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scientific writing block

(14 Posts)
IamAporcupine Thu 19-Oct-17 10:22:34

I am SRA in biomedical science. I think I am very good at my job, but when it comes to writing I just panic.
English is not my first language but I do not think that is the real problem. If you give me a draft for a paper, a dissertation, a thesis, I am great at editing etc, but give me a blank page and I have no idea how to start. It is almost like I do not know what to say. I do know that that is not the case, and that am (or should be) able to do, but that is how I feel, at least at the start.

Can anyone advice?

IamAporcupine Fri 20-Oct-17 19:08:05

no one?

try2hard Sat 21-Oct-17 11:07:44

The only thing to do is get on with it tbh. Maybe find a writing partner so you can edit more and don't have to start with a blank page

bigkidsdidit Sat 21-Oct-17 11:10:17

I write a first draft as a stream of consciousness. So it might say 'in this paper we discuss (x) - here I need to show xyz, remember to put that in - (writing) - how will I link x to y in this para? Maybe ...

And so on. It's a mess, but it breaks the initial problem of a blank page, and it means I think through my arguments as I go.

I use that as a basis for a better second draft that I might show people!

MedSchoolRat Sat 21-Oct-17 18:46:22

I'm confused by OP, sorry, because academic writing in general is formulaic & this is extremely true in medicine & biomed. Even the abstracts are strictly structured.


A few journals have slightly different formats; it helps if you target a specific journal so from the start you follow their conventions (and word count rules).

It can help if you first draft the document like a technical report, like you were writing for the county council, plain English, plain facts, very blunt tone.

If you tell us more about what type of study you want to write up (something experimental?) & I'll find you a clear example you can clone how they presented their results.

My cousin is a bench chemist & says she'd rather pull her eyelashes out than write anything up. I don't get that either! Think it's lack of experience.

MedSchoolRat Sat 21-Oct-17 18:54:29

What I'm about to describe is basically breaking down the problem into small manageable chunks. (Working on a paper) I keep notes in the margins (MS Word, or Latex comments) about things that still need doing. I can't submit until I've dealt with (and can delete) all the margin comments. keeping track of what needs doing is a major part of the job.

Put a header on each section & write some notes about info to include. Start with the easy bits like Acknowledgements & Funding.

Often I write a 200 word abstract (structured as above) then fill in the proper Methods section (from protocol or lab notes). Next the results. Then Intro & Discussion. Then Conclusions or Implications. But really hopping around the draft as ideas cross my mind.

I keep text in red text or yellow fill that isn't right or needs dealing with.

Good academics can write a good first draft in one day. I'm a bit too scatty for that.

TshoTsho Tue 07-Nov-17 00:46:54

Read the following two books (in that order):
1/ The Craft of Scientific Writing, M. Alley
2/ Scientific Writing 2.0, J.-L. Lebrun

Both are very good and practical.

LineysRun Tue 07-Nov-17 00:50:14

I still have to keep a scribbly notebook to start off any writing process; and yes what they ^^ said.

TonicAndTonic Tue 07-Nov-17 11:21:21

OP I know what you mean about struggling with staring at a blank page. Agree with pp though that scientific writing is often pretty formulaic, and is a variation on this:


I would always start with the methods, as you already know what you did and why, so this should be the most straightforward to write. Then do the results, because by the time you come to write a paper/report/thesis you should know what you found out.

Then move onto the discussion and intro/background sections. These kind of need to be done together to make sure they 'top and tail' the document to give a consistent narrative.

Then if you need an abstract or executive summary, do it last!

worstofbothworlds Tue 07-Nov-17 11:22:48

I almost always start with a talk and use the PPT outline as an outline.

worstofbothworlds Tue 07-Nov-17 11:23:26

(And YY to Methods first!)

IamAporcupine Tue 14-Nov-17 00:09:03

Thank you everyone so much for your advice, and apologies for the late reply. I will get those books TshoTsho thanks

I know the structure and general style, I too start with Methods, Results, etc. but get totally stuck with the Discussion. That's where I feel l have no words to say.... sad

worstofbothworlds Tue 14-Nov-17 09:39:39

OK, so Discussion starts with Recap of Results. Followed by a bit more detail.

Then it needs to cover Was Everyone Else Right Or Not.

Then What We Want Money For To Do Next.

And finally How Ace This Paper Was.

Some people put What We Did Wrong as a separate section but I prefer to hide scatter this throughout the discussion.

IamAporcupine Fri 17-Nov-17 20:05:22

Love your description of the Discussion worstofbothworlds!

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