Writing materials

Why doctoral students need dexterity in scientific writing

Producing just over 24,000 PhD graduates a year, India ranks fourth in the world, a recent report by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) reveals. While the amount of research done here is commendable, concerns are raised about the quality. Research guides say that a common problem that the majority of Indian scholars face is their discomfort in compiling their research papers in English. The reason for this is the lack of Hindi journals and minimal training in scientific writing.

Problems encountered
Ruchi Kher Jaggi, Dean of PhD program in Media and Communication, Symbiosis International University, Pune, says, “In school, students are taught to look at lectures objectively, which negatively affects their writing abilities. Upon graduation, students who take honors courses in certain subjects are still lightly trained in this art, but a majority are left behind. Moreover, in social studies and science subjects, scholars currently focus on data collection, which makes them overlook the importance of acquiring good writing skills.

Researchers from a regional linguistic background find it difficult to compile their research in English, adds Anuradha Majumdar, Pharmacy Research Guide, University of Mumbai. “While Russian, German and Chinese academics have the advantage of having access to scientific journals in their mother tongue, there are no Hindi journals yet,” she says.

Even if an academic is fluent in English, scientific writing skills are limited, adds Majumdar. “It is not enough to compile your research works. Since reproducing data in your thesis work is now considered plagiarism, researchers must have the ability to represent all data in a creative and unique format that includes illustrations and design, an ability that the majority of researchers,” she adds.

Padma Rani, director of the Manipal Institute of Communication, which is a research guide in communication and media studies, says academics’ inability to accept criticism also impacts their writing quality. “Rejection, rewriting and rewording are the basic ingredients of a good research paper, which our researchers must accept,” she says.

make a change
Developing critical thinking in researchers should be a major focus for researchers, says Rani. “Schools form the basis of our learning formats, where rote learning was the norm. It is only recently that live projects that force students to question everything that is taught have been introduced,” she says. With this new system in place, there is already a slight improvement in about 30% of scholarship recipients, adds Rani.

liberal arts degree-level programs bring a shift in this phenomenon, says Jaggi. “The master’s program a researcher chooses affects their critical reading and writing skills. Even the compulsory doctoral courses now offer various writing courses which have helped. It may be a long journey, but we have started to see a change,” she says.

Majumdar suggests a few actions that can help researchers. “Compulsory doctoral training should offer modules on scientific writing. Few institutions could offer them today, but they may be compulsory for all scholars. In addition, all institutes should have journal clubs, where researchers should be able to critique and appreciate currently published papers. This will familiarize them with various writing styles and offer them insight into creating their own strength.