By Fernanda Zamboni, School of Engineering, University of Limerick
My name is Fernanda and I am an international student here at UL. Currently, I am doing a PhD in Biomedical Engineering. In this post, I will try to tell you the problems that I encounter when I am writing. However, hopefully, I will also be able to share some advice that I have learned on the way.
Generally, I identify my writing goal first, and then I plan the execution. The execution can be achieved by outlining the topics I want to cover as well as the structure and organization of the piece (introduction, experimental, results and discussion, conclusion). Then, I begin assembling the specific materials (books, papers, etc) which I need in order to cover the topics.
So, my advice would be: if you are struggling to start writing, it might be a good idea to gather a few books on the topic that you need to write. Read for a while and ideas will start popping up. I find reading up on the topic, my best weapon to tackle the feared writer’s block.
Since I need to be on my own and in a silent environment to write, I usually start writing after everyone has gone home. These few hours of intense writing are much better for me than doing it during daytime or even when I am at home.
So, my advice would be: find the environment that is most comfortable for you to write. Maybe you can write with people around you, or listening to music, etc, whatever works best for you. However, if you are like me and get distracted easily with people or noise around, then I would recommend the Regional Writing Centre distraction-free room, or the library.
I also like to set daily targets while I am writing, for example, finishing one topic/section, organising the layout, having all figure captions concluded, etc. Targets help me to focus, but don’t be upset if you don’t reach them, just give another go the next day.
As well as that, I normally take a small break (of about 10 minutes) when I start feeling distracted or tired. I get some coffee, eat some sweets or get some fresh air… When I come back I am reinvigorated and ready to continue… Sensory-motor tasks, such as stretches, are good ways to deal with difficult mental tasks. They help your brain to rewire your thoughts and ideas. This can be used not only for writing but also on study breaks.
Normally, I see that all my first drafts are too long, and it is hard to know if the level of detail I wrote was enough, too much or too little. However, I always keep in mind that good work needs to be CONCISE, PRECISE and COMPLETE. For example, simple and direct statements can pass on ideas that are much easier and clear for the reader to understand.
I also notice that I write long sentences packed with many ideas. These sentences can be complete, but they are not concise or precise. For this reason, when I am revising, I normally break these long sentences into short sentences that state just one main idea at a time. In summary, avoid joining a long string of ideas in one sentence.
If you have problems with citing, you can download from UL’s library website the “Cite it Right” guide. It shows you how to reference using the Harvard style. My advice is to cite while you write, do not leave to cite at the end. There are also referencing software programmes that can make your life much easier, such as EndNote and Mendeley. Don’t forget, if you don’t cite, it is plagiarism, the wrongful appropriation of someone else’s work.
For me, writing is much easier now than from when I first started college. I think that the most important tool to improve writing is feedback. Giving your piece so that other people can read and critically evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of your work is vital to improve writing. The tutors at the Regional Writing Centre can also help you by giving feedback on your essays.
As everyone has their own unique writing routine, what may work well for someone might not suit others. However, I find that the above works well for me and hopefully it may be of some help for you.