Academic Writing Process

Accelerating your Academic Writing Process

By Nancy Peiffer


Writing as a PhD student is more than just an academic exercise; it's an odyssey of intellectual discovery and scientific contribution. Whether crafting your dissertation or preparing your next paper, the process can seem overwhelming. Six steps to help you kickstart your writing with a clear and focused approach.


1. Define your objective and ask feedback

Begin by crystallizing your writing objective. Are you addressing a gap in knowledge, presenting new findings, or analyzing an existing theory? Once clear, discuss your paper with a trusted colleague or mentor. Share your topic, motivation, and preliminary ideas. This conversation should be a dynamic brainstorming exercise, where questions and comments refine your objectives and sharpen your focus. Remember to record or take notes during these discussions to capture the spontaneity of the ideas generated.

2. Research and read selectively

As you delve into research, prioritize quality over quantity. Begin by identifying the five most pivotal studies related to your topic. Analyse these studies for their contributions to your field and note their shortcomings. This will not only bolster your understanding but also highlight the niches your research aims to fill.

3. Outline your work and mind map your ideas

With your objective defined and your research at hand, draft an outline. This should include your thesis statement, key arguments, and the evidence you plan to present. Alongside your outline, create a mind map to visually organize your topic's subcomponents and their interrelations. This dual approach solidifies the structure of your work and ensures that all critical points are addressed.

4. Set realistic goals and understand your audience

Writing a dissertation or paper is a marathon, not a sprint. Break down the task into manageable sections with achievable deadlines. As you plan, consider your audience. Who will read your work? What are their interests? Keeping your readers in mind will guide the tone, depth, and breadth of your writing.

5. Draft and discuss continuously

Write your first draft with the understanding that it is a work in progress. It doesn't have to be perfect. The goal is to transform your ideas into a written form that you can refine later. After drafting, revisit your dialogue partners with specific sections or concepts. Their feedback will be invaluable as you move towards your final draft.

6. Reflect on key questions and revise

Throughout your writing process, continually come back to the fundamental questions: What is known? What is unknown? How does your work contribute? What methods have you used, and what have you found? Answering these succinctly in your writing will clarify your contribution to the field.

The writing process for a PhD student can be an arduous yet fulfilling expedition. However, it can be made smoother by combining methodical planning with active academic dialogue. By clearly defining your goals, engaging with your peers, selectively researching, and considering your readership, you craft not only a piece of writing but also a reflection of your authoritative commitment. Remember, the essence of your journey lies not in the destination but in the intellectual path you carve out with your research and your words.


Are you or your research group ready to get started with science communication?

Take a look at our training course Writing a Scientific Article.

Writer: Nancy Peiffer

Nancy Peiffer is our in-house academic writing specialist and curriculum designer, in addition to teaching business English, presentation workshops and private courses. Nancy hails from the US, a suburb of Chicago to be precise, but she has been living in the Netherlands since 2001.

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