Curing academic writer’s block by editing Wikipedia

If you’re an academic experiencing writer’s block, never fear! Our Wikipedia writing courses give you tools to counteract two important types of block. The first is typical of many writing professions: having trouble putting something to paper. The second type is more unique to academia and has some dire, real-world consequences: difficulty explaining complex topics in simple terms to non-expert audiences.

Our courses help strengthen your writing tool kit, countering both types of writer’s block for academics of all disciplines and career levels.

1) Practice “just writing”

“When you’re working in an academic setting, you really do need to make sure everything is as good as it can be. When you’re working in an industry setting, on the other hand, it’s far better to have something useful now than something very polished eventually,” writes Rachael Tatman about skills she wishes she learned in grad school.

Getting into this habit of “just writing” is good mental, emotional, and mechanical practice for anyone preparing to tackle the big academic tasks of thesis writing, dissertation writing, grant writing, and more.

Wikipedia is built on the understanding that documenting “all of human knowledge” is a task that is never really complete. Being okay with “done for now” is a skill that you can practice. 

2) Practice writing simply

Academics rarely have opportunities to learn “simpler” ways of communicating their expertise. Instead, as they gain more knowledge and specialization, it actually becomes more difficult to communicate their expertise simply. That’s the “curse of knowledge,” as Harvard’s Steven Pinker sees it.

“It’s easy to be complex, it’s harder to be simple,” clear-writing consultant and professor Deborah Bosley says. “It would make academics better researchers and better writers, though, if they had to translate their thinking into plain language.”

Wikipedia writing guidelines require all content contributors to write concisely and to present only essential, clearly summarized information about a topic. The act of distilling only essential information into a Wikipedia article is great practice for concise, purposeful writing. It’s also a great exercise in writing for a general audience and serves the public good. Make sure the public understands the most pressing and complex topics of your field by meeting them where they are: Wikipedia. We’ll help you get there.

Wiki Education announces new virtual professional development courses every few months. In them, scholars, scientists, and other professionals learn the technical, procedural, and cultural practices of contributing content to Wikimedia projects. Sign up to be on our mailing list or send an email to to buy out a course for your institution’s faculty.

Header image by Vkw.studiogood, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.


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