Graduate students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) are required to produce writing as a measure of success; however, not all STEM graduate students are provided with the writing help them need to become effective writers and communicators. All STEM graduate students are required to produce a fair amount of writing in their college careers, be it science writing, engineering writing, or technical writing. In this article, we list 5 writing tips to help STEM graduate students improve their writing.
Writing is an integral part of nearly all STEM professions. Scientists, engineers, biologists, chemists are all required to produce writing in their day-to-day routine—from emails to technical reports to lab reports to scientific journal articles—in addition to their other work requirements. Waiting until the last minute to complete the writing aspect of your job leaves you with little time to make the writing effective. As they say: rushed writing is cause for bad writing. Rather than put off the writing component of your design project or your lab experiment, incorporate it from the beginning. Be sure to take notes as you go, and take the time each day to write down your thoughts about the project you’re working on. Turn writing into a daily habit. This way, instead of rushing at the last minute to complete a deliverable, you can confidently turn in a polished, effective piece of writing.
To be truly successful in any STEM field, you need to make writing a priority. Time-management is an important skill, and it requires intention and focus. Make time for your writing. If you find that you are easily distracted when you write alone, find like-minded individuals who have similar writing goals and create a writing group that meets on a regular schedule. Your investment in this area will be rewarded in the long-term.
In STEM field, as with most fields, organization is a key component to productivity. Too often STEM graduate students get too caught up in their projects to remember to keep detailed notes about what they read and where they read it. Having a strategy in place for notetaking is paramount to successful and effective STEM research and writing. For everything you read that is important to your project, make it a habit to note the author, title, and page number of the publication. If you want to be even more prepared, make it a habit to include a full reference in your annotations. If you put these habits into effect, you’ll have an easier time with not only writing but also research.
Often times we see the end result of a writing project–a clean, concise, well formatted journal article, for example–and don’t consider the chaos that went into getting that document to the point where it was ready for the public. Writing is not just a process—it’s an iterative process that requires a lot of editing and revising and organization (in other words, a messy process). One way to learn how to become an effective STEM writer is to spend time examining how a piece of writing is organized rather than focus on the outcome of the design or the results of an experiment. Take time to notice what writing moves the author makes in each section, how the paragraphs in each section relate to one another, the word choices authors use, and what kinds of questions the author asks and answers throughout the document.
STEM writing, such as science writing and engineering writing, is like any other kind of writing. It requires large amounts of time and organization. In fact, without proper attention to these two areas, your writing will be rushed and disorganized, two main reasons for ineffective writing. One way to help organize your writing is to create an outline of your project. Start with the main points you want to make and then, based on your argument, start filling in your secondary points under the most relevant main point. Once you’re done, you have a full outline of your project that can keep you on track and guide your writing.
The STEM Writing Institute (SWI) wants all STEM writers to be effective writers. SWI offers in-person, virtual, and custom workshops to all STEM graduate students and post-docs, STEM faculty, and STEM industry professionals. Whether you’re situated in engineering writing, science writing, or technical writing, SWI is available to help with all your STEM writing needs. Register for an SWI workshop today.
Photo by Pixabay