How to motivate yourself when writing a research article?

Do you hate writing and leave it to the last minute? Read more about efficient ways that will help you stay motivated when writing a research article!

Academic writing is a key skill that we, as academics and researchers, need to have in our skillset to efficiently communicate our research.

It’s one of the fundamental activities you do, regardless of the career stage.

At the early stage of your career, you’ll mostly use academic writing to disseminate your research via research articles in journals and to write your dissertation – the cumulative point of your PhD degree!

At the later stage of your career, you’ll still be writing and editing research articles, and you’ll most likely need to apply for research funding to sustain your research group.

So you see – writing, especially writing research articles, is a crucial skill that you should develop at the early stage of your career to succeed in academia.

Yet, so many of us hate writing.

We tend to leave it as the very last activity that we “have to do” in our research projects.

This will work for some people, as you may write well under pressure. For others, it’ll be a daunting experience that you just need to go through and that you want to finish as soon as possible.

The result?

If you don’t approach your writing properly, don’t have a positive mindset and sufficient motivation to write, the quality of your research article may be compromised. As a result, it may be rejected from the journal.

Although there’s no way to guarantee that your work will be published in a specific journal, there are ways to improve your motivation and quality of writing.

Here are some approaches that worked for me and enabled me to publish 9 research articles during my PhD alone.

Plan your manuscripts

Do you develop a content framework for your research article? I do it all the time!

What does this mean?

Well, each research article has a similar structure, with minor differences depending on the journal that you want to submit your work to.

Plan your research article before you start to write to motivate yourself
Plan your research article before you start to write to motivate yourself

But to you plan what you are going to include in each section or even paragraph? You should because that will prevent you from getting stuck and thinking about what to focus on next.

Before I start writing an article, I sit down with an empty piece of paper and write down the key message for the article and plan each paragraph.

This helps me understand whether the story in the article will flow and whether I’m missing any important information in my article.

Also, once I fix the content of my article, I don’t have to think about what to write next. The content framework is developed, and I can enjoy writing my thoughts, reflections and discussions down!  

Embed the writing process in your research

This may seem a counter-intuitive approach, as you may have been told to do the research first and write down your work later. However, there are many benefits of writing and conducting your research at the same time.

This applies at different stages of your project. For example, when you’re at the very beginning of your research project and reading literature to get the grasp of the challenges in your research field, it’s a great idea to take notes and reflect on these.

Yes, we all do it, you may say. But I urge you to take a step further – actually start writing sections for your literature review. It doesn’t need to be a nicely polished draft. A rough working draft with all relevant references, figures and thoughts would be just fine. You’ll see that writing the final literature review for your article or thesis will come much easier than starting from scratch and looking for sources.

The same applies to writing down your methods and materials section. When you develop your experimental rig, model or conceptual framework, write down your approach and justification for it. Include any sort of assumptions that you make in this process. It’ll help you to remember all the important aspects that’ll enable others to reproduce your work when published.

I hope you get the benefits of writing and doing research at the same time. It saves you time, frustration and disappointment, for example, when you cannot find the one reference that you read somewhere and that was essential for your work – I’ve been there myself. As a result, you’ll be more motivated to write – trust me!

Schedule regular writing sessions

Right, so you’ve planned the content of your manuscript and want to embed your writing in your research.

But to make progress in your writing and don’t get overwhelmed with it, I advise you to schedule regular (i.e. daily) writing sessions.

This doesn’t need to be an entire day or even half day. I find that I’m most productive when I dedicate maximum 2-3 hours a day to write stuff.

So why scheduling writing sessions is important to motivate yourself to write?

Combine your regular writing sessions with the plan of your manuscript to develop daily, weekly and monthly goals. This will give you a sense of direction.

Moreover, by writing regularly, you’ll make regular progress with your writing. And as you know, making progress and, so-called, “small wins” are fundamental to staying motivated.

If you’ll do it for long enough, you’ll develop a good habit that you’ll benefit from throughout your academic career.

You’ll notice that after some time, writing will come naturally to you and you’ll start enjoying it if you haven’t done so far.

A final word…

Academic writing is a crucial skill that we need to develop to become successful researchers and academics.

But getting motivated to write is sometimes difficult, especially when we leave it to the last minute (unless you’re fuelled by the approaching deadline!).

You can become more motivated by:

  • properly planning your manuscripts to have a clear idea of the direction and content for your writing;
  • embedding your writing process in your research to avoid frustrations and misplacing relevant information; and
  • scheduling regular writing sessions to develop a good writing habit.

All of these are activities that can help you to avoid being overwhelmed with writing and cherish the entire process.

How do you motivate yourself to write?

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Academic Coach at Motivated Academic, senior lecturer at Cranfield University, UK.

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