Writing Challenge, Week 2: Define progress.

A post by Anne JeffersonSciwrite by Chris RowanIt’s been two weeks since I issued the initial challenge to join me in a month-ish of intense writing activity. Last week, I told you what I was doing and how it was going, and 13 brave commenters shared (and even graded) their own early progress. There’s also been sporadic use of the #sciwrite hashtag on Twitter, though I’ve noticed that there seems to be some association with declarations of suboptimal progress on writing committments.

I’ve been making some of those declarations myself. I proclaimed that I’d have one part of the results section done last Monday, complete methods and results by Friday, and introduction, discussion, and figures in progress too. Well, uh, … my week of writing didn’t quite go according to plan. Instead, I spent Monday’s writing time puzzling over that same results section. I just couldn’t wrap my head around the data for one of the field sites. Nothing I read helped me explain it. I finally decided I needed to dive back into the GIS data for the site, and on Thursday I found my smoking gun. A minor georeferencing problem essentially caused a portion of my dataset to be gibberish. ARGH!!! Friday, I redid the GIS work and began the process of rewriting the section. I had 600 words in that section this time last week. Now I’m up to 772, but every single one of those words has been changed multiple times in the past seven days. They are hard fought words and simple counting does not provide an adequate measure of progress. Instead, I’m viewing it as having done my due diligence on the dataset and saved myself from going way out on a limb to try to explain something that wasn’t actually there. So much better to have discovered this now than during peer review.

Thus, tonight’s subheading is “Define progress.” By any numeric metric, my week has mostly been a wash, but in terms of the quality of my science, it’s been a big gain. Not only because the data are now right, but also because all the reading, thinking, and head-scratching that I did in trying to figure this out has advanced my thinking not only about the paper, but about the way landscapes behave. Maybe this was just the “boink” I needed.

How about you? Did your week go smoothly and according to plan? Or do you need to define progress in a new way?

Categories: academic life, by Anne
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Comments (9)

  1. tsherry says:

    Alright, so I ended up getting my Results and Interpretation done a little later than I wanted, but I ended up finishing my Discussion section a day ahead of schedule.

    Even though I’m making progress, I still feel a bit behind. I’ve been putting of making my figures pretty and publishable, something that I tend to deal on and sink a lot of time into.

  2. Erik K says:

    Mine was an abysmal failure for writing, mostly thanks to grading and small ones. I have hope that some can be done during Thanksgiving Break, but AGU is around the corner. Ugh.

  3. Lab Lemming says:

    ” A minor georeferencing problem essentially caused a portion of my dataset to be gibberish.”

    Was your water traveling faster than the speed of light?

  4. Hollis says:

    I think it’s better to be concerned about general progress than to be obsessed with concrete goals. It would be a shame to forego potentially-useful side excursions. But then … my self-imposed schedule has been effective. Funny thing … there would be no dire consequences if I failed to keep to it but somehow being part of a group keeps me motivated. Also I create a post from the week’s work, making the whole endeavor more fun (plantsandrocks.blogspot.com/2011/11/unknown-grasses.html). So yeah, still on track, I completed the background sections for the draft publications.

    In contrast, we’re getting nowhere with needed data cleanup prior to analysis. Sad.

  5. @Lherzoliz says:

    I’ve always associated word counts with Rolling Stone articles (the more, the better – they used to get paid by the word) and conference abstracts (the fewer, the better – too much and you have to pay more or get cut off).

    Seems to me a big part of “progress” is simply sticking to the commitment of spending time on the writing process, whatever that entails- data processing, making figures, hunting down co-authors, rethinking hypotheses. There is a need to make this a priority at some level, even with necessary or fun distractions of work and life.

  6. My week was somewhat better than a wash, but my big main goal went undone, so I’m disappointed by that. Researching historic houses is much more fun to me than doing the statistical analysis on Paper 1, so that particular distraction won without much of a struggle. On the other hand, the lit review search and reading for Paper 2 went very well; again, reading papers is something I find more fun than statistics. I have another paper (Paper 3) that is trying to crash the party, but I’m trying to get it to wait until after #sciwrite.

  7. Chris Rowan says:

    If I measured progress in terms of word counts or to-do lists, it wouldn’t look very good. It stacks up better if I look at the time I’ve committed to my goals (although I definitely slacked off over the weekend). I’m trying to think of it for groundwork for the writing that will come later: when I’m writing my kick-ass Discussion section, I’ll be confident everything I’m writing about is solid.

    I also made a lot of progress on the major summary figure for Paper No. 1, which is probably the most important bit I’m doing on that. And, I got some quality thinking done on Paper 2, so I have a better idea of how to tie the story I’m trying to tell together.

    I plan to spend this week not looking at the calendar.

  8. I feel better about last week’s progress if I abide by Lherzoliz’s definition. I made little to no progress on my two goals for sciwrite with the exception of one stimulating lunch conversation. But, I did work with collaborators all week on two other projects and committed myself to another manuscript and proposal with January deadlines. This week looks better for my sciwrite goals. AGU looms large.