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Research and Scholarship

Writing and rewriting for publication

Publication is a critical component of successfully climbing the academic ladder. The adage “Publish or Perish”, is the underlying motto for all who desire to stay relevant in the scientific community.  Productivity in publication require persistence, thorough organization of thoughts and concepts and good time management skills and the ability to write in a scientific manner. Characteristics that often distinguish those who hit the mark for publication and those who are challenged in achieving their goals.

During my career, I have found there to be 5 important elements to establishing a successful publication trajectory:

  1. Make time
  2. Write…and rewrite
  3. Take advice
  4. Follow directions
  5. Normalize rejection

Make time

One very simple principle (in theory) is to make writing a priority, blocking time to actually get writing done.  If you ask productive writers about their writing schedules, you will likely get varied responses for how they manage their writing time. However, there will be a common theme. They all schedule time to write. Some write in short blocks of time frequently while others write for longer periods less frequently.  In all cases, there is a plan to prioritize uninterrupted time to write.  Finding out what plan works for you is an important first step, because without dedicated time, progress will be difficult.  Once you prioritize your time, make it sacred.  Treat it like you are teaching a class or working in the clinic…you would never accept other obligations during that time, so do the same with your writing time. 

Write, rewrite, & Take advice

The first draft is not the final draft.  The rewriting required for a draft to reach the point where it is ready for submission is vast.  It is important to consistently revisit the draft while you seek review and feedback from others, including co-authors and trusted colleagues. At this point, you are so immersed in the project or area of interest that, achieving clarity in writing may be difficult. Ask someone who knows little about your topic, to read your paper and illustrate areas in your manuscript that need further clarification.  Others with content and methodologic expertise are also valuable to improve your writing.  Of course, manuscript reviewers and editors will provide feedback after the paper is submitted, and some may be hard to swallow. But none the less, there is normally a kernel of truth in each criticism you receive and your ability to reflect on that feedback and determine what changes need to be made will only enhance your paper. Taken together, the realization that writing…and rewriting…and taking advice are essential activities for publication.

Follow directions & Normalize rejection

Scientific writing is not for the faint of heart.  You will experience resistance and the worse of all outcomes, rejection.  The emotions associated with rejection can be paralyzing and if you are not adequately prepared to handle them in a positive way, they will inevitably reduce your motivation and have the potential to derail your publication productivity.  First and foremost, experience the emotions that get triggered when you get a rejection or a terrible review. By reflecting on these emotions for a short period of time, you can better prepare yourself for such comments and experiences in the future. But you can’t dwell here for too long, you must take action, and move on. Every successful writer has stories of rejection that were quite painful when they first received them, but over time they learned not just about how to improve their science, but also how to improve their writing and ultimately how they react to negative criticism.   Share your stories with others and they will share theirs with you, enabling you to normalize the experience and accept it for it’s place in the process. In the end, it will be worth the time when you see your publication in print. 

My first writing mentor used to tell me that it is great to be “famous”, seeing your name on a publication.  Even after all these years, I still get excited which keeps me moving forward.  I wish the same to you on your writing journey.

Useful references:

Conn, V. S., Zerwic, J., Jefferson, U., Anderson, C. M., Killion, C. M., Smith, C. E., ... & Benefield, L. E. (2016). Normalizing rejection. Western journal of nursing research38(2), 137-154.

Conn, V. S., Jefferson, U., Cohen, M. Z., Anderson, C. M., Killion, C. M., Fahrenwald, N. L., ... & Loya, J. (2017). Strategies to build authorship competence among PhD students.

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