One of the best bits of advice I’ve ever gotten about writing came from my PhD advisor. He is a fountain of wisdom and catchy phrases, and over the years I’ve taken his suggestions to heart. A few in particular cross my mind on a regular basis, as I’m battling this challenge or that problem in my research and writing.
My PhD was in History so I spend just as much time (if not more) researching as I do writing. Hours, days, and weeks will easily pass with me devouring every book, article, and document I can find on my topic. As a historian of science and medicine, my research material includes scientific papers published in journals such as Nature, The New England Journal of Medicine, and Science. Although interesting and relevant to my topic, these papers tend to be written in the classically straightforward and—let’s be honest—dry tones of science-speak.
I am currently writing a book on the history of the department of research at Philip Morris, so I also read a lot of primary sources on the inner workings of the tobacco industry: meeting minutes, research reports, budgets, and memos on all sorts of mind-numbing topics as equipment orders, new hires, and construction plans.
Sometimes, when I’m in the depth of my research, I find myself talking in memo-inspired sentences, thinking in spreadsheets, and—worst of all—writing in the same tone as my research material.
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