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I finished my Bachelor's degree this year. I worked on some research with my advisor and after a few months, we decided that there's enough interesting research to be able to write a paper. This will be my first paper. He told me that I'll be the first author and asked me to start working on it. After the initial excitement wore off and I sat down to actually start writing the paper, I was, and continue to be, plagued with self-doubt and confusion. Following are a few aspects I find daunting about the process of paper writing:

  • I am suddenly unsure if my results are even correct or sophisticated enough. I feel worried that I have either made a mistake somewhere or that my results are incomplete and there's more to be done.
  • I am intimidated by the prospect of writing the introduction, which is usually a high-level literature overview. Although I have read multiple papers for my work, and based my project on a seminal few, I am worried I won't be able to describe the state-of-the-art in the field well enough or forget to cite an important paper that I don't know about.
  • My writing's not academic enough.

I did tell my advisor about this, and he assured me that he understands and asked me to share the manuscript with him. But I cannot bring myself to do it because a) it's very incomplete and b) I feel worried that he'll go through it and be disappointed in me. I know it's probably irrational but I cannot help feeling this way.

These feelings have severely hindered the progress of my paper and research. Is it normal to feel this way and how do I tackle them and get on with writing my paper?

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    Congrats for the opportunity! It is normal to feel that way. Research is both challenging and rewarding. There will be always a lot of ups and downs. Don't be discouraged.
    – Neuchâtel
    Commented Dec 30, 2022 at 9:32
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    He said "Start working on it" ... so it is natural that you will have a partial manuscript to share with him, then he will reply with comments, or even re-written sections. And you continue, back-and-forth like this, the paper getting better as you go. It is OK if your first draft does not even have an intriduction.
    – GEdgar
    Commented Dec 30, 2022 at 10:02
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    Regarding the two reasons you don't allow yourself to give your manuscript to your advisor: a) is precisely one of the main reasons people give their manuscript to their advisors; usually there's a constant come-and-go between both to polish (and sometimes rewrite!) the manuscript until it's ready to be send to revision to other people which will also return your paper to be more polished; THIS IS PERFECTLY NORMAL; b) no advisor ever expects to receive a (almost) perfect first draft; there's hardly a chance for dissapointment specially when you've been told that your research is worth a paper-
    – Josh Part
    Commented Dec 30, 2022 at 19:27
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    Slightly off-topic and probably a somewhat tangential advice, but what I'm detecting here is a (quite heavy) fear of failure on yourself; this could cause serious problems for you from here on, so I suggest that (independently on what you do to push and allow yourself to write this paper) seek help for that issue on a personal level. Congratulations on your chance and best of luck with your publication.
    – Josh Part
    Commented Dec 30, 2022 at 19:30
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    Don't worry about your writing begin "not academic enough". Trying to copy a writing style blindly will just lead to everyone copying the same bad habits (in addition to the good ones). Write for clarity and precision (and probably conciseness, depending on the page limits used in your field). The good parts of the common academic writing styles are generally in service of one of those goals.
    – Ray
    Commented Dec 30, 2022 at 19:39

3 Answers 3

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Let me start by pointing out that the usual way to learn how to write an academic paper is to write a really bad draft, get it critiqued by a supervisor, to rewrite it to make it slightly less bad, get it critiqued again (or even directly rewritten, if there is an imminent deadline); and to then repeat the process a couple of times. You have done Step 1 ("Write a really bad draft"), and proceeding to Step 2 ("Give your supervisor the chance to tell you what is wrong is it") is the natural next step.

To your specific points:

  1. Worry that the results are not sophiscated/interesting/impressive enough.

You aren't really qualified to judge this. It is common to feel that since you understand your own work, whereas what other people have done is harder to comprehend, your own work must be too simple. Ignore this feeling. If your supervisor thinks the results are enough to try and publish, wait and see what the referees say.

  1. Worry that your results are wrong.

This one is a good worry, as long as it is productive. Double-check, triple-check. Include the steps you have taken to be absolutely sure in the draft.

  1. Worry that your results are incomplete.

It is very rare to have the ultimate answer in any one paper. If you have concrete ideas, discuss with your supervisor whether it is worthwhile pursuing them before publication. If you just have the generic feeling that there is more to be done, ignore it. It's probably right, but it doesn't matter.

  1. Writing the introduction

There are two ways to handle writing the introduction: A. Write a sloppy one at the start, then write the paper, then completely rewrite the introduction. B. Write the introduction last.

Definitely don't try to write a good introduction early on in the process, that just causes writer's block. Moreover, the introduction is where you put your stuff into the broader context. Naturally, the introduction will be the section where it makes the most sense to have your supervisor write it (if it is a co-authored paper). So don't worry about this, and don't let the remaining worries derail or delay writing the rest of the paper.

  1. Writing style

The one experienced that helped me develop my own writing style the most was writing a draft, and then reading the complete rewrite a coauthor of mine did to it. I could still see the thoughts I had brought to paper, but they were expressed much clearer, much more elegantly. By studying the changes I learnt a lot. So, going back to what I wrote first: Yes, your style may be bad. Your supervisor is going to expect a bad draft. You'll get better by getting feedback and learning from it, which means you have to let your supervisor read the bad stuff you have written.

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  • Thanks so much @Arno! Lots of useful advice here.
    – justauser
    Commented Dec 31, 2022 at 3:37
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Do not worry!! This is 100% normal. Trust your supervisor - they are an expert and they think your work is good.

Don't worry about being sophisticated. No one really wants to read sophisticated stuff anyway - given a chance to read a simple, interesting paper and a complex "sophisticated" one I know which I would prefer.

And also, don't forget that whatever you write and submit to a journal will then be looked at by the editor and a couple of peer reviewers whose job it is to a) check it's good and b) suggest ways you can make it even better.

"Academic writing" is often dull, uninspired and unreadable. Just write as clearly as you can. Your readers will thank you for it. Don't try to be "academic" with it.

You got this - don't stress - trust the process!

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  • Thanks a lot @Flaming Ducks! This is reassuring.
    – justauser
    Commented Dec 31, 2022 at 3:36
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Congrats for the opportunity of writing your first paper!

I did tell my advisor about this, and he assured me that he understands and asked me to share the manuscript with him.

If your supervisor gives you this opportunity, and wants to sit down with you on the manuscript, definitely take advantage of it and do it. That's what supervisors are for - they serve as mentors. As long as you don't get any input from outside, it's hard to improve. If you take the opportunity to learn from them, you will automatically improve your academic writing style - which is difficult to get into in the first place.

The fear that the state of your manuscript will reflect badly on you is therefore, in my opinion, somewhat unfounded. If your supervisor trusts you enough to write a paper, they already have a good opinion of you and will certainly not lose faith in your abilities because of an incomplete paper.

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  • Thanks a lot @pbaer! :-)
    – justauser
    Commented Dec 31, 2022 at 3:36

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