How long does it take you to produce a journal paper, from start to submission?

(24 Posts)
paperbackwriterish Wed 14-Sep-16 18:25:01

I am frustratingly unproductive. In fact, depressingly so.

I manage to produce one paper a year, maybe less. Everything I have written has eventually got published, but still, it's rubbish and noted by my institution. I do loads of other stuff, impact related especially, so this is partly a time allocation issue. I also work standard office hours, so rarely evenings or weekends. But it just seems to take me ages to get a paper out. I have been thinking about why this is and how it could change, and whether I am just really really slow. I have essentially single authored everything so far (notionally, I have had a co-author, but she has never actually written a single word). I have now developed relationships with several other co-authors who are actually writing with me on several new papers, so that should help. But do I just need to somehow speed up?

So I am interested. How long does it take you in terms of weeks/months, on average, to get from the very start of a paper - blank sheet - to submission? How do you manage to have several on the go? What else can I do?

I'm in social sciences by the way. Thanks all!

OP’s posts: |
astormgivenflesh Wed 14-Sep-16 18:28:45

Depends if we include all of the time I spend ~worrying and stressing about writing! I can write a book chapter or journal/ conference paper in about a month first draft - peer review and back and forth if co authored adds a few more months. Aim for 3/4 a year and usually meet it. Social sciences too! smile

paperbackwriterish Wed 14-Sep-16 19:12:41

OMG!! A month! That's amazing. Gulp.

OP’s posts: |
astormgivenflesh Wed 14-Sep-16 20:14:46

I wrote a book chapter, to be published this December, in three days but it took months in actuality because of the back and forth between my co author after the initial first draft and then peer review suggestions added another month so in total, 3 months?

Don't beat yourself up my love, writing isn't easy and it can be hard to get down to it. I'm the same in terms of motivation tbh - if I have an idea or commission I can smash it out but left to my own devices I am terrible!!

HellsBellsnBucketsofBlood Wed 14-Sep-16 20:25:28

DH manages about 4 articles a year, plus book editing and conference papers. Doesn't publish them all straight away though - he's got enough in press for he next REF so he rest are on ice for a while.

Though next year will be much less productive as its a "massive research project" year.

TheHubblesWindscreenWipers Wed 14-Sep-16 20:36:31

For me it depended mainly on getting the lab results - obviously that can take months to years depending on the work being done.
Actually Writing Shit Up (invited reviews, grants, book chapters, papers) usually went faster. I managed to get an invited review out (for one of the Nature journals, preen, preen) in three weeks once. That involved reading maybe 3-400 papers, calling a few folk to talk to them etc. No peer review and no corrections on that, so obviously no delays. And a deadline.
Book chapter? Rough draft in 4-8 weeks depending on subject, grants can take months, a standard lab based paper a few weeks. Then of course all the bloody faffing with running it by people, peer review yadda yadda..
I will add the caveat that I'm good at writing papers (better than I am in the lab if I'm honest) and more crucially, I enjoy writing. Also that I did all that before I had kids. grin

What do you think slows you down? Other duties? Are you champing at the bit to write or not enjoying it and putting it off? I think the advice is give would be quite different depending on whether it's a don't have time issue, a don't like doing it issue or something else..,,

Bountybarsyuk Wed 14-Sep-16 20:42:05

I am also much slower than some on here, also I usually publish empirical papers so have to do the research to put in it in the first place, and that can take anything from a few months to a couple of years depending on the project.

I can probably get a first draft out in a month if I do little else, but with teaching loads, that's often extremely hard to do in term time. I try harder in the summer, and if I have study leave, which we still do occasionally at our institution, that's an ideal time too.

It sounds like you are about to become more productive so try not to worry about the past, just keep writing with your new collaborators and you can have a nice cluster together in the next year or two.

Parietal Wed 14-Sep-16 21:14:36

collecting data can take 3 months - 3 years depending on the project. as for writing up, some get done in 3 months, but I've another on my desk where we finished collecting the data about 4 years ago. it has been rejected by a couple of journals and now we are turning it around for the next.

how many words in a typical paper in your field?

HistorianMum Wed 14-Sep-16 21:32:48

Historian in case you hadn't guessed grin, but on the social science side of history. If you count archival research, then at least a year start to finish. Actual writing can maybe be a month, but that's after months, maybe a year or more collecting data, working it out, planning etc. Then 6 months peer review is standard in my field, plus maybe 3-6 months revisions depending upon journal. I think a paper a year, 2 max would be considered productive in history if done alongside teaching etc - if you get research leave, then people expect more, usually a book. But sounds to me like your department should be helping you out here - do you have a mentor or similar? My department insists everyone is mentored, and part of the process involves thinking about workload, priorities and how to manage them. You might also want to think about whether you are overly perfectionist/lack confidence - perhaps you could be getting stuff out sooner but are holding back because you don't believe it's good enough yet?

arclight Thu 15-Sep-16 10:38:28

Also not the fastest writer - 4-5 months to get to submission. The number one way I've increased outputs has been to get involved in more collaborations. I seem far more motivated to turn around a draft if someone else is relying on me, rather than needing to do it just for myself.

paperbackwriterish Thu 15-Sep-16 17:34:38

Thanks so much everyone. This has been helpful and inspiring. Lots of points to bear in mind.

Parital - re: words, anything between 8,000 - 10,000 words.

But not sure if the word count is the issue for me, it's more pinning down a meaningful theoretical contribution. Sometimes I feel as though my intelligence is too limited to do that well, and others I feel that I really haven't understood properly what reviewers are looking for. Maybe that's the same thing.

Related, I have been thinking about the paper I am working on right now. I started this a year ago, and it probably did only take me a month to get a rough first draft. But then I showed it to one eminent professor in the field who said, great, do this. So I did. I then showed it to another eminent professor in the same field who said, oh no no, do this. So I thought OK, and did. And then I sent it to him again when I had, and he said oh no, what I MEANT was, do this. Each time this involved situtating the paper in a different literature, so returning to do more reading etc. So then (feeling demoralised by this point) I showed it to another professor who said, I think it's fine, just finish it and send the bloody thing off. So I will,

But in retrospect, I think I could have stuck with the original idea, and taken up the second suggestion as a separate paper, rather than starting from scratch each time.

Also ... procrastination caused partly by lack of confidence.

Anyway - thanks again, food for thought.

OP’s posts: |
MedSchoolRat Thu 15-Sep-16 20:36:47

procrastination = recurring theme on Shits Academics Say.

"pinning down a meaningful theoretical contribution"

gosh that sounds painful, I have no idea how anyone does that. The closest I come to that is when I try to find evidence that >Buzzword Idea< makes anything useful happen in real world. But the evidence is so discouraging that I end up discussing theory (= subtle dig at papers with > 300 citations each that argue that >Buzzword Idea< is very clever & will make miracles happen).

fluffikins Fri 16-Sep-16 13:25:43

Think it depends on discipline. I've been told 2 a year is good for mine and I just about manage it but due to time taken to collect data it might be that I have no papers for 2-3 years and then have 6 out in a year.

nolly3 Fri 16-Sep-16 14:52:51

From start to finish, anywhere between 5 years (record) and a year. The number of publications per year depends on how many yo have moving through the process any any one time. I'm often waiting for co authors to write, or analyse or whatever. A project may take 2 years to complete, but if all the work is done the actual paper might only take a month to pull together. Just keep stuff moving along and you'll be fine

Deianira Fri 16-Sep-16 17:32:51

In terms of your example above, I do think that while getting reviews or suggestions in advance is handy, the actual peer review process will give you the comments that matter most for a particular location, so adjusting anything too much before that can be time wasted if you're trying to be ruthless. For example - if colleague A says 'you could include a section on trucks here!', and you rewrite accordingly, colleague B thinks a section on buses would be nice, so you rewrite again, but the peer reviewers when you submit don't care about trucks or buses but want you to add a section on boats, you've now added 3 new sections when you could have just added one - and taken the time rewriting for all 3 when one would have sufficed. So there is something to be said for just getting it done with minor rewriting (maybe one trusted collegiate reviewer, and no more?) and sent off - after all, if it gets turned down at that stage, you still get useful feedback for improving it, and it avoids the issue of conflicting opinions on what would improve it the most.

I can get the original writing done pretty quickly, but my weakness is editing - I get bogged down too easily. As a result, I've started just rewriting from (sort of) scratch at the editing stage, and found that this has helped me speed this part up a lot. It might be worth breaking down your process to find out where you are sticking, and see if there are specific bits you can speed up - e.g. is the reading/researching stage slowing you down, or is it writing the first draft? Or editing? There are hundreds of methods/techniques floating around that you can try for doing the various stages more quickly.

Keeping multiple things going at once - I have friends who schedule their research down to the morning/afternoon on particular pieces, and just keep everything very focused on that piece in the assigned time. I am afraid that I am far less disciplined - on research days, I have everything open at once, and literally hop from one to another all day. The advantage of this is that when work on one slows down, another speeds up, and I am never sitting looking at anything which isn't progressing (so if I get stuck on the second paragraph of piece A, piece C gets a new chunk written instead). I imagine it's not actually very efficient for things like concentration, but it seems to work for me.

bigkidsdidit Fri 16-Sep-16 20:20:42

I think you need to ask fewer people's opinions before sending it off - just one, maybe?

purplepandas Fri 16-Sep-16 21:33:56

I am not fast either. Finding the right people to write with helps I think. It has taken me ages to figure that out! Being harsh in terms of not allowing myself to start anything else paper wise until I finish what I am working on. With teaching on top and a family, it is bloody hard.

worstofbothworlds Mon 26-Sep-16 09:59:17

I got notification of a special issue when I came back from my second mat leave, in the March, and submitted a paper in the September. I was working 0.6.
I astonished even myself.
I had previously analysed the data because it was a conference presentation but there was a lot of lit review as the special issue was on a slightly tangential topic, and then it was miles too long and I had to cut it down.
I had two co-authors but one I didn't expect or get much from as she had been the one driving the data collection but was doing other stuff, the other was also in theory now in a non-academic job but gave it the once over which was helpful.
So I'd say yes, sending it to fewer people is helpful!

I am now trying to cut down a paper for a different journal (I had a strop with the editor of the first journal after about 3 rounds of revisions) and have taken probably another 6 months to reduce it to not short enough.

So I am not a paragon by any means!

OldLagNewName Thu 29-Sep-16 16:02:53

I think my quickest was about five months. More often a year or so. Current paper I've been trying to write for about two years and will never get it done

worstofbothworlds Thu 29-Sep-16 19:51:24

We recently locked my former PhD student in a room had a local writing retreat and got most of the intro, the methods and results done in a day (mainly copy and paste from thesis). I think I need to find a good cafe/cottage with Wi-Fi or something to do the same for myself, especially for something that's already e.g. a conference paper.

bigkidsdidit Fri 30-Sep-16 06:05:36

Be like jk Rowling and book yourself into a hotel - no coming out until it's done!

lovingmyginandiphone Tue 04-Oct-16 06:10:15

The professor I work with does around 30-40 papers a year but that includes lots working with other people so getting together with researchers in your area is key. We also have the expectation that the researchers in our institute have at least 3 a year but we provide support by way of mentoring and regular writing retreats (residential and non residential) for 2-3 days with focused time to write without accessing emails etc....

I think the latter is key. You need dedicated time to write and not just an hour here or there but a significant chunk of time to allow flow..... grin

bigkidsdidit Tue 04-Oct-16 12:11:02

40 papers a year!!! Bloody hell

worstofbothworlds Tue 04-Oct-16 12:36:03

I have heard people like that loving referred to as "publishing every bus ticket".

I actually find that little and often works for me, in general - even on the busiest teaching day in theory I should be able to write for 20 minutes, so I set a timer on my phone.

I need to make myself do that first thing more, though, as I tend to end up with less than 20 minutes before nursery pickup.

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