Somehow an idea has taken hold that if English if your first (or only) language then you shouldn’t need help with your academic writing. I’m not sure why people believe this; after all, every great work of literature has been edited by a person other than the author. More than one person, in fact. But writing support is so often not talked about. Many editors are barely acknowledged by authors or publishers. But that’s a blog post for another time …
Like any skill, we get better the more we do something. Sure, some people may find writing easy whereas others might struggle. But most of us benefit from learning some processes, practising our craft and getting feedback so that we can improve in the future. Unfortunately, however, many universities do not explicitly teach writing as a subject, assuming that scientists will learn academic writing by reading other people’s journal articles. Personally, I don’t think that ‘learning by osmosis’ is an efficient way of becoming an academic writer, based on the work I have been doing for many years as a writing coach!
And it’s not just the writing bit that can be difficult. Confidence (or lack thereof) can be a major reason why academics put off writing their manuscripts, worried that their paper will be rejected unless they get more data or read more of the literature. Many students come out of their PhDs with low self-esteem around their writing skills, even if they are good writers, because of years of harsh feedback from supervisory panels. It is hard to be objective about our own writing, which his why constructive feedback from others is so important.
Here are some examples of the people who can help you at each stage or writing your journal article:
- Writing the draft — a writing coach can help you get that first draft done in a timely manner.
- Getting the story right — a developmental or substantive editor can ensure that your narrative is clear and logical.
- Finalising the details — a copyeditor can apply a consistent editorial style and a proofreader can pick up typos and other errors that have been missed.
So, where you do get this type of help from? Well, by coincidence, I offer all of these services!
But, it’s not just me who can help you. Look into the resources provided by your university. If you’re a student, ask your supervisor for help — be specific about your struggles so as to maximise your chances of getting useful feedback. Ask your peers if you can help one another, by reading each other’s articles and giving constructive criticism. Hire a writing coach to get support or hire an editor who can polish your manuscript.
Whatever you do, don’t be afraid to admit when you need help.