Tag Archives: Productivity

10 writing tips for the struggling ESL science writer

For most people, learning a second language is a struggle, let alone learning how to be a proficient science writer in that language. The following tips and suggestions will help the struggling ESL science writer both identify and tackle common writing obstacles.

1. Don’t aim to learn all the rules of grammar before you start writing

It can take a long time to be proficient in all the English rules of grammar. Even many experienced writers with English as their first language are not proficient at English grammar rules, relying on their innate knowledge of the language when writing. Instead of thinking you need to learn every English grammar rule, concentrate upon the most common grammar errors when learning English as a second language. In a recent study, the most common written grammar errors by ESL tertiary students were found to be Subject – Verb Agreement (SVA) and Verb Tense (Singh et al. 2017).

2. Avoid trying to make your English grammatically-perfect in your early drafts

While the final version of your document should be grammatically correct, don’t worry about having perfect grammar before you start or when preparing early drafts. In your first draft, concentrate upon getting your ideas down and ensure you are addressing a clearly defined aim. You can fix up your grammar as you edit and rework your later drafts.

3. Try writing your first draft in your first language

If writing in English is a significant obstacle to getting your thoughts down, try writing your first draft in your first language to allow you to first concentrate upon writing about your topic clearly. Once you are satisfied with the progress of your document, you can then translate your writing into English and then seek assistance from a science editor to help you correct your grammar.

4. Continue with English conversation classes

Science writers who struggle to improve their written English, are also often not yet proficient in spoken English. Continuing with weekly or monthly English conversation classes will not only improve your written English, but will allow you to pick up commonly-used English vocabulary and terminology.

5. Ask a friend or colleague to regularly give you feedback on your spoken English

Normally, friends or colleagues will not correct your spoken English and unless you are continuing your conversation classes, it may take you a long time to learn where you need to improve. Try asking a friend or colleague to regularly give you feedback on your spoken English.

6. Ask a friend or colleague to give you feedback on late drafts of your document

In addition to any editing and feedback you might receive from co-authors, colleagues or managers, try asking a friend or colleague to give you feedback, specifically on your English grammar. This person need not be an expert in English grammar but be able to point out any obvious anomalies in your writing. Having someone focus on giving you feedback on your English will allow other colleagues to focus on giving you feedback on the scientific aspects of your work. In return, you could also offer to give feedback on your colleagues’ writing. This will also help you to improve your writing as critiquing the work of other writers allows you to notice areas of improvement you might not see in your own work.

7. Use online grammar exercises to improve your grammar

Grammar textbooks are excellent as reference texts to look up individual rules, while online grammar exercises are a good way to learn how to correct grammar using real examples. Online grammar exercises immediately provide both corrections and explanations.

8. Avoid online forums to learn about grammar rules

Grammar queries that are posted in online forums (for example Quora) are invariably answered by both experts and non-experts and some answers can be incorrect. This makes it difficult to decide which is the correct answer to follow. Also, there are some grammar rules that are more difficult to follow than others, especially if there are many exceptions to the rule; for example, the spelling rule ‘i’ before ‘e’ except after ‘c’. Only refer to reputable grammar websites that are specifically designed for education.

9. Be aware that not everyone agrees about what is correct English grammar

Be aware that not everyone agrees about what is correct English grammar and what is acceptable vocabulary. For example, some experts advise never to use contractions (for example “We’re” instead of “We are”) in scholarly or formal writing, yet contractions do not change the accuracy of the message and are argued to make reading more enjoyable.

Choose 3-5 grammar references that are reputable and written by trained, professional experts and consistently follow their advice. Also aim to follow the standard references and style guides for your discipline and institution.

10. Hire an editor that can explain grammar rules

If appropriate for your circumstances and if you have the resources, hire an editor proficient at explaining grammar and ask them to give you regular feedback on your writing.

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

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

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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 2019 www.writingclearscience.com.au

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

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