My big summer writing project started out pretty well last month: I was updating my timeline each week and reserving spots in my calendar to work on writing. As May turned into June, though, I got a bit off-track. Other work crowded out writing time, and when I did sit down to work on the project I found myself overwhelmed with decisions about how to structure the writing I’d already done and where to add new material. I found myself writing and re-writing the same few paragraphs, trying different formats and styles, and not feeling like I was actually making any progress despite spending a lot of time.
So, I set up a meeting with my collaborator to talk through the project, which is a combination of a digital textbook and a large repository of slides, handouts, activities and other course materials. I explained where I was struggling and shared what I had done so far, and together we came up with a better structure for organizing and communicating the information. That fresh perspective made a huge difference, and in just a few hours I was able to make more progress than I had in the last couple of weeks.
Building a network of trusted collaborators, colleagues, and friends who can offer feedback on research and writing projects is a key component to success in academic and research-intensive careers. And while there might be less academic writing in an industry career, most folks with graduate degrees in Engineering find themselves preparing reports and drafting project proposals throughout their careers. Graduate school is a great time to start giving and receiving feedback from your peers — who will have a different perspective than your research advisor, and can help ensure that your work is understandable to well-educated audiences who may not be experts in your specific area of work.
Three Things to Try This Week
Consider a Writing Group — There are different types of graduate writing groups, some tailored to specific writing tasks or stages while others are more general. This article gives a good overview of some of the ways writing groups can be of benefit and some of the questions to consider if you want to build your own writing partnership or group.
Try Some Writing Activities — Just like physical exercise helps to build strength, skill and stamina, writing regularly will help you develop techniques, habits and skills to make writing easier (or at least less difficult!). UNC has compiled a number of resources for graduate writing groups, including writing exercises and activities that you can try on your own or with a partner.
Add Some Accountability — Writing plans are great, but plans without action won’t get your paper finished on time! This article has a number of suggestions to hold yourself accountable for writing tasks, both individually and in groups.
- The MSU Graduate School hosts monthly graduate student “write-ins” (currently in a virtual format) to give students a quiet, communal setting to work on their individual writing projects. Consider logging in on Friday and check it out!
- Take a break and marvel at the incredible artwork that this graduate student created in petri dishes.
- Learn something new at space.com, like why the far side of the moon intrigues scientists.