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I want to write three papers from my thesis. But actually I am stuck. What is the first step to do?

Do I first choose the journal (more precise scope) and then I move on to write the article according to this scope. (Of course the choice of journal is based on my research topic.)

Or do I start with writing the paper and then move to choose the journal and readjust the paper according to the template and ameliorate it?

  • 6
    Talk to your supervisor! – Aditya Nov 2 '15 at 4:01
  • @Aditya - I can't talk to his supervisor, but his question applies to me. I wish I had someone who could give me some excellent direction here. – EngrStudent Apr 3 '19 at 21:25
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This may be field-dependent; I am answering from the point of view of an HCI-related CS subfield that is frequently in touch with other fields (for different use cases etc.).

Always choose your venue (concrete journal or conference) first before writing the manuscript.

The underlying core information you want to convey will remain the same no matter what. Hence, you may prepare a very abstract outline first. However, writing the paper before choosing a venue does not make much sense:

  • Important if you are in a field where manuscripts are formatted with the final styleguide: Each venue will require a particular formatting styleguide. While you should largely keep contents and format separate in your document, there are still more than enough detail decisions that require changes in your document according to the styleguide.
    • For instance, if you use LaTeX, depending on the venue-specific document template used, usually only one out of three or so alternative existing packages for a specific feature (e.g. subfigures, special tables, ...) will be compatible with the template.-
    • Also, at least I frequently find myself in a situation where I fill a paper up to the very last line (and page restrictions are very strict in my field). While different styleguides and page restrictions are roughly equivalent across venues, switching from one venue to another can easily mean gaining space for an additional figure or subsection.
  • Different venues have different audiences:
    • Even when presenting the very same procedure and findings, you will have to add a different set of explanations, references, etc., depending on the primary audience of the target venue.
    • Likewise, depending on the audience, sometimes you are better off starting with formal definitions and then presenting a concrete use case, whereas other communities prefer starting with a concrete problem and a case-specific solution description, and then formalizing that to a generic model.
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For most papers and journals, the adaption to the journal’s style, requirements and audience is comparably easy – the main exception being journals with a length limit. It happens very often that a paper has to be adapted because it was rejected by a journal and shall be submitted to another and often this can be done within a short time.

Nontheless, I recommend to try choosing a target journal before you start writing. The reason for this are:

  • Usually, choosing a journal does not cost more time when done writing the paper than afterwards. So there is no disadvantage to this.

  • Even if your paper would have only few journal-specific adaptions, it is still less work to consider or include them from the beginning. You are also less prone to make your work inconsistent due to this.

  • If you happen to choose a journal with a length limit, it may help a lot to know this from the beginning, so you can decide which information to include in the paper, include in the supplementary material or leave out altogether.

  • Choosing the journal and looking at journal’s guidelines and scopes may give you important information or reminders on how to best write a paper in the respective field. Of course, you could look at those independently of choosing a journal, but then you would have to look twice.

  • Having selected a journal and downloaded its style file you have done something for a start. This may help you overcome the initial writer’s block for your work. Looking at the journal’s guidelines may also help you in that respect. Finally, the same goes for selecting a journal in the first place, which may require you to make up your mind as to what will be the rough contents of your paper and what your central message and audience is.

Of course, this is only a general recommendation and needs not always be the best choice. If you have big trouble deciding a journal, it may help to write the paper first.

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Answering more for the biomedical sciences, but I'll echo what some other people have said: Yes, I'd choose at least a target journal, or at the very least a "genre" of journals if there are several competing journals, before writing a manuscript. This helps inform a number of things:

  • Format. This seems obvious, and is probably the easiest to simply adjust per journal, but it's still fiddly and time consuming, and you might as well skip the "Format Draft into Paper for Journal Target #1" step from the get-go.
  • Style. If you're working at all across disciplines, there's likely discipline-specific language that will come up from time to time, and the choice of journal can help determine that. For example, phrases like "...but this effect was not statistically significant" are less likely to fly in several major epidemiology journals, and conventions like "...is left as an exercise to the reader" just don't happen at all.
  • Content. Similarly, if you're writing for a general interest journal, a society journal with a narrow focus, of a different society journal with a different narrow focus, there's going to be some fine-tuning of content - what gets put in, what gets taken out, etc. Again, by way of example, the number of equations that I'd put in the same paper going to say Mathematical Biosciences versus American Journal of Epidemiology versus a clinical journal are vastly different.
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Different journals will only differ in terms of their manuscript templates, the exact content of your articles shall remain the same, only typeset according to the journal style. These things are very easy to manage if you are writing using LaTeX, since the body of the article stays the same, only the header part in the preamble gets altered, i.e. you call the relevant template in the document class. On the other hand, if you are using MS Word etc. too, the option of copy-paste remains valid, only the process is more messy.

It certainly makes no sense to jump the gun - first keep writing everything in some file (Latex/Word) in an arbitrary format, and finalize all these aspects only at the time when you have actually finalized stuff enough to be submitted to a journal. When that happens, you can adopt the relevant journal style.

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Depending on your field of research, I would suggest that the first step is coming up with a publication tree for the article. In other words, for any given paper idea, figure out the different potential venues the product paper might have. That way you can know what will happen if your first candidate venue rejects the paper. For your own career, there's nothing worse than having papers that cannot be published anywhere which took months or years of your time to write.

Then write the paper with the top candidate venue in mind. Get feedback along the way, etc.

It's not super important to follow their formatting guidelines while initially drafting, because it's purpose-less to master these for any given journal unless that's the only journal you're going to be publishing in. Instead, once the paper is written, then read their formatting guidelines and implement them.

Finally, submit, revise, etc.

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  • Def agree with this. You don't want to write an article that could only ever be accepted at one particular journal. The Waterfall strategy is best--write for the top and let it flow down to its natural level. – user10636 Nov 2 '15 at 20:58

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