Skills Earth Sciences

General tips for the writing stage

Sitting down to write can be easier for some than it is for others, and it may take some time to develop a strategy that works for you. Here are some common techniques that you can try out and cherry-pick parts from to develop your own ideal writing strategy:

  • Many writers assign a certain amount of time each day to merely focus on writing. They set a certain time (e.g. from 9:00-11:00 am) and stick to that, so that writing becomes part of everyday life. This does not mean that they are writing full paragraphs or chapters each day, but it can help to allocate a specific time to write out ideas or to document your progress of that day. Documenting your entire research process (as when keeping a field book during fieldwork, for example) will prove to be a valuable time investment when you write up your text at the end of the project. When allocating a certain part of the day to write, keep in mind that your energy levels vary throughout the day. Experiment a little to determine when you have the best focus and energy to write and plan your day accordingly.
  • If the blank page is too daunting, it may also help to start by writing the separate sections of your text in separate documents13. By splitting it up into sizeable chunks, you may reduce the frustration of a not yet neat-looking or well-reading document.
  • Include (early) conclusions in your text13. Each time you write a sub-section of your Results chapter, try to immediately note down some implications of those results in your Discussion and/or Conclusion chapter(s). You may need to rewrite these later, but it will help you organize your thoughts, not forget about important implications your results may have, and keep seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.
  • Leave some clear-cut tasks for the next day13, but note down some key words so you don’t forget your train of thought. It can also help to make a to-do list for the next day so that you know where to start/continue. This will keep you from spending valuable energy and time doing so when you make a fresh start.
  • Try working together with others who have similar tasks. Having a writing buddy can motivate you to get started or keep going when you struggle with motivating yourself. Besides, you could help each other by having discussions during breaks, or by reviewing (parts of) each other’s work.
  • If you dread working on certain sections of your text and you find yourself procrastinating, try working with the Pomodoro technique (see the Self-regulated learning module). Getting started is often the hardest part and working on something for a short, dedicated time with a break in sight, might help you get in the flow.
  • Once you have progressed a bit further, collect your small bits and pieces of writing into a larger file so you keep an overview of your progress. Once most parts are nearly finished, having everything together may help you see the finish line and motivate you to get it done13.
  • Try writing with an audience in mind that you know will find your work interesting (e.g. a friend you study with/peers), and who does not have to grade your work.
  • Ask a peer, friend, or supervisor to review (part) of your text and give constructive feedback3. You can do this at different stages, g. you could have someone review the structure of your work, the discussion chapter, your figures, etc. Be kind to those who help you and try to divide their work load: it could be useful to gain multiple perspectives from different (not too many!) people or on different parts of your text, and it will take your reviewers less time to consider short sections rather than your entire text. Remember to communicate clearly what you expect from your reviewers: Do you want them to revise, edit, or proofread (see the revision process chapter), and do you want them to edit the text itself or merely make suggestions with a few comments?