The best writing secret I recently learned was from a Brazilian who didn’t get his PhD until he was about 40.
Yesterday at 5:00, a reporter called me about the topic of food waste. Earlier this year this cool Brazilian coauthor (Gustavo Porpino) and I published a paper about the Food Waste Paradox: Why do low-income people waste more food than middle-income people? We found that the answer is love. Even if everybody is stuffed, the cook doesn’t want their family to feel anxious that the food is gone and bowls are empty. So they often make sure there’s a little extra – even if they have to throw it away.
When he asked me what it was like to work with Gustavo, I said, “Amazing. After we finished all of the analysis, we outlined the paper; he wrote it up; I edited it; we submitted it; and it was accepted with minor revision. Two months start to finish.”
This never happens to me. Why was this guy so amazingly different?
Before going back for his PhD, Gustavo was a journalist. He was used to coming up with cool story ideas that were useful or interesting to a specific audience. He compellingly got this point across in the first paragraph. He built his theory or case with tangible evidence. His results section never steered into detailed analyses that were superfluous to the main story line.
Screenplay writers are taught never to show a “gun on the table” if it doesn’t serve a purpose later in the story. Same should be true with academic articles, but we fill our theory sections and results with loads of these. We almost say, “I don’t know if this is relevant or not, but I’ll include it in case you wanted to know.”
Writing an article like a journalist is a crazy concept. But it just might work.
 Have a powerful lead sentence (vs. “Past research has shown . . .”)
 Show compelling relevance in the 1st Paragraph
 Build your case with tangible evidence (vs. lots-o-cites)
 Stick to the main theme (vs. “could be relevant, but I’m not sure”)
 End memorably
Today the reporter emailed me and asked if there was anything else I could share with him. I sent him this photo and said, “He’s the one with the pumpkin on his head.”