How to Work on a Research Draft

Being grad students, all of us write research papers and journals. But certain things that are quite subjective to everyone is writing skills, that improves only when we write more and also critically analyse what we have written. In this post, I have tried to list down some of the key points that are important while working on any research draft/paper.

  1. Prepare a skeleton of your paper first. This will provide a structure of how your paper will look like and will also help you in getting clarity on the placement of different sections and figures. This skeleton has to be revised at least 3-4 times till you feel that the whole story of your work was well narrated, and you haven’t missed any point.
    P.S. I apologise for using word ‘story’ here, but the purpose of using this word is to show that your paper should be coherent and sound like one piece of work. Most of us try to write individual sections separately and then try to stitch them together. However, this is not a very appropriate way to do this and quite often you start rambling.
  2. Once the skeleton is ready, prepare sub-points for your content that has to be placed, and also stick-on the figures. There may be a second thought here that why figures are placed first, as most of us keep on editing figures until the last moment of submission. However, something that I learnt from my adviser and observed from my little experience as well is if you place all your figures first you are almost 60-70% done with your work. You will get a fair idea of what you need to write and how to cover all points around the results that you have. It will also give you an idea about the length of each section and how much details are required in a particular section.
  3. Once you have the skeleton and this structure in place, try to analyse content critically and see if something is redundant or is missing. At this stage, it is easy to make a judgement that this content has to be there, and this is not so important. Once you start filling text in these sections, it becomes hard to remove or add sub-points as you may have to switch your theme/story around that.
  4.  Once you start writing certain things have to be taken care of:
    • Write precisely without rambling. Usually, we get overwhelmed with our results and keep on repeating similar text in multiple sections. This not only brings bad impression from reviewer but may also lead to self-plagiarism.
    • Try to cover all the details required to understand that context or section. Don’t make any assumptions about the reviewer knowledge here as he may or may not be knowledgeable about your research problem.
    • Try to be consistent in font styles, indentation, font size and figure labels. Although minor they exhibit your seriousness about your work.
    • Try to be consistent regarding usage of passive or active voice. Preferably you should choose active voice.
  5. Once the writing is over and you have covered all the required points, start analysing the content in a critical manner. This has to be done after some gap period usually called “cooling period”. This time gap is required so that you can focus on the big picture of your work instead of getting overwhelmed by you contribution. Once you start analysing your draft in a critical manner, you will figure out that some sections have redundant text and some are not interconnected well. Try to fix these issues and then take one more pass.
  6. After a third or fourth round of critical review, you will feel that now it is close to the final draft that can be sent out for review. This is the time when you need support from your peers and fellow professors. Try to convince them to provide a critical review in a similar way to yours. Once you have got comments from 3-4 reviewers, try to understand all the concerns raised by them and select which of them are important and need to be addressed. Try to answer them precisely in an appropriate way.
  7. Once you have addressed all the comments raised by your peers, try to take one more critical review yourself and see if something is left. At this stage, you should also take care of formatting, indentation and spellings mistakes. Once you are done with this pass you are ready to submit this draft for final review.

P.S. Pay attention while reading the ‘instructions for authors’. Quite often some instructions get modified close to the submission dates, and any violation of the prescribed format may lead to rejection of your work.

I hope this post covers almost all the steps that have to be taken care of while writing a research paper/journal. I will be more than happy to take inputs from readers and augment this, so feel free to comment on this.

Thanks for reading.
Manoj G.