Lessons learned from writing my first academic paper

A couple of weeks ago, I completed my very first academic paper. Although I was quite anxious prior to getting started, the process unfolded surprisingly smoothly. I must say that I was lucky to benefit from the experience of my supervisors and colleagues, who were, as always, a big help. In this post, I thought I would share with you what worked well in this process of writing my first paper. I hope that those tips can be of use to you when writing your next article.

  • Using LaTex instead of Word.

    I have lost count of how many people I have heard tell stories about how enormously LaTex had facilitated their writing process – “enabling them to focus on the content instead of on the form”. Although I knew I would have to spend some extra time familiarizing myself with how it worked, those stories had me convinced that it was a worthwhile effort. (Of course, it absolutely was!)

    As I knew that some of my colleagues used and seemed happy with Overleaf, a collaborative LaTex editor, I chose it as my writing tool. It took me about four hours the first day to manage to set everything up and sort out the error warnings I was getting. Fortunately, I could easily find the solution to each of my issues through a quick Google search. Once these initial preparations were done, LaTex / Overleaf held all its promises: I could de facto write my whole text without worrying about the format. I could furthermore see the latest fully formatted version of my text at all times, which was particularly helpful in my specific case as the number of pages was strictly limited. Another element I highly valued what how easily it was to add and modify my bibliographical references – I never had to give them a second thought. Last but not least, getting my perfectly formatted PDF paper was always just one click away. This was very convenient both when it was time to submit the final version and when I wanted to get some feedback on my work-in-progress during the writing process.

  • Getting feedback from several people with different backgrounds.

    In addition to my main supervisor, I was able to ask my two ‘secondary’ supervisors and a colleague to give me feedback at different stages of the writing process. Without my providing them with any kind of instruction on the kind of feedback I needed, each one of them naturally focused on a different aspect of the paper: the overall structure of the paper, the detailed structure of the different sections, the presented concept, the formulation of my contribution… At the end of the process, I felt that I had been able to work in-depth on each of these essential aspects of the paper. This would certainly not have been the case had I shown my text to only one person.

  • Starting the submission process early.

    This tip came from my main supervisor, and I was really happy to have followed it when came the time to submit my paper (which happened to be on the very day of the submission deadline). In this particular case, submitting the paper required filling in a form with different kinds of information, such as author, affiliation, title, keywords, etc. This form could be saved, and then returned to when it was time to make the final submission. I thus took the time to register and fill in most of the form about one week before the deadline. Then, when the day of the submission arrived, I only had to upload the final PDF version of my paper and press “Save”. No stress! The only drawback with this method is that one could forget to update the information in the form when submitting the final version. As such, I would recommend to always quickly go through the content of the submission form before uploading any file.

What are your tips when it comes to writing and submitting papers? Can you relate to the ones presented above?

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