One of my favourite quotes about writing comes from Austin Kleon who says:
“In every undergraduate creative writing workshop I was part of, there was that one kid who said, ‘I like to write, but I don’t really like to read,’ and it was evident right away that you could pretty much write that kid off completely.”
This is because if we write without reading first we cannot build upon the work of others and we cannot learn from people who have published before. This should be self-evident but often when we are researching and experimenting, we will do a search to help us overcome an issue and will skim through to locate what is hopefully the answer. You might not fully read the introduction or conclusions, not really caring for the context or analysis for someone else. We do not have time to read each article in depth and have time for research, for writing, for lecturing, for mentoring and for a life outside the research institute. Yet here I am suggesting that you should be reading more in our already packed lives.
If we do not want to learn and develop then this is not something that you should commit to, however, if you do there is always time to be found, even if it is just 15 minutes a day, possibly whilst sitting on the toilet. To improve you should read great writing; this does not have to be a ‘classic’ like Crime and Punishment, but should be something relevant. I would suggest that as writing up research is akin to non-fiction writing, it can be beneficial to read scientific non-fiction books, which can also provide ideas for research or help develop new ways of thinking. This can be science magazines, books or blogs.
Some suggestions for things to read
- Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings – http://www.brainpickings.org/
- Ed Yong’s Not Exactly Rocket Science – http://phenomena.nationalgeographic.com/blog/not-exactly-rocket-science/
- Anything by Carl Zimmer – for example, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/21/science/ant-nest-beetles-social-parasites-mimicry.html
- The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
- What If? By Randall Monroe (and xkcd, as well – http://xkcd.com/)
However, we shouldn’t limit ourselves, great writing is great writing and we can always learn something from it, hopefully, how to tell the best stories possible.
Austin Kleon – http://tumblr.austinkleon.com/post/33792291289