In a recent Twitter thread, academic writing coach Anna Clemens, Ph.D., outlined the seven common mistakes she has observed supervisors and principal investigators (PIs) make when co-writing a paper with their Ph.D. students or mentees. The thread, which has since gained significant attention, provides valuable insights into the challenges faced by novice academic writers and offers practical solutions to improve the writing process.

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Key Takeaways:

  • Anna Clemens, PhD, highlights common mistakes made by supervisors when co-writing papers with their PhD students or mentees.
  • The mistakes range from not teaching the writing process to not setting internal deadlines.
  • Clemens emphasizes the importance of explaining edits, giving feedback throughout the writing process, and providing quality writing training.
  • Mentors should regularly check in with their mentees to understand their needs and working style.

✅ Not Teaching the Writing Process

Clemens emphasizes the importance of teaching the writing process to students. This includes brainstorming ideas, outlining the paper, drafting, revising, and editing. By understanding these steps, students can approach the task of writing a paper in a more structured and less overwhelming way. Supervisors and PIs should take the time to explain these steps and provide guidance on navigating each one.

✅ Focusing only on grammar and punctuation

While grammar and punctuation are important, Clemens argues that the initial focus should be on the paper’s structure and content. This involves ensuring that the paper has a clear argument, that the evidence supports this argument, and that the paper is logically organized. Once these larger issues are addressed, supervisors can then turn their attention to fine-tuning grammar and punctuation.

✅ Not Defining ‘Story’

When supervisors tell their students to ‘tell a story’ in their paper, they often leave them confused about what this means. Clemens suggests that supervisors should clarify this by explaining that a ‘story’ in an academic paper involves presenting a clear problem, providing evidence to address this problem, and then discussing the implications of this evidence. This narrative structure can help make the paper more engaging and easier to follow.

✅ Not Setting Internal Deadlines

Setting internal deadlines can help keep the writing process on track. Clemens suggests that these deadlines could be for completing the outline, finishing the first draft, revising the paper, etc. By having these deadlines, students can better manage their time and reduce the stress of trying to complete the paper all at once. Supervisors should involve their students in setting these deadlines to ensure they are realistic and achievable.

✅ Not Explaining Edits

Clemens advises supervisors to provide clear explanations for their edits. This can help students understand why certain changes are being made and how they can improve their writing. This feedback can be provided in written comments or through a video walkthrough of the edits. Students can learn from their mistakes and become better writers by understanding the rationale behind the edits.

✅ Waiting for a Complete Draft

Rather than waiting for a complete draft, Clemens recommends that supervisors provide feedback throughout the writing process. This could involve discussing the paper’s structure and argument early on, reviewing sections of the paper as they are written, and providing ongoing feedback on revisions. This approach can help prevent major issues from arising late in the writing process and make revising the paper less daunting for students.

✅ Relying on Literature for Teaching Writing

While reading academic literature can provide examples of how to write, Clemens warns that it can also expose students to poor writing practices. Instead, she advocates for providing students with quality writing training. This could involve workshops, online courses, or one-on-one coaching. By receiving formal writing training, students can learn the principles of good academic writing and apply these to their own work.

Bonus Tip: Regular Check-ins

Clemens also suggests that supervisors should regularly check in with their mentees to understand their needs and working style. This can help tailor the guidance process to each individual, making it more effective.

Clemens’ insights highlight the need for improved mentorship in academic writing. By avoiding these common mistakes, supervisors and PIs can better support their students and mentees, leading to higher-quality research papers and a more rewarding writing experience for all involved.

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