Almost every researcher finds it difficult to write academic papers. Likewise almost every PhD student suffers from ‘ABT syndrome’ (anything but thesis-writing syndrome). Unfortunately, I am also one of them!
Research students like me have two myths about writing dissertation. The first one is – “I do not feel ready yet to start writing.” So, we hide ourselves behind endless reading materials and conducting countless analyses. Maria Gardiner and Hugh Kearns termed these two habits as “readitis” and “experimentitis”, respectively. The second myth is the “clarity myth” — “I should get it all clear in my head first, and then write it down”.
Both of these myths lead researchers and students to “binge writing” — which is writing a lot of stuffs over a period of few days or a week, just before the deadline is approaching. Binge writing is not inherently wrong, but in a busy academic world, it greatly reduces the amount and quality of researchers’ writing.
The possible solution to this problem is creating a habit of “snack writing”, as suggested by Maria Gardiner and Hugh Kearns in their Nature column. Snack writing implies short but regular writing sessions. It could be 1-2 hours of focused writing a day for postgraduate students or 45-60 minutes a day for a researcher who is trying to increase his/her publication output. Most importantly the writing sessions should be regular – 60 minutes of writing for one day in a week will not make any difference whereas 60 minutes a day 5 days a week does the magic!
Importantly, studies showed that researchers who followed snack writing had more peer-reviewed publications than their counterparts who wrote for big blocks of time. Though not universally true for everyone, snack-writing works best as the first thing in the morning. Because in this period the distractions are minimal and energy remains high — increasing the probability of effective and intelligent writing.
The main purpose of snack-writing is to put new words on a page or rewriting a piece substantially. That’s why editing, formatting, literature searching or referencing would not be counted as snack-writing. One should utilise the whole allocated time in writing new words and sentences. Do not give too much attention on finding the perfect word or getting the grammar correct. If unsure about references, do not look it up! Write, for example, “Shawon et al. 20??” and look up the reference later.
So, one might ask, what about all the editing, reading, referencing and other associated tasks? The answer is simple – anytime in the other 23 hours of the day; just not during
the snack-writing time.