Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Overcoming Writer's Block

Dr. Peter Moir of Relequa Analytical Systems Ltd shares his use of MindGenius to overcome “writers block” when writing a Research Paper. He has also created a template map to help others with the same process…

"If like me you struggle getting started writing, anything, and find yourself staring at a blank screen and the cursor flashing saying “come on type something for goodness sake". A technique that I use, just as I am using now, is to start writing just what’s in my head without thinking about sentence structure or choice of words.

Another great technique is using MindGenius. It’s a way of pulling together information that I think I might need to work into my piece of writing at some point. To facilitate this I construct a MindGenius map. In this case I’m writing a research paper and to help you get started on your own paper, I’ve turned my efforts into a template.

The really useful thing about this template is you don’t have to be thinking in terms of a beginning, middle and end, or, in this case, Introduction, Results and Discussion, before you can write. Basically we’re talking about a means to get around the so-called “Writers block”.

Just to get going, copy and paste the tile and authors of possible relevant publications into the Introduction arm as separate branches, add a sub-branch and paste in the abstract if you want. Copy and paste from the pdf, or write in sentences or small sections, from the text of these papers into the branches where you think a comment in your own words may be required.

Alternatively, you may like to just quietly sit and think, “why am I writing this paper?”, “who is it for?” and as you come up with some thoughts put them into the Purpose branch. Start in your mind to build logically how your idea can be described. Start laying out this logic by writing your thoughts as Results branches. As you do this, have in your mind to create a Hook, something about your research that will grab people’s attention. Place this hook right at the beginning of the Introduction.

Our goal is to communicate your idea. Communication skills were not taught to scientists when I was at third level education. Thinking about the best way to communicate and what I’m hearing these days is simple. We learned to read and learned about life through people telling us stories. Why not tell your idea as a story? The Introduction sets the scene for your story. A journey is travelled and Results collected on the way. Our finale is the Discussion showing how it all comes together and wouldn’t it be good to have a bit of a cliff-hanger to have your readers wanting more.

Give credit where credit’s due. Inspiration for my template came from a lecture by Professor Simon Peyton Jones, University of Cambridge. There will be key aspects of your work that has come from other researches. Don’t just acknowledge these contributions but show how they are important to you and where they fit in. Use the template to structure these references.  Doing this will bring focus to your work, clarify your thinking and show you do actually know what you’re talking about.

Once you’ve got your background information and the results sections to support your idea on the template, drag, copy/paste the information to re-organise what you have into a coherent story. Add/delete branches as you see fit. My most recent effort started with 3 Results branches, expanded to 6 and then ended up at 4. Two of the branches marked as “next paper”. Yes, only include what has merit in supporting your idea and don’t use up precious column space just because you think people want to see you’ve done loads of work. They don’t and it doesn’t matter.

You should now have a good feel for what you want to say, so just start writing whatever section or parts feels most comfortable. Update the template as you write. Highlight in colour parts that are completed, needs revisiting (but move on and come back later), “requires more data”, and so on. Honestly, it does get easier as you keep writing and you’ll find your own rhythm or flow.

When you get to a satisfactory draft of your paper, dispense with any fears and get somebody to read it through and appreciate the feedback."

Dr. Peter Moir

Relequa Analytical Systems Ltd


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