Smooth and goal-oriented writing

You ponder every sentence until it is perfect, lose yourself in details and no longer see the wood for the trees. With a bit of bad luck you will also find out at a later stage that the carefully written paragraph does not fit well after all, but you find it difficult to throw away that beautiful piece of text now… Frustrating! To conserve your energy and write efficiently, it’s better to work in several stages, rather than writing everything at once. Keep the following order:

Phase 1: Structure

First, roughly consider what story you want to tell and what steps are needed to convince the reader of your point. Write each thinking step in one simple sentence on a post-it. Now the puzzling begins: you will slide these thinking steps until they are in a logical order. When sliding, supplement the story where necessary with bridges between the thinking steps. Do this on separate post-its. Immediately choose a clear linking word (such as moreover, on the other hand and because), with which you indicate how the next step is related to the previous one. Will it be a logical and smoothly running story? Don’t be afraid to try out different options, but at some point, take the plunge.

Be concise at first: limit yourself to the thinking steps that are essential to make your point, and set the rest aside. You can always elaborate later and if the basic structure is clear, the rest will also be easier to place later.

Phase 2: Substantiate your thinking steps

You will need to support some thinking steps with arguments, such as demographic data or results from your or someone else’s research. Place these arguments under the correct thinking step. You now see which steps are sufficiently substantiated, and which information is still missing. This way you can search further if necessary.

When this framework is complete, possibly present it to your supervisor (or someone else) for feedback. It’s not nicely worked out yet, but it’s about the content. In this way, your supervisor can easily assess whether you are on the right track. This can save you a lot of rewriting work later.

Phase 3: Formulation

Only when you fully support your story do you start working on the formulation. The scientific writing style is informative, explicit, concise and businesslike; so keep it simple and clear. Use your own words as much as possible and limit the number of quotes.

It can be difficult to rewrite a (seemingly) perfectly worded text written by another researcher in your own words. Then try this: read through the original paragraph and set it aside. Then tell the story to someone else (for example, a fellow student). Write this story down and continue to refine it. Only then look back at the original text and possibly extract some valuable terms from it.

Phase 4: Language and Formatting

Only now are the proverbial dots on the checking for language errors, correct reference to the sources, and the layout.

You can be a perfectionist and detailed in the, but wait until the last minute. By first making the structure you write very purposefully and that saves you a lot of time and confusion!

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