Part 2: writing
Professor Simon Peyton Jones’s (SPJ) lecture is specifically about a) how to write good research papers and b) in computer science. Neither of these are relevant to me at the moment (in the case of the former) and, I can only assume, never will be (in the case of the latter), but I think that what he has to say about writing clearly and concisely is valuable to anyone writing in academia, whatever discipline and for whatever publication. I won’t write a huge long post about what he says because it’s much more fun to watch it for yourself, but I’ve picked out a few key points.
1. Don’t wait, write!
As emphasised in part 1, writing is apparently a good thing and we should not put off doing it! SPJ’s advice is to use writing as a forcing function for the research, in other words don’t just think of writing as the reporting of your findings, writing is also the doing because it helps us formulate and develop ideas and arguments.
2. Identify your key idea
This is what SPJ calls finding one ‘ping’ idea that you are going to focus on and then using the writing to convey this idea to the reader. Make refutable claims!
3. Think about where you put your literature review
Now this may differ between fields and publications, but I think SPJ raises an interesting point. He warns against putting too much ‘related literature’ at the start of a paper because it creates a barrier between your reader and your ‘ping’ idea (indeed, they might just give up before they get to it). Instead, SPJ suggests relating your research to the literature later, in the discussion – after you have got your key idea across.
4. Put the reader first
Guide them, state the obvious, don’t make them feel stupid. Ask friends who aren’t in your field to read drafts and comment on how easy to understand the writing is.