One of the expectations for the evaluation capacity building program that just finished is that the program findings will be written up for publication in scientific journals.
Easy to say. Hard to do.
Writing is HARD.
To that end, I’m going to dig out my old notes from when I taught technical writing to graduate students, medical students, residents, and young faculty and give a few highlights.
- Writing only happens when words are put on paper (or typed into a computer). Thinking about writing (I do that a lot) doesn’t count as writing. The words don’t have to be perfect; good writing happens with multiple revisions.
- Schedule time for writing; write it in your planner. You are making an appointment with yourself and writing. At 10:00am every MWF I will write for one hour; then stop. Protect this time. You protect your program time; you need to protect your writing time.
- Keep in mind paper organization. Generally, the IMRAD structure works for all manuscripts. IMRAD stands for Introduction; Methods, Results, And Discussion. Introduction is the literature review and ends with the research question. Methods section is how the program, experiment, research was conducted in EXCRUCIATING detail. Another evaluator should be able to pick up your manuscript and replicate your program. Results are what you discovered, the lessons learned, the what worked and didn’t work. They are quantitative and/or qualitative. The Discussion is where you get to speculate; it highlights your conclusions and discusses the implications. It also ties back to the literature. If you have done the reporting correctly, you will have gone from the general to the specific back to the general. Think two triangles placed together with their points (apex) touching.
- Follow the five Cs. This is the single most important piece of advice (after number 2 above) about writing. The five Cs are Clarity, Coherence, Conciseness, Correctness, and Consistency. If you keep those five Cs in mind, you will write well. The writing is clear–you have not obfuscated the material. The writing is coherent–it makes sense. The writing is concise–you do not babble on or use jargon. The writing is correct–you remember that the word data is a plural noun and takes a plural verb (use proper grammar and syntax). The writing is consistent–you call your participants the same thing all the way through (no it is not boring).
- Start with the section you know best. That may be what is most familiar; it may be what is the most recent; it may be what is the most concrete. What ever you do, DO NOT start with the abstract; write it last.
- Have a style guide on your desk. Most social sciences use APA; some use MLA or Chicago Style. Have one (or more) on your desk. Use it. Follow and use the style that the journal requires. That means you have read the “Instructions to authors” somewhere in the publication.
- Once you have finished the manuscript, READ IT OUT LOUD TO YOUR SELF.
- Run a spell and grammar check on the manuscript–it won’t catch everything; it will only catch most errors.
- Have more than one person read the manuscript AFTER you have read it out loud to your self.
- Persist. More than one manuscript has been published because the author has persisted with the journal