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I have written a few manuscripts so far, and those have already been published in some ordinary peer-reviewed journals. However, I feel stressed so much when I write my new manuscript. How should this stress be handled or overcome? I feel that other researchers also feel similar to me.

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    It would help if you could say why you feel stressed while writing. It could for example be time pressure, the feeling of exterior expectations, the fear to fail or whatever. In each case an answer would be different…
    – Dirk
    Feb 25, 2016 at 11:20
  • @Dirk I would say, my expectation to publish in highly reputed journals is the first criterion followed by time constrains.
    – phenomenon
    Dec 1, 2016 at 4:19

7 Answers 7

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A few things that have really helped reduce the stress in writing for me:

  • Writing the introduction first and the abstract last. Hopefully, the background to your research won't significantly change during the writing process, so your introduction should be pretty static during the whole writing process. On the other hand, I've found that as I write a paper, what I believe to be the important aspects of the paper often changes with the writing process. As such, my first idea of what the abstract should be is often completely different than the final abstract.

  • Starting with a skeleton of the manuscript (i.e. titles of sections and subsections, with an explicit plan of what should go where). This allows you to break up all the writing and work in separate chunks. I found that I was surprised how much stress is involved in moving paragraphs around and trying to keep a good flow to the paper.

  • Starting with putting words on paper (that is, LaTeX, Word, etc.) with little concern for quality! My first draft is always going to be horrible, so my first goal is to put all the ideas down, just to get all the ideas on the paper. I'll worry how it looks later. Plus, there's nothing more frustrating than putting a lot of work in the "perfect paragraph", ultimately to decide it is not necessary for the manuscript.

  • Working in consistent, but divided blocks. I have to take the train for 2 hours everyday to get to work and back. But I'm amazed how much using these two blocks of time seems to help the quality (and reduce the stress) of my writing! When I try to write everything in huge blocks, my patience and attention to detail drops, leading to a sloppy writing. But when I consistently work in small blocks, my overall patience level is much higher.

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Your problem is common to many researchers, I think. However, the solutions are very different for each and everyone. My key concepts to avoid stress while writing, especially articles at the moment, consists of the following steps and ideas:

  • Strict time management. I set deadlines for every step I have to take. Like 1 week literature search, 1 week literature examination and reading, 1 week to construct a thesis and a research question etc. (or how long you need)
  • I try to create a structure of the article beforehand and extend it during the process of writing the paper. In the structure (I make a table of contents) I add bullet points to remember what important things I have to go through.
  • I continuously read and revise the mansucript I have already written.
  • When writing with co-authors I try to work together with them in one space, rather than skyping now and then. However, your time management is only as good as theirs, when you have to cooperate. So: direct communication with opennenss and honesty is important.
  • Never ever I plan to use extensions of deadlines. I only make use of extensions if things really are in trouble. Inform the persons who are awaiting your manuscript in time that you won't make the deadline.

All in all, the strategies against stress can also include recreational sports after an afternoon of writing. Or explicitly doing other things so that no other tasks are left behind. The perfect strategy is quite individual I think.

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  • Always make sure you have other productive work to do (proofread the current version, assemble next paper, check your growing bibliography database for accuracy, do some additional experiments, ...). Nothing is more demoralizing than sitting in front of a blank screen and not being able to write, and having nothing else worthwhile to do.
    – vonbrand
    Feb 26, 2016 at 17:14
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+100

I find it really helps me to start by doing a really bad draft version. The aim of it is just to get your ideas and points down on paper but you give yourself the permission for it to be terrible. Use bad spelling, bad structure, bad diagrams - it doesn't matter. It doesn't have to make sense to anyone but you at this stage. The focus is just on what you want to say and the message/conclusion you want to get across.

Once you've got all you points written in a bad draft, you can focus solely on fixing up the language, diagrams, structure and make it in a nice, publishable paper.

Breaking it down into these two stages helps me because I find trying to do both things (get my message across and write something of publishable quality) at the same time is really hard and stressful without years of experience (which I don't have yet).

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    Yes! Write, write, write. Get something on the paper. Get more of it on the paper. Does it make sense? No? Doesn't matter, edit later. And consider the edit a puzzle where it is enjoyable to move around the pieces until they fit. It's not an afterthought, but the main work (as it is in movies!), so consider it fun. Writing is like programming, except you do not program a CPU to follow your commands, but the brains of your readers to follow your thoughts. Understanding this can turn writing from a chore to a pleasure. Feb 26, 2016 at 18:13
  • Tough call, but this one was my favorite and the OP did not weigh in on the matter.
    – Ed V
    Jul 4, 2023 at 12:54
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I find perfectionism to be the thief of time in most cases whenever I get to work on a paper.

It is less stressful and more productive to prepare manuscript iteratively.

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This is something I learnt from my advisor and was very helpful for me (as I consider myself a big picture person and am more scared of words than tables and figures):

  1. We used to first put all the story which we are going to tell by only putting together final tables and figures
  2. Once we know what story we are telling from data it becomes very easy to have coherent theme
  3. Another big thing was create an excel sheet where I put in just broad overview of literature I reviewed. It contained column on relevant feature and one comment on what and why were we doing things differently. This was done prior to even starting the analysis.
  4. Once I had these two items, writing the story became very easy

This comment might only be relevant for people working with data rather than theoretical papers.

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Along the lines of other answers, I would suggest two things:

  1. Devoting oneself to just outputting a really horrible first draft--just keep typing without worry over quality and generate an outline or draft that one can build off of—is the way to break through writer's block, in my experience, additionally getting organised is so helpful, I make lists of what all I need to get done in a day using my calendar (time blocking) to make sure I'm making steady progress.
  2. hobbies: for me, this is exercise or lifting, which takes up my excess energy, anxiety, or mental space, leaving me less space for worry
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Note: this answer to an old but newly bountied question may be properly deleted as self serving shameless commerce, but I think it's still worth posting.

Check out Joan Bolker's Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day. It's not just about writing a dissertation, and doesn't prescribe strategies. Its goal is to help you discover what works for you.

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