The Writing Career You Didn’t Expect

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For many chemistry professionals, writing is a tolerated nuisance.  Although you are aware that people don’t know your chemical prowess but, rather, evaluate you by your writing, it is not what you want to do.  You would rather “play with the toys” or learn valuable information about the world.  If you had wanted to write, you would have majored in English!  However, as a professional, you have quickly learned that you can’t work without money (for which you normally must write some kind of work proposal) and once you have the money or a company to work for, you must write reports about what you have done.  In fact, you must write both proposals and reports with such high impact wording that everyone will see the work as important and well done.

Just out of school, you write a curriculum vitae. The work completed for school courses and research must be well presented and made to seem important, though only in abbreviated form.  No potential employer will read a graduate scholar’s thesis!  Hence the immediate need to write an abstract, including all key points and potential applications of the work.

Having landed a job, you probably were immediately faced with writing a proposal for new equipment.  Companies currently rely on competitive proposals when money is scarce, and it always is. The need for a particular instrument or an assistant for a project necessitates writing a proposal that pays attention to what the company’s (boss’s) main interests are.  As soon as the money and equipment are available, the project is underway and it is necessary to write monthly reports, quarterly reports and final reports. All of these must be easy for “the bosses” to read and take as little time away from the important work as is possible.

Open journal publications are often required, in addition to patents and government applications (such as New Drug Applications). Again, format, choice of words and phrases, and the “schtick” that makes them publishable must be known to the beleaguered professional.  Writing can seem to go on forever!  However, there are tricks and shortcuts that help to make some of it quicker and easier to write than the writings done in school!  Knowing these tricks and shortcuts can help the chemistry professional spend maximum time on work and minimum, but highly productive, time on writing. 

This article was written by Dr. Lindy Harrison, an instructor for ACS Professional Education, focusing on teaching chemists how to write technical grants and proposals effectively.

Would you like to know more? Register for the authors ACS Short Course or Online Course in Effective Technical Writing available in the fall.