Miguel Panao | Professor and Author

Finding ways to improve scientific writing and academic productivity.

How to get more done in scientific writing in less time

“Why do we take so long to produce so little?”

Have you ever asked yourself this question? I have. Numerous times. And I think this often occurs in scientific writing, especially in the results and discussion section which demands creative thinking. That is the section including scientific revolutions, right?

Structuring scientific thinking

I hear a lot from my colleagues that you can take an entire morning, or even a day, to write a couple of sentences. And I wonder how is this possible? I mean, you spend a lot of time thinking, but eventually, you need to put your thoughts into writing. Why do we think so much and write so little? Are we falling into the trap of searching for the perfect sentence? My wonderings stopped when I experienced that myself and understood why.

The scientific writing of results and discussion involves a lot of things besides writing. It consists of making plots, re-making plots, consult other papers, relate your results with findings from other authors and, occasionally, go to the lab and make more measurements. That takes time.

But, can we make this process more efficient? Maybe. The scientific writing process flows when you have your thoughts structured. Getting to that structure is the hard part, mainly if it requires being creative in the explanations. Scientific writing is insightful. And insights take time. I hypothesize that structuring your thoughts is a more natural way to arrive at the insight.


Structuring thought

I like the puzzle metaphor for any scientific development. First, you try fitting your piece of the puzzle into the framework of scientifically acquired knowledge. But I would say your contribution is already the result of building a puzzle.

Mindmaps are a robust strategy to pour your thoughts onto paper (or app) and link them. It is the first step when you’re structuring your thoughts. The mindmap core is the result obtained, observation, or hypothesis. Then, you include other dots with possible explanations, results by several authors and try to connect the dots. The idea is to fit your outcome into the puzzle of the reality you’re researching.

The following step is to group thoughts and build an outline. From an outline to writing is a small step for the research writer and a giant leap toward sharing his research with the community.

It takes time to produce good science. But if you learn to structure your thinking, you can use time more efficiently.


Challenge: try using this mindmap-outline approach and share your thoughts and experience.

About Miguel Panao

I am a Professor at the University of Coimbra in Mechanical Engineering. I am also author of books in the fields of environmental ethics and Science and Religion. From the several research projects, this site is personal and dedicated to the search for the best approaches, tools, techniques to improve scientific productivity.

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