Writing Academic Papers

  • Semester: Fall
  • Offered: 2021
  • Course ID X000947
  • Lecturer: Dr. Danny Haelewaters
  • Campus: Ledeganck
  • Time: Mon & Wed 13:00–14:30 CEST

Course website (UGent login needed) | Syllabus (pdf)

How do you write a paper that gets read and cited by other researchers? In this course, students who are ready to write their first paper learn to think about scientific writing as storytelling. Every week, lecturer and students will engage in group analysis, dissection, and editing of written work, both of previously published papers and own manuscript sections. By the end of the semester, every student should have a manuscript that is ready for submission, or almost so.


Schimel J (2011) Writing science: How to write papers that get cited and proposals that get funded. Oxford University Press, New York. 221 pp.


Papers, papers, papers! Scientists are judged based on the quality of their written work. A key skill for a good scientist is to write papers that get read and cited by other researchers. How do you learn this skill? It takes work, and a lot of practice to master writing skills, but you do not have to reinvent the wheel. By analyzing published work, you will learn to distinguish good writing from bad. You will start thinking about scientific writing as storytelling. You will prepare, section by section, your own manuscript ready for submission. The instructor(s) and your peers will review your work and provide feedback—in person and written. In addition to writing papers, we may also discuss the peer review process and talk about how to write an objective, effective, and constructive manuscript review. By the end of this workshop, preferably, you should have a well-structured and polished manuscript that is close to being ready for submission. The workshop is based on a course that was previously offered at the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard, which resulted in papers published in Science, Molecular Ecology, Scientific Reports, and others.


Attendance and participation are mandatory. You will be assigned to a “peer group”, each group consisting of 2–4 students. Each week you will work closely with your peer group on exercises, you will provide written feedback to the members of your peer group on their assignments, and you will receive feedback from the members of your peer group on your own written work. During the workshop, we will spend time analyzing published papers, not focusing on the science but on the writing:

  • What is the story? Is there a story?
  • Are sentences well-structured and organized into coherent paragraphs?
  • Does the paper flow well?
  • Is the paper engaging towards the reader?

Targeted audience

This course is intended for bachelor and graduate (MSc, PhD) students who are ready to write a (first) paper for publication in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. The course will be most successful when field, laboratory, or modeling work have already been conducted, and when statistical or phylogenetic analyses have been finalized. There are no pre-requirements, but data collection must be finished, statistical analyses must be performed or almost so, and a take-home message should be clear by the first class.