Tag Archives: Academic Writing

The Art of Receiving Feedback

Most of us love giving our opinion on things, like leaving reviews on items we bought online, places we visited or services we used; especially when we were happy with them. And yes, some people surely enjoy living a bad review, too. Both good and bad reviews are helpful to other people interested in the same products, places or services; but reviews will also be useful also to those who offer the goods in order to improve on their quality or celebrate an achievement. Well, the same applies to receiving feedback on our writing.

Feedback can be one of the most effective ways to becoming better at writing (and anything you do, for that matter).

Of course, the effectiveness of feedback depends on how well it is given, for if it is offered in a skilful way, it can be extremely helpful and easily accepted. We call this “constructive feedback”. On the other hand, “destructive criticism”, which is feedback given without any positive advice on how to improve things, can harm the self-esteem of the receiving person and will not lead to any positive outcome. Yet this post is not about giving feedback, but rather about receiving it so you can learn how to make the most of it.

Picture from flip.it

As I explain in my book (Chapter 4, Section 4.8), a very good way to avoid receiving either too little or too much feedback, or either too generic or overwhelmingly detailed feedback is to know when to ask for it throughout your writing process, what specifically to ask for, and whom to ask. At the stage of an early draft, what you really want to know is if your content is appropriate, enough and relevant. At this stage, you do not have to ask your supervisor for feedback; a fellow student or colleague can help. At the stage of middle draft, when you need to make sure that your ideas are clear, coherent and well-structured, you can ask for feedback from a more experienced person, like your supervisor or a postdoc. And finally, at the stage of the final draft, you need feedback from an expert, that is your supervisor, to check if the overall content is correct, accurate and comprehensive.

Now, there might be cases when you do not agree with (or do not like) the feedback you receive, and you might get into your defence mode thinking of your next response. Try to control yourself, take a moment and a breath before you say something. Make sure you 100% listen and understand the feedback to avoid misjudgement and unnecessary bad reactions. Always keep in mind that one’s opinion comes from their perception of things and it might not be right, maybe because they do not know or understand fully the situation. Help them by giving them all the necessary information and background, so their feedback is more accurate. 

If you are angry about the feedback you received, avoid conflict by repeating the discussion again on a later date. I always recommend not to take feedback personally. Also, if you are still unsure about the validity of the feedback you received from one person, ask also for feedback from others. This approach, though, might end up confusing you, if you receive many different opinions. So be careful with this one, and always try to ask feedback from the most appropriate person, as we mentioned earlier, and someone you trust and appreciate. 

Picture from Shutterstock

However, the best way of avoiding feelings like anger and uncertainty is asking questions to clarify things, like specific examples that could help you better understand the meaning of the feedback. And in order to ask good questions, you have to be a good listener. Take notes if needed, summarise and reflect on what you are hearing, and ask for concrete solutions if you are unsure how to proceed after receiving comments on a piece of your work. It is better to get all the answers and advice you need at the time you receive feedback than wondering later and getting frustrated. 

Finally, show your appreciation to the person that gives you feedback. Giving feedback can be tough and stressful, and it takes time, so even if you don’t agree or like it, make sure to thank the person for it and make the process easier for both of you. This way you encourage them to repeat the process with you, and feel more comfortable to give you more honest -and hence more constructive and useful- feedback. However, most likely they will feel more appreciated if you actually take their feedback into consideration and make use of it in order to improve your work!

I hope this is helpful, but if you have any questions, do not hesitate to get in touch.

Take care!

PS. If you are looking for feedback on your research paper writing, join our 3-day Facebook Challenge – Getting Started with you Research Paper, and receive instant advice by the expert!

The Burden of Knowledge

‘As we accumulate more knowledge, more knowledge must be known before new contributors can contribute.’

It’s called ‘the burden of knowledge‘.

And that’s why, the average age of Nobel Prize-winning work is now 48 compared to 40, as it was before 1905.

Interestingly, the average age at dissertation is 33, which leaves a little window of potential for truly ground-breaking research.

Often, it is the dissertation that lay the foundations for a successful career!  (see infographic – courtesy: Kyata Tobias, Online PhD Programs)

The bottom-line message?

It may just pay off to write it well! 🙂
Source: Online-PHd-Programs.org

Credits: Kyara Tobias

Reading About Writing: 7 Books You Should Have

Have you ever run a search for ‘Academic Writing’ books on Amazon?

I just have! And there are well over 15000 titles in the Paperback section alone!

No wonder you may get a little overwhelmed in case you want to buy one to improve your writing skills (a great idea, by the way, which I totally support).

So, I thought I’d give you a quick list of some of my favourite books on the topic.

I hope you’ll find the book that suits your needs. And if you have other titles to recommend, just post them in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you.

Here is my list:



H Glasman-Deal: Science Research Writing for Non-Native Speakers of English, Imperial College Press (2010)

A very clear and well-designed book that will take you step by step into the process of structuring the various sections of chapters in your research paper of thesis. Lots of useful tables with frequently used phrases of academic writing.




A Greene: Writing Science in Plain English. The University of Chicago Press (2013)

A little gem of a book! A must-read for all (students and staff) who want to improve their writing by applying some simple and practical strategies. Plenty of examples (and ‘solutions’) for you to practice your skills.




P Goodson: Becoming an Academic Writer – 50 Exercises for Paced, Productive, and Powerful, Writing. SAGE Publishing Ltd (2013)

If you are short of ideas on practical things you can do to improve your writing, here you’ll find plenty of suggestions and examples.




H Sword: The Writer’s Diet. Pearson New Zealand Ltd. (2007)

I just love the analogy between writing and eating! If you take the Writer’s Diet Test, but don’t get too disappointed with the results… It’s good fun to see at once where your writing is going wrong.





AM Koerner: Guide to publishing a scientific paper. Routledge (2008)

If you are new to publishing a research paper, this book will take you through every step in the process from choice of journal, to manuscript submission, to response to reviewers’ comments. Excellent advice even if you are not new to publishing!




W Strunk: Elements of Style. Dover Publications Inc. (2006)

A classic that never seems to go amiss. Some advice is probably outdated, but plenty is still valid today as it was almost hundred years ago, when the book first came out.





I Atkinson: Copy. Righter. LID Publishing Ltd (2011)

Not exactly a book on academic writing. But there’s nothing wrong about borrowing some of the best tactics that highly successful copywriters use to hook their readers!



Effective, Easy, and Enjoyable: The Best Way I Know to Improve Your Academic Critical Skills

I’m sure you have heard this before!

If you want to write a good literature review you need to develop your critical skills.

‘But how?!’ – you may ask.


Physics Journal Club Presentation, R. T. Birge Lecturing seated at left: Lawrence and Oppenheimer [UARC PIC 04:268]

Simple: Join a Journal Club!

(and if you don’t have one to join, create your own – keep reading and I’ll tell you how)

A journal club is a group of people who meet regularly to critically evaluate recent articles in the academic literature and to discuss in detail a specific research paper.

The members of the club can range from PhD students and post-docs, to more experienced researchers and highly accomplished professors. A mix of people at different stages in their careers is a blessing to further stimulate discussion (even though it may feel slightly intimidating to the inexperienced student).

Regardless of its composition, a journal club will help you to:

  • Keep up-to-date with the latest literature in your field
  • Become a more careful reader (and therefore a better writer!)
  • Learn and practice your critical skills
  • Improve your presentation skills
  • Build your confidence and ability to evaluate the work of others
  • Promote your sense of belonging (to your research group or department)
  • Turn a social occasion into an enjoyable educational treat.

Of course, you may be in the unfortunate position of not having a journal club to join.

If so, just start one yourself!

Ideally, you should aim for a group of four or five members, but again don’t let this stop you dead in your tracks. All you need to make a start is just one more person. So, ask a fellow PhD student or an early-career post-doctoral fellow from your own discipline.

And if you are still complaining that you can’t (I know… you are the only student in your group!), then consider creating a virtual Journal Club that meets online.

Once you have found and assembled your buddies, here is what you need to do:

  • Schedule your meetings to take place regularly (ideally once a week, for about one hour)
  • Design a facilitator before each meeting (make sure this role is taken in turn by all members of the group)
  • The facilitator chooses a paper for discussion and distributes it to all members a few days before the meeting
  • The facilitator circulates a few questions about the paper (this is optional, but may prove useful to focus people’s minds to specific issues, especially if the paper is very long)
  • Each member commits to reading the paper before the meeting and to think about the questions posed
  • At the meeting, the facilitator presents a brief overview of the paper. Keep this informal: no need to prepare slides or anything. A piece of chalk and a blackboard is all you need to write down key points if necessary
  • The facilitator initiates the discussion and encourages everyone to take part (see below for suggestions of possible topics)
  • Before the meeting ends, agree on the date, time and facilitator for the following meeting
  • Make sure you start and finish at the agreed times. 

If you are in doubt as to what to discuss about, here some pointers to get you started (feel free to add your own)

Description of the study:

  • What was the purpose of the research?
  • Why is the research important in the wider context?
  • Were the key objectives clearly stated?
  • What was the nature of the study (experimental, theoretical, computational)?

Literature evaluation

  • Was the literature review well presented and sufficiently up to date?
  • Was any major recent study left out? If so try to figure out why
  • Is the paper clear and well written?

Approach and Analysis

  • What was the method used in the study? Can you clearly identify it?
  • How were data obtained and analysed?
  • Is/was there any fault in the approach used?
  • Is the statistical analysis of the data appropriate and sound?

Results and Conclusions

  • What were the key findings of the study?
  • Were results clearly presented and properly discussed?
  • Did the author(s) offer an interpretation of their results?
  • Did the study suffer from any potential limitations? Were these discussed?
  • Could the study be replicated?
  • Was the study successful in solving the research gap(s) identified?
  • What additional questions does the study raise?

I hope this post serves you well.

A final secret for success?

Just take action now. Go talk to one of your colleagues or friends, share this post and arrange your first meeting.

I’ll wait to hear from you 🙂

13 Effective Strategies to Sharpen Your Writing


1. Write for your audience. If in doubt about your readers’ background, always write for the least informed.

2. Decide on the purpose of your writing. An essay, a thesis, or a grant application may have elements in common but vary greatly in purpose. Keep this in mind and write accordingly.

3. Nail down your message. What are you trying to say? and also: Are you saying it?

4. They say “Content is king”… but structure is the secret that holds it together. Fix the structure first. Only then start drafting your content.

5. Favour active voice over passive: it takes less time to process.

6. Keep subject and verb close together. Don’t make your reader hang out there in waiting.

7. Choose words carefully. Do they express the exact meaning you want them to convey?

8. Use verbs, not nouns. They are more powerful to carry your sentence forward.

9. Omit useless words. Sometimes, less is more.

10. Make lists parallel by keeping the same grammatical form for each of its items.

11. Vary the length of your sentences. It makes for more interesting reading.

12. Punctuation exists for a reason. Use it properly.

13. Grammar matters. Make sure its it’s correct!

Ready to put in practice some of these strategies? Let me know how it goes by leaving a comment below.

And if you liked this post, please share it.