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How do I write?

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How do I write?

1. First of all, make a plan.

I usually recommend that you make a table on contents on day one. What will your report look like in the end? Obviously, this table of contents will change over time, but even a very rough outline helps to focus a project and gives you a target to aim for.

Once you have a table of contents, you can then plan your time. See when you will write which part. Modify the table of contents if needed, for example because the time constraints tell you the original table was too ambitious. (Developing focus is the key ingredient for most projects.)

2. Structure

A good paper as a clear structure. This may not be pleasing from a literatry point of view, but then papers and policy reports are not supposed to be high literature. They are devices, machines for efficient and most of al clear communication.

A structural principle that often works well for policy reports, is that of problem-evidence-conclusion. A paper starts with the description of the problem, then proceeds to evidence gathered or arguments developed, to close with the conclusion and recommendations. This three-fold structure can return on the level of a chapter, a section, and even on the levelof a paragraph. In this case, a paper becomes a set of nested loops of problem-evidence-conclusion sets.

3. Style

Keep it simple. That does not mean your thoughts and arguments cannot be profound. On the contrary. In order to explain complicated arguements well, the medium of language should not obstruct your communication.

So use short sentences. Stick to the active form and avoid passive tense. Use neutral language: do not insult or get overly emotional ("stupid idiot", "bull argument",...). Use recipes for writing: experiments in literary form are interesting, but easily get in the way of clear communication.

Here is an example of a recipe:

One way to write clear paragraphs, is to use five sentences. This presents information in a format that is natural and easy to read. The first sentence presents the position, while the second explains it a bit more. The third and fourth sentence provide details or examples, while the last concludes. By using this simple rule, you can write clearly even if you are not a prize-winning novelist.

It is easier to add variation to a recipe, that to find structure in random variation.

4. Mind your spelling and grammar

Even for draft texts, clear and correct language helps communication. Errors and sloppiness distract from the contents. Take a course if you have trouble, or consult one of the resources listed below.

Additional resources

There are lots of resources to help you with writing good English or clear papers. Use these resources, buy a handbook on writing, or take courses in writing and communication if you cannot get it right. Here are some suggestions:

bulletMcMillan, K., & Weyers, J. (2007). How to write Essays and Assignments. Harlow, UK: Pearson Prentice Hall.
bulletStrunk, W. J., & White, E. B. (2000). The elements of style (4th ed.). New York: Longman.
bulletThe Purdue University Online Writing Lab has extensive online resources to help you with writing.