Writing workshop for climate scientists

Last week Women in Climate hosted a two-day writing workshop led by Professor David Schultz. If you have not come across his excellent book Eloquent Science then we highly recommend it!

Our two-day workshop was an excellent opportunity for us to focus on improving our scientific writing. Why? Because writing improves thinking!

We spent day one talking about different aspects of writing papers.

For example:

  •   What is publishable science?
  •   Have I asked a good question? (Do I even have a question?)
  •   How can I improve my chances of getting the work published?

One thing that has stayed with me since the course is:

Scientific research is rarely 100% bulletproof. Almost all of your work will have limitations or rely on assumptions. It is the task of the author to address them in their writing.

This concept takes some pressure off the idea of what is publishable science — it does not have to be perfect!

We discussed each section of a manuscript, digging into pitfalls, things to avoid, elements to consider. We had a great discussion about defining your problem statement. If you don’t know that this is then you need to find out (here is a wikipedia page on problem statements to get you started). Without a problem statement your paper will lack focus and it is harder for your audience to follow.

We then spent day two talking about editing.

I realised that I (almost always) let my editing get in the way of my writing. When I sit down to write a paragraph, I usually make sure the reference are the right ones, the sentences are free from spelling mistakes/grammatical errors and that the writing is as good as it can be. Can you relate to this? David suggests that instead we should focus on the writing, leave comments in your text like (ref needed), find another example etc. Then when you have drafted the paper, come back in and fix these.

Another mistake I have been doing is “editing” the paper without a clear purpose. David suggests we should have a particular task in mind (e.g., checking concision, flow, or spelling) and read the paper only for that! It means you make multiple passes over the same text (lets be honest, we are already doing this anyway as we “edit” in general) but each time looking at a different aspect of the writing.

There are four parts to good writing.

  1. Unity: is your text structured correctly?
  2. Coherence: does your text flow consistently?
  3. Concision: does your text include only essential content?
  4. Precision: be qualitative and clear!

We then spent some time talking about overcoming writing barriers. There are five reasons you might not be writing. Can you relate to any of these?

  1. I don’t understand what I need to write.
  2. I can’t find the time or space to write.
  3. I am easily distracted.
  4. The words don’t come to me.
  5. I have written other parts, but I am stuck on this current text.

Once you work out which of these problems you are having you are better positioned to address the problem.

Thank you to everyone that participated. Because this training was online we were joined by people across the South West England (e.g. Exeter, Bristol, Reading) and quite a few participants from abroad. We were pleased to have almost 100 people participate in the workshop. We are grateful to the Royal Meteorological Society Legacy Fund, and the Global Systems Institute whose funding made this workshop possible.

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