Writing Challenge, Week 1: Are you making progress?

A post by Anne JeffersonIt’s been a week since I issued the initial challenge to join me in a month-ish of intense writing activity. I’ve seen use of the #sciwrite hashtag pick up on Twitter, and 41 of you have now publicly committed to the project. As promised, here is a weekly check-in post documenting my progress and struggles during the week, and asking you to share yours. My update is below the fold, and I hope you’ll share yours in the comments here or on your own blog, with a link here. Remember, this is all about mutual support and accountability! Chris has also made this charming icon that you are welcome to use on your blog, if you’d like. Sciwrite logo, by Chris Rowan

So, how’s it going? Are we making progress?

What I’m writing: I’m writing a paper based on a thesis chapter completed by one of my M.S. graduates, Ralph McGee. When Ralph defended in May, he and I agreed that he would take the lead in turning one chapter of his thesis into a paper, and I would take the lead on the other one. The paper I’m leading will focus on the development and extent of ephemeral channel networks in the Piedmont. I’m also giving a talk on this topic at AGU, so I need to get my thoughts in order by early December, and writing the paper seems like a good way to order my thoughts. :)

How it’s going: At the beginning of the week, I had disorganized words, sentences, and paragraphs in the introduction, mostly complete setting and methods sections, and a partial results section. I spent the first part of the week doing more thinking and reading for the introduction, and I now have a plan, though it’s still not implemented. Later in the week, I turned to the results section, and spent Friday working hard on describing the channel network in terms of overall watershed morphology and evolution. I’ve got almost 600 words in this section, and I’m pretty happy with most of them, although there’s a couple of unfinished ideas in there still. I also decided that I need to have a multi-part figure to go with this section, and I lined up someone to help me transform ugly Excel graphs into publication-quality images in R. (Hi, Chris!)

Am I making progress? When I was nearing the end of my Ph.D., I set my defense date, several months out, in order to accommodate my committee’s travel schedules and to ensure I was done before the start of the following academic year. As I worried about whether I would make the deadline, one of my committee members gave me a piece of advice that I now apply on every big project, and which will sound familiar to my graduate students. This mentor told me to make a backward calendar. Once a deadline is set, figure out when the step before that needs to be done, and then figure out when the step before that one needs to be done, and so on. Make those personal deadlines, commit to them, and meet them. I’ve since learned that sometimes, despite my best intentions, life intervenes and I miss some step-by-step deadlines, but giving myself a map of how the whole project needs to proceed makes the project/proposal/paper much more likely to actually get done in a timely fashion. Here’s my backwards calendar for this paper:

Saturday, December 3rd: Leave for AGU. Submit paper using free wi-fi at the airport.
Monday, November 28th: Send manuscript to coauthor for final input. While I’m waiting for Ralph’s green light, I’ll make sure all references are in the right format, write a cover letter for the journal, and identify potential reviewers. I’ll also write the exam I’m giving while I’m away and my two AGU talks. (This is not insane. One is based on the paper. The other is a shorter version of the talk I gave in the Galapagos, with hopefully some new data from a co-author.)
Wednesday, November 23rd: I’ll use my Thanksgiving break child-care free time to get figures into final form, write the abstract, and put polishing touches on the text. I’ll also eat well and enjoy time with my kid.
Monday, November 21st: Conclusions will be written.
Friday, November 18th:Introduction and complete setting section will be written. I’ll send the paper as-is off to my coauthor for feedback.
Monday, November 14th:Discussion will be written.
Friday, November 11th:Complete methods and results will be written. Discussion and introduction will be in progress. All figures will be in at least draft stage.
Monday, November 7th:Current part of the results section will be completed. Multi-part figure will begin transitioning from Excel to R.

Right, then, sounds ambitious but hopefully do-able. Your turn.

Categories: academic life, by Anne
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Comments (13)

  1. tsherry says:

    Here’s my (short version) update:
    Data collection and refinement complete. See some new differences in data that were not apparent before. Gives us some big cannons for our discussion!

    Long version: http://goo.gl/D9J1x

  2. Dana Hunter says:

    9,208 words on the story I’m writing, some of which I may actually keep. Very glad at the moment I don’t have to draw figures and diagrams and other such things. Seeing what you all go through makes me realize how much harder scientific papers are than science fiction….

  3. Chris Rowan says:

    Goal 1: My share of text and figures for a multi-author paper that we’re planning to submit prior to AGU.

    Progress: 1,000 words (which are definitely draft-quality!), and data in good shape for one of the figures I need to produce. Plus some analysis that will contribute to further figures/text.

    Goal 2: Get a complete first draft of another paper to co-author so that we can thrash out modifications at AGU.

    Progress: Not much last week other than some thinking through of what I need to do. Definitely need to stop procrastinating on this one this week.

    I’ll give myself a B-.

  4. Erik K says:

    OK, I read through the draft of the paper and identified what I need to add. Scribbled in margins a rough outline of the data/discussion I need to contribute and tried to get my ducks in a row to start adding the material. Maybe about a C for my progress.

  5. Christoph says:

    Task one is solved thanks to the (self made) semi-official pressure. I can not describe what exactly this pressure is like, by the way. I am exposing myself by taking part in this challenge, applying pressure that lead me to work a bit more on this specific topic, despite there were no real consequences if I didn’t… However, my first task was to re-submit a manuscript that was on my desk for weeks without any changes. And I managed to, finally, thanks to Anne’s initiative. Second task is preparing a proposal to gain some research funding. By the end of the week I want to finish the structure of the text and I want to have the state of the art written. I dropped some lines on my progress here: http://www.paleoseismicity.org/blog/2011/11/04/whats-up-the-friday-links-21/

  6. Brian Romans says:

    I haven’t even started yet … finished and submitted a proposal last Friday (I didn’t include that in my goals since it was close to deadline when this challenge started).

    I’m going to be gettin’ in the groove this week though, will (hopefully) have more to report next week.

  7. SnowHydro says:

    I’m working on two things for #sciwrite, both of which are co-authored.

    Paper 1 is with an MSc student who finished in Jan and is – needless to say – not working F/T on thesis papers. He sent me a second draft of the manuscript and I spent a day editing and re-organizing. The figures are all good to go. It’s the text that needs work – particularly the Discussion, where there’s limited reference to other work in the field.

    Paper 2 is with a colleague in govt, and is sort of a part II (field experiment) to the first paper we did based on a lab experiment. The first paper was submitted (and rejected in record time as being more suitable for another journal!), so is now awaiting submission to another journal. The current paper, however, is a mammoth document with too much data, too many figures/tables, too much text. Yesterday I pared down figures and cut out text to highlight the main message. I also outlined a potential structure for the Discussion – as what we have right now reads like an extended results!

    Not being first author on either of these papers – and working with coauthors who don’t have the same motivation as a tenure-track academic – makes the process somewhat frustrating. But – the goal is to get both submitted before AGU…

  8. mcshanahan says:

    Way to go Anne – looks like you’re making great progress! The reverse calendar is a great strategy. I learned that lesson from my supervisor too (and I had to make a tight one because she gave me a hard deadline by leaving the university!)
    I’m hoping to have two things finished (to varying degrees) by the deadline. The first is paper based on qualitative analysis of transcripts of science teachers and scientists working together during a summer project. At the beginning of the week, the first half of the introductory materials were written and in reasonably polished form. During the week, I finished editing the second half (which had previously been roughed out), wrote the methods section and edited it and did a final analysis of one of the transcripts. There are 5 more transcripts to go and they each need to be analyzed in two different ways so still lots to do but it’s coming along.
    Have a great week of #sciwrit[ing] everyone!

  9. Meagen Pollock says:

    Goal 1: made it about half-way through the social media project. Thought I would get further, but since it’s not due until Thanksgiving, I feel okay about this.
    Goal 2: just had a lunch meeting about the CSD project, which felt productive but no writing yet.
    Side-trip: spending the week with collaborators who are unrelated to goals 1 and 2. Still feels productive because I’m working on research, but not toward my #sciwrite goals. Maybe I should reevaluate? I give myself a C so far.

  10. Hollis says:

    Thanks again, Anne, for the challenge to join the writing frenzy, it’s working. I’m PI on a project to find, characterize, evaluate and map high elevation grasslands in the South Dakota Black Hills. Products include two pubs: the vegetation, and ecological integrity assessment and conservation sites. I just sent outlines and draft abstracts to my co-author (I’m lead on both). Plot data q-c didn’t happen due to conflicts in colleagues‘ schedules, we’ll do it this week. I posted a blog-erized version of the abstracts here:
    http://plantsandrocks.blogspot.com/2011/11/black-hills-montane-grasslands-writing.html

  11. I’ll be posting a blog entry with more detail about this in the next day or so, but here’s the short version. Paper 1 (birders and information) was not touched last week because it’s farther along in the revision process and I was going to be away for a few days. Paper 2 (Flickr Commons) got a reread in order to see how it held up and whether any changes needed to be made. I did the reread today (oops), but I was pleased to find that it held up well. The main thing I need to do with it is update the literature review and do a bit of prose polishing. I probably ought to try make the charts look a little more interesting, too!

    My goals for week two are to expand and check the statistical analysis part of Paper 1, and to attack the lit review for Paper 2 by reading some additional articles I already have and seeking out others that may be relevant.

  12. Ron Schott says:

    Eight days in and I’ve got 8 blog posts. Only one of those was writing intensive, so far, but it’s a start.

  13. I’m making progress with finishing off my thesis and the manuscript my supervisor are working on. I added a new figure and did some edits on once chapter over the weekend. I finally got through the background reading/thought organizing needed to write one section of background information that is critical to the thesis and the manuscript. I’m currently working on doing the same for another background section–just about the last thing I need to finish off another chapter. And I’m compiling a couple of different databases of my data so I can finish the draft of a third chapter. That should take me the rest of this week, and then I’ll be over a major hump in my progress.

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