On the importance of writing skill in Academia

In this post, I share my thoughts on the importance of writing skill in Academia. Currently, I’m a PhD student. So a large part of my job is to write papers and a thesis at the end. I don’t consider myself a good writer by any means, though I got compliments about my writing from some people. This post is useful mostly for novice researchers like PhD students and also people who want to consider a research career in Academia.

First of all, I think that writing is one of the most important skills that one should master in Academia.  Don’t get me wrong! Communication skills (both speaking and writing) are all equally important not just in academic jobs but also in other professions. However, in Academia, you can’t get away with poor writing skill. For example, as a software engineer, your main job is to solve problems by coding a solution and your writing skill won’t have much impact on your career. Sure, you do still need to write documentation at times. On the other hand, as a researcher, a large part of your job is to write scientific documents and publish them. Researchers often give a short talk (i.e. 5-10 min.) about their work at a conference. Yet they spend a ton of time writing their papers and revise them. Moreover, researchers’ papers will be accessible on the internet to be read by other researchers in their field (hopefully!). I said hopefully! Yes! People first read your paper’s abstract if they find it somewhere among thousands of other papers. Based on an abstract of 200-250 words, they’re gonna decide whether your paper worth their time or it’s relevant to their research interests. By now, you’ve probably realized how important a paper’s abstract is. Simply, an abstract is a summary of your 10-page work in 250 words. Getting back to the main point, writing skill is a big factor in your success in Academia. I know! many other factors also play a role.

If you don’t like writing and find it boring, you should not probably consider an academic career. I don’t wanna crush your dreams but we should know what skills are prominent and should be improved in our (prospect) job. That said, if you enjoy writing and can demystify research ideas on the paper well,  there is a high chance that you’ll have at least a decent research career considering that you also have a high dose of creativity and other required (technical) skills. Contrary to common belief, I believe that academic writing is NOT easy. Yes, the academic vocabulary is not big. However, demystifying and selling research ideas on a paper is hard. It takes years to become an experienced writer who knows how to play with words. Ask other researchers about how many times their papers got rejected because reviewers didn’t understand their paper and its value. Even though reviewers are usually blamed for nose-sense comments, it is the authors’ ultimate job to demystify their ideas in the paper.

In the end, I’d like to summarize my rant as follows:

  • In Academia, you often hear “publish or perish”! Like it or not, your performance is mostly measured by how many (impactful) research papers you have published. No matter how great or innovative your research ideas are, if you can’t write them down and sell them as a paper, you’ll lose the game. Sorry! It’s the rule of the game!
  • Most of us had suffered from reading big dry academic textbooks, mostly in our undergrad studies. We do still revisit them for reference purposes or learn new concepts. Have you ever thought about writing one of those textbooks? Probably not! Even reading them is not fun, then imagine how hard and tedious it can be to write such books. Besides, books don’t have much monetary value. People often write books because they are quite knowledgeable in their field of research and passionate about it. To gain fame or become an authority in your field of work, at some point, you need to write books, especially in Academia. And guess what! your writing skill is your best friend here.
  • In Academia, as a researcher, to survive and thrive, you need money! papers and books are not gonna generate a lot of money. If they do, it’s just enough to just live life. To hire researchers and create a research lab, you basically need to write research proposals, which is begging/persuading the government and companies to give you funds or grants. In exchange, you solve a research or business problem for them and promise that you’re gonna deliver what you aimed for. The question is how can the gov. or companies trust YOU and give their precious money?! The answer is simple. A very well-written and crafted research proposal that looks promising and innovative, blah blah…
  • Not to mention that another part of a researcher’s job is to review papers. That is, writing constructive feedback and sometimes killing a paper softly with nice words. Also, to start as a newbie player, you first finish a PhD, which consists of a dissertation document. Blogging and tweeting are also a writing activity that is common in Academia. Depending on your institution and its bureaucracy, you may need to write some extra documents to do business and get things done.

To wrap up the post, let me make this clear once again. Writing is ONE of the skills that a competent researcher should master (albeit one of the most important ones IMO). Clearly, there are other factors involved in the success of people in Academia, which is beyond the scope of this post. Anyhow, Thanks for reading my post, and hope that my post was helpful and informative for you. I’d be glad to hear your thoughts in the comments.

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