After a career in the industry, I started to work in research as a graduate student/research assistant, and I am learning to adjust my working and thinking style. That process is a little painful, but I also enjoy broadening my perspective. I am genuinely thankful to work in a great team with bright and friendly people. Everyone is younger than me, including the Head of the department. I can imagine writing a dissertation someday if I find an interesting topic. The thing that puzzles me most is the process of writing papers. My Head of the department and two colleagues that have more experience seem to be especially good at it. While I seem to be good (or very good? I get good feedback.) at writing sections of papers that I get assigned, the initial idea-finding and structuring work elude me completely. I listen to these guys talking about paper structures on topics I am familiar with, and it is as if they speak in another language. So I decided to play on "easy mode" and structure a paper that I had planned to be the lead author on in the classical approach, following the steps:

  1. This is the problem.
  2. This is how I show it's a problem.
  3. This is how I solve the problem.
  4. This is how I show that I solved the problem.

And be done with it. So I called a meeting with my colleagues and the Head of the department and presented it (poorly). In the same session, my experienced colleague presented his paper idea and had already picked a conference with a date and deadline and a Call for Papers. And not only that. The Head of the department went off and looked for stories to tell around my topic and how to use it in connection with historical data that we got and how that would distinguish us in the eyes of reviewers and that it would be best to present practical, applicable research results to go with it. Now he is much better at this game than I (and everyone else in the room), and his advice is excellent. But I also feel pretty overwhelmed and discouraged. I intended to keep it simple and not overextend myself on my first try, and he raised the bar and expectations by a factor of three. I bet he didn't even notice because it comes to him as quickly as breathing.

My wife, who is also a professor, says I should not give up and not be discouraged.

So I want to know:

  • How do I learn that way of thinking?
  • What are the questions I need to ask myself?
  • Are there checklists or so online?
  • How can I avoid burning out on my first paper?
  • What do I miss?
  • 2
    Please try to boil it down to one single question, as otherwise the question will be closed due to being too broad.
    – Sursula
    Commented Feb 9, 2023 at 8:48
  • 7
    Does this answer your question? Are there resources for learning how to write a scientific paper?
    – Sursula
    Commented Feb 9, 2023 at 8:49
  • 5
    "We excel at what we repeatedly do." (Aristotle) Your concern is like someone who picks up basketball and happens to be neighbors with Michael Jordan who shows him tricks, and gets discouraged by Jordan always beating him in pickup games they also have., Commented Feb 9, 2023 at 12:07
  • 1
    Also look at "The sense of style" by Steven Pinker, I found it useful for getting a feeling of how to think about writing papers Commented Feb 9, 2023 at 15:24
  • 2
    Your story suggests you need to become better at storytelling. That suggests you go read stories. So pick some novelist you like and some popular creative nonfiction writer you like and read their work. Also, read Eco's How to write a thesis (or however the title is translated into your language), not so much because any of the practical advice helps but because it's good (i.e. entertaining) storytelling on a familiar topic. Commented Feb 9, 2023 at 15:29

4 Answers 4


There Are Only Two Good Ways To Learn To Write Research Papers

1. Read Research Papers

If your current path requires publications or original research, you have to be reading academic/research papers anyway. When you do, pay attention to how they are written. They have structure associated with them, and they really don't vary all that much.

When it comes time to write something up, you will have a venue in mind, so go read (or at least skim) some of the recent papers from that venue. Read them specifically for how they are organized and structured.

2. Write Research Papers

The only way to truly get good at something is to do it. But there are built in guard rails in most academic settings to prevent you from writing your first paper "blind."

One will be the publishing guidelines of whatever venue you select. Much of this will be devoted to minutiae that you're really not worried about right now-- margin spacing, fonts, captioning of diagrams, etc. But in my discipline, those documents are usually structured like the academic papers themselves. I've been known to use them as templates.

Another will be writing workshops or perhaps even full fledged writing courses given by your university. Depending on your prior writing experience (or lack) these can be very helpful.

Finally, it's not reasonable to expect a starting graduate student to produce a flawless research paper, as the sole author, the first time. That can happen, but that is not the expectation. My cohort of graduate students generally co-wrote our first papers with our advisors in some form or another, even if it is just "Student writes draft, advisor gives feedback, lather, rinse, repeat." This is part of what you are learning.

By the end of your program, you should be much more accomplished at this, and need minimal guidance. But at the beginning, yes, it can seem daunting.


My papers have a specific structure; i.e., I think of writing a paper as filling in a 'form'. Consequently, writing a paper becomes easy because its organization is given. For each section and its corresponding paragraphs, I know exactly what type of information to gather and also their flow. All I have to decide is which information or arguments or facts to use for each section and paragraph.

  • 1
    For me, the structure is one of the challenges. How do you find yours? Commented Feb 10, 2023 at 6:44
  • @AndreasSchuldei After many years of trial and errors, and looking at what other people do, and learning from reviewer comments. Also, have a look at academic writing or tips. There are many resources on the Internet. Commented Feb 10, 2023 at 8:13

Throughout the course of my Ph.D., I've been collecting resources, books, articles and videos on improving academic writing. I collected links to all of them in this Notion page.

All of these have helped me enormously. Not only in improving my writing, but also in gaining clarity of thinking, and in developing research ideas. It has been a long journey, but with enough time dedicated to writing regularly, drafting, and editing, you will improve. ...and you might even find that academic writing is enjoyable! Good luck!


There is a good deal of literature to suggest that to be able to write good academic papers one needs to master multiple skills. The good news is that the skills are both identifiable, separable, and learnable. I have found that it has been helpful to have a guide to the various skills involved, and also helpful to have a way of practising the skills individually rather than trying to master all of them simultaneously. By identifying and separating the various skills, I have found the process of writing much less overwhelming than I used to, although I would hardly claim to be an expert.

I wish that I could claim to be the originator of the ideas in the previous paragraph, but in fact I have learned them by first discovering (in my university library), and then obtaining, a copy of the book "Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks: A Guide to Academic Publishing Success" by Wendy Laura Belcher (ISBN: 9780226499918), and by working steadily through the book not just once, but several times.

I commend the book to you.

  • 1
    Thank you for addressing the topic of being overwhelmed. Reading through the material suggested in the other posts (and linked from the comments and answers in this post) seems to be an underestimated part of the learning process. Commented Feb 13, 2023 at 10:33

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .