2.1 Writing to develop and communicate thinking - 2 The writing process

Academic Writing for International Students of Science - Jane Bottomley 2015

2.1 Writing to develop and communicate thinking
2 The writing process

As a student of science, it is easy to become absorbed by the research process — the investigation of the literature, or the work you are doing in the lab, for instance. This is a good thing of course, but it can sometimes lead you to put off the actual writing up of your work until the last minute. For most students, this does not produce good results. Writing is a process, involving various stages, and it takes a lot of time and effort to produce a text which is clear, readable and professional. For university science students like you, this process starts with an assignment which will require you to demonstrate your knowledge and understanding of a particular area of science, or to detail your own scientific investigation. This chapter will guide you through the writing process, and show you how to fully engage with it in order to complete assignments successfully.

2.1 Writing to develop and communicate thinking

The link between thinking and writing is often underestimated.

Image Explorative Task

Look at the views of the two experienced scientists and educators expressed below, and answer the questions that follow.

The power of writing as an aid in thinking is not often appreciated. Everyone knows that someone who writes successfully gets his thoughts completely in order before he publishes. But it is seldom pointed out that the very act of writing can help to clarify thinking. Put down woolly thoughts on paper, and their wooliness is immediately exposed. If students come to realise this, they will write willingly and frequently at all stages of their work, instead of relegating “writing up” to the very end and regarding it as a dreadful chore that has little to do with their “real” work.

(Peter Woodford, in ’Sounder thinking through clearer writing’, 1967: 744)

[Writing’s] the best way to organise thoughts and to try and put things in as perfect and elegant a way as you can. A lot of scientists hate writing. Most scientists love being in the lab and doing the work and when the work is done, they’re finished. Writing is a chore. It’s something they have to do to get the work out. They do it with resentment. But conceptually to them, it is not part of the creative process. I don’t look at it that way at all. When I get the results, I can’t wait to write them up. That’s the synthesis. It’s the exploration of the consequences and meaning.

(Stephen Jay Gould, in Dreifus, 1999)

1. Do you enjoy writing, or do you see it as a ’chore’ (a necessary, but unpleasant task)?

2. Do you look forward to writing about what you have found out in the lab or in the literature, or do you put it off until the last possible minute?

3. Has a teacher or lecturer ever told you that they did not follow what you were saying in a piece of writing, or that the writing was ’woolly’, i.e. unclear, vague or ambiguous?

4. Do you consciously use the writing process to help you improve your understanding of the science?

The more you use the writing process to clarify your own thinking, the clearer your writing will be for the reader. The person reading (and assessing!) your work does not just want to see scientific facts, they want to see your ’thinking’, i.e. your analysis and reasoning, developed on the page.