notepad and pencil on a table with blurred background

Over the years of my candidature, I seem to have collected stacks of paper and even as I strive to produce less waste and not print anything, I’ve still ended up with a collection of portable hard drives.

Some of the boxes in the back of my house are filled with old research papers, reference books, mementos from my undergraduate life and even school. I can’t help but think about the recent tragedies surrounding the attack on Ukraine, Lismore floods or bushfires and reflect on the things that matter, what do I value? I am not saying that childhood mementos and family heirlooms should be discarded, but instead I am wanting to ponder on things that I no longer need, things that no longer serve a purpose in my life – and maybe even in my research.

Writing advice that I’ve heard again and again throughout graduate school is that you get to the final draft by writing thousands of previous drafts. One critical element that I am trying to incorporate with that piece of advice is the element of being deliberate with the draft-writing. “Two golden hours of writing” – that was the advice, and take note “golden”. There is a deliberate act of writing. Two golden hours of writing versus eight hours of doing everything else but writing.

What are you tips for decluttering your mental space for writing? While trying to meet a minimum word count for a thesis, am I trying to overcomplicate my sentences? Which part of a paper do I enjoy writing the most and which one do I hate? Here are some of the responses from my researcher friends:

  • I think that writing the introduction is much easier than writing the rest of the paper because you have so much info. Conclusions and abstracts are difficult for me to write since there are too less words and too much information, and you have to be precise.
  • My trick for conclusions is to write a sentence summarising each paragraph (maybe 2/3 for the first paragraph) of the discussion then stick them together. I never spend more than a couple of hours writing a conclusion (if that).
  • I actually like writing the methods most and I hate writing the background the most. I think it's easy to write down just exactly what I did in the lab but tedious to rehash everything my intended audience already likely knows about.
  • Methods and results are usually fairly straightforward and easy to tackle for me. Discussion is okay. Intro is hardest. But I am detail-oriented so reporting the details is easier than putting things into the big picture clearly and well.
  • I enjoy writing the results section the most. I have a love/hate relationship with discussions - they’re usually the most challenging for me to write but also the most rewarding. Abstracts will always be my least favourite though.
  • I love methods and results, followed by introduction and abstract. Discussions are my Mount Everest.
  • Throwing data (plots and tables) and writing the discussion is the loveliest part in my case. Particularly when you are structuring the “story” to answer your research questions. About the hardest part, I think it is writing foundations and key concepts.
  • I don't particularly hate any; my challenge is to write each section in the right mood/company. I love reviewing figures and talking through results and discussion with collaborators because I get excited/interpersonally invested.

Any tips to add or share?

Tagged in What messes with your head, phd, Student life, writing