Blog Global Health Center

Writing & grammar etiquette for aspiring researchers

Written by Caroline Plaza, BS candidate in Public Health (2022) at California State University Northridge, and 2021 Institute for Public Health Summer Research Program participant

The modern era has introduced increased forms of communication ranging from e-mails, journal articles, and blog posts. All forms are equally important but require different skills and thought processes to be successful in conveying a message. Steve Pijut, MA, associate director for the Speaking Studio at Washington University in St. Louis, presented to student researchers from the 2021 Institute for Public Health Summer Research Program – Public & Global Health Track, on the methods of thinking that are necessary to be successful in writing: creative impulse vs. critical impulse. Both methods of thinking are necessary and make writing a hard task to accomplish. Writing requires a person to be creative with their own words, yet critical of the tone and delivery of the message.

Creative impulse is difficult because as student researchers we strive for perfection and forget that we can always come back to fix errors in grammar and punctuation later. Therefore, first, second and third drafts of writing are necessary. Pijut stresses that, first drafts do not have to be perfect and its okay to write it wrong. Writing does not have to be impeccable because it will still end up being revised.

Caroline and a Cristate Saguaro at Saguaro East National Park, March 2021. A cristate saguaro forms when the cells of the growing stem begin to divide outward instead of the normal circular pattern. This is a rare mutation and scientists are not sure why it occurs but believe it may be due to frost and cold temperatures.

The critical impulse is just as important as the creative impulse; however, it is needed at a different moment in the writing process. Proofreading and judging our own writing is challenging. It takes time for the brain to “change directions” and become critical of what is on the page or screen. While revising, it is important to find another set of eyes that will proofread the writing. Finding a safe audience that will provide useful, honest, and supportive criticism is necessary. Not just any person can fulfill this roll and finding the ideal individual takes time.

Lastly, Pijut continues with important constructs that writers must keep in mind like who the primary or secondary audiences are, and the level of formality that is acceptable. At times it is easy to lose focus and overthink the writing because of concerns over what the document needs to accomplish. For example, writing a grant proposal has a lot depending on its approval however, overthinking the consequences of the document can hinder the writing process.

As student researchers we must learn to work with our creative and critical impulses at moment’s notice. All forms of writing, regardless if it is an email or journal article, are equally important and it will take time to perfect the skills necessary to successfully convey messages. Writing is not easy and takes time to master. It will be a continuous learning process throughout our lifetime as forms of communication grow and develop.