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Overcoming the Biggest Hurdle: How to Start Writing Your Paper

Starting any kind of paper is difficult, but scientific papers come with unique challenges.

Professor Susannah Scott, Ph.D., at the University of California, Santa Barbara and Associate editor of ACS Catalysis says it’s simple. “Usually I just start writing,” she says, “I think its important to get stuff down.” Scott says to place emphasis primarily on the content and then organize it later. Simply writing the title and abstract and return to revise them as needed. This helps you condense your message which will allow you to frame the message you want to convey. The results and interpretation can be added after this is done.

Professor Chad Mirkin, Ph.D., Director of the International Institute for Nanotechology and the George B. Rathmann Professor of Chemistry at Northwestern University, and Associate Editor of Journal of the American Chemical Society says to start with the most important conclusions you can draw from your research. “Don’t write an introduction that sets up the reader for disappointment,” Mirkin adds, “make sure the science backs up what you’re stating.” Once you have that, the difficult part is over. The intro tells the reader what problem is being solved, the data presents the argument, and all that is left is the conclusion.
Olaf G. Weist, Ph.D., Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of Notre Dame breaks researchers into two groups—those that think graphically, and those that focus on words. For the graphic thinkers, Weist recommends that they start with the figures. These figures will dictate what to highlight in your paper. Word-oriented researchers should make flash cards with topics to organize. This way they can add and eliminate topics.

Professor Johnathan V. Sweedler, Ph.D., James R. Eiszner Family Endowed Chair in Chemistry and Director, School of Chemical Sciences, University of Illinois, and Editor-in-Chief of Analytical Chemistry reinforces that writing takes practice.

“Writing is just like research. The more you work at it, the better you’ll be,” Sweedler says.

Professor Joan F. Brennecke, Ph.D., of the University of Texas at Austin, and Editor-in-Chief of Journal of Chemical & Engineering Data says her number one piece of advice is, “make yourself do it.” Writing isn’t everyone’s specialty, but you have to do it. Set aside time in a quiet place, and then take a break.

Getting feedback and improving is key to proficiency.

Simply beginning to write is the first step to getting started. From there, it only gets easier. If you’re unable to start with words, start with figures and use those to help you find your words.

For more publishing tips, visit the ACS Publishing Center, a centralized hub for researchers to prepare and track manuscripts. This website features centralization of information for ease of discovery of resources on submission, open access licensing, peer review education and more. Customized publishing information, including tracking of your published work, is available upon login.

Log in today to discover how the ACS Publishing Center can help you advance your research.


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