#12 2017 in Writing

2017 has been a fantastic writing year for me. I did not produce large amounts of published papers (fingers crossed for 2018), but I pushed my writing skills to a new level. Here I will share my 2017 writing story, in the hope that you will get inspired.

It started with a workshop arranged by KI Grants Service. It was a half-day workshop on how to write a good grant application. After the workshop, I returned to the office with a set of handouts. A colleague of mine noticed my handouts, and we started talking about writing courses. He told me about a free online course he was taking and encouraged me to try it out.

It was an amazing tip, so here I will pass it on to you.

The course is called “Writing in the Sciences.” It’s one of Stanford University’s free online courses. The course teacher is Kristin Sainani, a clinical assistant professor at Stanford, who also studied science writing. Sainani opened my eyes to writing techniques. Up until that point, I had been comfortable with writing, but uncomfortable with editing.

In this course, I learned why.

I was writing according to what I felt was good, but I had few techniques to base my feelings on. Thus, I didn’t know what to look for when it came to editing. In Sainani’s course, I learned that there are simple techniques for writing clearly, which are especially useful in scientific writing. Editing a text according to these techniques is like magic, instantly the text becomes clearer.

Because I learned to think like an editor, I now love the editing process. I write as quickly as I can, just to get all my thoughts down. Then I start the joyous process of making it readable. It came along with the affliction of not being able to read other texts without starting editing. A futile activity, but I cannot help it.

My writing year far from ended here.

Later I joined another grant writing workshop arranged by KI Career Service. This time it was Angelika Hoffman, the author of “Scientific Writing and Communication – Papers, Proposals, and Presentations” who ran the workshop. She opened my eyes to power positions—how changing the position of a word or phrase can change how the reader interprets your sentence or paragraph. Hoffman’s book is a straightforward, pragmatic textbook for scientific writers. The first six chapters deal with writing style, and they pop into my mind every time I write. I recommend her book if you are looking to write easily readable scientific text.

Other books I have enjoyed this year are “On writing” by Stephen King, “Bird by Bird” by Anne Lamott, and “On writing well” by William Zinsser. These books mix writing tips with storytelling, and you can read them while relaxing on the couch. You will likely remember some useful tips that will improve your writing.

For example, Stephen King aims to reduce the length of his stories by 10% when he edits, because he knows that a good story only includes the essential information. The same goes for a scientific article.

Anne Lamott will make you feel better about your shitty first drafts (her words), as she explains how she feels about hers.

And William Zinsser will teach you not to place your “however” as the first word in a sentence, as he writes: “Don’t start a sentence with “however”—it hangs there like a wet dishrag. And don’t end with “however”—by that time it has lost its howeverness.”

The last fantastic thing I did for my writing in 2017 was joining this blog. I didn’t know if I could write in the blog style, but I felt I had something to say. So I started blogging, and I discovered that I enjoy the personal blogging style. I get to share a little about myself and my thoughts on how we can improve our ways of writing and working in academia.

I am happy that I get to share my thoughts with you. I am learning a lot in the process, and I have fun writing my posts. At first, I didn’t have many ideas, but for every post I have written, I have gotten at least three new ideas. It was just a matter of getting into the “idea-mode” of thinking.

I look forward to continuing sharing my thoughts on writing and working with you in 2018.


(photo from Pixabay.com)

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