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Tips for productive writing from the Early and Mid-Career Researchers Group

These tips were collected as an action point from the Athena SWAN EMCR group. If you're interested in getting involved with the group please contact Kathryn Ungerer.

  1. Don’t spend too long reading documents telling you how to write productively – just do it. Getting words down is the most important start, it doesn’t matter if you end up rewriting them later.
  2. If you’re working on a paper with other colleagues, think about author order early in the project. Make it clear what’s expected of each team member in terms of writing – this will help avoid delays and awkward conversations further down the line.
  3. Know what journal you are aiming to submit to in advance – and write to its specifications. Read a few articles in that journal before you start writing to get a sense of what they usually publish.
  4. Schedule time into your calendar for writing – and don’t change it. Book hours aside for writing and treat it like you would a meeting with someone senior – once it’s booked in, it takes priority.
  5. Break down your writing into chunks – for example, start with the methods and aim to have a draft of that before you even think about starting on the other sections of the paper. (It doesn’t have to be the methods that you start with, but these can be the most straightforward and hence help you jump the initial hurdle.)
  6. Don’t stress too much about going over word count. Write first, then let the draft sit for a couple of days, and then return to it with a fresh pair of eyes. Pretend it’s someone else’s writing – that makes it easier to cut!
  7. Try writing for different audiences – if you have something you’re excited about, but it doesn’t really feel like journal material, consider a blog. As one scientist put it, “It’s probably worth trying to write up anything that you do because you disseminate the information more widely.”
  8. Think about the key messages you want to convey, particularly if your topic is likely to generate media attention. Think about how it could be misreported, and what you can do to avoid that.
  9. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from a senior – everyone hits a wall with their writing occasionally, and getting a fresh perspective can help push you on.
  10. Don’t be disheartened by rejection, and try not to get too frustrated or defensive when responding to peer review. You’ll probably get more rejections than acceptances – knowing this going into it can make it easier to deal with. Celebrate every acceptance, and every milestone along the way.

Further resources