Academic writing is a major challenge for many PhD students. Of course it’s a big topic and there are a lot of technicalities to consider, but there is also a fundamental principle which makes the whole process easier
Get this right first, before you worry about the technical aspects of writing!
The differences between academic writing and student essays
When you wrote essays for class assignments, the aim was to do enough to impress the teacher and pass the course. The standard was set partly by the syllabus, but you were also judged relative to the standards set by your classmates.
But in academic writing, the aim is to produce work of interest to other academics, and the standard is set relative to other researchers around the world working in the same field.
The standard required then is much higher. When you submit an essay in class and score 80%, that’s more than good enough; you don’t have to resubmit to make up the last 20%. But when you submit an article to a journal for publication, it will be sent back for corrections (or even rejected outright) if it contains mistakes.
But there is another big difference too…
You are writing as an academic, to academics
Ever noticed how authors’ titles are never shown on academic articles? It’s just their name. Why is that?
It’s because the work you present needs to be judged on its own merit. It doesn’t matter who you are or whether you have your doctorate yet, you are an academic, sharing your work with other academics.
This puts you in the position of authority, because you are the one sharing your work and your expertise. If you understand this point, it will completely change your attitude to your writing.
Why does this help?
If you think of your reader as just another academic, and you think of yourself as being just another researcher, then it takes away that sense of looking for approval.
You can focus on just presenting the work, rather than feeling like you have to show you are good enough, and this will help you make your writing clearer and more confident.
Remember, you are the expert in your own work.
Focus on content before delivery
Of course, you need to have done the research before you can write about it with authority and confidence. So always focus on the content first, and work on the writing and presentation later.
(This blog post is a tiny sample from the video, “103: The thesis and the nature of writing”, part of a new, comprehensive series of videos, “The Painless PhD”. Click here for details)