On Writing

October 8, 2018

I’ve had a productive research career. I learned early on how to ask interesting questions and how to answer them. Learning to write took me much longer. I struggled. I assumed the reader knew too much and I was in a hurry to get to the conclusions. With practice it eventually clicked. By the time I was promoted to associate professor I was publishing four to five papers a year and I had regular success with research proposals. Increasingly my focus is on teaching students how to write. My advice: practice. Write everyday. Here are a few additional tips:

  • Read good writing.
  • Keep it simple.
  • Use the active voice.
  • Edit relentlessly.
  • Ask questions that interest you, not ones other people think are most important.
  • Learn to write in short time intervals (e.g., half hour). Often that is all you get.
  • Transcribe word for word a well-written paper. Maybe one from your advisor.