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Quick Start for Writing

小提示

中文版可以在英文版之后找到,但是还是鼓励大家先读读英文版~

English version

I write this blog aiming to share some simple tips about academic writing, and hope it could help the “poor guys” struggling with the writing, more or less.

Notice: I am not a master in writing but only a TOTAL FRESHMAN. And all the texts following are based on what I learnt and my understanding, maybe incomplete (I hope no mistakes at least). Nevertheless, I believe that it is the reason why I can make the texts more friendly and achievable for the tyros. If you have any question, please feel free to come and talk with me ;-)

Practice! Practice… Practice?

I guess some (or even most) of the you would say ‘duh’ when you heard about “Practice! Practice! Practice!” in some books. Sounds 100 percent correct but useless, right? Overall I agree, if you don’t have a concrete and reasonable plan. Aimless practice can sometimes not only have no effects, but, even worse, depress you. Hence, I strongly suggest you start with writing YOUR paper, a specific example. For those having no projects, experiment report can also be an alternative. Then, craft your work step by step!

Step ONE: polish up your outline

The first and most important step. Seems to irrelevant to writing skills, uhm? Yes, but checking the outline with your colleagues and supervisors can largely save your time. Just imagine the time to rewrite the whole section! Generally speaking, the big framework for the project (and then the paper) has been made. However, we need to go a further step, and check the structures between paragraphs and even sentences. Actually it is the nightmare for many students, I believe.

For example, here we try to introduce the modelling methods in interface electrochemistry (mainly about EDL modelling), following solution electrochemistry introduced in the last section. Hence, we write down the outline below and discuss it with our partners.

the electric double layer (EDL) xxx (importance of EDL/why we want to investigate it)
==>
EDL is hard to be probed (reason)
==>
we can get some info with in situ techniques and ab initio simulations
==>
One of the key characteristics of EDL is its capcacitance
==> 
EDL capacitance can be measured by experiment (CV/impedance) and be a bencemark for modelling
==>
replace the solute by the electrode (from solution electrochemistry to interface electrochemistry)
==> 
use similar simulation methods and focus on their performace on EDL modelling

In this step, you don’t need to consider the elegance of your language. Simple but accurate texts can make your life easier.

Step TWO: ABT structure

“How long would you need to tell a story?” Randy Olson asked this question in his TEDMED talk. (YouTube link here. Sorry I cannot find another source for the guys in China…) In this talk and his book Houston, We Have a Narrative: Why Science Needs Story, Olson introduced a quite simple method to construct a narrative, the ABT structure:

(…) AND (…), BUT (…), THEREFORE (…)

Let’s try to fill this structure with the outline in the last step!

%% start the ABT structure
% EDL is important (... AND ...)
the electric double layer (EDL) xxx (importance of EDL/why we want to investigate it)
% BUT it is hard to be probed
However, EDL is hard to be probed, not only because xxx but xxx
% THEREFORE, we need some tools
To address this difficulty, both in situ experimental techniques and modelling are required.
%% END the ABT structure

If you don’t know how to construct your idea, write down all the points you can think about and try to adapt them to one or more ABT structure(s).

If you think the linking somewhere is not smooth enough, rewrite it with an ABT structure.

Ahhh! Not bad!

Step THREE: repeat your words

With the two steps mentioned above, I believe you have worked out a comprehensible outline. Then, we need to strengthen the linking between sentences and make the logic more explicitly, by repeating the words in the last sentence. Hence, your texts can be easier to be followed! Here is an example:

Electric double layers (EDL) at the electrode/electrolyte interfaces are where electrochemical reactions occur, and thus are of paramount importance in electrochemistry.
% Electric double layers (EDL) <==> EDL
However, microscopic understanding of the EDL is still lacking due to its complexity and difficulty to probe.
% microscopic understanding <==> valuable insight
Thanks to the development of computational methods, modelling has shown great potential in studying the interface of the electrode and the electrolyte in the past few years, and provided valuable insight into EDL structures and dielectric properties.

Maybe the repetition between the second and the third sentences is slightly implicit, but the idea is there. Nevertheless, I would not recommend a tyro to do so, since you might confuse the readers with rephrasing. If you are not sure, just repeat the words and make your texts clear!

Albert Einstein: When you are out to describe the truth, leave elegance to the tailor.

Here we come to another example (cited from DOI: 10.1126/SCIADV.ABB1219). I like this compact structure very much.

An electric double layer (EDL) formed at an electrified interface can afford a potential change of a few volts within a very thin layer of 3 to 5 Å, amounting to an extremely large electric field of similar strength to that in a particle accelerator.
% an extremely large electric field <==> a strong electric field
Naturally, one would wonder how solvent molecules such as water or any other reactive species inside the EDL would behave in response to such a strong electric field. 
% how ... behave <==> this question
Answering this question is not only of fundamental interest but also of technological importance in a broad range of research areas in science and technology, to name a few, energy storage in supercapacitors, electrocatalysis of relevance to energy and environmental applications, self-assembly of colloidal particles, ion transport across biological membranes, and mineralization processes in earth science.
% fundamental interest, technological importance <==> its significance
Despite its significance, molecular-level understanding of EDL is largely missing, owing to its complexity and difficulty to probe.
% molecular-level understanding <==> microscopic structures
Because of the advent of advanced experimental (e.g., synchrotron-based techniques and Raman spectroscopy) and computational methods [e.g., ab intio molecular dynamics (AIMD)], it is not until recently that the microscopic structures of EDL have started to be unveiled.

Yeah! Finally! I don’t want to talk too much to distract you (but I still strongly recommend you to read the book mentioned above for fun!). I think the three tips above are sufficient to work out a readable draft for your big bosses. Don’t be afraid of writing! Just have a try!

I am not a natural in writing. On the contrary, I had really struggled with English writing and thought I was a dunderhead at all, even if I had a pretty nice and patient supervisor who helped me a lotttttttttt in my first paper. Things turned up in a day (shortly after I finished the quasi-final version of my first paper) when I was asked to give a hand to my colleague for a review. When I started to read the review, I knew how to put all I had been taught into practice magically. Just like a spark in my mind. Maybe you know what should be improved only when you need to deal with an “unreadable draft” ? (Just kidding! Don’t kill me, Xiaohui!)

Sincere thanks to Dr. Katharina Doblhoff-Dier in Leiden University

中文版

笔者写这篇短文的目的是为了分享几个笔者觉得很实用的写作小技巧,希望可以帮到正在(或将要)挣扎在科研写作中的同学们。

:笔者并不是科研写作的专家,只是一个刚刚敲完自己第一篇论文的菜鸟。以下的内容都是基于笔者所学的和笔者的理解,可能比较片面(希望没有错误)。尽管如此,笔者希望用一个初学者的视角去讲述,让这篇短文的内容对初学者来说是友好的和可实现的 ;-)

练习!练习……练习?

笔者相信相当一部分人在一些书里(或者其他地方)听到“练习!练习!练习!”这句话的时候会说一声:“就这?就这?”听起来是个完全正确的废话。总体来说笔者同意你们的观点,如果你们在练习的时候没有一个具体和合理的计划。毫无目的的练习有时候会事倍功半,甚至因打击你的自信而起到反效果。因此,笔者会推荐大家从自己的文章(一个具体的例子)开始。对于那些还没有文章的同学,不妨试试实验报告之类的?然后,开始一步步打磨你的文章吧!

第一步:确定框架

这是最重要的一步,虽然看起来和写作没太大关系。一个好的框架可以大大节省后续写作的时间——想想重写一整个段落!通常来说,整个项目(文章)的大框架应该是在项目进行之前就和导师敲定好的,这个不会有大问题。问题在哪呢?下一个尺度:段落间和句子间的连接。就笔者个人经验而言,这步是很多学生(和导师)的噩梦…

那我们在写框架的时候应该写到什么程度呢?来看看一个例子。这里,我们希望介绍电化学界面的一些模拟方法(着重在双电层模拟)。并且在上一节里,我们已经介绍过了溶液相的一些模拟方法。根据这些内容,我们可以写个大致如下的框架,然后和我们的合作者或者导师进行下一步讨论。

the electric double layer (EDL) xxx (importance of EDL/why we want to investigate it)
==>
EDL is hard to be probed (reason)
==>
we can get some info with in situ techniques and ab initio simulations
==>
One of the key characteristics of EDL is its capcacitance
==> 
EDL capacitance can be measured by experiment (CV/impedance) and be a bencemark for modelling
==>
replace the solute by the electrode (from solution electrochemistry to interface electrochemistry)
==> 
use similar simulation methods and focus on their performace on EDL modelling

在这一步中,你不需要考虑语言的优美。简单而精准的文字在接下来的修改中更方便。

第二步:ABT结构

“你需要花多长时间去讲述一个故事?” Randy Olson在他的TEDMED演讲中问了这个问题。(这是个油管链接,B站没找着…)在这个演讲以及他的书Houston, We Have a Narrative: Why Science Needs Story中,Olson介绍了一种非常简单的叙事方法,ABT结构:

(…) AND (…), BUT (…), THEREFORE (…)

让我们试着把上一节里的框架用ABT结构改造一下!

%% start the ABT structure
% EDL is important (... AND ...)
the electric double layer (EDL) xxx (importance of EDL/why we want to investigate it)
% BUT it is hard to be probed
However, EDL is hard to be probed, not only because xxx but xxx
% THEREFORE, we need some tools
To address this difficulty, both in situ experimental techniques and modelling are required.
%% END the ABT structure

如果你不知道怎么下笔,那就先把所有想到的点写下来并把它们往ABT结构里套。

如果你认为某处的过渡不够自然,也可以考虑用ABT结构重写一下 。

第三步:重复你的词汇

经过上面的两个步骤,我相信你已经获得了一个可理解的大纲。 现在,我们来进行最后一步:尽量使每个句子中都出现上一个句子中的单词。这个方法可以加强句子之间的连接,使逻辑更加清晰,从而让你的文字可以更容易被阅读! 看看这个例子:

Electric double layers (EDL) at the electrode/electrolyte interfaces are where electrochemical reactions occur, and thus are of paramount importance in electrochemistry.
% Electric double layers (EDL) <==> EDL
However, microscopic understanding of the EDL is still lacking due to its complexity and difficulty to probe.
% microscopic understanding <==> valuable insight
Thanks to the development of computational methods, modelling has shown great potential in studying the interface of the electrode and the electrolyte in the past few years, and provided valuable insight into EDL structures and dielectric properties.

好吧,看上去第二个句子和第三个句子之间的重复有点隐晦?但是那个意思了。尽管如此,同义替换对于新手来说需要特别谨慎,以防出现表述偏差。如果你不是特别确定,那就简单地重复!让你的文章先变得清晰!

Albert Einstein: When you are out to describe the truth, leave elegance to the tailor.

这里是另一个例子 (引自 DOI: 10.1126/SCIADV.ABB1219)。笔者个人很喜欢这个简洁紧凑的例子!

An electric double layer (EDL) formed at an electrified interface can afford a potential change of a few volts within a very thin layer of 3 to 5 Å, amounting to an extremely large electric field of similar strength to that in a particle accelerator.
% an extremely large electric field <==> a strong electric field
Naturally, one would wonder how solvent molecules such as water or any other reactive species inside the EDL would behave in response to such a strong electric field. 
% how ... behave <==> this question
Answering this question is not only of fundamental interest but also of technological importance in a broad range of research areas in science and technology, to name a few, energy storage in supercapacitors, electrocatalysis of relevance to energy and environmental applications, self-assembly of colloidal particles, ion transport across biological membranes, and mineralization processes in earth science.
% fundamental interest, technological importance <==> its significance
Despite its significance, molecular-level understanding of EDL is largely missing, owing to its complexity and difficulty to probe.
% molecular-level understanding <==> microscopic structures
Because of the advent of advanced experimental (e.g., synchrotron-based techniques and Raman spectroscopy) and computational methods [e.g., ab intio molecular dynamics (AIMD)], it is not until recently that the microscopic structures of EDL have started to be unveiled.

文章到这里就结束了!笔者不想写太多点以至于让你们有点抓狂(但是笔者还是非常推荐你们去读读上面提到的书!很有趣!)总的来说,笔者认为上面提及的三点已经足以写出一个清晰的初稿给你们的老板了。

最后,向我第一个项目的日常导师,荷兰莱顿大学的 Dr. Katharina Doblhoff-Dier 表示诚挚的感谢。

Useful websites for writing

vocabulary

https://www.vocabulary.com

https://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com

synonym

https://www.wordhippo.com

https://www.thesaurus.com

collocation

https://www.linggle.com

https://netspeak.org

sentence

https://www.phrasebank.manchester.ac.uk

rephrase

https://quillbot.com

translation

http://www.onedict.com/index.php

https://www.deepl.com/translator

年度汇报标准

研究生(博士和硕士)前两年每年应写一次汇报。汇报使用LaTeX撰写。模板选用revtex的AIP模板。以英文撰写

硕士生第一年报告的词数应在4500左右,第二年报告应在6000左右。

博士生第一年报告的词数应在6000左右,第二年报告应在7500左右。