Logo for Dr Anna Clemens PhD who teaches scientific writing courses for researchers
Logo for Dr Anna Clemens PhD who teaches scientific writing courses for researchers

Interview with Dr Jourdan Davis — Researchers’ Writing Academy member

Interview with Dr Jourdan Davis — Researchers’ Writing Academy member

I talk to Dr Jourdan Davis, Assistant Professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte in the US, about how she became more confident about communicating her research and writing since joining the Researchers’ Writing Academy.

Hi Jourdan! What’s your research field and where are you based? 

Hi! I’m an Assistant Professor in the field of Public Administration at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte in the United States. My research interest is in the topic of democratising information. I’m interested in i) providing the public with tools to critically evaluate some of the things they’re seeing on social media or the news, and ii) providing researchers with the tools they need to articulate their own research in a way that it is accessible to the public. Specifically, I’m interested in the tool of storytelling.

Thanks for sharing! It’s been great to learn about your research since you joined the Researchers’ Writing Academy.  I’m wondering, what was your motivation to join the course? 

Before joining the Researchers’ Writing Academy, my writing was disorganised. I would try to figure out what the problem was that I was addressing in my paper while writing. And that was not helpful because not only did I have to remember what I was trying to write but at the same time figure out why somebody would care about that. 

I’m definitely more of an idea person. I knew why my research was important and what the results meant but I couldn’t share it in a way that someone who wasn’t attuned to everything I already know would understand it. So, it ended up taking me a really long time to write any paper.  

One other reason why it took me extremly long to write a paper is because I would find papers similar to my paper and read all of them and take notes specifically on their structure. I would do that with every single paper. And that’s fine when maybe you’re writing your first paper as you’re learning how to write papers but you can’t keep doing that. The problem was also that some papers had very interesting and important findings but a terrible structure, so I couldn’t necessarily get a good idea of how to write a good paper from reading those well-regarded papers.

Graphic promoting a free scientific writing class for researchers

Thanks for sharing that! That in my opinion really is the problem with learning how to write from the existing literature. You never know why a paper got accepted – maybe it got accepted despite the writing, not because of it. 

Yeah. I would often search the internet for how to structure a paper but the things I found through Google were geared towards brand-new academics and the advice was very broad. But what I wouldn’t find information on was how to translate the importance and the context of your paper into every single section. Or how to make the paper flow, how to make anyone continue reading or actually care about what you have to say.

Before joining the Researchers’ Writing Academy, I was questioning if I belonged in academia – and whether or not someone was going to figure out that I didn’t belong! 

This was mostly based off the fact that I thought my brain worked differently and that I wanted to share information differently than how others seemed to be sharing information.

Before joining the Researchers’ Writing Academy, my writing was disorganised.

I have always loved stories and I just couldn’t figure out how to incorporate that into academic writing. Actually, research has shown that all our brains digest stories best but I thought I was a weirdo and I was going to end up getting found out, not get tenure and end up working at a nonprofit.

I’m so sorry you felt this way. Thanks for sharing that with us! How are you feeling now about your academic career? 

I feel so much more secure. I got so much confidence from this program and this is a big deal for me. Now I’m okay with spending almost all of my energy on this career versus constantly side-eyeing other careers. 

Your program has helped me understand in a tangible way how to communicate what I am talking about by placing it into that bigger idea of what others are talking about. For example, the feedback I had gotten before was often “we don’t think your research fits with the journal” even though I thought it fitted perfectly. Now I know I don’t need to change how my brain works, I just need to speak their language to them to get my research published.

On a broader level, I have really understood that we researchers aren’t just all bad communicators. Rather, the reason why we often don’t communicate well is that we don’t know the process or structure to communicate better. And that’s fixable! This part is important for my research in particular, because my research is interdisciplinary: In Public Administration, we often write about topics from Psychology and Public Policy, but we still operate in silos and don’t always understand what each other are talking about.

I love that what I teach in the course clicked so many in pieces in place for you. 

I’m curious: What was the first thing you did after joining the course? 

I was questioning if I belonged in academia – and whether or not someone was going to figure out that I didn’t belong!

The first thing I did – and I don’t know whether that’s cheating – was to watch all the lessons at 1.5x speed. I didn’t implement anything yet, I just watched it. The reason for that was because i) I’m a little impatient, and ii) I felt like if I could see where the program was headed, it would make me more excited for each step. 

I would also start to find the stories within the articles I was reading. I recognised some of the story elements you teach in the course but generally speaking my field isn’t using storytelling in a structured way. That being said, I think it’s definitely a welcome addition because I already got an R&R! (Note from Anna: R&R stands for “Revise & Resubmit” and is commonly used in the social sciences to indicate that a manuscript has high chances to get published once certain changes are implemented.

Oh, congratulations!! 🥳 And by the way, watching all the lessons first isn’t cheating at all. I have found that there are broadly speaking two types of students: One type wants to implement things immediately after watching a lesson, and the other wants to get the whole picture first before implementing everything step by step. There is no right or wrong way of learning the course material! 

Okay, let’s get real. When you first purchased the course, did you have any objections at all?

I will say that once I bought the course, I was already sold. I actually bought it while watching your webinar and as soon as the little link showed up I clicked on it. 

I was questioning if I belonged in academia – and whether or not someone was going to figure out that I didn’t belong!

I only hesitated for like a second because you had mentioned before that it was designed for researchers in more of the hard sciences. But as I run experiments as well, I was confident that it would work for that part of my research. However, I’m also interested in theory building and I was wondering whether it would also work for that. And actually, now I think it could work for those theory-based papers too because they still include an introduction, an analysis, results from the analysis, a conclusion and a discussion.

Graphic inviting scientist to register for our free interactive writing training

That’s interesting to know! You are right, I originally created the Researchers’ Writing Academy for researcher in the natural sciences and medicine but since then more and more researchers from other fields such as the social sciences have joined us and gotten great results from the course. I think the course works for all researchers who write a paper around data they gathered. 

I have always loved stories and I just couldn’t figure out how to incorporate that into academic writing.

You mentioned earlier that you already got an R&R since joining the Academy a few months ago – did you see any other results from the course?

So one little result is that I submitted a proposal for a special issue. While the journal said in their rejection email that it wouldn’t work for the special issue, the editor in chief of the journal wants me to submit the paper for a regular issue. In the proposal, I included a cover letter for which I used your cover letter template. And that way, I think I demonstrated to the journal that the research is a perfect fit for the journal. Before joining your program, my cover letters were only describing what the paper was about and that’s it.

That’s fantastic, well done! All too often, researchers waste the opportunity to really sell their research in the cover letter.  

Now, I’m curious, which part of the Researchers’ Writing Academy did you enjoy the most?

That’s hard to answer because I enjoyed all of it. 

But I will say, that there were two things that were essential for me personally. One was the community. And while I don’t comment often, reading people’s posts and the responses to those posts has been really helpful. The second thing I really, really liked was Module 2, the one about creating the key story elements. That was crucial to me because I never did that before.

I got so much confidence from this program and this is a big deal for me.

Then I have more of an observation and that is that the course works so well because it is in itself structured like a story. It goes from the broader to the narrower. What you’re demonstrating in the course is that you actually know the information you’re teaching and you’re not just regurgitating what other people have said in the past. You really hook your audience! 

Great to hear about your favourite bits of the course. Whom would you recommend the Researchers’ Writing Academy to? 

Mhm, this is tough because my answer would be everyone! I think everyone would benefit from being a better writer. 

And if you were talking to someone who was on the fence about joining the Researchers’ Writing Academy, what would you say to them? 

I have two answers (I always seem to have two answers to everything!). One is: Just rip the band-aid off. You need to take this course! 

I think everyone would benefit from being a better writer.

The other one is to understand your goals and why you write. Then think if telling a better story, communicating with the correct audience would help you with reaching that goal. And if your goal is to change the world, then you absolutely need to know about story elements.

You need to use a structure in your articles that will get your readers excited to keep reading. And if your goal is to get tenure or get published, then having these tools is absolutely necessary too.

Thank you so much for this interview, Jourdan. It’s been a pleasure to talk to you!

Anna talked to Researchers’ Writing Academy member Dr Jourdan Davis, Assistant Professor in the field of Public Administration at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte in the United States. Her research focuses on the topic of democratising information. Jourdan runs a blog about communicating research to the public.

Mockup of the free interactive writing training for researchers

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Interview with Dr Jourdan Davis — Researchers’ Writing Academy member

I talk to Dr Jourdan Davis, Assistant Professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte in the US, about how she became more confident about communicating her research and writing since joining the Researchers’ Writing Academy.

Hi Jourdan! What’s your research field and where are you based? 

Hi! I’m an Assistant Professor in the field of Public Administration at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte in the United States. My research interest is in the topic of democratising information. I’m interested in i) providing the public with tools to critically evaluate some of the things they’re seeing on social media or the news, and ii) providing researchers with the tools they need to articulate their own research in a way that it is accessible to the public. Specifically, I’m interested in the tool of storytelling.

Thanks for sharing! It’s been great to learn about your research since you joined the Researchers’ Writing Academy.  I’m wondering, what was your motivation to join the course? 

Before joining the Researchers’ Writing Academy, my writing was disorganised. I would try to figure out what the problem was that I was addressing in my paper while writing. And that was not helpful because not only did I have to remember what I was trying to write but at the same time figure out why somebody would care about that. 

I’m definitely more of an idea person. I knew why my research was important and what the results meant but I couldn’t share it in a way that someone who wasn’t attuned to everything I already know would understand it. So, it ended up taking me a really long time to write any paper.  

One other reason why it took me extremly long to write a paper is because I would find papers similar to my paper and read all of them and take notes specifically on their structure. I would do that with every single paper. And that’s fine when maybe you’re writing your first paper as you’re learning how to write papers but you can’t keep doing that. The problem was also that some papers had very interesting and important findings but a terrible structure, so I couldn’t necessarily get a good idea of how to write a good paper from reading those well-regarded papers.

Graphic promoting a free scientific writing class for researchers

Thanks for sharing that! That in my opinion really is the problem with learning how to write from the existing literature. You never know why a paper got accepted – maybe it got accepted despite the writing, not because of it. 

Yeah. I would often search the internet for how to structure a paper but the things I found through Google were geared towards brand-new academics and the advice was very broad. But what I wouldn’t find information on was how to translate the importance and the context of your paper into every single section. Or how to make the paper flow, how to make anyone continue reading or actually care about what you have to say.

Before joining the Researchers’ Writing Academy, I was questioning if I belonged in academia – and whether or not someone was going to figure out that I didn’t belong! 

This was mostly based off the fact that I thought my brain worked differently and that I wanted to share information differently than how others seemed to be sharing information.

Before joining the Researchers’ Writing Academy, my writing was disorganised.

I have always loved stories and I just couldn’t figure out how to incorporate that into academic writing. Actually, research has shown that all our brains digest stories best but I thought I was a weirdo and I was going to end up getting found out, not get tenure and end up working at a nonprofit.

I’m so sorry you felt this way. Thanks for sharing that with us! How are you feeling now about your academic career? 

I feel so much more secure. I got so much confidence from this program and this is a big deal for me. Now I’m okay with spending almost all of my energy on this career versus constantly side-eyeing other careers. 

Your program has helped me understand in a tangible way how to communicate what I am talking about by placing it into that bigger idea of what others are talking about. For example, the feedback I had gotten before was often “we don’t think your research fits with the journal” even though I thought it fitted perfectly. Now I know I don’t need to change how my brain works, I just need to speak their language to them to get my research published.

On a broader level, I have really understood that we researchers aren’t just all bad communicators. Rather, the reason why we often don’t communicate well is that we don’t know the process or structure to communicate better. And that’s fixable! This part is important for my research in particular, because my research is interdisciplinary: In Public Administration, we often write about topics from Psychology and Public Policy, but we still operate in silos and don’t always understand what each other are talking about.

I love that what I teach in the course clicked so many in pieces in place for you. 

I’m curious: What was the first thing you did after joining the course? 

I was questioning if I belonged in academia – and whether or not someone was going to figure out that I didn’t belong!

The first thing I did – and I don’t know whether that’s cheating – was to watch all the lessons at 1.5x speed. I didn’t implement anything yet, I just watched it. The reason for that was because i) I’m a little impatient, and ii) I felt like if I could see where the program was headed, it would make me more excited for each step. 

I would also start to find the stories within the articles I was reading. I recognised some of the story elements you teach in the course but generally speaking my field isn’t using storytelling in a structured way. That being said, I think it’s definitely a welcome addition because I already got an R&R! (Note from Anna: R&R stands for “Revise & Resubmit” and is commonly used in the social sciences to indicate that a manuscript has high chances to get published once certain changes are implemented.

Oh, congratulations!! 🥳 And by the way, watching all the lessons first isn’t cheating at all. I have found that there are broadly speaking two types of students: One type wants to implement things immediately after watching a lesson, and the other wants to get the whole picture first before implementing everything step by step. There is no right or wrong way of learning the course material! 

Okay, let’s get real. When you first purchased the course, did you have any objections at all?

I will say that once I bought the course, I was already sold. I actually bought it while watching your webinar and as soon as the little link showed up I clicked on it. 

I was questioning if I belonged in academia – and whether or not someone was going to figure out that I didn’t belong!

I only hesitated for like a second because you had mentioned before that it was designed for researchers in more of the hard sciences. But as I run experiments as well, I was confident that it would work for that part of my research. However, I’m also interested in theory building and I was wondering whether it would also work for that. And actually, now I think it could work for those theory-based papers too because they still include an introduction, an analysis, results from the analysis, a conclusion and a discussion.

Graphic inviting scientist to register for our free interactive writing training

That’s interesting to know! You are right, I originally created the Researchers’ Writing Academy for researcher in the natural sciences and medicine but since then more and more researchers from other fields such as the social sciences have joined us and gotten great results from the course. I think the course works for all researchers who write a paper around data they gathered. 

I have always loved stories and I just couldn’t figure out how to incorporate that into academic writing.

You mentioned earlier that you already got an R&R since joining the Academy a few months ago – did you see any other results from the course?

So one little result is that I submitted a proposal for a special issue. While the journal said in their rejection email that it wouldn’t work for the special issue, the editor in chief of the journal wants me to submit the paper for a regular issue. In the proposal, I included a cover letter for which I used your cover letter template. And that way, I think I demonstrated to the journal that the research is a perfect fit for the journal. Before joining your program, my cover letters were only describing what the paper was about and that’s it.

That’s fantastic, well done! All too often, researchers waste the opportunity to really sell their research in the cover letter.  

Now, I’m curious, which part of the Researchers’ Writing Academy did you enjoy the most?

That’s hard to answer because I enjoyed all of it. 

But I will say, that there were two things that were essential for me personally. One was the community. And while I don’t comment often, reading people’s posts and the responses to those posts has been really helpful. The second thing I really, really liked was Module 2, the one about creating the key story elements. That was crucial to me because I never did that before.

I got so much confidence from this program and this is a big deal for me.

Then I have more of an observation and that is that the course works so well because it is in itself structured like a story. It goes from the broader to the narrower. What you’re demonstrating in the course is that you actually know the information you’re teaching and you’re not just regurgitating what other people have said in the past. You really hook your audience! 

Great to hear about your favourite bits of the course. Whom would you recommend the Researchers’ Writing Academy to? 

Mhm, this is tough because my answer would be everyone! I think everyone would benefit from being a better writer. 

And if you were talking to someone who was on the fence about joining the Researchers’ Writing Academy, what would you say to them? 

I have two answers (I always seem to have two answers to everything!). One is: Just rip the band-aid off. You need to take this course! 

I think everyone would benefit from being a better writer.

The other one is to understand your goals and why you write. Then think if telling a better story, communicating with the correct audience would help you with reaching that goal. And if your goal is to change the world, then you absolutely need to know about story elements.

You need to use a structure in your articles that will get your readers excited to keep reading. And if your goal is to get tenure or get published, then having these tools is absolutely necessary too.

Thank you so much for this interview, Jourdan. It’s been a pleasure to talk to you!

Anna talked to Researchers’ Writing Academy member Dr Jourdan Davis, Assistant Professor in the field of Public Administration at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte in the United States. Her research focuses on the topic of democratising information. Jourdan runs a blog about communicating research to the public.

Mockup of the free interactive writing training for researchers

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Photography by Alice Dix