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In our research group we do many things, but have little time for writing papers. Sometimes things like formatting the manuscript for some specific journal or just writing the intro and methods sections can be very easy things if what you do is almost always the same, or you just need to rewrite some parts from one paper to other. This is always (from my opinion) straightforward but needs lots of time. Therefore I started to wonder how could I find people for just writing and formatting manuscript 100% of the time. How would you do this?

P.S. I remember some years ago there were some websites where programmers could interchange between them "services" for free, for instance one would write some C# code if the other one could do a website for the other. Do something like this exist for academics where the services are "writing papers", "formatting grants", "getting bibliography", etc.

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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because ... it's either a troll or is some other b.s. – paul garrett Nov 11 '16 at 1:38
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    @paulgarrett The naivete of asking a question to which everybody knows the answer is "no" isn't a reason to close. – David Richerby Nov 11 '16 at 11:07
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    "Therefore I started to wonder how could I find people for just writing and formatting manuscript 100% of the time. How would you do this?" offer them enough money for what is probably a dull and unfulfilling job to be attractive. – Dikran Marsupial Nov 11 '16 at 15:26
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    I disagree with close votes. Questions for which the answer is "Things don't really work that way" can be helpful to inexperienced academics. – Cape Code Nov 16 '16 at 9:27
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    Since this question has moved up in the queue: to me, the premises are self-contradictory. Namely, apparently it is easy and boring and lower-status to write things out, yet of no interest to the group doing the research? If it's really so easy, just do it. If not, then the research group has a deficit in that regard. Further, I don't understand the alleged distinction between doing and documenting the work and writing it up. Piles of data lying around have far to go before being scientific conclusions communicable to other people. So then I wonder if it is a genuine question... – paul garrett Nov 20 '17 at 14:37
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Writing the manuscript is a significant scientific contribution. Is your research so trivial that anybody can interpret the data that you give them and write to a high scientific caliber on them, with no further inputs from you? Most likely, you'd need to also provide them with a rigorous analysis of that data, probably in writing form, since they might no share an office with you, and also for record keeping. That explanation becomes the crux of a paper that you could write yourself in the first place. The time spent explaining the data to someone not involved in an experiment will be greater than just writing the thing yourself. You'd be only saving time on tiny matters of sentence formulation, if you'd even save time at all.

Formatting a paper in my experience doesn't take that much time, so I'm not sure where you're coming from in on that point. Most journals provide you with a template that you can literally copy paste into. If something is straightforward as you say, it shouldn't take that much time at all. If by "getting bibliography", you mean compiling the bibliography, that will also be something that only you, being familiar with the experiment, can provide. A bibliography should be something that arises naturally from the need to reference previous methods/works for your analysis, not a chunk that you copy paste between papers without thoughts.

If you mean that they also do the data analysis, then they just become a regular scientific collaborator, with full authorship rights.

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Not enough time to write papers

Producing papers is a core part of your job. You cannot avoid this. Delegating writing (to non co-authors) is surely plagiarism. Nonetheless, you might be able to improve your efficiency.

Writing introduction and methods sections. Presumably, you made some notes when you started work, e.g., you formulated some hypothesis. Instead of writing such notes, you could write the first draft of the introduction.

Bibliography. I'm not sure what "getting [a] bibliography" means. Do you mean writing a "literature review"? If so, then that's something that also comes from your initial notes, when you establish the context of your proposed research in relation to the existing literature.

Co-authors. You can distribute the burden of writing amongst the group. In particular, PhD students can do the vast majority of any writing when they are a co-author.

Formatting manuscripts

This task typically isn't time consuming. Nonetheless, you could always hire an undergraduate to the work. You could hire me too -- but I doubt you could afford me!

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    "You cannot avoid this. Moreover, doing so is surely plagiarism" Both statements are wrong. By having co-authors who focus on the writing part, one can avoid writing, without committing plagiarism. – lighthouse keeper Nov 20 '17 at 10:15
  • I've replaced writing with producing. Regarding "having co-authors who focus on the writing part," that is already clear from my answer, under the heading of co-authors. – user2768 Nov 20 '17 at 10:29
  • Now it's not wrong anymore, but it also does not address the question anymore. – lighthouse keeper Nov 20 '17 at 10:40
  • I strongly disagree, but feel free to clarify why you think that. – user2768 Nov 20 '17 at 11:11
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+75

The assumptions that you operate under, as revealed by your question, would be virulently opposed by the vast majority of academics. You might get a sense of that from the other responses here.

I have come across a number of researchers who share your views. They feel that 'doing research' is more important than writing about it, and time spent writing is time wasted (especially introduction and such). This question here borders on such thinking.

It's absolutely untrue that writing is less important. This may be a shield to cover up lack of clarity or less critical, inadequate language skills. You should introspect on whether this is the case at your group.

If you want to hire people for money to write for you, those people are likely to be students looking to supplement their income or pay off a loan. The arrangement would probably work, but some people would find this exploitative, like a very mild version of a sweatshop.

If you want to have these writers work for authorship, you are going down a very slippery slope. What happens if the writer disagrees with your research? What if they want to add something of their own? It's quite natural to develop a sense of ownership and accountability after some time; how would you deal with that? How do you 'fire' these people without them raising misconduct claims? Note that I'm on pointing out practical difficulties, the ethical considerations that make this a bad idea should already be quite clear to you.

In summary, my advice is, don't. Make time to write, or wait till you have some downtime to write.

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In our research group we do many things, but have little time for writing papers.

Typically, a research group applies for grants, and the money pays for PhD students or postdocs who have a strong interest in publishing, so they often do the writing.

But there's an ambiguity in the question about the scope of the "writing" task:

  • Assuming that the literature review is done, the method is described and the results are analyzed, the job is mostly editorial and the person doing it doesn't need to be an academic: in this case your group can hire a research assistant or contract a company specialized in proofreading/formatting documents. This person wouldn't need to be a co-author (and they probably wouldn't care for it anyway since they are not in the academic system), but they would need to be paid.
  • If the task involves research skills, for instance the person is in charge of explaining why and how the research is being done, then they must be an academic of some kind and would be a co-author in their own right. It's common to assign this job to a PhD student or postdoc in the lab; if nobody is available, then it's worth extending your collaboration network through people met at conferences for instance. While it's probably possible to find academics just interested in having their name as co-author, most of them would want to participate in the research project from the start, not just helping writing the paper.

This distinction is essential: if it's a real research job, then it cannot be outsourced this way. On the other hand if it's a proofreading/formatting job, then it's possible if there's money to pay for it, even though it's not common.

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Formatting of a manuscript to fit the requirements of a specific journal is a nasty work, I must agree. However, I do not know any service to provide that support. Have you tried the Overleaf platform for collaborative drafting of scholarly documents? It's based on Latex but can be also used by non-experts in TeX. Many publishers support their authors by providing them an environment for specific journals at Overleaf. It's then formatted automatically in the right style on the fly.

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There seems to be a consensus in the answers given thus far that you cannot hire someone to do the writing part for you. Yes, as a current PhD, I find this answer to be true in my field as well. We all have to do it. Writing will continue to be an important part of your research; you will need to write papers and grants in the future.

In sum, it's part of your job. Just do it.

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On the first look the problem of finding collaborators has to do with motivating people and to find people who are interested in a subject. For example, a group is formed around a robotics research project and now the question is why it is so hard to find somebody who likes to fix the typos in a manuscript or likes to write the introduction. But what exactly motivates people to contribute to a project? Is it only money or has it to do with the academic subject? The answer is a bit more complicated. It has to do why a certain project is done by a group of people.

A research project doesn't start by itself. In most cases, the environment of a research group assigns a question to a group. A typical example is, that a university likes to figure out how to program a computer vision system for a biped robot and assigns this task to a workgroup. The reason why the people in the group are motivated is not because they are interested in the task itself, but they would like to do the job for the university.

Answer the problem of how to find collaborators is possible by referencing to the external customer of a research project. A research group can announce, that they have the assignment of a concrete customer and then the question is which authors likes to do the job too. Individuals are not motivated by money or the subject, but they would like to contribute to a certain external customer.

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