topic. 

3. Take a break from the computer: print your document out and use a pen

We spend a large proportion of our time in front of a computer for all sorts of work activities, especially writing.  Periodically take a break from writing on a computer, even if it is for a short time. Try printing out the latest draft of your document and take it to a café or a lounge chair with a pen and a notebook. Edit your draft by hand and use a notebook to write fresh material. You might find that the change in environment allows you to relax yet you can still work on your document.

I always print my document out whenever I complete a draft so that I can see how my writing looks on paper and then plan what writing I will do for the next draft. With a paper printout, I can see my whole document at a glance, without having to scroll through a digital version on a computer screen. Moving to a lounge or a comfortable environment, gives me a break from staring at a computer screen and sitting on an office chair.

4. Find a friend to write with

Writing is usually a solitary activity but you might it more enjoyable if you organise writing sessions with a friend or colleague. Try taking your laptops to a park or a café and set up 30-minute writing sessions followed by 30 minutes social chat. You could also read and give feedback on each other’s work.

And remember…

Avoid creating unrealistic expectations that create stress and reduce our work satisfaction. It is unrealistic to expect that we can be super-productive writing machines that can write anything, anywhere and at any time. Aim to write in intensive pre-organised, short blocks of time in an environment that is as comfortable and distraction-free as possible.

© Dr Marina Hurley 2023 www.writingclearscience.com.au

Any suggestions or comments please email info@writingclearscience.com.au 

Find out more about our new online course...

SUBSCRIBE to the Writing Clear Science Newsletter

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

6 steps to drafting a grant application

Applying for grants is a time-consuming process. Deadlines can loom suddenly, leading to stress and long days. Success rates can be low, meaning that considerable effort is often not rewarded.

At the outset, you need to form a realistic timeline to work on the grant application. In addition to identifying your funding source, researching the specific requirements of the grant application and formulating your project budget, you will need to start planning your written proposal. Careful planning and early feedback from your colleagues will maximise your chances of a successful outcome. Following these 6 steps will help you develop the core content of your application.

Step 1: Identify your audience

Will the grant be reviewed by specialists in your field or by a panel of non-specialists or lay people? In reality, you may have two types of audience:

- Non-specialist or non-scientific reviewers who will require background information to judge whether your project is worthwhile.

- Specialist reviewers within your discipline that will be more familiar with your research.

Depending upon the funding organisation, some of your reviewers may not be familiar with the terminology or the current research problems of your discipline or immediately appreciate understand why your project is so important. Therefore, it is imperative to make sure your proposal outlines the relevancy of your topic to current issues and is clear and concise.

Step 2: Summarise the key research problems overarching your project

Before you can think about convincing people how good your project is, you need to build a picture about the current problems facing your research community.

Successful grant applications clearly define the area of need and how it is relevant to your potential funding source. This will help you build your case as to why your project is so important. In addition to outlining the scientific importance of your project, describe how your work might affect society and the environment. For example, if you are researching a disease, highlight the burden associated with that disease. Outline how many people it affects and the costs to society.

Step 3: Summarise the key problem your project will solve

This is where you focus on the key problem your project will attempt to solve. Clearly articulate what specific problem needs to be investigated and why. Avoid promising to solve too many problems or problems that are too large in scope, otherwise your project will seem unrealistic and unachievable. Describe how the key problem is connected to the broader scope of the research problems outlined in Step 2. Once you have outlined your research problem, then you can clearly state what you aim to achieve (step 4).

Avoid writing vague or generalised statements, for example: “To date, little research has been conducted in this area.” To help you keep your application short, also avoid obvious statements, for example: “This topic was investigated through an extensive search of the literature.”

Step 4: Articulate your aim, hypotheses and outcomes

While directly referring to your key research problem, outline what you aim to achieve, including your hypotheses and what outcomes you can expect from your completed project.

Once the overall aim is stated, the project should be broken down into sub-aims, each with a defined outcome. This approach helps you to define realistic timelines, ensures that the project description is concise and will improve the likelihood that the grant will be successful.

Step 5: Summarise how you will do the work (methods)

A major factor in grant success is being able to convince the reviewers that the project is feasible and that the work is likely to be completed. Clearly outline what methods you will use and what experience you have in this area. If you need to develop new methods, clearly explain what is required and provide evidence of your ability to develop other methods in the past. Outline the scope of the project. How long it will take to complete each component? Is the size of your project feasible within the set time frame? Do you have access to suitable equipment and operational facilities?  Promote yourself. Provide evidence (such as previous publications or unpublished data) to demonstrate that you are capable of successfully completing the project.

6. Seek feedback from colleagues

Give your draft proposal to your colleagues for feedback. They may provide valuable feedback on what is feasible, which aspects are the most interesting and what might be missing.

This early feedback will help you focus on what you want to achieve, why it is important and how likely the project is to succeed. It can be helpful to talk to people who have already received funding from a particular source; what feedback did they receive and what aspects did they think helped them to secure funding? If appropriate, it might also be helpful to seek feedback from colleagues who have recently been unsuccessful in winning a grant from the same funding body.

What to do next?

- After receiving feedback from your colleagues, rework the application so that it is clear, compelling, concise and flows well.

- Finalise your budget and ensure all aspects of your project are justified.

- Seek at least two more rounds of feedback from your peers as you proceed through the writing and submission process. Grants that are peer-reviewed prior to submission are more likely to be successful.

- Pay close attention to the small details in the submission process. You don’t want to have your grant rejected on a technicality or an unchecked box on a submission form.

© Liza O’Donnell & Marina Hurley 2020  www.writingclearscience.com.au

Any suggestions or comments please email info@writingclearscience.com.au 

Find out more about our new online course...

SUBSCRIBE to the Writing Clear Science Newsletter

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

What citation style should you use?

What is citation?

When writing, if you are referring to information that is directly attributable to another source it is often expected that you identify where this information came from. For example, if I wrote, “Francis Scott developed a new form of measuring temperature.”, I should acknowledge where I got this information from by making some type of notation directly after the statement. This is known as citation or in-text citation. In-text citation is usually written immediately after the citable text by inserting the author(s) surname(s) and publication date in brackets. This is known as the Author-Date System. Another common form is the Number System where a superscript number is written directly after the citable text. In both types, the full details of the source of the citation is compiled as a list of references at the end of the document. The number system is commonly used in all Wikipedia articles where hyperlinking is also commonly used to refer to sources.

Should everyone use citation?

No. Whether you cite the source of your information depends on the type of document you are writing and what discipline you are writing for. In-text citations are expected in academic and peer-reviewed research publications and in many scientific reports and other technical publications. If you are writing an industry, client, government or commercially-sensitive report, first check whether you are expected to cite. For scientific blogposts and other online documents, hyperlinking your sources may be sufficient but be mindful that these links should be regularly checked to ensure they are still working.

What citation style should I use?

There are a wide variety of referencing styles stipulating how to record an in-text citation and how to compile a bibliography or list of references. The most common types for the sciences are either Harvard or APA (American Psychological Association) which are both an Author-Date system. What style you choose may depend upon your document type, publisher, discipline or organisation. If working within a research institution or university, check with your library, department or supervisor about what style you should use. However, depending upon the circumstances there is often individual choice.

Further reading:

Monash University: Citing and referencing: Recommended styles

Australian National University: Referencing

The University of Sydney: Referencing  and Citation Styles 

© Dr Marina Hurley 2020 www.writingclearscience.com.au

Any suggestions or comments please email info@writingclearscience.com.au 

Find out more about our new online course...

SUBSCRIBE to the Writing Clear Science Newsletter

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

What is science writing?

What is science writing?

Although this question appears straightforward, there are common misconceptions about what constitutes science writing. Some students attending my writing workshops initially assume that science writing is restricted to academic writing to produce theses or research papers. Some assume science writing is communicating scientific concepts in plain English to a wide audience, while others assume that their consultancy report is not science writing. I teach that the term is not restrictive. At its simplest and broadest definition, science writing is writing about science.

There are different types of science writing

Science writing takes different forms, according to the topic, the purpose of the author and who the document is designed for. Science writing can create a thesis, a research paper, a report, an email, a conference talk, client criteria, project deliverables, a proposal, a funding application, a blogpost, a magazine or news article, a brochure, a fact sheet or a video script. A scientist publishing a research paper will write for their peers, a journalist writing for a popular science magazine will write for people who are fascinated by science and technology while a technician writing a report may write for people who need to know about a new process, methodology or technique.

Science writing is writing about science

The key feature of all types of science writing is that the topic under discussion is a scientific topic:  that the information presented has been gathered, analysed and critiqued using accepted scientific methods. This is true whether you are presenting new science (e.g. research papers, theses), reviewing research by others (e.g. literature reviews, desktop reviews), reporting scientific approaches and methods to solve commercial or industry issues (e.g. reports, policy reviews) or writing about the astonishing world of science (e.g. news or magazine article).  

Who can write about science?
You don’t need to be a scientist to write about science. You don’t need a degree to do science writing. Anyone can write about science, irrespective of their background or qualifications. Occasionally some people assume they are not science writers if they are not publishing papers, but if the work they write about describes scientific processes, follows scientific procedure or refers to scientific research, then it is science writing.

Science writing includes technical and industry reports
Not all science projects produce empirical date or are investigative. These projects might not be considered ‘research’ as such. Not all research projects are designed to be published by peer-review; some projects are written up and published in-house, online or via government publications, or remain unpublished for confidential reasons. Vast amounts of valid scientific documents are produced in this way.

Some projects are exploratory, information-sourcing or descriptive and do not produce empirical data or follow a classic approach of the scientific method. Therefore, these projects are not necessarily written following the traditional science report structure of AIMRD: Abstract, Introduction, Methods, Results and Discussion. Science projects that investigate commercial issues are often structured according to topic, industry, client and legal requirements. Separate from the PhD and research paper, there are so many different types of scientific documents that it is not possible to summarise their structure here. However, key sections that are common to both science reports and peer-review papers are a summary (Executive Summary in reports and Abstract in paper), an Introduction and Discussion or Conclusion sections.

What is central to all types of science writing
All science writing must refer to information that is based on evidence. Ideally, to peer-reviewed information and data that is published and accessible. Any assumptions, ideas, predictions or suggestions must not be presented as though they are a scientific fact.

© Dr Marina Hurley 2020 www.writingclearscience.com.au

Any suggestions or comments please email info@writingclearscience.com.au 

Find out more about our new online course...

SUBSCRIBE to the Writing Clear Science Newsletter

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

Two ways to be an INefficient writer

Science is often complicated and writing about a scientific topic can be like trying to untangle spaghetti. Writing efficiently can also be a struggle if you are exploring an unfamiliar topic or haven’t had a lot of writing experience. Irrespective of experience, there are two types of writing behaviour that will greatly reduce productivity and confidence.

1. Writing without having a clear understanding of your core topic

Your core topic includes your document aims and objectives and the key problems you are aiming to solve, together with an explanation of how your topic fits within your discipline. Starting to write without a clear idea about the depth and breadth of your topic can be time-consuming. Every scientific topic may be linked to dozens of other sub-topics that at first consideration appear just as important as your original topic. It is often tempting to try and include them and look for a way to link them all together. Without clear focus, it is easy to drift away from your topic and you may not realise that you are actually writing about five topics instead of one.

It can be easy to get distracted from your main story by adding excessive and seemingly, interesting details. Avoid the desire to update the reader with every twist and turn, every exception to the rule, and every related, but not-so-important, detail.

2. Polishing: trying to write perfectly in a first draft

Inefficient writers often start by writing a burst of fresh thoughts and then immediately spend considerable effort rewriting, editing, and proofreading this material before writing a fresh block of text. This is also known as polishing your writing. Polishing in early drafts is an easy trap to fall into when writing on-screen: each time you open a file, it is tempting to first read, review and then re-edit the existing text before writing fresh material. As the document develops, what is written earlier is continually reconsidered, rewritten and re-edited while what is written later receives far less attention.

Polishing in the early stages of writing can be a form of procrastination where you allow yourself to get distracted from the important thinking time and problem-solving needed to design your document.

People often believe that they should be writing perfectly the first time and get frustrated at the seemingly endless amount of time it takes to complete a document. Some people imagine that innumerable drafts and rewrites will be needed and suspect that they will never be happy with the final product. Labouring over a single sentence while thinking you still have 1000 more to write is daunting.

Polishing your sentences is necessary in later drafts when fine-tuning your ideas and improving your message for the reader. Inefficient writers polish early, while efficient writers polish after they have worked out what they want to say.

© Dr Marina Hurley 2019 www.writingclearscience.com.au

Any suggestions or comments please email info@writingclearscience.com.au 

Find out more about our new online course...

SUBSCRIBE to the Writing Clear Science Newsletter

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