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Webinar #8: Effective Writing Strategies

Updated: Oct 19, 2021

Do you struggle to get your projects written up? Are you someone who has a perfect first paragraph and then gets stuck? Do you sometimes get challenged by different collaboration styles when writing with others?

Writing is an absolutely critical activity for most academics! If we don't write, we don't publish and we don't succeed. And yet so many of us struggle with writing in a timely and effective manner.

In this webinar, the eighth in the "Small Wins" series, ARC Laureate Fellow Professor Sharon Parker (Curtin University) will provide evidence-based strategies to help you to be more successful in the writing process, addressing topics such as procrastination and writing habits.

She will be joined by two female ARC Laureate Fellows, Professor Adrienne Stone (Melbourne Law School) and Professor Hilary Charlesworth (Melbourne Law School and Australian National University) who will share tips on overcoming writing blocks and improving academic writing skills.

Sharon's tips:

1. Don’t procrastinate – create the habit to write

i. Schedule distraction-free time to write: For example, Sharon’s Starbuck Strategy: An hour a day, no email & writing only time.

ii. Choose a defensible and biologically realistic time: it has to be something that works for you.

iii. Aim for the same place to create a “stimulus control”: every time you walk in there you know you are going to write.

2. Set up small, trackable writing goals, track your progress (time, words, etc.), and add a contingency (e.g., I can’t enjoy a cup of coffee until I finish my goal)

3. Try writing with others, harness the power of social

i. Build writing groups, could be many types: goal/accountability groups, write-together groups, feedback groups, etc.

4. Adopt a learning mindset

i. Writing is not a fixed ability, where you either can or can’t write. Believe that writing is a craft and can be learned, and everyone can learn and improve.

ii. Avoid a performance goal orientation—if my writing is not good, my supervisor will think I’m not smart…no they won’t

5. If you don’t know where to start, use the “outline view” in Microsoft word, and map out the structure of your piece of writing. That gives you a birds-eye view of what needs to be done and is often less overwhelming than tackling a huge piece of writing.

Adrienne's tips:

1. Tame your inner critic

a. The inner critic is never going away

b. We just learn to listen to it less

c. You can acknowledge that it’s there, but you don’t have to listen to that inner critic

2. Convince yourself: Writing is part is our job, we should never feel guilty about doing it. Rather, because it is our job, we better make sure we do a lot of it.

3. “Zoom way in, zoom way out” strategy

a. The most unhelpful level of writing is thinking about how the writing will be received, or whether it will help you get a promotion, etc. Instead, try to:

i. Zoom way in: Focus only on the tasks at hand: “I’m going to read this article, I’m going to have this paragraph done.

ii. Zoom way out: When wrapping up a writing session, think broad: our world, the universe, shift the focus on the bigger things.

4. Focus on the work, not you.

a. Tune down unhelpful thoughts that are associated with judgments about yourself (e.g., What will people think of me if I don’t get this done in time…)

b. Focus on the work: I’m writing because the idea is important, and I need to write about it. After I write it maybe it will change something about the world, etc.

5. Take “advantage” of your mentors; if you don’t feel you have one around, could also try creating a mentoring atmosphere

a. Talk to your mentors about your challenges and getting tips

b. Talk to your mentor to make sure your workload is reasonable

Hilary's tips:

1. We always underestimate how much time it takes to do writing, and it’s true for everyone.

2. The first step is the most difficult. You can’t edit a blank page.

a. Start with an empty word doc and just slowly build stuff in, notes and findings, etc.

b. Then print it out and mark it up – that gives you time to collect your thoughts and also builds a sense of progress and reduces the fear

c. You don’t have to read everything before you write anything

3. Writing is a difficult activity, and needs deep thought. But you can break it down into small chunks, enabling it to get done.

a. Best time is before you check email. You may decide to build in writing time BEFORE you open your emails for the day.

b. Write early (don’t put it off), write often and look for more resources in local libraries, writing retreats, etc.

c. There’s no substitute for daily writing but writing retreats can be useful to support your regular writing

d. Pomodoro technique is another way to break things down into smaller, more manageable pieces

e. Before you finish your writing session, write tomorrow’s task at the end of the document.

i. That gives you a starting point for your next session, which can take away the fear of the unknown

4. What if you get stuck? (e.g., I don’t know why I find this topic so difficult)

a. Give yourself a break (walking etc) to clear your mind.

b. Write your train of thought, how you feel about the topic etc. This style of writing gets words onto paper and is a great way to understand where the difficulties lie, so that you can tackle them.

5. Approach people who could be your mentors. They don’t have to be from your institution.

6. Recommended resources:

a. Local libraries, writing retreats, Pomodoro technique

b. Allegra laboratory: Blog article about the value of taking a slow approach in writing

c. Book: “Every Day I Write the Book - Notes on Style” by Amitava Kumar

Tips on collaborative writing:

1. If you can, choose your co-authors carefully, though this is not always an option

2. Meet early in the project to set expectations

a. keep notes of agreed commitments and circulate them

3. Meet regularly and continue keeping notes and circulating them after your meeting

4. Keep a contingency plan

a. If your co-author is unable to deliver, consider giving them a way out that still maintains your professional relationship without burning bridges.

Read more evidence-based tips on our Strategies for Writing page by clicking here.

Download a copy of the presentation slides by clicking here.


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