Omnibus prik

Learn from the best and most productive writers

Researchers and university students are expected to communicate their knowledge in written assignments and research articles. But the writing process is frustrating for many people. The New Zealand professor and author Helen Sword has studied the writing habits of 100 researchers who have a particularly productive and talented pen.

[Translate to English:] Den newzealandske professor Helen Sword delte rundhåndet ud af gode råd til at blive endnu bedre til at skrive akademisk. Selv har hun haft stor gavn af at betragte skrivningen som en social aktivitet, og så har hun ført logbog over sin skriveproduktion. Foto Lars Kruse
[Translate to English:] Foto: Lars Kruse
[Translate to English:] Ved workshoppen fik Helen Sword både studerende og forskere til at reflektere over deres egen skriveproces. Stine Lerche Øilo (nummer to fra venstre)sugede til sig, hun er netop i gang med de skriftlige eksamener, så de gode råd var kærkomne. Foto: Lars Kruse

Just get it done. It can’t be all that difficult. That’s what many students and researchers have thought when they sit down at their keyboards to communicate their knowledge and results in writing. But this is often easier said than done.

The New Zealand professor of literature Helen Sword explains that a lot of people associate the writing process with words like frustration, fear, stress, pressure, hesitation and struggle. In her latest research project she has interviewed more than 100 talented and productive academic writers in 15 different countries, asking them about their writing habits. She also gives regular workshops for researchers about how to write academically, which was the reason for her recent visit to AU. She held workshops for a range of students and researchers, as well as interviewing Thomas Aastrup Rømer (associate professor of educational philosophy) and Tabish Khair (associate professor of English). The interviews with the two AU scholars are part of her research project, and the two were chosen because they publish frequently, reliably, and with great innovation.

What works for you?

According to Helen Sword, many of the books that have been published about good writing habits take their point of departure in what works for the author in question. But her many interviews with good academic writers have also taught her that this can vary a great deal from one person to the next.

She has discovered that some people need silence, while others prefer to write in a café. Some people can only write on weekdays, while others prefer to write during their holidays. Writing is not a one-size-fits-all discipline.

But there is one common denominator: One of the things that successful writers share is that they always find the time to write. They are persistent.

As far as she herself is concerned, the greatest eye opener has involved turning her writing into a social activity. She feels that people should discuss their writing with others, instead of doing it in isolation in their offices. This is because it is always useful to get feedback from others or hear about their experiences.

Frustrated new academics

Helen Sword explains that the writing process is frustrating for new academics in particular. She says that PhD students often associate the writing process with something negative and find it frustrating. Her advice to new academics is that they should follow their hearts. Unless they write about things that they are enthusiastic about, they will probably get bored. And one of the most important things involved in being a successful writer is a positive approach to the things you are writing about.

On the other hand, Helen Sword has also learned that the further down their career paths people progress, the more positive they become in relation to the writing process.

Welcome advice

Stine Lerche Øilo, a fourth-semester student of comparative literature, was delighted with the workshop that she attended.

“We’re writing our exam assignments at the moment, so any good advice is very welcome. The writing process can be frustrating, especially when you’re short of time.”

Her fellow student Christian Høj agrees.

“The title of the workshop, Habits of highly productive writers, appealed to me because being productive is sometimes a problem. I find it hard to get started because although I always have plenty of ideas, it’s sometimes difficult to spot which ideas are the right ones. I’m going to try and be more persistent and write something every single day, because once I get started I really enjoy it!”