Academic writing

This post continues our series The Smart Scholar by Ramon Goings.

Why is writing so hard?

This question was posed to me recently by a Done Dissertation client who expressed frustration with their academic writing. I could certainly relate as I too struggled with my writing as a doctoral student as the academic writing process was foreign to me. Does this sound like you? If so, keep reading this piece, as over the course of my career I have found that while the mechanics of writing are one component to  effective academic writing, having an academic writing mindset is equally—if not more important—to improving as an academic. As a result, in this Smart Scholar post I provide three mindset shifts that I have found that lead to improved academic writing. 

Perfection Doesn’t Exist So Don’t Make that Your Target

What I have found in my own writing practices and those in individuals I coach is that they become consumed with getting their work perfect. Is this you? Have you ever felt that since your work was not perfect that you should not submit it? I have found that perfectionism and procrastination go hand in hand. The more you want your work to be perfect the more likely you are to procrastinate because of the anxiety that perfection places on you.

If you fall into this perspective, one mindset shift you need to make to improve your academic writing is to come to the realization that perfection does not exist and that should not be the target. Your target is, in fact, to be satisfied with the product, knowing there will always be something about it that can be improved. Once you make this shift you will notice how easy it is for you to get your writing goals accomplished and get a paper off your desk and on to someone else’s desk.

Create Your Fastest Sloppy Rough Draft

Along with not seeking perfection, as an academic writer I am of the belief that your goal is to get the sloppiest rough draft as fast as possible. Yes, you read that correctly: sloppy is okay. I say this because you cannot improve anything that is not written down. As a classically trained musician and someone who spent some time in the music industry, I want to give you an example of why it is important to get to this stage of your  rough drafts.

Think about your favorite song —the one song that prompts you to  immediately increase the volume when you hear it. As a listener, you hear the final product of that song that is polished and professionally mastered. However, when the song was recorded, it may have taken your favorite artist 50-plus takes to get the chorus harmonies correct. 

I believe this same approach is applicable to writing. Your audience (the readers) will only read your published version. They will never know how many times you had to edit each paragraph to get it ready for publishing. As a result, in order to get to that polished version, your goal as the writer is to get your fastest, sloppy rough draft as quickly as possible because soon enough you will have a final version you can be proud of.

Put On Your Blinders to Ideas of Productivity

As a dissertation coach I get a number of students who want to become faculty discussing their ideas about productivity and the fact they feel behind because their peers are publishing more than them. To its detriment, the higher education culture has put writing productivity on a pedestal. I certainly understand as it has an impact on tenure and promotion decisions for faculty. However, this culture shift, along with social media allowing researchers to share their productivity, can be debilitating for many. 

As a result, I would argue that in order to reach your writing groove you need to put blinders on to colleagues so that you can focus on your work. Each of us has our own scholarly journey to run, and a focus on our individual work  allows us to live and appreciate all that we have done in our careers. Once you do this you will quickly find out that you are more productive than others who assert a persona on social media of “productivity.”

What mindset shifts have you needed to make to improve your academic writing? Please share with me on Twitter

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the view of Interfolio.