The Stages of Writing an Academic Paper

also known as: The main source of procrastination for grad students


This week has been pretty chill in the real (outside grad school) world so I don’t have a ton of pictures to show. Instead I’ll talk about writing an academic paper ya know, since I’m procrastinating on writing an academic paper.


Stage 1:

Image result for joy

Happy in all colors!!!

No really, you’re pretty excited that you finally have enough “good” data to write a paper! Congratulations! You’re super stoked about getting your name out there and you dream of all the fame and glory that comes with the most revolutionary paper that’s highlighted in Nature or Science.

Stage 2:

I have to make how many graphs?/What does this even mean?/Whose idea was this?

This is the stage where you actually start trying to make sense of all the data you meticulously recorded over a period of weeks/months/years. 9/10 times you wonder what possessed you to record the geometry of a specimen when you actually needed the weight of it, and you didn’t record the weight so now you have to go back and do that so your data can make sense.

Rinse and repeat for a while.

Stage 3:

Writing time! It’s time to put words on paper! So exciting!

but not really

Just about every academic paper (STEM related) follows the following general format:

  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Materials and Methods
  • Results
  • Discussion
  • Conclusion and Future Work

While this seems very simple what this actually means is:

  • Summarize 4 months years of work in 250 words (editors laugh maliciously)
  • Lit review! Where you talk about what everyone else has done that’s basically the same thing you did and they already wrote about it and you ‘read’ 40 papers that are cited. Then you go into how your way is better and different from all those others.
  • What did you do and how did you do it? <– This is typically the easiest part of the paper to write
  • GRAPHS, PICTURES, DATA but you can’t explain it yet. Gotta build some suspense by showing everyone your results while not saying what it means
  • Let’s talk about what what is on my graphs. Suspense ends here. This is where your work blows everyone out of the water in some mind-boggling revelation that your data clearly displays.
  • This is what I did, and because x, y, and z effed up, I’m going to pretend that fixing those issues will be my future work.

Basically, if you try to write this in any sensible order, you will be miserable.

This is also the stage where you put off writing the actual paper for as. long. as. possible. while the paper haunts you in your dreams.

Step 4:

You finally finish writing your first draft and send it to your PI and he/she hates it. You go home defeated.

Repeat steps 3 and 4 until you and your PI are happy with the paper and all the edits you have made.

Step 5:

Submit it to a journal!! You are confident that everyone will love your paper and that there are absolutely no holes in your logic and you’ve covered every possible scenario to test your hypothesis.

<- Side note: at this point in the process, your paper is sent to 3-4 people in your field for them to read and review->

Step 6:

You have been judged. And deemed unworthy.

Reviewer 1: “Looks great! The data clearly supports the hypothesis and the explanation makes sense.” OK to publish

-We love reviewer 1 and will typically address every comment they make

Reviewer 2: “Not a huge fan of this one outlying data point, could you make it go away? Other than that loved it!” OK to publish

-See reviewer 1

Reviewer 3: “This is the worst paper I have ever read. Seriously, who let these idiots do research anyways?!? Everything needs to be re-tested and you also need to do these additional 30 tests to even start to prove your hypothesis” OK to burn in hell

-This reviewer can suck it. Clearly they missed the entire point of the paper and probably didn’t even read it! All of your comments shall be ignored/we shall come up with some kick ass comebacks to all your hate.

Step 7:

Follow up with your edits and repeat steps 3 and 4 until you and the PI are happy with the paper. Resubmit paper to journal

Step 8:

WOOOOOOOOOOO!!!! Congrats your paper will now be published and fame and fortune shall be yours! Your research has changed the world!*

*This strongly depends on the impact factor (how many people even read this sh*t)  of your journal. The higher the impact factor, the more important you are.

Once you have finished celebrating your acceptance, you begin planning what you should do for your next paper cause any grad program worth it’s clout will not give you a PhD having published only 1 paper.





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