Writing effectively


According to McEnerney (2014), academics are trained to be poor writers. Eventually, they end up in his office and tell, while crying, that their careers might end soon. One reason why academics are poor writers is that they are expert writers. Expert writers are not experts in writing but are experts who write. An expert writer typically thinks via writing and they assume that this raw output is good enough for readers. However, it isn't good enough. For a start, expert writers have a worldview which differs from the readers' due to the writers' expertise. So, to avoid crying, McEnerney argues that writers should instead write to be valuable to the community of readers.

Focussing mainly on texts being valuable may seem odd. When a text is not valuable, people will

  1. slow down and reread,

  2. misunderstand or don't understand the text,

  3. get aggregated and

  4. stop reading.

So, ensure that people are able to keep the pace when reading. To do so, most people have learned that writing should be organized, pervasive and clear. However, a useless, organized, pervasive and clear text is just useless. Another misconception is that writing should explain your thoughts. Only people like teachers care about your thoughts since they are paid to care. So, it's about writing texts which people find genuinly interesting. The easiest ways to write interestingly are to create excitement and to write like the readers would. Creating excitement sounds inappropriate for the nobel art of science. Actually, it is how things work; excitement has been selling newspapers for years.

Excitement can be achieved by arguing against existing work, pointing out contradictions and solving problems. Do beware that you argue against existing work according to the rules, so don't write a paper "proclaiming the superiority of your work and the pathetic inadequacy of the contributions of A, B, C, ..." (Wadge, 2020). Instead, check out previous work and see how they did it. Daring to go against existing work is truly important since only adding new knowledge is boring. There are an infinite number of new pieces of knowledge to be found. If you add one new piece, then the number will remain infinite. To satisfy the latter, that is, to write like the reader would, you could read all the papers in a journal and try to mimick that. This takes a lot of time. A shortcut is to simply copy important or exciting words, such as however, contradicts, reported and investigate. Finally, the best way to get the readers' attention is to solve a problem the community cares about. Either point out that the science is currently unstable or, with your work, solve a problem to reduce costs or increase benefits.

Next, let's discuss the group of readers. How you write depends on who is going to read it. In science, your work is read by experts in some field who, basically, behave like a community. Others go even further and call it a village (Fernandes, 2017). McEnerney is very frank about typical academic communities. Like him, these communities are usually too male, too pale and too stale. It's not how it should be, but it is how it works. To persuade these people, estimate what the reader doubts. Also, know that the community is not as clever as you might expect. Communities know a finite set of papers. So, don't write like your work will last for eternity. People of the future will just cite better works and forget about yours. At the end of the day, you should be fine with just pushing the discussion forward. In other words, you write to change current ideas.


Fernandes, F. C. (2017, October 18). How to succeed in academia according to a Nobel Prize Laureate.

McEnerney (2014) Leadership LAB: The Craft of Writing Effectively [Video]. YouTube.

Wadge, B. (2020). The Secret of Academic Success - or fun filled failure if you prefer. Bill Wadge’s Blog. Retrieved July 29, 2020, from