There’s no doubt about it – writing can be difficult. Whether you’re writing the first sentence of a paper or a grant proposal, it’s easy to feel like you’re drowning in a sea of words. However, good writing is critical to academic success, so here are six habits for research students that actually work.
Identify and overcome your barriers
If you’re having trouble writing, it may be because you’re not identifying your own barriers to writing. The first step is to think about what you do when you want to write, but you just can’t seem to get started.
For example, perhaps you don’t have any ideas to write about, or maybe you’re worried about being too wordy or not knowing what to say. Once you’ve identified your barriers to writing, you can develop strategies to overcome them. By comparison, if you’re always starting papers with great ideas, you may not be focusing enough on the writing process.
As painful as it may sound, one of the best ways to naturally overcome writing barriers is to write often. Regular exposure to writing will, over time, take the sting out of the writing process. Furthermore, it will teach you that you don’t need to wait until you’re in the mood to start writing. It’s fine to start writing early on in the process, even if you’re not sure where the paper will end up.
Schedule time for writing
The second habit for research students is to schedule time for writing. If you know you will be working on a paper or grant proposal for the next few days, you can plan ahead and set aside a block of time to write.
This doesn’t mean you have to write every day. You may find you need to write only once a week, or perhaps twice a week. However, scheduling time for writing will help you avoid procrastination and force yourself to write even when you’re not feeling like it.
Side note: You might notice this advice is similar to the previous tip – write often. The reason for this is that it’s easier to stick to a schedule when you’re used to writing regularly. If you’re having trouble scheduling time for writing, try keeping a journal for a week. You might find you have a lot of ideas for writing, and you can use those ideas to help you set aside time to write.
Write first, edit later
Writing first means that you can get all of your thoughts down on paper before you worry about grammar, spelling, or even punctuation. It also means you can brainstorm ideas for the paper without worrying about the actual content. Writing first will allow you to think about your topic before you’ve finished writing the paper.
Although everyone will have their own style, I believe a first draft should only contain a rough outline of ideas and minor details. It should be easy to understand what each paragraph is about because they won’t be written in the most polished manner. You can even make a note on what changes or additions are needed for your final draft with different colours and/or bolding so that when it comes time to edit, you know what needs work.
Set yourself deadlines
Another way to overcome barriers to writing is to set yourself deadlines. Tell yourself that you must finish the paper by a certain date. This can help you keep focused on the writing process, even if you’re not feeling like it.
However, if you set yourself too many deadlines, you’ll likely rush through the writing process. This will result in a less-than-stellar paper. Instead, set yourself a realistic deadline, and if you miss it, that’s okay. Just write the next section and move on.
Another good habit to develop early on is to become more accountable. This means that you’re going to have to talk to someone about your progress on your paper.
If you’re worried about telling people what you’re working on, consider getting feedback from someone who knows you well. You could ask your supervisor, a colleague or a lecturer for some feedback. This will give you an idea of how you’re doing and whether you’re making any mistakes along the way.
Finally, reward yourself for writing. It doesn’t matter if it’s taking a break, watching a movie or treating yourself to a nice meal, the important thing is that you’re rewarded for writing. This will build positive reinforcement and make it easier to stick to your writing schedule.