Thursday, September 10, 2015

An important but basic skill: bringing a paper to publication

In trying to turn research into an actual journal publication there are several stages at which the process can stall or be significantly delayed (sometimes by months or years).

* Combining, selecting, and condensing some specific research results into a publon with a well defined message.

* Writing a rough first draft.

* Polishing the draft into an acceptable form for submission to a journal.

* Revising and resubmitting the paper, possibly to a different journal, if rejected from one.

Moving beyond these obstacles can be a significant struggle even for senior scientists. Furthermore,  junior collaborators can be frustrated and anxious as they wait for action. Their survival and careers depend on getting papers published in a timely manner. I even know of cases of students who did not get a Ph.D because a manuscript or draft thesis just sat on the desk of their advisor.
I am also struck by the fact that I know senior people who have impressive publication records but if you talk to their collaborators, both senior and junior, you will hear how this basic skill has not been learnt or mastered.

Aside: I myself am far from perfect. I have not been as quick as I could/should be with some of my collaborations. I still have two papers on the arXiv that have never been published and currently have at least three manuscripts stalled on my laptop. I do take a little consolation/excuse from the fact that these are single author papers and so I am the only one suffering.

I don't have simple solutions but do offer several suggestions. The first is by far the most important.

You must learn to do this yourself. Don't wait for others to do it for you. Take charge. Be responsible.

Don't be shy about bugging your collaborators to move things along.
I know this is can be difficult for junior people [graduate students and postdocs] from countries and cultures that are overly deferential to seniority and authority figures. Don't just email.
Knocking on doors and talking in person helps. .... even, if that means getting on a plane to the other side of the world. I am struck how some of my collaborations are moved forward just because my co-authors know that I am about to visit.

Consider your own possible underlying psychological issues such as perfectionism, procrastination, lack of confidence, laziness, or fear of offending authority.

I welcome other suggestions on how to develop this important but basic skill.


  1. Oh yes, yes. All of the above, in spades.

  2. For me, the biggest struggle is when I submit a paper at the end of my time in one place, as something of a culmination of my work there. Then a few months into my time in my next position, it comes back rejected. It's extremely difficult to gather the pieces and work on the weaknesses the reviewers see to be able to resubmit it somewhere, given that I'm now working on something completely different, for someone completely different.