@adlrocha - The Craft of Writing Effectively

Writing is about “changing your audience’s ideas”

The other day a fellow PL researcher shared this talk about “the craft of writing effectively”. In four words and an emoji, “it-blew-my-mind 🤯”. It completely turned the way I thought about writing upside down. I thought I knew how to share my ideas effectively and invite others into my way of thinking, but it turns out many of my assumptions were dead wrong.

I could go on and on about how impactful this talk has been for me, but I think it is better to just share the talk and let you get your own takeaways out of it.

Personal Takeaways

As I already did in this newsletter when I shared Hamming’s “You and Your Research” talk, allow me the audacity of sharing a brief overview of my personal takeaways from today’s talk: 

  • Your writing should be valuable. Don’t write things because they are new, original, or because they build upon the state of the art in your field, write to be valuable for your audience.

  • Writing is about “changing your audience’s ideas” and making them think. Writing is not about communicating your ideas, it is about changing your readers' ideas. You may sometimes need to do this by following the rules of the “community” you are part of.

  • All of this is achieved by knowing your audience. Predict the points in your arguments at which your audience will doubt and solve them in advance. Why does it take 5-6 years to get a PhD? Because 50% of the time is used to know the readers in the field so that you can frame your ideas under the rules of the community. “Challenge their ideas following their own rules”.

  • A key one: the way that experts do their writing (to help with their thinking) is different to the way that readers can understand. Flow/transition words can help to make writing preservative and organized: and, but, because, unless, nonetheless, however, although, etc.

  • Use your writing to make the conversations in your field advance.

  • Knowledge is dynamic and permeable. The consensus of your peers will decide what is considered knowledge and what not.

  • The right way of writing and presenting an idea is: first frame the problem, and then propose your solution (I was happy when I heard this one, because this is something I try to strictly follow in my publications in order to give you the right context).

Any additional learning I may have missed and worth sharing? Do not hesitate to share it in a comment.

If you feel you can’t invest a full hour of your time on watching the full talk, the first comment of the video has a list of ideas with the time in the talk in which it is shared (like an index of the talk). Let me share it here for the sake of completion, and see you next week!

  • 1. This course is not about writing rules 3:04

  • 2. Stop thinking about rules and start thinking about readers 3:55

  • 3. The problems that domain experts have in their writing 4:00

  • 4. Domain experts use writing to help themselves with thinking 4:51, if they don't do it this way, they can't think to the level they need 

  • 5. The challenge: the way that experts do their writing (to help with their thinking) is different to the way that readers can understand 6:53

  • 6. The consequences 8:10 - 1. readers need to slow down and re-read many times 2. readers can't understand or misunderstand 3. readers give up 

  • 7. Readers read things that are valuable to them 11:52

  • 8. Writings need to be clear, organized, persuasive and VALUABLE 13:45

  • 9. Valuable to the readers of a research area (not everybody in the world) 15:20

  • 10. An example of comparing two writings 17:16

  • 11. Writing is not about communicating your ideas, it is about changing readers' ideas 21:24

  • 12. Nothing will be accepted as knowledge or understanding until it has been challenged by people who have the competence to challenge 23:24, this determines the readers of our writing 

  • 13. A piece of writing is important, not because it is new and original; It is because it has value to some readers 25:16

  • 14. What does the world of knowledge look like 28:00

  • 15. Every research community has their own code to communicate VALUE 31:30

  • 16. Why does it take 5-6 years to get a PhD? 34:30 50% of the time is used to know the readers in the field 

  • 17. Using these words to show that you are aware of the research communities: widely, accepted, and reported 35:24

  • 18. Flow/transition words can help to make writing preservative and organized: and, but, because, unless, nonetheless, however, although, etc. 36:00

  • 19. Do things under the code of the communities 42:00

  • 20. Another example 44:25

  • 21. The function of a piece of writing is to move a research area forward, not to be preserved for 500 years 46:54

  • 22. Writing is not about to express what is in our head, it is about changing other people's thoughts 48:50

  • 23. The instability words that create tension/challenge: anomaly, inconsistent, but, however, although 54:00

  • 24. Bad writing style: background+thesis 55:07 and a better style: problem+solution 56:18

  • 25. Learn the language code from the target publications 1:01:30

  • 26. Literature review is used to enrich the problem 1:02:50

  • 27. Problem vs background 1:06:47

  • 28. A gap in knowledge is dangerous 1:08:45

  • 29. Identify the right readers (research communities) is important, but it could be difficult for interdisciplinary research 1:11:57