Category - Writing

How to write an abstract

writing abstract
It’s happened to me more than once. I’ve finished a manuscript to submit for publication and then I realize that I still need to write the abstract before I can submit it.  I hate writing abstracts. They’re famously difficult to write, but they’re required for submitting articles, conference proposals, grant proposals, theses and dissertations, and some professors even ask for them for term papers.

An abstract should be a short, self-contained statement that describes the study or article. It’s not a review of the article or paper, and it is not meant to evaluate or assess the study. Really, it is just suppose to describe the work, including the various components of the study. It is difficult to summarize an entire study or an entire proposal using only the limited number of words permitted for an abstract. What information do you include and what do you leave out? I’ve struggled with this a number of times, but I have now learned a few strategies to make the task of writing an abstract a lot less daunting.

Here are some tips… Read More

Get back to writing: Tips for grad students with “writer’s block”

It’s amazing what we can busy ourselves with to avoid writing. Every grad student does it. Browsing social media feeds, reading useless articles online (not this one though, this one is not useless), sending pointless text messages and emails, organizing your sock drawer – sometimes we’ll do anything to avoid writing. Most of the time though, it’s not because we don’t want to write, rather it’s usually because we don’t know how to get started or we’ve ran into some kind of block.

Writer’s block? Actually I’m not so sure writer’s block is a real thing for grad students. I recently read Paul Silvia’s (2007) book How to Write a Lot, and I was struck by what he claims about writer’s block: “I love writer’s block. I love it for the same reasons I love tree spirits and talking woodland creatures—they’re charming and they don’t exist.” You see, to write novels or poems or short stories, an author often has to wait for some magical inspiration, a spark, something that triggers the imagination. For academics, the act of interpreting data and discussing results in the context of some theoretical framework is not the same kind of creative act.. we don’t really need to wait for inspiration in the same way a novelist does. Instead, our obstacles are most likely to be lack of motivation, a crisis of confidence, putting off scary data analysis, or just plain procrastination.

If you’re having trouble writing that term paper or doing that lit review, or if you find yourself continually delaying getting to that dissertation chapter that you really need to get done, here are a few tips that have worked for me… Read More

Guide to writing a conference proposal

graduate student

Presenting at professional or academic conferences is a must for graduate students in most disciplines. Regardless of what career you are aiming for after graduation, the skills and experience you can acquire and practice by presenting at conferences will certainly be valuable to you. For more about why you should present at conferences, see my blog on that topic here. And for tips on actually delivering a conference presentation, see my post about that here. But before you get to that stage, you will have to select a conference and submit a proposal or abstract to the conference committee with the hope of being selected as a presenter. This post offers you advice and guidance based on my own experience about the process of writing and submitting a strong abstract or proposal for a conference session. Read More

Writing a successful grant proposal

grad student

Fellowships, grants, and scholarships are the essential lifeblood of academia. In addition to helping achieve your immediate goal of securing funding for your thesis or dissertation, they enhance your – and your project’s – scholarly credibility in the eyes of the wider academic community.

However, major awards offered by prestigious institutions like Fulbright, the Social Science Research Council (SSRC), and the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) are extremely competitive. These groups receive thousands of applications each year and only a handful of those ever make it past the preliminary selection round, let alone result in an award offer. Even smaller organizations such as the Central European History Society or the Smith Richardson Foundation, for example, attract dozens of applicants for a relatively limited number of grants or fellowships.

Unfortunately, there is no “winning formula” for grant writing or fellowship applications; the entire process is more of an art than a science. Still, there are a number of steps you can take to ensure that you’re putting the strongest proposal possible forward and increase the likelihood that your project will be selected for an award. Read More