There’s a well-known scene in the movie Amadeus where Mozart’s big rival, Salieri, asks for the music to a requiem that he has commissioned from the famous composer and musician. Although Mozart has already been paid for this work, he has actually written nothing down: ‘it’s all here’, he says ‘in my noodle’, pointing to his head. Although Mozart was well-known for doing everything at the last moment (he is believed to have written the overture to the opera Don Giovanni, for example, the morning of its premier performance), this is no good, of course, if you want to be a productive academic researcher. People need to see results, they need to see data and things written down. People need to see publications.
In this respect, you don’t need to be like Mozart. In fact, you should not be like Mozart, at least in terms of not actually writing down your great work! Writing things down is one of the best and most effective tips we have for you to be a productive researcher: if you have an idea, write it down or it might get lost. Indeed, as the old saying goes, research that has not been written about – or, in our case, published in a peer-reviewed journal – might as well have not been done at all. Many academics reach the ends of their careers with lots of ideas and tonnes of unfinished work. What happens to all these ideas? Often the answer is nothing.
During our workshops, people often ask us questions like: ‘how do I come up with good ideas for my research?’. One good answer is: try to give yourself the space and time to think – get away sometimes from your email and other duties, like meetings and talking to colleagues. Take a walk. Listen to some music. Think about the overall goals of your research, your BIG questions, and how you might address these issues with small manageable steps: experiments or tests that can bring your overall questions a little closer to home. Research is almost always incremental and this is also true of academic publishing: small advances published based on ‘what people already know’.
It’s always a good idea to write down your ideas as you think of them – you might not be able to remember later and good ideas might not come back to you. Also, never throw anything away. You can always re-use sections of text and articles later, perhaps in a grant application or a paper that you have not even thought of yet!
One of the best techniques for effective, creative academic writing is to know the structure of the kind of paper (or report) you want to create before you start to write. If you have decided which journal to target with your article, then you also know what the structure of your work will be and can start to write drafts of the different sections.
We provide a range of training courses via our education service, Charlesworth Knowledge, to help you improve your English writing, communication, and publishing skills. Why not get in touch with one of our team for further information. Above all: Don’t forget to write your thoughts down!