U.S. ARMY INSTITUTE OF SURGICAL RESEARCH
"Optimizing Combat Casualty Care"
George Gopen, J.D., Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of the Practice of Rhetoric at Duke University lecures ISR researchers during a writing workshop held June 2-5. Photo by Steven Galvan

George Gopen, J.D., Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of the Practice of Rhetoric at Duke University lecures ISR researchers during a writing workshop held June 2-5. Photo by Steven Galvan

ISR researchers sharpen writing skills

By Steven Galvan, Public Affairs Officer
U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research
2 JULY 2014


Ask any researcher at the U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research (ISR) what part of their job is most difficult; they will probably say “writing a grant proposal.”

ISR Research Director, David Baer, Ph.D., agrees; “Writing a good research grant proposal is not an easy task.”

To help researchers improve their professional writing, including grant proposals, the Institute turned to renowned author and writing consultant George Gopen, J.D., Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of the Practice of Rhetoric at Duke University. During the four-day writing workshop, two days of lectures and two days of individual tutorials, Gopen shared his unique insights about writing.

“I discovered that reading and writing are not, as most people assume, 85 percent word choice and 15 percent structure; rather, they are 15 percent word choice and 85 percent structure,” he said. “The bottom-line question, where the quality of professional writing is concerned, is simple: ‘Did the reader get delivery of what the writer was intending to send?’ Therefore, to understand the language better we should get to know as fully as possible how readers actually go about the act of interpretation: what are the reader’s expectations.”

Chief of Statistics and Epidemiology, Jeana Orman, Sc.D., attended the workshop; she said that this approach to writing makes sense.

“If the reader doesn’t understand what the writer intended, the writing will not have the desired impact; that could directly affect whether a grant proposal gets funded, an article gets published, or a research protocol gets approved,” she said.

While writing grant proposals, articles, and protocols is not easy, it is a necessary undertaking for researchers at the ISR. Gopen stresses that, in order to succeed, researchers must write these documents to meet the reader’s expectations.

Kathy Ryan, Ph.D. Research Regulatory Compliance Division chief agrees that researchers need to write clear and precise research protocols.

“Because I didn’t understand what the researchers were trying to express, I’ve had to kick some back,” she said.

Gopen’s lectures focus mostly on scientific and legal writing; but the approach can be used in all forms of communication.

Registered Nurse and Nurse Preceptor Coordinator at the ISR Burn Center Progressive Care Ward, Michael Barba said that this workshop will improve both her abstract writing and her personal communication.

“I find myself re-reading my e-mails. Before sending them, I make sure that I’ve communicated my message to the reader” she said.

According to Gopen, he is on a life-long crusade to teach writers the key to success: writing that meets the reader’s expectations.

“He was very inspirational,” said Barba. “This workshop will enhance my professional and personal writing skills.”

“He is so engaging; he convinced even the hardened skeptics,” said Orman. “It’s a testament to the many years Dr. Gopen has devoted to this important work.”