Tuesday, January 9, 2018
I saw this article recommended in the Twitter feed of Daniel Willingham, a noted professor of cognitive scientist at UVA and author of the book Why Don't Students Like School? [hint - it's because book learnin' is really hard] and thought some of our readers might be interested too. It's called Ten Simple Rules for Structuring Papers and consists of writing tips for scientists preparing research papers for publication. A central theme of the article is that the authors of such works need to be especially aware of the need for clarity and good organization because their subject matter is often very technical and challenging for readers. As you'll see, some of these tips apply equally well to both law students working on seminar papers and their professors working on their own scholarship. And though some of this advice is, concededly, either common sense or already known by people who do a lot of writing for a living, it's always helpful to hear it explained from a slightly different angle. Among the tips:
- Focus your paper on a single point and communicate that in the title. Your paper is a success if colleagues can describe its contribution to the field or topic a year later.
- Write for flesh and blood humans who don't know your work.
- Tell a complete story in your abstract.
- Communicate in the introduction why the paper matters.
- Don't get too attached to your own writing during the drafting process. Be prepared to trash entire paragraphs and even whole sections since that often turns out to be a more efficient way of improving it than incremental editing
Actually, a lot of this advice to good brief writing as well. Check out the full article, which is not long, here at Public Library of Science website (it's open source so feel free to spread the cheer).