Start in the place that makes sense for you

When it comes to writing style, are you basically a rabbit or a turtle? As Michael Alley explains:

Rabbits hate first drafts. They despise juggling the constraints of writing with all the elements of style. So, in a first draft, they spring. They write down everything and anything. Rabbits strap themselves in front of their computers and finish their drafts as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, their first drafts are horrendous, sometimes not much better than their outlines. Still they've got something. They've put their ideas into a document, and they're in a position to revise.

Turtles, on the other hand, are patient. Turtles accept the job before them and proceed methodically. A turtle won't write down a sentence unless it's perfect. In the first sitting, a turtle begins with one sentence and slowly builds on that sentence with another, and then another. In the second sitting, a turtle then goes back to the beginning and revises everything from the first sitting before adding on. It usually takes a turtle several sittings to finish a first draft, but the beginning and middle are smooth because they've been reworked so many times. Revision then entails looking at the document from an overall perspective and smoothing the ending. (Alley, 1996, pp. 241-242)

Few writers are strictly one or the other, of course, but you'll be most efficient if you determine which approach best fits your general style and personality If you have turtle tendencies, ease into the first draft by starting with the section you feel is the most straightforward. (For many people, it is Materials and Methods.) If you are a rabbit type, begin with the Introduction and just plow right on, quickly getting as much information written as possible.

Exercise 2.3. Tense use

Indicate preferred tense use in the sentences below. If you feel that a sentence is correct as it stands, simply note the fact.

1. Work by Matthews (2007) showed that Vespula nests readily in the laboratory.

2. Bird size shows an increase in our study with width of wooded habitat, as Figure 2 indicates.

3. Beal (1960) also observed that size increased with meadow width.

4. In our study we find that there are significantly fewer antibody-producing cells in copper-deficient mice than in copper-supplemented mice (see Fig. 3).

5. In a study by Sengelaub and Finlay (1981), the average costal width for normal animals was 0.81 mm.

6. Conover and Kynard (1981) reported that sex determination in the Atlantic silverside fish was under the control of both genotype and temperature.

7. Recently published work by Fruchter et al. (1) characterizes the ash from the Mount St. Helens eruption of 18 May 1980.

8. Many researchers have confirmed that the balance of hydrostatic and osmotic pressures in the capillaries is a very delicate one.

9. ABSTRACT: The cell-to-cell channels in the insect salivary gland are probed with fluorescent molecules. From the molecular dimensions, a permeation-limiting channel diameter of 16-20 angstroms is obtained.

10. SUMMARY: Germinal and somatic functions in Tetrahymena are found to be performed separately by the micro- and macronuclei, respectively. Cells with haploid micronuclei are mated with diploids to yield monosomic progeny.

Set a realistic goal for each sitting. Don't stop until you've reached it, even if you become pressed for time and must "cheat" by finishing the section in outline form. Reaching a goal is almost guaranteed to give you a feeling of accomplishment that will help keep your momentum going. But don't stop here. Before you finish, write a few sentences of the next section. Psychologically, this makes it easier to start writing next time. Some writers claim it even helps to stop in mid-sentence or mid-thought!

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