Giovanna Pasquariello

When I was an undergraduate in Italy and I had to prepare the defence of my dissertation, my supervisor at the time suggested me: “Tailor your dress!”. A rather confusing exclamation, and one of the best advices I have ever received. Hence I will pass it on to you.

No worries, no sewing skills needed. The point is: on any occasion, structure your ideas, arguments, conclusions accordingly. Your dissertation, your paper, your research proposal – in one word, your hard work – is like a handmade dress, or a tuxedo. If you want someone else to wear it, you have to tailor it on them. If you want your dissertation to be successful, your paper to be accepted or your research proposal to be wanted and paid for – well, you have to structure them efficiently and present them properly. You have to tailor them on your addressee.

You do not want to write a research proposal for that competitive grant like you were submitting a paper to a journal; neither you would prepare a job application for the industry like you were applying for a postdoctoral position. As you might see, circumstances vary – and specific examples can be given for every occasion.

After a series of personal mistakes, many lessons learnt and a few workshops, here you are a customizable quick start guide to tailor yourself and your work – use it, re-use it and apply it according to your needs!

All you have to do is to answer the following questions.

Who are you talking to?

Who is the addressee of your paper, application, proposal or CV? This may be a person, more people, or an institution. Whoever your who is, make sure to keep them in mind before ‘tailoring your dress’ and remember that it should be their dress too. You would not offer the Queen a mermaid, sparkling red dress, would you? I mean, you could, but chances to see it worn are low.
Make some research on those people and institutions. What is their background? What are they involved with? Hence, what are they interested in?

What can you offer?

What are the elements of your work that match with their interests? If you had to sell a tuxedo to a businesswoman or a businessman who travels the world and has a partner company in Dubai, wouldn’t you make sure that they notice your collection of tuxedos and shirts in fine cotton?
Pick those areas in your work that can be appealing to your who, and highlight them!

Why should they listen to you?

Once you have defined the who and the what, now think at why your work should matter, why it is worth of consideration, why you are exactly what they need.
Identify the needs of your who, the limits in a specific research field – and how you or your work would fill the gaps! It may take some imagination, but you can do it.

How will you talk to them?

A very basilar step in the tailoring process. You would not speak the same way to your grandma and to a journal editor, would you? In the same way you would not present a paper at a conference like you would teach your lesson to your students.
Adapt your writing and communication to the context and to the people. Will you use an academic writing style? If yes, which one? If not, what else? And read, read, read examples of the style you need.

And last but not least…

When will they thank you?

Just keep in mind the timings, of any type. If you are submitting a research proposal, when is your work (realistically) expected to be completed? If you are preparing a conference paper, respect the time slot. If you are submitting an article, meet the deadlines. And so on.

You just want to make the perfect tailored dress.

Photo by Zeynep Sümer on Unsplash

Giovanna Pasquariello is Chair of “Pubs and Publications: the PhD experience”. She’s a second year at the University of Edinburgh, studying something old, very old: the vocabulary of Greek inscriptions on the Celts. Apart from this, she swears she is a fun person.