Dr Anna Clemens is an academic writing coach helping researchers write scientific papers faster and actually get them published in their target journals. She has a PhD in Chemistry and is the creator of the Researchers’ Writing Academy.
I remember waiting for a tram outside a university in Gothenburg, Sweden. It was the 18th December 2015, a chilly but sunny day – a rare treat, in fact, in the nordic coast town. My head was aching slightly but at the same time, I felt euphoric and incredibly relieved: I had just defended my PhD thesis.
I hadn’t had an easy ride starting my PhD in a new country, in a new field and without much guidance. Because of the experience during my PhD studies, I would answer the question “What are you going to do after your PhD?” with a shrug. “I don’t really want to do anything”, I would say, or “I really fancy writing a cookbook” (I had just started a blog where I would share recipes of my vegan creations). I was also interested in science communication and writing.
Oh, writing. If you are a researcher, this probably seems unbelievable to you. But as a PhD student, I had the best time when I was writing. Whether it was writing my theses (you write a PhD and a licentiate thesis in Sweden) or scientific papers, writing was my refuge. I loved the feeling of flow. I loved the feeling of accomplishment. I loved actually producing something tangible – as opposed to collecting data that would most likely end up being discarded.
In hindsight, it probably seems unsurprising that I now teach researchers how to write scientific papers. But this wasn’t a goal I had clearly defined on that December afternoon in 2015.
So, as it happened, I never wrote that cookbook. Through my network and through job search websites, I instead landed shorter work gigs where I could combine my background in science and my passion for writing. I wrote news articles about scientific discoveries and profile pieces about scientists, helped create science outreach events, edited papers for researchers, composed reports, and dabbled in translation.
Some assignments were more fun than others and after a few months of freelancing, I came to the conclusion that the profession that would suit me best was science journalism. A great thing about journalism is that you don’t have to go to journalism school to be a journalist. But I figured that it would be useful to learn the tricks of the trade in a more formal setting and build up a network in the area. That led me to embark on an internship with the German edition of Scientific American. I moved to Heidelberg in Germany and refined my writing and editing skills for 6 months.
Afterwards, I continued to freelance for the publisher’s popular science magazines as a writer and editor. I loved the work and I also loved being a freelancer – being in charge of my time and of how to fill it. But I also realised that it was next to impossible to earn a decent living as a freelance journalist – especially when you are new in the field, or not interested in taking on better-paid PR work on the side.
So… I switched gears.
Luckily, I found editing just as rewarding as writing and started to edit scientific papers for researchers again. I liked the challenge (and still do) of trying to uncover the underlying story in a manuscript. It’s like rearranging the pieces of a puzzle until they fit together snuggly.
I soon discovered that my approach was different from what most editors and larger editing companies would offer. It would take me many hours to edit a paper because I wouldn’t just correct the language and fine-tune the style. What helped researchers more to actually get their manuscripts published was to make sure the story around their discovery was communicated coherently throughout the article.
This meant I had to find clients on my own.
I didn’t know it back then but this was the start of my current business. At the time, I still saw myself as a freelancer. It was through podcasts that I started to identify as a business owner more and more.
I kept developing my business until it dawned on me. Editing already completed manuscripts wasn’t the most efficient way to help researchers get their work published in their target journals. I needed to teach researchers how to develop a well-written paper without going through those countless editing cycles.
Approximately three years after starting to work as an independent editor, I took a leap. I cut back on editing work for several months and developed a paper writing framework and a marketing strategy.
I now teach this framework (I call it the Journal Publication Formula) in my online course, the Researchers’ Writing Academy. So far, it has helped hundreds of researchers write their papers faster, actually get them accepted and – perhaps most importantly – enjoy the writing process. During the years of trying out new things over and over again, I now feel very grounded and truly happy with my work. Growing a small online business is fun to me and supporting researchers to succeed in their scientific careers and witnessing their successes is beyond fulfilling.
If you are curious about my approach to writing scientific papers, I recommend starting with my free training for researchers who want to learn how to get published in high-ranking journals without lacking structure in the writing process.
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