Have you been intending to write up and submit a scientific paper of yours for weeks or even months?
You’ve been wanting to draft the first version or work on the existing draft, but somehow it just does not get done.
Your day seems to be very busy and there is no time to sit down to write. After all, there are group meetings to attend, lab work to do, other projects to take care of…When at your desk and looking at the paper, you find it difficult to focus: a chat with a fellow student, a noisy office atmosphere and your favourite internet sites, all of these add to distractions and interruptions.
You feel stuck with your scientific paper as you realise you don’t know where to make a start and what to do next. So you find yourself procrastinating by getting busy with other small but urgent tasks.
You get distracted from actual writing by searching literature, reading papers and googling for useful information. And more often than not by the time you sat down to look at your paper you notice that you are actually too tired to work on it.
First of all, you are not alone. Many scientists struggle with the above daily. And the good news it that there are strategies and approaches that really work and have already helped many scientists to just sit down, write up and submit a scientific paper.
Here are the 5 shortcuts to getting your paper written up and submitted in 4 weeks.
1. Decide on a journal.
This might be an unexpected place to start, but trust me it works wonders!
If you are getting stuck with writing because you don’t know where to start or how to move on, choose the journal to submit your paper to!
If you are unsure which one to choose, write a list of journals, brainstorm it with your supervisor or colleagues and decide on one of them. You can always change to a different journal later, but the fact that you will write now for a concrete journal will speed up the process immensely!
What it gives you is that you can now go to the website of that journal and download the guidelines and often even a format file. Often journal will tell you the format for the references and even the amount of words allowed. This gives you a structure to follow and you can literally start filling in the blanks!
Use the format of that particular journal to guide you. With the sections and guidelines taken into account, your paper is not a blank page anymore, and anything is better than a blank page!
2. Have it in your sight, have it on your mind.
Do you actually know WHERE is the folder with your paper?
By the time you found it, your 30 min time window between the things you needed to attend on that day is up! And by the end of the week, you are like: “I have not done anything on my paper, AGAIN“…
But how often do you think about your paper in a positive way? Not very often. Well, this needs to change if you want to see it written up in 4 weeks. You need to have it in your sight, and on your mind!
First of all, make your writing easily accessible
Create the folder and the file of the paper and have it right there, AVAILABLE and easily accessible for the daily routine work and for all those brilliant ideas and inspirational moments to fill in more text.
Even on a busy day, spend 15 min to check back in with your paper, just to remind you what is happening with it. This will ensure that throughout the day the paper is on your mind and even when you are out and about the ideas about your paper and sometimes the whole sentences get formulated in your mind (which you would want to capture on paper as soon as you can).
All of this leads to a quicker writing up process.
Have your paper IN YOUR SIGHT, which will make it easier for you to have it on your mind
Go to the library, borrow a hard copy of the journal you are writing for and have it on your desk as a visual reminder “Writing paper X is one of my priorities”.
Print out the front page of that journal from their website and stick it somewhere you can see it everyday (on your bathroom door for example ). You would want to open the folder and the file of the paper first thing in the morning: this very act gives the paper a priority status, and it gets done quicker.
3. Become an expert in hiding from everyday busy-ness
You’ve heard this before: “introduce a writing ritual and write daily”. You’ve tried to “introduce” it. You’ve scheduled “paper writing” time in your diary/calendar, but the writing is still not happening.
Somehow the group meetings get always scheduled in the time slot you wanted to devote to writing your scientific paper. Fellow students pop into your office for a chat, or the equipment in the lab gets broken and urgently requires your attention to fix it. You come home in a hope to get focused on your paper but then you are too tired or if you have a family with young children there is no chance of peace and quiet there either.
Well, here is the deal. To be able to make progress with your writing you need to be creative with finding a time and place to do it.
Sitting at their desk in their office trying to write is no longer working, and it’s a grim reality of MANY scientists!
You need to become an expert in sneaking away from this busy-ness. Learn to hide for as little as 15 min, with time you can increase it to 45min. You need to purposefully CREATE that peace and quiet to write.
You can hide in the library, take a train out of town and back and write on the train or go to a nearby café and spent some quiet time there.
If you have young children and the night waking is not a big deal for you, then wake up at 3am, work on your paper for one hour and go back to sleep: you are guaranteed to have peace and quiet at this time of night.
4. Know your very next step
You may be wondering, how is it at all possible to work on a paper for the short amounts of time of 15 and 30 min. Is it possible to do ANYTHING useful in such short window of time?
Many do assume that it’s not possible, and spend those odd small windows of time in their day on Facebook or checking e-mails. You CAN learn to make a good use of those time windows, and be able to make a little progress on your paper even in the 15 min available.
The secret to this lies in ability to break down the whole paper writing into small manageable tasks that would only take 15-30 min to complete.
- Create a list of tasks on a piece of paper such as “draft figure 1”, “write all figure captions”, “write a paragraph describing the blah-blah-blah”, “fill in all numbers in Table 1” etc etc.
- You will always KNOW what is the very next step you need to do to make progress with your paper.
- Make use of any small window of time that become available to complete 1-2 tasks off that list.
The great thing about such list of small tasks is that when you feel good and productive you can choose a more difficult or creative task to tackle (for example, write one paragraph in discussion).
When you feel lousy or unproductive you can choose an easy task that does not require much creativity (for example, type up references).
No matter how you feel or how little time you have on your hands you can experience PROGRESS with your writing EVERY day. This creates momentum and allows you to carry on and continue with it until completion!
And if you have an hour or two on your hands to work on your paper, then by all means use the same approach, and get several smaller tasks complete or tackle more difficult tasks that do require more time.
5. Don’t believe everything you think
The mind is a wondrous thing that allows us to work on our research projects and write up papers. The mind is an amazing tool if used wisely. But sometimes it gets on a loose and does not always work in our favor!
It creates all sorts of stories about how difficult it is to write, that it will take very long, and that it is not going to be any good. It tells you that you don’t know enough just yet, and you don’t understand your subject well enough.
It paints you the picture of how scary and unpleasant it will be to receive the supervisor’s feedback, how humiliating it will be to read the referee’s report and how defeating the rejection of your paper will feel.
Listening to all of this slows down the progress with your paper writing by a lot, and it often simply paralyses us preventing us from taking any action.
If you want to write up your paper in 4 weeks then you better don’t believe everything you mind thinks. Those thoughts are not necessarily true and they are definitely not helpful. Become aware of them, notice them, and turn the volume down a bit on them. “I hear you, you are not very helpful!” Then decide to think more helpful thoughts that will support you throughout these weeks of writing and encourage you on the way.
Add these positive statements on your daily thinking repertoire:
- I am making progress with my paper one step at a time.
- I am willing to create an imperfect first draft and then work on improving it.
- I am deepening my understanding of the subject as I progress with writing this paper.
- I don’t need to understand everything, no one does.
- I am writing this paper at my level of understanding and I know it serves its purpose.
- Other scientists need to hear what I’ve got to say.
- I am more of an expert in this subject than many.
- I am lucky to get feedback from my supervisor, I know other PhD students hardly even hear from theirs.
- I don’t have to take referees’ criticism personally, I can choose to use their comments to improve my paper.
- When the time comes I will make a decision whether to resubmit the paper for an appeal or send it to a different journal. For now I choose to focus on getting the draft done.
All these thoughts are true or truer than your negative ones, and are definitely more helpful. And they speed up the process of writing immensely.
These are five of the best productivity tips I recommend to my students so they submit a scientific paper fast. I hope they can help you to get that paper unstuck and finally submit it.
Want to be more productive?
I am running a LIVE webinar where you can learn more advanced strategies to bring your PhD productivity to the next level.
You’ll hear me share with you step-by-step how to use the Productivity Code System to ramp up your productivity.
Listen to this webinar where I share with you the techniques that the best PhD students use to stay focused and get stuff done.