The Sassy Scientist – Finished Business

The Sassy Scientist – Finished Business

Writing a paper can be challenging. While it can be satisfactory to see your science coming together in a consistent story, writing a nice paper requires you to prepare appealing figures, a bullett-proof text and, potentially, dealing with co-autors. Mirja asks:

How do I finish a paper?

Dear Mirja,

Interesting question: over (more than a) few beers I heard colleagues and peers wondering how to start a paper but how to finish it is a rarer question. A paper is finished when you are ready to submit it. If this is your first paper you might feel insecure about it, and not know exactly when that point is reached. I submit to you the following rule of thumb: if you have re-read and spell checked the paper three times in a row and all that you changed is typos your paper is finished.

But before the spell-check, you may wonder when the content is actually finished. Keep placing yourself in the reviewer’s shoes (specifically, reviewer 2), meditate yourself into being a prick, get yourself a poison ivy tea and ask yourself: are there loose ends? Can your paper be criticised? If you find weak points in your methodology or conclusions, mention them (briefly, you don’ want to under-sell your work, right?) and claim you are going to explore possible fixes in future work. We all know this is code for “I am done here, moving on to the next project”, but nonetheless these are the magic escape words. Once you are confident that for every reviewer’s criticism you can safely answer “read the paper properly”, the paper is finished. If you are flying solo, you may want to ask some colleague to read your draft and give you their comments. Be careful, though: you want said colleague to both have a basic understanding of what you are working on, yet not to be too close to your field of experties (otherwise they might ask to become co-authors).

If you already have co-authors, however bad they are, it might be easier to understand when the paper can be submitted: when they stop asking you to change figures, add references to their own unrelated work and add sections that revolve entirely around one of their shower thoughts (but they are too lazy to actually write their own paper on them), the paper is ready. Your co-authors might simply be sick and tired of seeing your draft and eager to get this thing out of their pipeline. That’s great! The paper is finished!

Yours truly,

The Sassy Scientist

PS: once submitted, a paper is not finished. But I will tell you about this in future work.

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I am currently employed at a first tier research institute where I am continuously working with the greatest minds to further our understanding of the solid Earth system. Whether it is mantle or lithosphere structure and dynamics, solid Earth rheology parameters, earthquake processes, integrating observations with model predictions or inversions: you have read a paper of mine. Even if you are working on a topic I haven’t mentioned here, I still know everything about it. Do you have any problems in your research career? I have already experienced them. Do you struggle with your work-life balance? Been there, done that. Nowadays, I have only one hobby: helping you out by answering the most poignant questions in geodynamics, research and life. I am waiting for you right here. Get inspired.

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