One of the hardest parts of writing a compelling document is cohesiveness or flow. When people sit down to write a manuscript or grant, they have a pretty good idea in their head about all of the pieces of information they need to provide to the reader so that he will understand the project. Unfortunately, most of the time, the author will end up writing several pages of relevant information without much structure, similar to a “stream of consciousness” (see : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stream_of_consciousness_(narrative_mode)).
While this method may be acceptable for a linear narrative, it is not good for persuasive, technical writing. The problem for most of us is “not being able to see the forest for the trees.” We get so engrossed in a particular idea (paragraph/technical detail) that we forget that we have to tie all of the ideas together to make a point. This can be particularly hard to do or to remember when we have to describe a gene, a disease, a treatment, previous results, a novel approach, a novel compound, and a complicated mouse protocol!
Today, I am going to share with you a method that I developed to help writers write more cohesively. The goal is to take the reader from one point to another, in a logical order, and clearly lay out the controversies or missing data in the field. This technique should help you keep the individual details in mind as you lead the reader to the point of your study. The examples below are generic so as to be widely applicable. However, they are focused on structuring an “Introduction” and/or “Results” section of a scientific manuscript. If you have a hard time applying this information to your particular topic or document (for example a grant) please leave a comment and we can address your concerns.
INTRO: Write one paragraph that you would use to lead into presenting your data. Assume your audience knows the basics about the background/topic. Then, take that paragraph and use each sentence as the topical guide for each paragraph of your intro. While writing the actual introduction, remove the assumption that the audience knows anything and take them from ignorance to being capable of understanding your original, dense, sentence from your one paragraph.
DISCUSSION: Write one paragraph that you would use drive home the interpretation and impact of your data. Assume your audience knows everything about the topic at hand. Then, take that paragraph and use each sentence as the guide for each point to make in your discussion. When writing the discussion, remove the assumption that the audience can see your point and take them from the data itself to understanding the implications of your data.
EXAMPLE “One paragraph”
We study disease X. This disease is caused by gene Y. Standard therapy A, does not work because of B. Treatment C would allow us to approach the disease from a new angle avoiding B. We tested treatment C versus A, and found C superior. We hope to reform treatment of disease X.
Paragraph 1: details about disease X
Paragraph 2: details about the genetics (gene Y)
Paragraph 3: Info and shortcomings of therapy A, details about mechanism B
Paragraph 4: set up the idea that C might be a viable alternative, it avoids B.
Paragraph 5: “Thus, we believe that…” State the hypothesis. “Here we tested…” and provide a brief recap of the results. “These data suggest that…” and conclude with implications.
Copyright ako Writing LLC, Amber K. O’Connor PhD, 2014
What techniques do you have to make sure you write a compelling manuscript or grant? Leave a comment below.
Until next time, remember, “Over analysis leads to paralysis.”
R. Jane Amber K. O’Connor is a Postdoctoral fellow at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, DC, and the owner of akoWriting LLC, a science writing and editing service. She can be found online at: akoWriting.com