The most critical things that a postgraduate should have is to have an exceptional writing skills ability. Excellent writing skills can improve a postgraduate likelihood of grant funding, manuscript acceptance, and can ease the milestones of the postgraduate journey. An excellent writing skills can lead to further intellectual development as they can help distill ideas and lead to new discoveries. Learning is also improved with good writing – students will be more likely to retain information when they are able to succinctly and logically summarize critical ideas.
- Join a support group (or find a writing buddy)
The first tip for postgraduate students on their writing is join a support group or find yourself a writing partner. Here is the fun fact, most of the PhDs students wished they had joined a thesis support group to help them stay motivated. Some universities or departments have support groups, but if yours does not, find a writing buddy who will keep you accountable. It turns out that people are much more likely to follow through on their commitments if they write down their goals or say them out loud to someone else. Your writing partner should be another student, so you can read each other’s drafts periodically. It does not have to be a student in your field who understands the nitty-gritties of your research. Just knowing that you will need to hand a draft to another person by a certain date will motivate you to keep writing.
- Begin writing about anything that comes to mind
Begin writing about anything that comes to their mind. This strategy is particularly useful if you have written very little so far. Think of it as a warm-up exercise to get your creative juices flowing. For example, begin writing about your preliminary data, data published by others, or the goals of your research. Do not worry about grammar or even accuracy. Just get words on the page for about 15-20 minutes. Ideas are born with writing, and the more you write the more ideas you will have. Ideas are useless if it is only inside your mind. When you have an ideas, they need to be on paper and explained well so others (particularly your thesis committee) can understand them. Most of this writing will not make it into your final draft, but it will help you to create new ideas.
- Write about the big picture of your research
Write about the big picture of your research. What is the question you are asking in your PhD? Why is research important and how will it contribute to your field and society? How will it support your career development? The purpose of this exercise is to get you excited about your research and to stay motivated on your writing.
- Write daily
A high quality writing requires a daily discipline. If possible, keep writing at the same time and the same place. If you are very busy with classes, part-time job, family, set up a weekly schedule where you block off time for writing daily so that you might only be able to commit to 15 minutes a day.
- Write first
The first thing people do when they turn on their laptops/computers is checking their email. Writing requires focus and creativity and many people are at their peak productivity level in the morning. Checking email and text message in the morning can overwhelm your mind with thousands of information and could interfere with your writing process, especially if you receive an unsettling message. So the best thing you could do is start writing for at least 45 minutes before checking your email and text message.
- Identify the gaps or where you are stuck, and get help
Writer’s blocks for PhD students are frequently due to a psychological block such as fear. Perhaps the project you are trying to tackle is too big, or there are too many gaps to pull a cohesive story together. The only way to get unstuck is to identify where the gaps are, or which part of the project is too big or unrealistic. Your supervisor will not be able to help you unless you have more specific questions. As you start writing, you will see where you are lacking details or information. Finding gaps is a good thing. Most research projects (even published papers) have gaps in their arguments. The only way to fill the gaps is to find them and if you cannot resolve them on your own, get help. The sooner you get help (and the more specific your questions are) the sooner you can pull your proposal, paper, or thesis together.
- Alternate 45 minutes of writing with 15 minutes of rest
Most writing projects will require large blocks of time, but few people can sustain their focus for several hours in a row. Taking regular breaks will allow your mind to rest and get a new perspective on your writing each time you sit down to type again. Your creative mind works best when you are not at your desk staring at your screen. Thus, taking a 15 minute break to walk or get a coffee might give you new insights on how to resolve a problem you had been struggling with previously.
- Let it go when it is good enough
Perfectionism can kill your creative spirit. While GPAs and SAT scores can be perfect, there is no such thing as a perfect thesis. You can work on your thesis for 100 years, and professors will still question some of your arguments during your thesis defense. If you try to make your thesis too perfect and re-edit the same paragraphs over and over again, you will lose precious time and possibly lose motivation to continue writing. No matter how perfect you try to make your manuscript or thesis, be prepared to receive (sometimes highly critical) feedback that could take weeks or even months to implement.