Recently I had a meeting that highlighted the joys of working as an academic writing coach. I had previously suggested that John* create an outline of his journal article. He had done this and, on the surface, the dot-point plan looked good. However, when I looked at the title I realised that it didn’t actually SAY anything — rather it was a fairly bland, generic statement. We discussed this further and came up with a title that reflected what John felt the paper was about, based on the key findings from his study. Then, looking more closely at the results section of the outline, it became apparent that only half the data he had presented were relevant to the topic; the rest would be better served in a separate paper, in a different journal for a different readership.
It was such a great feeling, to clarify the story of the research, encapsulate the story in the title and ensure that the data presented were relevant to this story.
When writing, it’s easy to get caught up in the detail, so I always recommend preparing an outline and discussing this with your colleagues BEFORE you write the first draft. The beauty of this approach is that it is much quicker to reorganise a series of dot points than 5000 words. And it is a lot less painful.
* Name changed to protect the innocent