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I don't know how to put it. I have never published before. Previously my one paper was rejected, that was because the experiments were not ready and my advisor asked me to still submit it just to have practice.

Now, 6 months later, I am writing another paper (on a similar topic). I have done some experiments, some are still going on. My advisor had advised me that "even if your experiments are not complete you should still start writing the paper".

But I'm doing a lot of procrastination and I think I am scared of writing and possible rejection. I have done a lot of writing in other forms before, like blogging etc. But the thought of writing an academic paper with all the stringent rules (everything has to be clearly written, cited, nice flow of thoughts) is scary.

Please let me know how should one's mindset be while in the process of writing a paper.

  • 23
    Do not listen to the Impostor Syndrome. – JeffE Sep 17 '12 at 13:19
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    Read through this question and its answers: academia.stackexchange.com/questions/2219/… – Bravo Sep 17 '12 at 13:28
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    We've all had papers rejected. I had my first paper rejected, and I was gun shy for a while after that. Eventually I got over it, and now I still have lots of papers that got rejected, but almost all of them eventually get published. – Dan C Sep 17 '12 at 19:15
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    Rejection is a healthy sign. If you are not getting rejected, you are not aiming high enough in the hierarchy of journals. Your work won't get accepted to a 1st tier journal by submitting first to a 3rd tier. – Paul Sep 17 '12 at 20:19
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    i really feel for you. I am in the same state when it comes to project proposals... for me, it helps having someone else at my level, so not a senior, to exchange ideas and co-write. If the thing gets rejected, it's easier to have a laugh afterwards.. – ElCid Sep 20 '12 at 13:25
36

There are two points in your question: writing a good paper and the fear of being rejected. For the first point, there is no miracle recipe, although there are some clear guidelines of what is expected to be in a paper. You can find many useful resources on the Internet on "how to write an academic paper", and you will have to select what suits you the best. In general, a good way is to understand what you like in your favorite papers, and reproduce the same scheme.

As for the fear of rejection, well, it's a bit cliché, but you just have to get over it. People get papers rejected all the time, even the top professors, sometimes it is fair, sometimes it is not. If you plan to pursue in the academic world, you should expect to get papers rejected until you retire. It's normal not to like it, but somehow, you have to deal with it.

Most of the time, when a piece of work reaches a good level of maturity, I build a quick "submission tree", that is, I look at which conferences I could submit the work, and the overlap between the notification dates and the submission dates. At the end, I have something like: I could submit to Conf1, and if it's rejected, I have one week to make it better and to submit to Conf2, and if it's rejected, ..., or I could submit to Conf3, and if it's rejected, I have two weeks to work more and submit to Conf4, etc. So, basically, the possibility of rejection is directly included in the submission strategy.

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    Thanks. So, you are saying, one should write in the state of being unsure about the outcome? – user13107 Sep 17 '12 at 12:37
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    Well, you should have the state of writing the best paper possible considering the time constraints, but since it's a competition, not an exam, you should consider from the beginning that your paper can be rejected, even if it's good. – user102 Sep 17 '12 at 12:40
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    Remember that when you submit a paper, you're reviewed exactly like any other author, i.e., like the guy who has already published 200 papers, knows exactly how to sell his paper, etc. Basically, the odds are not necessarily in your favour, which is why it's perfectly normal to get some papers rejected, especially in the beginning. – user102 Sep 17 '12 at 12:45
  • Ok. That kind of helps. Would it help if I assume that I'm writing the paper under a pseudonym / some other person as author (only until the paper gets completely written) so that I may remain emotionally unattached with it? – user13107 Sep 17 '12 at 12:55
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    Well, can't say, you should try and see. But for what it's worth, I'm proud of any paper I write, each new paper is the best paper in the world, if it's accepted, that's very cool, and if it's rejected, first, all the reviewers are just stupid, and then I read the reviews, understand them, and then promise that the next version will be even better than the previous, which was already the best. At least, that's my mindset :) All emotions are good, even the bad ones. The day I stop caring about my papers, I'll probably stop writing them. – user102 Sep 17 '12 at 13:02
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One thing that might help with the fear of rejection is to view your paper as though it was a blog post. Obviously, you won't submit something in blog style to an academic journal, but it might help to think about why you blog. You have ideas and thoughts you think are important and you want to share them with a wide audience, who might be interested in your ideas or use them as a jumping-off point for something they want to do. The purpose of an academic paper is the same (well, in addition to the career benefits of publishing). You want to share what you're doing with people who will be interested in the results, and who might find inspiration for their own work in what you've done.

It might even help, as an exercise to get past writer's block, to write a blog post about your research. (You may not want or be able to actually publish it on your blog, but it might help your thought process either way.) What are you investigating, what are your methods, how is it going so far, etc.? You can then take some of that material, formalize the language, add the appropriate citations, and include it in the appropriate sections of your paper. But picturing your blog audience, rather than some journal committee, reading your first draft might take some of the pressure off.

Another thing I find helps me with fear of failure is to accept that the first draft of anything I write will be crappy and focus on getting ideas down and revising later. I also found, at least as an undergrad English major, that it's easier to just write late at night. Something about being tired takes the edge off my self-criticism and gets the ideas flowing. I describe it as my internal editor going to sleep by ten o'clock.

14

This is not really a complete answer, but it's too long for a comment, so here goes...

Remember that whatever you write now is not going be submitted. You don't need to overcome your fear quite yet because you're just putting words on the paper for your own sake. Just open your favorite text editor and write down everything you can think of. Forget about editing. You are just taking notes so that you can read it later and understand what you did and what you had on your mind. Don't filter yourself. You are just emptying your head to make room for new things. Write to forget.

Then, when you run out of things to write, go back and clean it up a little -- until you think of something else to write. Rinse and repeat.

As the content gradually becomes more complete, you will have more time and peace of mind to work on the quality of the writing and aligning it with all the best practices and advice and theory and rules of academic writing.

But for now, what's the first thing you think of that you've been working on in your project? Now open your text editor and write that thought down.

9

Here is a great book about scientific writing, that concentrate on the article structure and the writing process more than on the grammar per se:

"Scientific Writing = Thinking in Words" by David Lindsay

This book gives good advices on the writing per se, such as:

  • What are the different section of a scientific article and what they should contain (e.g. how to choose a good title)
  • Tips on how to improve the message you want to transmit in your article
  • How to make a good poster/presentation
  • ...

It also provides great advices on how to build a good scientific question. It explains how a good question can facilitate not only the writing process but also the overall research. For me it is actually the kind of book any young researcher should read even before starting their research.

  • @EnergyNumbers sorry for the lack of details. I just added them. – Wiliam Sep 17 '12 at 13:54
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Like anything else in life, perform the task with the goal to succeed, and the likely outcome of failure.

Understand that rejection is all a part of the game. Very few people succeed more than they fail. As a matter of fact, upwards of 90% of all academic papers are rejected for one thing or another.

The most important thing is to keep track of mistakes that you've made with past academic papers. Write them down as bullet-points on a separate sheet of paper. Keep that paper right in front of you as you work on other academic papers to remind you of what NOT to do.

Practice makes perfect. If you're just starting out, it's likely that you're going to have many failures before you have a successful one.

4

If you didn't have any scientific writing class before, I think you should start buying a book about it, and read it. There are many titles avilable.

If you get one, it can give you some good advice on how to write (good) scientific papers.

  • No. We didn't have such a class. Is there any book you'd like to suggest? – user13107 Sep 17 '12 at 12:06
  • @user13107 I'd suggest to you "La scrittura tecnico-scientifica" of Emilio Matricciani but unfortunately it is available only in Italian. You can find many books on Play.com or Amazon.com – DavideChicco.it Sep 17 '12 at 12:10
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    Ok. Unfortunately I don't understand Italian. Thanks anyway. Edit OMG! That's a 400 page book. – user13107 Sep 17 '12 at 12:12
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Rejection can be hard to handle, but a good motivator is to look at people who's work was rejected initially widely, but ended up being immensely popular and profitable. Ghostbusters was rejected by three movie studios. Frank Herbert's manuscript for Dune was rejected by over 20 publishers. Lorenz's seminal paper on chaos was rejected several times if I remember correctly.

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