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Writing for impact in Kenya

On 10-16 July in Nakuru, Kenya, students gathered for “Writing Week”, a workshop focused on improving the composition of participants’ scientific papers for publication. Presentations were given by CIMMYT’s Dr. Hugo De Groote and Dr. Stephen Mugo, and Dr. Kiarie Njoroge from the Department of Plant Science and Crop Protection at the University of Nairobi. The workshop enabled sixteen students and advanced researchers to work collectively on improving their papers, which covered a range of agricultural topics.

This course was the second such workshop organized as part of the Insect Resistance Maize for Africa (IRMA) project, a collaborative initiative of CIMMYT and the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI), which was launched in 1999. A grant from the Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture funded the workshop.

Although the 16 participants are all associated with IRMA, they came from a range of institutions: CIMMYT, KART, Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (Kenya), University of Nairobi, Makerere University (Uganda), and the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research.

The aim of Writing Week was to provide students with the time and mentorship in order to complete the writing of their papers in preparation for publication. The workshop was designed in part to fill the gaps often left by university training courses in regard to developing writing skills. Coursework regularly focuses on writing for academic audiences, with the principles of readability being neglected. In the short-term, Writing Week aimed to impart the skills necessary to produce papers of a standard equal to that of the research conducted. The long-term goal is that students will use this knowledge to improve their academic record and increase their opportunities for PhD or postdoctoral research. Following the first Writing Week in September 2010, 13 of the participants’ papers were published.

CIMMYT-organized training, such as the Writing Week workshop, not only allows participants to gain new skills, but also to interact with other researchers in their field. “Writing Week is a very good environment to focus on improving the writing of our work, to share our results with the rest of the scientific community, and to obtain honest feedback on our work” says participant Zachary Gitonga.

De Groote also hopes that the Writing Week has a more lasting effect: “the larger goal is always to have the results of their research have an impact beyond the scientific community. To that end, we focus on preparing researchers to publish papers in journals with an impact factor.” Gitonga, who completed an MSc in Applied Economics to Agriculture, and now works with De Groote on performing impact assessments of CIMMYT’s Effective Grain Storage Project, intends for his own research to have a direct effect on the livelihoods of farmers. “Although we are writing our publications generally speaking for the scientific community, my hope is that the findings of the research will influence policy-makers and transfer to a larger audience,” says Gitonga.

All the students who participated in the workshop are passionate not only about research, but how it can benefit the farmers it focuses on. Writing Week recognizes that it is not only valuable to train emerging professionals and researchers from a scientific perspective, but also to enable them to connect with their audiences. “If you help people with science and not with writing and publishing, then you stop before the goal is reached” said De Groote.