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Above the Fold: Ivy Cavendish and TooWrite

by | May 5, 2023 | 0 comments

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By Matthew Ismail, Editor in Chief of the Charleston Briefings and a Charleston Conference Director

Ivy Cavendish

“Individual papers are only unique by virtue of the data they are presenting. But the underlying patterns are repeated across the board.” Ivy Cavendish

The origin story of TooWrite tells us something significant about its character as an innovative and scholar-centered tool for writing in scientific research.

Ivy Cavendish, the cofounder of  TooWrite and a former PhD student in English Literature at the University of Sussex (tackling the thorny issue of the intersection of anti-theistic absurdist philosophy and the unheimlich), was working on her dissertation a few years ago with her friend, Algernon Bloom, who was working on his own thesis in Computational Biology at Queen Mary University of London. 

Algie (as Ivy calls him) “was trying to condense a big tangle of research that he’d performed over three years – all the experiments and the twists and the turns, the wrong turns, the right turns, all of it – into what eventually needed to be a fluid and clean piece of prose, with all the information laid out in black and white.” (Gillett, 2022)

But Algie was finding this writing process extremely frustrating. It was clear that he knew the material on which his dissertation was based, but it was the writing, itself, that was driving him crazy. How do you proceed with this writing process? Where do you start? How do you write a literature review? Ivy watched him struggling–writing, deleting, writing, deleting–and, as a good friend, wanted to help him out. “He’d worked so hard over the course of those three years. This write up? It should have felt like a victory lap, but instead it felt like just another hurdle to overcome.” (Ismail, 2023)

The question for Ivy was: How could she, a person who studies English literature, help a scientist to write up the results of his research when she knows very little about science writing? What is the process of scientific writing like and how can it be made less frustrating? And thus, Ivy’s entrepreneurial venture was born, not via a market analysis or because she had always wanted to found a company, but a) because of a desire to help out a friend and b) a correspondingly compelling question about how science writing differs from writing in the humanities and how she could relieve other scientists of this frustration in writing up the results of their research? And it was to this latter question that Ivy turned her attention.

Once Ivy had created a basic tool for helping Algie with his writing–and helped him produce an astonishing 15,000 polished words in 25 hours–they both knew that this tool had the potential to help many scientists who were struggling just as he was. It was soon after that they founded a company called The Science Writing Revolution, from which TooWrite was born.

Of course, all of this early work on what would become TooWrite took place during the COVID lockdowns in the winter and spring of 2020. Ivy was, like so many others, locked down in her London apartment working on her dissertation with books lying open and post-it notes stuck everywhere. And it was in this isolation that Ivy turned her attention from literature to what amounted to a crash course in entrepreneurship and coding. And this isolated work paid off, for by February of 2021, Ivy and Algie had secured VC funding for their project and produced the first version of TooWrite, a tool called TooWrite Abstracts, which helped science writers to produce a finished abstract in as little as fifteen minutes. And from there they have moved on to a tool for writing full papers.

Now, I must say that, when I first heard about TooWrite, I responded in what is probably not an uncommon manner: I thought, “Oh boy, here comes another tool that thinks you can automate the writing of a creative process…” I thought of the book I had published–Wallis Budge: Magic and Mummies in London and Cairo–and the many papers I had written over the years in areas such as British History, European Intellectual History, English Literature, and Islamic History, and I knew that the writing process was far from being a formula. The process of writing was very creative and transformative, bringing new insights and new ideas as I engaged with the material. Not only did I not think a writing tool would be desirable, I didn’t even think it would work.

But all of these preconceptions and objections dropped away when I talked to Ivy. TooWrite is a tool for science writing, and science writing is rather different from writing in the humanities. The notion of “writing up your results” sounds funny in the context of talking about literature or the history of ideas. But in the context of science, “writing up the results” is precisely the function of the dissertation or research article. The scientific paper is generally meant, as Ivy puts it, to be “a recipe for reproducibility. A set of clear instructions providing critical information in black and white with no room for misinterpretation.” (Ismail, 2023) The writing proceeds in a structured manner in which the language should be as transparent to the reporting of results as is possible. 

TooWrite is an online platform that treats scientific writing as a formula; instead of being akin to drafting an essay in the humanities, which has no prescribed structure, TooWrite operates via a series of guiding questionnaires to which the writer responds, moving through the writing process from introduction to methods, results, discussion, etc. TooWrite is a bit like having a helpful editor in the room, prompting authors and offering advice on how to proceed.

And when you think of it that way, then a tool such as TooWrite is really quite a gift to science and scientists. “Individual papers,” Ivy says of science writing, “are only unique by virtue of the data they are presenting. But the underlying patterns are repeated across the board.” (Ismail, 2023) So TooWrite is able to create narrative building blocks to aid the author based on the existence of certain recurrent variables in the science writing process. 

TooWrite, therefore, is a tool that could be a godsend for any science writer–but especially so, for instance, for writers for whom English is not their first language, or for an early career researcher who is juggling a post-doc, the need to publish, and having some sort of actual home life. A tool such as TooWrite could not only be of tremendous help to people in such situations but could also help level the playing field a bit for them.

And for Eugenie Regan, Vice President Research Solutions at Springer Nature, this author-centered nature of TooWrite made a very compelling case for adding it to Springer’s Research Solutions division, which is focused on “developing solutions for researchers to help them achieve their professional goals including AI automated editing, AI automated translation, preprinting, e-learning, Nature Conferences, and open data.” (Regan, 2023) It is no surprise that, after a very brief two years, TooWrite was acquired by Springer and Ivy is now Head of Writing Solutions at Springer Nature.

While TooWrite is still in development, I suspect that Springer Nature will be very pleased to have Ivy on board when TooWrite is rolled out and scientists begin to reap the benefits for life and career it can provide.

References

Gillett, Tim. “Changing the Landscape of Scientific Communication.” Changing the landscape of scientific communication | Research Information, April 21, 2022. https://www.researchinformation.info/interview/changing-landscape-scientific-communication

Ismail, Matthew. “ATGthePodcast 189 – a Conversation with Ivy Cavendish, Founder, TooWrite and Eugenie Regan, Vice President, Research Solutions, Springer-Nature.” Charleston Hub, February 14, 2023. https://www.charleston-hub.com/podcast/atgthepodcast-189-a-conversation-with-ivy-cavendish-founder-toowrite-and-eugenie-regan-vice-president-research-solutions-springer-nature/

“Dr Eugenie Regan, MBA, FRES – Vice President Research Solutions …” 2023. https://uk.linkedin.com/in/eugenieregan.

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