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Advice to writers: Treat it like teaching

January 30, 2015 Filed under Blog, Featured, Writing 

While helping a student write a particularly challenging chapter in his dissertation, it occurred to me that one piece of advice that may help him is to treat his writing like teaching.

Imagine, if instead of communicating your science through a written report, you had to teach your ideas to students who had not seen this material before. What would you tell them? How would you explain it?

It is no surprise that the best teachers are often the best authors, too. Their writing is clear and easy to follow, as if they were leading a group of students through the material. Writing a scientific paper has a lot of similarities with teaching.

If you approach your writing like teaching, it solves many of the problems that scientific authors often face in the review process.

1. The motivation for the research would be clearly described. Students often have little patience for things that are “not on the exam”. So, lecture material must make clear what its value is to the student, whether the material is on the exam or not. Likewise, readers of scientific papers want to know why what they are reading is important.

2. Methods sections would be much more clearly explained because all the steps would be included. Students who are only given parts of a lab exercise and are left to fill in the remaining parts often struggle. Similarly, readers of scientific papers are often confused when steps are left out of the methods.

3. Rather than just showing a figure and expecting the audience to interpret it and understand its importance, the author would fully describe the figure to the satisfaction of the reader.

I hope that authors who are struggling with communicating their work can imagine themselves as teaching the material and improve their writing as a result. Share your thoughts below in the comments section

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

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One Response to “Advice to writers: Treat it like teaching”
  1. Matthew Bunkers says:

    That’s a great idea, Dave. To me it seems that one key of good writing is one’s perspective. Writing from the perspective of being a teacher forces us to keep our readers in mind, which in my opinion is what writing is all about.

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