David Harpp

Professor, Chemistry

Q: What can you tell students about how you developed your expertise as an academic writer?

A: When I started my academic career, I knew I was not a good writer having avoided such courses in University. Thus, I had to wade my way through the initial thickets of scrambled thoughts in my thesis and subsequent first articles.

My advice is that which my PDF supervisor suggested—first write what you would say if explaining the topic to someone. This helped me considerably. All papers require a short and punchy first sentence or two.

Asking a colleague to read the document and offer criticism also is valuable.

The last steps of writing are to weed out extraneous words and to let the “final” document sit for at least a week and then re-read and re-write where necessary.

Some can navigate a paper the first time through but that was and is not the case with me—I go over the document until I can see no serious flaws with the work and this often takes numerous iterations.

If anyone had told me when I was in high school that I would (in part) write for a living, I would not have believed it. For me, good writing is hard work and to repeat, friends/colleagues can help greatly.