Writing Process

Aug 31 2014 Published by under Science Writing

I start a paper draft very early in the process.

Sometimes it is started before even a single bit of data has been collected.

It starts, often, with some literature that I am reading that starts to gel an idea. So I'll jot down the author/date and some words related to my thinking at the moment. Could be a full manuscript ready sentence, sometimes just a few words.

At this point I don't even insert "introduction" and "discussion" headings because I'm not sure where it is going. As time goes on there will be a tipping point where I take an hour to put in the structure.

Title page, headings, maybe some cut and paste methods that we'll be modifying later.

I didn't use to do this, but I have gotten better about writing up figures as they roll off the assembly line. Even before I know the end analysis, etc. So maybe I waste a little time if I have to redo analysis with more groups or something and reconfigure the graph.

I've found that it helps me later to know what we have and what we don't have.

So now I might actually start a draft around a key figure that I really like. Stare at that graph in the Word file and the ideas start coming.

The key for me is to trigger early on just getting some words down on the paper in approximation of what I am thinking. At the moment.

Thoughts often change. I write many times more words in the drafts than will ever appear anywhere in print.

This helps me to think. To see.

20 responses so far

  • Comradde PhysioProffe says:

    Dude, I'm confused. Don't your students and post-docs write the manuscripts? Are you saying that this is what you tell them to do?

  • drugmonkey says:

    I write manuscripts too dude. We aren't all BSDs like you.

  • Anonymous says:

    "I write manuscripts too dude. We aren't all BSDs like you."

    And I guess you send those early drafts off to get feedback from your more senior colleagues, since no one could ever be in the position of being able to a write a manuscript largely on their own. And feedback on the early shitty drafts is crucial -- it just won't do to give someone something that you have taken the time to make reasonably good (not perfect, mind you, but pretty good in your eyes).... Or so goes the nonsense in the comments of your last post.

  • drugmonkey says:

    No I send them to the trainees. It's an iterative process.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Collaborators too. Another iterative process.

  • drugmonkey says:

    I suppose I do have a recent situation where I have about five colleagues I'm getting input from but that's more on the interpretive side than the actual text....too early on this particular situation.

  • Anonymous says:

    "...but that's more on the interpretive side than the actual text....too early on this particular situation."

    But it's never too early!

    I do not for one minute believe that you send shitty first drafts to your collaborators, and if you send them to your trainees, that's pretty abusive.

  • Comradde PhysioProffe says:

    "I do not for one minute believe that you send shitty first drafts to your collaborators, and if you send them to your trainees, that's pretty abusive."

    Hahahahahahah! Delusional dude is fucken crackeing me the fucke uppe!

  • Kevin. says:

    C'mon, it's anonymous, there's no way all of this comes from the same person.

    "Sure Lisa, the same magical animal." -Homer Simpson

  • drugmonkey says:

    Why is it "abusive" to send paper drafts to trainees?

  • anonymous postdoc says:

    This guy is an amazing troll. I pity anyone who has ever worked with him.

  • drugmonkey says:

    You seem to be unused to responding to requests to clarify and expand upon your written communication. Perhaps a lack of practice with iterative improvement of your writing?

  • potnia theron says:

    Anonymous - your experience is limited and you don't have data to back it up. Yes I send bad first drafts, or worse *parts* of bad first drafts (results) to collaborators, colleagues and grad students. I do my best to make sure they are NOT wasting their time. I try to make sure they are coherent, and I have specific questions (do you think this graph says what I think it says?) or general q's (does this structure of the results flow, make sense to you?). My colleagues do the same thing. In fact, a subgroup in my new dept meets for a multilab journal club specifically to go through unfinished papers, prelim data. We all get a draft a week in advance. Its incredibly useful.

  • In fact, a subgroup in my new dept meets for a multilab journal club specifically to go through unfinished papers, prelim data. We all get a draft a week in advance. Its incredibly useful.

    Obviously, you and your colleagues are shitty writers, unlike Anonymous, who doesn't need any help from anyone to write excellent manuscripts.

  • jojo says:

    I caught myself up on the kerfuffle on the last post and I'm genuinely confuzzled by everyone's strong reactions over the idea that as a postdoc should send a solid draft to one's PI as a first draft. People seem to be implying that one should be sending literally DOZENS of tiny pieces of text to the PI on a daily basis literally as soon as the data is collected. I certainly do not want this from my trainees and I would not want to expose anyone advising me to the same!

    For my last paper (which was in a not-glamor but very good journal) I think that my adviser and I only did about 4 drafts back and forth prior to first submission. Any delay was on my end as I tried to really create the a really good draft rather than knocking out half thought out garble. I did submit an outline of the paper to him which we then discussed before I started to write. I find this to be immensely helpful to my writing.

    I would hope that more than one writing process is acceptable in science. As long as the writing gets done and it's good in the end who really cares?

  • drugmonkey says:

    I am not suggesting *daily* updates are necessary.

  • drugmonkey says:

    As long as the writing gets done

    Therein lies the rub.

  • potnia theron says:

    @CCP :Obviously, you and your colleagues are shitty writers, unlike Anonymous, who doesn't need any help from anyone to write excellent manuscripts.

    Obviously I suck at everything, and its a miracle that I can get out of bed and find my fucking shoes, which are a great deal less fantabulous the DrI's.

  • Anonymous says:

    @jojo: "I would hope that more than one writing process is acceptable in science. As long as the writing gets done and it's good in the end who really cares?"

    No, jojo, there is obviously only One Right Way, and daring to suggest that *for some people* something else might work better will only result in others completely mischaracterizing what you say (assuming they actually took the time to read it in the 1st place), belittling you and your experience, and throwing childish insults your way -- while at the same time fancying themselves the voice of wisdom and reason! So I am done with the likes of them but happy to hear that you also don't see the point of making your advisor go through a shitty first draft just to tell you to fix things that you yourself can see need fixing (upon re-reading). I'm sure your advisor appreciates it as well.

  • E-roock says:

    I highly endorse the idea of discussing the outline first. Also going over the reading list or planned citations before writing. In case anything is missed. It prevents them from being lazy and even thinking about citing a review article.

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