4.4 The writing step

دوره: Writing in the Sciences / فصل: writing process / درس 4

4.4 The writing step

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The archaic HLAs may interact more poorly with some of these proteins potentially causing mistakes like autoimmunity and I've got a quote at the end. Neanderthals evolved separately from us for a few hundred thousand years, so their proteins maybe somewhat mismatched to our immune systems and could play a role in autoimmune disease. Stanford is on the cutting edge of solving this problem- in fact, Dolmetsch's solution is so innovative it seems straight out of a science fiction novel.

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In this next module we’re going to talk about the writing step. This is the step where you’re writing the first draft of you’re piece. As I’ve said, this is the hardest step for most people. This is where you have to pop open that blank word document and start writing or hopefully, you’re popping up in some kind of a road map so that you have something to start with. Here are some tips for the first draft. My biggest tip for the first draft is don’t be a perfectionist. A lot of scientists are perfectionist and they want to get it right on the first try. But writing the first draft is not the place to be a perfectionist. My only goal when writing the first draft is to get down my ideas in complete sentences and in order, that’s it. The sentences don’t have to sound good, they just have to be grammatically complete and in the right place. I purposely set a low bar so that I can get through the first draft quickly. In the first draft, you want to focus on the high level ideas, the take-home messages and the logical organization. Don’t worry about the sentence level details. It’s much easier to fix the sentence level details during revision than it is to fix things like the logical organization. If your logical organization is off and your take-home messages are muddled, you end up having to revise the whole piece. And that revision process is so much harder. Sentence-level editing, that’s relatively easy. So just get the ideas down, in complete sentences and don’t worry about what the sentences sound like. The other argument for writing the first draft quickly is it’s the hardest step for most people. Minimize the pain by writing your first draft quickly and efficiently. I can whip out a first draft quickly because one, I’m ready to write, I’ve got my pre-writing stuff done. And two, I’m not editing myself as I go along. I know that the editing and the elegance in the writing can happen on revision. This may be a different approach to writing than you are used to, but try it. It will make your writing life so much easier. I thought it would be fun to share with you some examples of first draft writing that I’ve pulled out of my own work. I went through my files and found some first drafts that I had done. And I picked out some paragraphs just to share with you. This is a short paragraph that says, errors in publication occur when the authors have typos, omissions, or such poor writing of the methods that others cannot figure out what they did or reproduce their tables and figures. Sometimes there’s just so much to write up that errors will occur in almost every case. Notice that these sentences are clunky. I’ve got a boring verb have in the first sentence. In the second sentence, I’ve used an unnecessary there is, which is something I’ve told you not to do. But, I got down the crux of what I was trying to say. I got in all the details that I wanted to get across and I did hold myself to complete sentences. That was the first draft. Now, let me show you my revised version. It says, published papers frequently have typos, omissions, and otherwise poor documentation of methods. These errors make it impossible to figure out exactly what was done or to reproduce the results. So you can see that this paragraph very much resembles the first draft, except it’s more clear and concise and elegant, it’s more to the point. Here’s another example from my own writing. This was from the first draft of a story that was about the fact that modern humans seem to have some archaic genes, some Neanderthal genes in their DNA. This paragraph speculates about some potential practical implications of harboring those genes. Notice again, it’s very first drafty. It says, the findings of these HLA alleles may have some practical implications as well. Now we all divide up into those who carry archaic DNA and those who don’t. A potential implication is, notice my boring to-be verb here. Is that people who carry archaic HLAs could be more prone to autoimmunity. Autoimmunity is associated with HLA factors. There can be downsides to archaic HLAs. This is very boring writing. Since we’ve evolved separately from Neanderthals, notice my typo there, for a few hundred thousand years, we may have evolved important differences in the proteins that interact with HLA. The archaic HLAs may interact more poorly with some of these proteins potentially causing mistakes like autoimmunity and I’ve got a quote at the end. Parham says, this is all just speculation. But we have been apart for all this time, so it would be very surprising if there weren’t differences, Parham says, it would solve a long-standing puzzle. Notice that I manage to squeeze in all of the ideas that I wanted to make into this paragraph. But some of the writing is not very good. I have a lot of boring verbs, boring sentence structure. But all the main ideas are there and in complete sentences and it didn’t take me long to write. Now, here is my revised version. Neanderthal (or Denisovan) proteins continue to live on and function inside us; and this may also have a downside, Parham notes. Neanderthals evolved separately from us for a few hundred thousand years, so their proteins maybe somewhat mismatched to our immune systems and could play a role in autoimmune disease. Autoimmunity is poorly understood but known to be related to HLA types. And then we get the quote. Notice this paragraph has all the same ideas as the original but it’s much more succinct and clear and elegant, but it didn’t start that way. My first draft was rather messy. It evolved into this through revision. Through me editing my own work. All right, one more example. This was a paragraph from the lead of a story I was writing. Here’s the first draft. It says, it’s also difficult to study the biology because the brain is so inaccessible. Cancer scientists can take out a tumor and look directly at the cells, but autism researchers cannot directly study brain cells (except on autopsy), let alone developing brain cells. Stanford is on the cutting edge of solving this problem- in fact, Dolmetsch’s solution is so innovative it seems straight out of a science fiction novel. I got that little cute thing about the science fiction novel in at the end. This isn’t bad, it has some nice parts to it, but it’s not great. I’ve got boring verbs, it’s a little wordy, I’m starting with an it is. That was my first draft and then I went back and revised it. My revision says, it’s also difficult to access the brain. Scientists can slice cancer cells out of a tumor and directly study them, but they can’t just scoop cells out of the brain, let alone the developing brain. Stanford is on the cutting edge of solving this problem- in fact, Dolmetsch’s solution seems straight out of a science fiction novel. Notice, that I added some great verbs in there, slice and scoop. And I’ve cut some extra words so it’s more succinct. That was the version I sent to my editor. But then, my editor revised it even a little bit more. Here’s the revised version that actually got printed. Another impediment: access to the brain. Notice the use of the colon there. Scientists can slice cancer cells out of a tumor and study them directly, but they can’t just scoop cells out of the brain. Stanford is on the forefront of solving this problem- in fact, Dolmetsch’s solution seems straight out of a science fiction novel. You can see, that this is even more clear and even more elegant. This went through multiple rounds of origin to get this way, it didn’t start that way. So it’s okay on a first draft to violate some of the rules I’ve been talking about for good writing. You can fix all of that later as long as your ideas are clearly laid out and you know what you want to go in each paragraph. That sentence-level editing, that can happen after you’ve written the first draft, that can happen during revision.

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