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Professional Writing Tips

What is good professional writing?

Good writing is an art and a craft. Well-crafted writing focuses on the orderly progression of ideas -- it leads the reader from one thought to the next. Valuable professional writing contributes to knowledge by organizing and integrating information from different areas, producing new information or extending information via research results, or developing new ideas.

How to begin?

  1. State the central concept or focus of your paper. Try completing this sentence, "My study/manuscript is about ______"
  2. Draft a working title that is a succinct restatement of the central concept. Avoid unnecessary words and phrases such as "an approach to" or "an investigation of."
  3. Is your idea researchable? It can be helpful to use the following questions to make this determination:
    • Do you have enough interest in your topic to sustain your interest?
    • Will your final manuscript be of interest to others?
    • Does your paper fill a void, replicate, extend, or develop new ideas?
  4. Research your topic or idea. Use searchable databases to help with this task. Make sure to search literature in areas outside D/MT to integrate concepts that have been studied/proposed previously (don't recreate the wheel, or assume that the wheel belongs only to D/MT). What does the literature say about your topic? Develop a "map" of the literature -- give example.

Parts of the manuscript.

  1. The introduction sets the stage. It acquaints the reader with the background information for the paper and establishes the framework for the paper. Use your introduction to:
    • Create reader interest in the topic.
    • Establish the problem that will be explored in the paper.
    • Place the paper in the larger context of the scholarly literature on the topic.
    • Reach out to specific audiences.
    • Accomplish the goals above by using some of these guidelines:
    • Write an opening sentence that stimulates interest as well as conveys an issue to which a broad readership can relate.
    • Specify the problem (dilemma, issue) leading to the ideas presented in your paper or study. What issue establishes a strong rationale or need to write/conduct the paper/study?
    • Indicate why the problem is important.
    • Focus the problem statement on the key concept being explored.
    • Generally, refrain from using quotes in the lead sentence. In addition, refrain from using quotes unless they are seminal, historical or add to the paper in important ways. Instead, interpret the literature yourself rather than simply stringing together quotes from others. Put it in your own words.
    • Stay away from idiomatic expressions or trite phrases (e.g., The lecture method remains a "sacred cow" among most college instructors).
    • Consider numeric information for impact (e.g., Every year an estimated 5 million Americans experience the death of an immediate family member).
    • Consider short sentences for impact.
  2. The purpose statement establishes the direction for the research or paper. It is commonly included in the introduction and is well placed at the conclusion of the introduction. Consider the following guidelines for purpose statements:
    • Use such words as purpose, intent, and objective to call attention to this statement as the central controlling idea of the paper. Set off the statement as a separate paragraph.
    • Identify the theory, model, or conceptual framework that will be tested in a research study or explored in a review paper.
  3. Following sections of the manuscript are dictated by the nature and content of the paper. Quantitative research studies follow a general format discussed in the American Psychological Association Publication Manual (Introduction, Method, Results, Discussion). Qualitative research studies and literature reviews follow a less specific format, but address material by organizing it under appropriate headings.
  4. Writing style. Research papers are generally written in a formal style that uses past tense. Literary style is less formal and uses present tense. Personal pronouns are generally now accepted in both styles (rather than "the author" one can say "I"). Writing style should be matched to the intended audience. For example, articles in the AJDT generally use formal style, but the Marian Chace Annual Lectures that are published each year in the Journal usually use literary style because they have been actual addresses.
Writing Tips.

  1. Writing as thinking. It is a good idea to practice writing ideas down rather than talking about them. This ensures that the ideas are easily retrieved at a later time and it encourages you to get in the habit of writing. Additionally, if ideas are recorded somewhere, it makes working sessions easier because there is something to start with rather than a blank page.
  2. Use multiple drafts. It can be helpful to use several drafts of a manuscript rather than simply polishing the first draft. If one uses a computer, it can be helpful to print drafts and edit from hardcopy before making changes on the computer copy. It can also be helpful to use outlines.
  3. Establish the discipline of writing on a continuous regular basis.
  4. Establish good writing habits. You can follow suggestions of others such as Cresswell (1994), or you can develop your own habits. For example, you can end each writing session by printing what you have written, reading and editing what you have done either immediately or several hours later. Then when next begin to work, start by making the corrections you noted on the printed copy. It eases you back into the flow of the paper so you can continue.
  5. Remember that writing moves slowly, so ease into the process. Make use of colleagues to give you feedback during the writing process.
Writing Feedback.

It can help the writer to get feedback from others, and the Constructive Response can be used for this purpose. The guidelines below are for use in a group situation, but can be adapted for one-on-one situations also.

Constructive Response Guidelines – Sharon Chaiklin revised these guidelines modeled on Liz Lerman's Critical Response Guidelines for choreography feedback. This model is useful in many kinds of situations, including supervision.

  1. After seeing (hearing) what is being presented, give the writer feedback about all the positive things you responded to...the style, the content, a phrase, a word...nothing is too small.
  2. The writer then asks questions of the group...what are his or her concerns, partial thoughts that need clarifying, etc. Group members answer only what is asked of them - nothing more.
  3. If there are areas that have not been discussed but you wonder about, frame neutral questions that allow writer to think about an issue.
  4. If you have an opinion about something, you may now state you have an opinion about ____ and would the writer care to hear it? The writer can say yes or no freely (sometimes opinions can get in the way of creative thinking and it is up to the writer).
  5. The writer can speak about how he or she intends to make use of what the responses may have offered.

Useful Professional Writing References

           American Psychological Association. (2009). Publication manual (6th Ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

Austin, C., & McClelland, R. (1998). Writing: The maturing of ideas. Families in Society: The Journal of Contemporary Human Services.

           Bebe, L. (1993). Professional writing for the human services. National Association of Social  Workers, Washington, DC.

           Creswell, J. W. (2003). Research design: Qualitative, Quantitative, and Mixed Method Approaches, 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

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