If you want to get your research published but struggle to find time to write a journal paper, you need to consider the habits of effective academic authors. When time is short due to other commitments, the time you spend on writing needs to be productive. Here, we present 8 tips for busy researchers on how to speed up the process of paper writing to become a better, faster and more effective author.
“I cannot find time to write papers!” We hear a statement like this often. It can mean all sorts of things: You don’t want to write, you have never tried writing, you never found your writing flow, you prioritise other tasks over writing, or your schedule is indeed so tight that it seems difficult to get any writing done.
Whatever your personal reason for not-writing might be, you can do something about it. No one can give you more time. No one has a secret recipe to create papers overnight. If you want to write a paper and get it published, you’ll have to do it in the most effective way.
Below, you’ll find 8 tips to help you to speed up the process of paper writing when time is an issue, which most of the time is the case.
1. Schedule time for regular writing
When time is short, you cannot wait for a couple of days or even just half a day off to do your writing. You need to plan your writing in very small but regular units in-between your other duties. It can be done in daily 20-30 minute sessions, so long as you actually do it. Put them in your calendar for every day and don’t put them at the end of the day. Place them in the morning before you check your emails and messages.
For each of these short sessions, have one goal that you want to achieve; that’s enough. This could be e.g. defining the aim of the paper, describing one step of your methods, reporting one result, writing the abstract, preparing one figure, or other limited tasks like these. You will make small but regular progress, day by day. See our post “Train your writing muscle: Achieve better results” for more tips on how to do it.
2. Find a good writing spot
In your daily work as a researcher, you have many interruptions and distractions. For your short writing session, make sure to avoid them. Find a spot where you can fully concentrate on your short writing session. For these 20-30 minutes, don’t allow any distractions, and switch off all the beeping, flashing and ringing apps and devices that want to interrupt you. You can come back to them once your short writing session is over.
3. Create a paper outline
Once you have defined the aim of your paper, prepare an outline of all the elements and key messages that you want to include in your paper. The paper’s aim should be rather focused and specific as opposed to being very broad and multifaceted. The paper outline includes not only the main sections and subsections of the paper, but also the single aspects, arguments or information that need to be mentioned. It’s the skeleton of your paper. The better and the more detailed it is, the easier the writing sessions will go. Therefore, take plenty of time on this step.
4. Stick to one task at a time
When time is pressing, it is tempting to assume that you will progress faster if you attempt several paper writing steps at the same time. It will not. So instead of writing a paper section, preparing the figure for the section, formatting the references in this section, looking for spelling mistakes, and rewriting the text all in one step, keep them separated from each other.
Focus on one of these steps at a time and it will go faster and the result will be better. For the paper writing in your sessions follow this order:
- draft the focus and the aim of the paper
- ready all material and data that you need for the aim
- prepare the paper outline
- write the core text of your paper
- edit the text
- prepare figures, tables and appendices/supplements
- prepare the references list, acknowledgements and other support sections
- read, edit and revise the entire paper again
- format the paper according to the journal’s requirements
5. Avoid an endless literature review
Don’t get lost in a never-ending stream of papers that you should read to write your paper. There is no end to this stream and this temptation costs you a lot of time. The readers of your paper are interested in the new insight that you bring to their research field, not in a comprehensive overview of what else has happened in this field. Therefore, be very focused in your literature review and include those studies and papers that you need to tell your story and that are needed to place your research in context. For tips on how to approach the literature review see “How to master the literature review.”
6. Define clear roles for co-authors
Writing with co-authors can cut the workload in half or it can double it. It’s in your hands! Be selective in your choice of co-authors and make sure they are all interested in contributing to the paper. For each author, define their role in the paper and writing process. What do they need to deliver and when is the deadline? And last but not least, monitor the process–otherwise, the paper will get delayed. Check also the “Five criteria every academic author should fulfil.”
7. Don’t try to say everything
The trick to effective writing is to keep it short and focused on what needs to be said. You don’t need to impress readers, reviewers or journal editors by creating lengthy texts. Academic readers prefer brevity—it saves them time!
You know a lot about the topic of your paper, we’re sure, but you don’t need to “bore” your readers with all of that knowledge. Tell them what they need to know to benefit from your paper. This will keep your paper focused and it will increase their understanding of your message. Since most of your readers will come from the same field as you, they know a large part of the background that you know as well.
8. Give-up perfectionism
As an academic person, you might strive for accuracy and precision. You don’t want to provide invalid statements. You don’t want to over interpret your findings, and you don’t want readers to consider your paper as faulty, incorrect or flawed. Therefore, you tend to look for perfectionism in your writing to be on the safe side.
But very few perfect papers have been published! The majority of papers are good and solid, and if you intend to write the perfect paper it will cost you a lot of time and energy. And there’s probably no need for it. A paper that attempts to get everything 100% right is never finished. So it’s better to accept some limitations to your work so you can get it written, published and read by peers. Some suggestions for how to create your close-to-perfect paper can be found in our article “The perfect paper—and how to create yours!”
When you are under time stress, you might think “I must get through my tasks ASAP.” As a consequence, improving your effectiveness on many tasks feels like just another task that you don’t have time to implement. Here, we’ve tried to convince you that when you follow the 8 tips presented above, you will make the most of your time and get your paper written well and with efficiency. It is an extra task to go through this article here, yes, but it will increase your effectiveness later when writing and easily make up for the time spent going through these tips.
And now? Let’s get started with implementing your new speed-writing tips!
- Smart Academics Blog post #50: How to master the literature review
- Smart Academics Blog post #63: Train your writing muscle: Achieve better results
- Smart Academics Blog post #67: Writing productivity: Write more in less time
- Smart Academics Blog post #79: 5 decisions that make writing your paper so much easier
- Smart Academics Blog post #104: Five criteria every academic author should fulfil
- Smart Academics Blog post #105: The perfect paper—and how to create yours!
- Smart Academics Blog post #128: Five easy ways to get started writing a research paper
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