The Benefits of Daily Writing

What is “Daily Writing”?

Writing takes time, whether it is a research project, poem, dissertation, or the next 500-page young adult novel. Often, a medium to large scale writing project can seem both daunting and exhausting. One way to make large writing projects (or writing projects of any kind) seem less intimidating is to engage in the practice of daily writing.
Daily writing has been something suggested and successfully used by multiple authors, bloggers, and professors. Becca Tarsa, contributor to Another Word, UW-Madison’s writing center blog, explained some realities about daily writing in her article, “More than Word Counts: The Emotional Benefits of Daily Writing”. She writes, “Daily writing gets a lot of good press, and for good reason: it works. There’s strong evidence that daily writers are productive writers. Brian Martin uses the metaphor of athletic training to make the case for daily writing: athletes don’t work themselves to the point of collapse once every few weeks – they achieve their best results by training moderately every day” (Tarsa). Tarsa’s insight supports the reality that mastery of a medium or a topic takes time, and daily engagement with that medium is essential to move towards any end goal. For example, when learning a new language, students who practice small amounts of the vocabulary or syntax of the language daily will develop the language. One cannot assume that they will be able to have attained fluency over a language in a brief period of time. Within this context, writing is both like athletic training and learning a new language. Writing takes time. There are multiple methods to strengthen your writing, but engaging in writing every day is one proven way to both get a lot accomplished and to build writing style. There are easier days where things seem to click, and there are days where all inspiration and motivation lacks. Yet, in those slow and rough days, those are the times that writing is the most imperative. Writing about big and small things, about things that seem relevant and don’t seem relevant, these are practices that add to progress and moving forward.

What to Write?

There are many purposes for daily writing. Some people write daily to help make sense of their lives, to help them process the things that they see everyday around them. Some examples of daily writing that do not have an academic aim include diaries, thought journals, and creative writing. These types of writing allow for personal growth and reflection through writing. While some people use daily writing to better understand life, others choose to use daily writing to work towards a goal: they may write 500-750 words, writing for different projects and papers. When using daily writing for academic means, or for bigger projects, daily writing can seem boring and tedious. To combat this, focus on whatever seems interesting to you for that day. Write ideas and thoughts that strike you, whether or not they seem relevant to one specific aspect of your work. It is highly likely that if you are writing about what interests you, you will be able to incorporate it into your end goal, making it richer and more fascinating. Choosing to write about what we are passionate about will make the time move faster and you can better focus on your end goal. The beauty of daily writing is that it is flexible; all you have to do is build a habit, writing about the same topic or different topics throughout the course of the day. In keeping with my earlier metaphor, learning a language looks different as you practice and study it daily. You’ll need to spend longer times learning the complex aspects of the language. Yet, even within these complex conjugations, vocabularies, or tenses, you can add variety to how you learn it. No two days of learning will look the same. The same principle goes for daily writing: no two days will be the same, and all of the time you put into this practice will pay off.

How To Begin

Now that you’ve figured out what you want to write, there are many ways to implement daily writing as a habit in your everyday life. Whatever you choose to write, write with purpose, beginning with a small, achievable goal. Start off by writing for ten minutes a day, and see how it goes. Form a habit, and make it fun; write when you feel most productive and when you feel most awake. If it helps, have coffee, tea, or a large glass of ice water on hand next to you as you write. Write in an environment where you are most comfortable, using your laptop or your favorite pen and a notebook. I’m a big fan of listening to classical music as I write. Because I know this about myself, I’ve equipped my spotify with a few playlists I use expressly for writing. Knowing how you write best will make this endeavor more fun. Once you’ve set your environment to your liking, write little by little. As you do this, the writing you do will begin to seem much more achievable. Once you find the pattern that works best for you and you’re established in that, it will springboard you into reaching writing goals, and you will grow in the area of writing.
For more insight on Daily Writing, Read Tarsa’s blog here.

References:

Tarsa, Becca. “More Than Word Counts: The Emotional Benefits of Daily Writing.” Another Word. University of Wisconsin-Madison Writing Center, 16 Mar. 2016. Web.

Saving and Losing Work

It’s no secret that technology is flawed. Whether it’s not saving your work when you tell it to or refusing to start up, technology has let me down more times than I can count. This summer, for example, I had a computer that randomly gave up on turning on at all. The consequences may not have been as great as if it had been during the school year. However, I did lose all of my progress on something I had been working on on the side for years. As such, I have some tips to help others avoid what happened to me, including sending copies to others, saving to a cloud storage account, and most importantly what to do if you lose all of your work.

Sending copies to others

Along the same line’s as Kaitie’s post about peer review, it is important to ensure that others look at your work. This is beneficial in all of the ways that she lists, but it is also beneficial in that it allows you to back-up, and if need be recover, your work. If you send it to someone to look at, you can retrieve that version that you sent from your email. This is something I have used a number of times when transferring between computers. If you aren’t ready to have someone else read your work, send it to yourself. This is particularly useful when you are working on a school computer and don’t have a flash-drive. Sometimes, when you use a flash-drive to get a copy of your work off the school computer, it can bring along a virus, so it is always good to have an extra uncorrupt file on hand.

Saving to a cloud storage account

One incredibly useful tool that many of us have access to is cloud storage. If you are a PC owner, you have a bunch of options for cloud storage. When I was using a PC, I know that I had a lot of cloud storage through Microsoft and through OneDrive. Now, they have combined the two and are calling it OneDrive. PC and Mac have access to a program called Dropbox. Much like Google Drive, you can share your pieces with others as well as store them in the cloud.
Mac users have another option in cloud storage that we often forget about: iCloud. iCloud allows users to back up all of their data, not just documents, to the cloud and access them from any Apple product. For example, I have my messages connected to both my phone and my computer. The cloud allows the two devices to work together and make sure my information is up to date on both. This works for documents as well. You can work on a document in Pages (or many other programs), save it to iCloud, and access it from another device. If you save it from Pages, you can access it through iCloud’s website under the Pages option. If you saved it to iCloud in general, say from a Word document, you can access it through the iCloud Drive option. However, if you save it to iCloud Drive, it will download to whatever device you are on for you to work on it.

What to do when technology fails

When you do lose work, consider what your deadline is for. If it’s for your mentor to look at your current research, explain to them the situation. More often than not, teachers will understand technology issues. If it’s a submission deadline for the program, there’s not as much leeway on deadlines. Either way, here are some steps that I recommend that you consider taking.
  1. Most importantly, do not panic. More often than not, you can retrieve your work, even if it’s not your most recent draft, from an email to or from your mentor. You may have to redo some of your work, but it’s better than starting from scratch.
  2. Start contacting the people you work with who have read your work. Search your email for the document title to see if you sent it as an attachment at some point.
  3. Redo any work that you lost. Do not worry about getting the wording exactly the same. It can be beneficial to rewrite anyway. You have thought about your contents longer than when you wrote your initial draft. Because of this, you will have an easier time being concise.
  4. If you lost most or all of your work, rewrite it. Do not give up hope. It will take some time, but not nearly as much as your initial draft took. Like I said before, you have been thinking about it and already written a draft, so you will be able to compose your new draft quickly.
Remember, you have ways to prevent losing your draft, whether it is sending your work to someone or saving it to the cloud. You also have the skills to rewrite your information quickly. Follow these tips, and it won’t seem like such a daunting task.

An Extra Set of Eyes: The Importance of Having Multiple People Read Your Writing

On Wordsworth and the Current Society

“But Poets do not write for Poets alone, but for men”
-William Wordsworth

William Wordsworth, one of the most prolific poets of the British Romantic era, was an advocate for the dispersion of poetry to a large audience comprised of the common man. During that time in history, writing and literature, specifically poetry, was seen as something only written for an educated upper-class. Wordsworth challenged that paradigm and wrote the above quote, believing that poetry and writing should be both accessible to all and written for a large audience so that it could make a difference in the lives of common men.
Today, our society is saturated with text, writing, and information. From a young age, children are surrounded by the internet, newspapers, and books. They are interacting with varieties of texts daily. So, Wordsworth’s hopes seemingly came true. Writing is so much more accessible to the common man. Even so, his thoughts about audience are still deeply relevant. All authors have a specific audience in mind when they write. For example, bloggers write for specific audiences, such as gourmet food enthusiasts or people interested in new and innovative technologies. Books are written to be read by a target audience. In real-world contexts, writers know their audience and write with them in mind. So, this concept of audience and writing to be read has merit to be explored.

On Writing in the University and the Classroom

Even though we live in a world where writing so often has an audience, there are some situations where audience can be limited. Many assignments for university courses and secondary classrooms are only ever read by the teacher who created the assignment. Students write with their teacher in mind and do not share their writings any further than that. This, to me, is a travesty. Once they enter their career paths, these same students will be asked to write in real-world contexts with a specific audiences in mind. Social workers will need to write reports for families and for the government, scientists will have to write for journals to disseminate their research, and business men and women will have to create presentations and write strategic plans for their companies. These writing contexts will have real ramifications and real audiences that are important. When students frequently do not have their writings read by more than one person, real life will not be modeled. Not having the long-labored work that students produce read more widely than one teacher does not fit with many real-world writing tasks.
Though this occurs at many levels of education, there are multiple opportunities in place for students to have their writing read, if they know where to look. Peer tutoring, literature groups and circles, and writing centers provide students with a chance to share their writing, get feedback, and have more than one person read their writing. Other platforms, such as literature magazines or student journals provide chances for students to get their writing published. Also, starting academic blogs or even having a time in class to share student research and writing are ways that students can present to their peers. These small ways to get writing read more widely are ways that students can improve as writers and begin to think about the importance of audience, modeling a much more realistic context for writing. Students will be able to see that writing is read and understood in different ways by different people, and a rich depth of readership will help them become better writers.

On the Connection to Undergraduate Research

Connecting the idea of audience to undergraduate research is important. Having writing read is a key part in the reality of undergraduate research, as the idea of writing being disseminated is an integral part of the undergraduate research process. Though an audience is clearly outlined for many undergraduate research students within the process of dissemination, it still is important for students to have multiple people reading their writing before their research is presented to councils, peers, and professionals in any given field. The more feedback that students get on their writing, the better it will become. When students see the multifaceted nature of how writing is received, the importance of having many people read, respond to, and interact with writing will be highlighted. To connect this to similar situations in the academic world, many professors have their colleagues read and respond to their research before publishing it in a notable journal within their discipline. This gives them feedback and the ability to revise and reconsider their work, polishing it and making it even more accessible to their audiences. Undergraduate research students should have similar opportunities, through working with their mentoring professor, peers, and programs such as ours, where writing mentors have conversations about their research. All of these factors will make for a more polished project, but also give students more insight into learning the process of writing.
To see more insight into how to think about audience, look at Alexis’s previous post, Analyzing Audience. If you want to have a second set of eyes read over your writing and give you feedback, make an appointment today by emailing urpwm@uww.edu.

Starting the Semester Strong

It’s the start of a new school year, and you’re pumped to be back, or maybe you’re starting your entire college career. There are some important thing to remember as you go through your first few weeks concerning homework, sleep, and health.
Homework
The dreaded “h” word. Whether you’re new to college or a seasoned veteran, this word means hours spent doing something you don’t want to do for a class you maybe don’t want to be in. You have to remember these simple things regarding homework: it will help you succeed in this class and future classes, it does matter to your immediate understand of the class, and it should be done as soon as possible.
I cannot count the number of times that my previous classes have influenced my understanding of my current classes. Now, you might think “of course it does, Alexis. They’re all about writing.” However, I can tell you that I have studied a number of different styles of writing, from screenwriting to writing for a job. I did not think that my screenwriting class would influence my understanding of nonfiction writing, but it has. I have learned to connect the different commonalities to improve my writing style. I’m sure this is true in other majors as well. Math is important to any science, so it’s good that you have to take Math 141. Writing skills are important to any major that requires communication between peers, so it’s good that you have to take English 101 and 102. I could go on, but I’m sure you get the point. Homework takes these skills from previous classes and teaches you to use them in your current class. Without it, you might not realize that these connections are there.
Your current classes may suggest certain writing assignments but not require them. One important thing to remember: it doesn’t matter if they’re required, the teacher thinks it will help your understanding of the subject matter. I’m not saying to do every single suggested activity. If you completely understand what is going on without doing the assignment, don’t waste your time doing it. However, if you have no clue what’s going on, do the assignment. It will help, even if you don’t immediately realize it. Your grade relies heavily on the homework that you have to do each day, so make sure you get as many points as possible. Don’t give up with half the points you could potentially earn.
You also don’t want to be unable to complete an assignment because you put it off. Again, I know this from personal experience. I have always been a procrastinator. However, this semester while working two jobs and doing an internship and taking eighteen credits, I have learned that the homework that I would normally put off until the last minute is better off being done as soon after it is assigned as possible. Doing this allows me more time to hang out with friends, and it allows some of stress of having all of that going on to be released. I don’t have to worry about how much time it’s going to take, because I’ve already done it. If you take nothing else from this article, which you should, remember this: do not put your homework off, it lessens the quality of your work.

Sleep

As an insomniac, I know the importance of sleep. I have never received the recommended hours of sleep without taking a sleeping medicine prescribed by my doctors. Get the amount you need. It might seem pointless. However, that party you went to the other day caused you to go to bed at 3 A.M. Now, you’re tired and oversleeping. Staying up later than you would any other day will throw off your sleep schedule. Waking up later than usual, as you most likely would end up doing after staying up until 3, also throws off your sleep schedule. I don’t mean that you should stay up until three every night, so you can go to parties and have fun. I’m saying that you should go to bed at a decent time every night, even if it means leaving the party a little early. Scientists recommend 9 hours of sleep every night. This is because if you don’t get enough sleep, you become grumpy, have a shorter temper, and are more likely to catch whatever illness is going around at the time. The less energy (produced by sleep) your body has, the less well your immune system deals with the onslaught of illnesses that college, and dorms, provide.

Health

One thing that you should absolutely remember regarding your health: if you push yourself to go to class when you are genuinely sick, you likely will end up missing more subsequent classes. This does not mean skip class for every little cold you get, because you will get a lot from the exposure to new germs. It simply means that if you have the flu or strep or whatever other big illness goes around, stay home. Your teacher will probably be happy to avoid that illness. If you find yourself getting a lot of the sicknesses that go around, go to the doctor and get a doctor’s note. You probably have more going on inside your body. You have to make sure you keep in touch with your teachers if something like this happens. It’s important to remember that college is four years (or slightly more than four years) of your life and serious, untreated illness could cause issues your whole life.
So, while you enjoy the beginning of the semester, remember that you also have to work on homework, sleep, and take care of yourself. Please, keep these ideas in mind.

Working with Writer’s Block

Writer’s block happens to the best of us. From forgetting your information to not knowing where to start, we’ve all been there. The good news is that it is temporary. Here are some amazing tips for coping with writer’s block.

Change Locations

Oftentimes, changing locations will help provide you with a new perspective. A number of authors (such as Richelle Mead or Michael Grant) have said that when they have writers block they leave their houses. Some of them go to a hotel, some to a coffee shop. The important thing is to avoid somewhere with a lot of distractions. Don’t go to the park, if you’re a people-watcher. Don’t go to a book store coffee shop, if you’re going to be distracted by the books. You know what works best for you.

Take Breaks

If you find yourself drifting off, it’s time for a break. You can go on Facebook, read a book, take a walk. Most importantly, you need to give your brain a break so that you know you are producing your best work. It’s also important to allow yourself time to process what you’ve already written. It will stop you from thinking too hard about something, which can cause your piece to sound confused. Most likely, you’ll confuse yourself as well. For example, you could be thinking it needs to be researched and cited, but really you just need to write your opinion.

Free Write

Write about something else for a while. This is akin to taking a break. It will allow your mind to focus on something else. You could write whatever comes into your head on a separate piece of paper or in a separate document, in a manner similar to a journal. There doesn’t even need to be cohesion. If your brain jumps from a test to a train, follow it. However, be careful not to mix your paper and your thought stream together until you are struck by a new idea for your piece. You should try to brainstorm for a while and don’t get so absorbed in your new topic that you forget about what you need to do. This gives your mind a break and allows you to get some of your distracting thoughts out of your head. If you happen to write something related to your topic, incorporate it into your old topic. Most importantly, know your limits. If all you can think about is food, it’s probably time to eat something. You won’t be able to produce your best work if you aren’t able to focus on it.

Music

Listening to music stimulates the brain. Multiple studies, including one by Johns Hopkins School of Education, show that music helps students learn and remember new information. It also focuses the student on the task at hand. I have found that music helps me to get past writer’s block. In fact, I’m listening to music as I write this. Music is important. You can create your desired environment through the different genres of music. If you want relaxed, listen to orchestral music. If you want upbeat, listen to pop. There is a music genre for any type of environment you want, it just might take a while to find it. I personally listen to my Lindsey Sterling station on Pandora while working on papers. The instrumentals help me to focus on my work without distracting me with lyrics. She also has a bunch of cool songs.

Keep these ideas in mind next time you are working against writer’s block. It is necessary to learn how to get around it, so you can write your paper the way you want. Writer’s block happens, but we don’t need to let it rule our finals weeks.

Creating a Research Question

Undergraduate research at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater is an amazing opportunity for students to pursue, is celebrated by faculty and staff, and helps many students to explore their passions through research. To learn more about their program, visit the URP homepage.
As a student, I know that research can be appealing not only for the personal interest that it provides but also for the practical experience that it can contribute to future professions. One of the practical questions that students who want to begin in the undergraduate research program ask is, “what do I want to research?”
Creating a research question is one of the first ways to get started with undergraduate research. So…how do you pick a research question? What constitutes a good research question? Beginning to think about these questions is essential for students wanting to step into the world of undergraduate research.

What is a research question?

To start thinking about what would be an appropriate research question to ask, the definition of a research question must be explored. A research question is essentially a clear, focused, concise, and arguable question that you can focus your research on. This can and will look different for each person, as people are not monoliths: they each have different interests, ways of thinking, and ideas for their research.

Find a topic that interests you

To begin thinking about what you want to research, think about a field or topic that is particularly interesting to you. For example, if education and personality are two topics of interest, you could make a list of ways in which those two topics could intersect. To take my example above, you could examine introversion and extroversion in the classroom, how personality affects where students choose to sit in a lecture hall, or how the personality of the teacher affects student perceptions of the subject being taught. These are just examples, but beginning to write out some options helps immensely in the research process. Also, it is key that you are interested in your topic, since it is plausible that you will invest a good amount of time into writing proposals, research, and dissemination.

Pre-research

The next step in the process is to begin doing a bit of preliminary research on the topic. This doesn’t have to be anything extensive but having an understanding of what other research and resources are available to you is a helpful thing. A little pre-research on google or through the library databases can help you see any ways to modify and strengthen your question.

Significance

Your question should hold significance, as it must be both meaningful to you and helpful or interesting to those you would be presenting to. For example, if I were to research the impact of collaboration and group work on introverted students in the classroom, this would be interesting to me and informative for both students and educators.

Too broad? Too narrow?

Another aspect to consider when creating a research question is, “is my question too broad or too narrow?” Looking at an umbrella topic, such as childhood obesity, could result in too many options of how to move forward with research. Likewise, looking too specifically at a topic can yield little to no results. Finding a topic that is a manageable size to research is important, saving a lot of time and stress throughout the research process.

Further Resources

There are multiple excellent resources that are available to students who are creating a research question. Below, find two helpful links and one short informational video.
George Mason University’s Writing Center provides multiple quick guides to help with a variety of writing needs. Check out their guide entitled “How to write a research question.”
Grand Canyon University also provides an example of a step-by-step formulation of a research question on their center for innovation in research and teaching website.
Finally, Georgia State University’s Center for Instruction and Innovation created a short video explaining the process of creating a research question. View the video below:

The Writing Process: Is there a “Right” Way?

Recently, on social media, a picture of a paper about Rosa Parks circulated. The student opened with an honest and witty sentence of extreme self-disclosure that appealed to a lot of my peers and contributed to the photo’s virility. See the aforementioned paper’s blatantly honest and sassy opening below.

Rosa Parks 4


Through the numerous shares and comments that it received, it is clear that this paper struck a chord with multitudes of student writers. I sent this photo to a couple of my friends who are studying to be teachers, and we laughed about the opening statement, while feeling sorry for the professor. We found it impressive that this student was able to encapsulate quite a few thoughts that we have had when composing a paper in one extra-long sentence. Yet, as I have thought about this idea further, a few questions have arisen. Is this, truly, what the writing process is like? Are we forever doomed to long nights and caffeine dependence to just meet the requirements of papers, research, and other writing assignments that we pursue? Is there another way? Is writing something to hold a somewhat disrespectful attitude towards? Perhaps, instead of believing that writing comes only out of an impressive caffeine addiction and sass towards professors, we need to shift our thinking about what actually constitutes the writing process, and examine some core truths about writing.

Debunking Common Writing Myths

There are quite a few myths surrounding writing. It is easy to believe these widely known and highly circulated ideas, and I hope to shed some light on four ideas that are accepted as common and to reveal truths about writing.
  1. Good writers are born that way. Like anything else in life, some people are better writers than others. However, remember that the vast majority of people who are good writers have put in hours of work and learned through the process of writing.. Also, know that no one is born with a perfect understanding of grammar, mechanics, and idea organization. All of these things may come easier to some, but most writers would say that there is a learning process involved in writing in which they are continually improving. So, when you begin to think that writing is for the select few, remember that J.K. Rowling received multiple rejection letters and still continued to write. The truth is that everyone and anyone can become better writers, as there is always room for learning and improvement.
  2. Writing is always hard. I’ll be honest. Writing can be difficult and frustrating, taking time, input from others, and multiple revisions. However, when you believe that there is no hope to make writing easier, you’ve lost half of the mental battle. One of my teachers once told me, “write what you are passionate about.” When we are writing about what we know, love, and are invested in, our writing can be interesting and engaging. When this happens, the difficulty of writing begins to fade.
  3. Writing isn’t always valuable. Writing of any kind has value, because the writer is learning, processing, and practicing as they write. Even if no one else ever reads writing that is produced, the mere experience of putting thoughts down on paper holds value, the value of practice. Therefore, assignments that may seem pointless to students in a college class do actually have value. These assignments are opportunities to engage with writing and gain more practice. Like the earlier photo, the paper on Rosa Parks may have seemed pointless to the student but held value because the student learned, engaged, and wrote what he knew.
  4. There is a ‘right’ way to write. Everyone writes differently. There is no ideal setting in which inspiration flows effortlessly, so believing this myth can be detrimental. Some people write best at certain times of day, in quieter or noisier environments, with their dog sitting next to them, or a glass of iced tea close by. Ultimately, writers need to find what works best for them, and realize that what works for them in one case may not work for them in all of their writing. Writing is an organic process that looks different every time that you engage with it; learning more about yourself and your tendencies can help make writing less daunting. Yet, it is important to realize that there isn’t a wrong way to engage with writing and that how, where, and why you write can, and probably will, change throughout your life. All this being said, it is true that there are some really helpful resources for writers that can help them along in their writing. Talking through writing, drafting, and examining models of writing can help writers immensely. However, none of these things fit into a perfect formula that help writers produce writing.
    1. Rethinking Writing

      These myths are pervasive in our culture. The Rosa Parks paper does connect with students on many levels like revealing frustrations about writing. Though there are days when every writer has his or her frustrations, the truth is that writing can be more interesting than we believe.  When we see writing as a chance to grow, a chance to build our writing skills and our knowledge, and a chance to see things from a new way, our motivations change. Writing can accomplish so much; it can build worlds, inspire, inform, and engage. When we begin to think about our audience, our ability to learn through the process of writing, and our opportunity to have a chance to inform audiences and make them think, our writing may take on new nuances. Student writers, by changing their perspective, can use writing powerfully.

Analyzing Audience

In any type of writing, it is important to know and understand your audience. This is particularly useful when you are presenting information that is considered important in research. If you know and understand your audience, you can tailor your wording and persuasive techniques to match your readers. There are a number of important things that a writer needs to consider about their audience: education, occupation, age, and applicability.

Education

The audience’s education can tell a writer what words to use and what words to avoid. It also allows the writer to understand what prior knowledge the audience will have on the subject. For example, if the audience is people who have a high school education with no experience at college, you would avoid using words that are less common outside the speech of academics. Because the audience will not have heard the words enough to be familiar, they may not understand what is being said. If the audience has their PhD, you would be able to use those academic words. However, in the latter case, it is important to analyze what discipline their degree is in, because if the audience contains English professors and you’re presenting scientific information, you may not be able to use some of the more scientific terms. This goes alongside the second point: prior knowledge. You can assume, if the audience members are scientists in the field you are presenting in, that they know the basic workings what you are experimenting with. You would not need to explain as much of the process or what you are working with as you would need to if the audience had little to no scientific background.

Occupation

This category may seem closely related to education. However, it is important to know the occupation of your reader as well as the education, because they tell you different things. Even if your audience member has a PhD in science, they may not work in the field of science. So, they would be less familiar with the current scientific development than a scientist who may study these developments as part of their job. The audience member who does not work in science may have forgotten some of what they learned and may need a refresher. Ultimately, it is important to provide information in a way that anyone, even those who are less informed, can understand so that there is no confusion over what you are saying. This may seem tedious, because you know what you are saying. But your audience might not know, so make it clear and concise.

Age

There are many differences between age groups that are important to remember when you are writing. If the audience is older, you would avoid using some slang that hasn’t been around longer and speak in a more formal tone. If the audience is younger, you would speak using any slang you wanted and would use a less formal tone. Just like in real life, anything said would be different for someone who is a child compared to someone who is an adult. Also, you can consider how long the audience may have been out of school. They may or may not remember everything they learned. There is also the possibility that they know more than they did in school, depending on their job. If the audience is full of older adults, they would most likely have more practical knowledge. You can tailor your references and example to whatever age group you are writing for.

Applicability

The readers want to know why your article or work is important, why it applies to them. If you make it clear, say to an audience of scientists, that your work furthers other research in the field, then they will be more likely to read it. This applies to any of the different disciplines that work on undergraduate research. If you have some new evidence or claim that Shakespeare was a fraud, then English teachers would be interested to read it, whether to agree or disagree. Humans are curious creatures as a whole, if you provide something interesting that they don’t know, they’ll read it. This is why it’s important to remember what your audience has read and how it is important and applicable to them. They won’t want to waste time reading information that they already know.
Altogether, these factors, education, occupation, age, and applicability, allow you to tailor your research presentation and make it more interesting to people who may read it. It is important to encompass all possibilities within each category and find the balance between the different styles you may use.

Scientific Writing: A Story Worth Reading

When I think of science writing, I don’t often consider it to be anything riveting. Yet, I’ve seen that science itself can be interesting (just think Mythbusters). However, when science meets writing, the exciting parts of science seem to lose their appeal. Science writing has multiple negative stereotypes associated with it; it is often critiqued on the grounds that it isn’t interesting, that it is confusing, and that scientists are simply bad writers. If these beliefs are true, researchers, students, and patrons of the sciences have little hope for their writing. In 2013, Judy Swan, the Associate Director of the Princeton Writing Program, gave a TEDx talk entitled “In Praise of Technique”. Her talk highlighted many of these negative beliefs and voiced a new perspective on scientific writing. Through this post, I hope to break down some of Swan’s main points about scientific writing and apply them to students participating in scientific undergraduate research.

Seeing text from the reader’s perspective

One of Swan’s main points was the need for scientific writers to begin to change how they think about writing. She asked writers to consider the text from the perspective of readers. This is because not every reader of scientific research has a strong background in scientific thought or verbiage. The exposure of readers to science could be anywhere on the continuum of relatively small to relatively great. Therefore, scientific writing that assumes that every other reader of their work will hold the same understanding of the sciences that they do will lose a large readership. If scientists begin to see the text from the perspective of their readers, they begin to engage more deeply, explain, and passionately draw the reader into their work.

Is passive writing bad?

One of the stereotypes of scientific writing, as I said earlier, is that it is simply bad writing. Often, scientists choose to write in the passive form and are frowned upon because of this choice. Indeed, some people believe that passive writing is bad. By passive writing, I mean sentences such as: “Heart disease is considered the leading cause of death in the United States.” This sentence, far from being confusing or unclear, brings the subject forward as heart disease and leaves the researchers who discovered this out of the picture. Swan highlights these ideas in her talk, bringing up the fact that the passive voice can not only be intentional and useful, it can also bring the materials and the science being explored to the forefront. Thus, researchers and human agents fade to the background and the materials and science being studied are the subjects of the work.

Whose story is it anyways?

When thinking about scientific writing, Swan argues, one should first consider the audience, but also whose story the writing conveys. Instead of the research being about something that Dr. X has found, it is instead about the medicine for heart disease, the endangered species of the marshland, or the patterns of the milky way. Passive writing allows science to come to the forefront of the text. The story of science is conveyed to the audience. When considering science to be a story, the arguments and stereotypes against scientific writing begin to be replaced by a much more engaging narrative. This story has and will captivate an audience. Beginning to see scientific writing as more than a mere dissemination of findings can be transformative. The story of science can provide voices for cells, DNA, and other voiceless parts of the world. When scientists change their perspective and consider the story of the science they are studying, their writing not only will become better writing, it will also be more engaging for audiences.

Connecting Swan’s TEDx talk to undergraduate researchers

This TEDx talk is specifically relevant to undergraduate research because it combines two things that are often needed in scientific research: disseminating research findings and good writing. Swan’s ideas regarding thinking about audience can give research students a better focus on how to write their findings. This is deeply advantageous for students who want to present their findings to do: it can help build focus and foster creativity. Also, Swan’s talk reveals the value of writing in the passive form. Naysayers to this style don’t see the inherent value of bringing science to the forefront of the writing. However, a shift in perspective can make all the difference. Ultimately, this TEDx talk is a valuable one for both students of science and students of writing to watch. This is because it helps students in the sciences to think about their writing differently, and for students of writing to see the profound impact that scientific writing can have. Swan argues in defense of scientific writing. Scientific writing is a story worth reading.
Want to hear the talk for yourself? Check out the the video, found below: