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How to write a research paper in two weekends

Writing and editing are essential skills for any researcher, as they are fundamental to communicating your research findings effectively. The article offers guidance on writing research papers efficiently and effectively for doctoral students and researchers.

How to write a research paper in two weekends

Completing a research paper in two weekends might sound like a Herculean task, especially to doctoral students and researchers who are just starting their academic writing journeys. However, with the right strategy and a bit of discipline, it is feasible to produce a first draft of your research paper in a short time. Then comes the phase as particularly critical for a paper’s acceptance: editing. Yes, editing is the secret!

This article will provide a roadmap on how to navigate this process, drawing on insights from a seasoned academic who has authored over 400 papers. But let’s start with discussing the stages of the writing process.

The stages of the writing process

Writing and editing are essential skills for any researcher, as they are fundamental to communicating your research findings effectively. The writing process consists of several phases:

  1. Pre-writing
  2. Drafting
  3. Editing: reviewing, revising, rewriting
  4. Proofreading

Let’s take a look at each of these phases, including ways to improve your skills.

1. Pre-writing

Pre-writing is the process of organizing your thoughts, brainstorming ideas, and planning your paper. During this phase, you should identify your main argument, construct an outline of your paper, and gather relevant sources.

To improve pre-writing skills, one method is to practice brainstorming techniques like mind mapping or freewriting. Reading widely in your field can also help you identify common structures and arguments used in academic writing.

2. Drafting

Drafting is the process of writing your initial version of your paper. During this phase, you should focus on getting your ideas down on paper, following your outline and not worrying too much about perfecting your language or style.

To improve drafting skills, try setting aside dedicated time at least a few hours each week for writing, and focus on expressing your ideas clearly and succinctly. Don’t be afraid to write a “bad” first draft – the important thing is to get your ideas down on paper.

3. Editing

Editing involves reviewing your draft, revising your arguments, and rewriting sections for clarity and coherence. During this phase, you should focus on improving your paper at the sentence and paragraph level, making sure that your arguments are logical and well-supported.

If we were to highlight one phase as particularly critical for a paper’s acceptance, it would likely be the editing stage.

To improve your editing skills, try to improve the text in iterations and focus on one paragraph at a time. Iterative writing is a modern way to write quality content faster. InstaText can help you immensely to make your text more readable and understandable – but let’s discuss AI tools later.

4. Proofreading

Proofreading is the final stage of the writing process, where you check for minor errors in spelling, punctuation, and formatting.

To improve proofreading skills, try reading your paper backward, starting from the last sentence. This can help you focus on the individual words and punctuation, rather than getting caught up in the flow of your argument.

Preliminary steps

Before we delve into the writing process, let’s address some important preliminaries. Remember, these steps should be completed before the weekend you’ve dedicated to writing your paper.

1. Review Your Notes

Go through your notes on relevant papers that you’ve read. This helps refresh your understanding of the work you’re about to write up.

2. Review and renew your literature search

Start by reviewing your notes from relevant papers you’ve read in preparation for your research. This will help you refresh your knowledge and prepare you to write your paper effectively.

Make sure your understanding of the existing literature is up to date. This ensures your paper is situated within the current research landscape.

3. Determine Your Audience

Understand who you’re writing for. What is the purpose of your paper? Which journal is it intended for? Are the primary readers undergraduates or fellow researchers? Remember, the real primary reader is the reviewer, the gatekeeper to publication. Addressing their concerns in your first draft can streamline the publication process.

The writing process (Weekend #1)

Creating your first draft is the creative part of the job. Here, the goal is to resist the temptation to correct mistakes as you go along. Your primary objective is to produce a complete first draft, not a perfect one. Editing comes later and is the stage where you’ll apply critical thinking and analytical skills.

Once you’ve completed the preliminaries, it’s time to start writing. Here’s how to proceed:

1. Get started and avoid procrastination

Suppress the urge to procrastinate. Your first step is to get something down on paper.

2. Work from an outline

An outline helps you maintain continuity if you’re unable to finish the paper in one sitting. It’s fun and easy to create. Take your data and figures and arrange them in a logical sequence. This arrangement is your outline.

3. Write the experimental section first

Contrary to common practice, don’t start by writing the introduction. The experimental section is the easiest part to write because you’re most familiar with it. Starting here reduces the chances of procrastination setting in again.

4. Write the Results and Discussion

Following the experimental section, focus on the results and discussion, adhering to the outline you created. This part might be slightly more challenging than the experimental section, but at this point, you’re already gaining momentum.

5. Critical editing

Once you have a draft consisting of the experimental section and the results and discussion, it’s time for the hard part – critical editing. Ensure that the science you’ve written is correct.

Don’t focus yet on transforming your draft into clear, concise, and coherent English – this will be the focus of the editing process in the second stage (we’ll call it “Weekend #2”).

6. Write the conclusions

The next step is to write the conclusions. Consider presenting your conclusions in a numbered format, making it easy for readers to see the contributions of your work.

7. Write the Introduction

The introduction is often the hardest part of a paper to write. This should be the last section you tackle. It should answer two questions: Why was the study done? What is its purpose? It should also provide sufficient background for readers to understand what you did.

8. Add references

As you go through the first draft, make notes about what references might be needed. However, don’t stop to collect the references then as it interrupts the flow of your work. Once the manuscript is nearly finished, get the exact references. Reviewers and readers find it extremely annoying when references are not done properly.

The editing process (Weekend #2)

All stages of the writing process – pre-writing, drafting, editing, and proofreading – are integral to producing a high-quality research paper. However, if we were to highlight one phase as particularly critical for a paper’s acceptance, it would likely be the editing stage.

You have now finished your draft and have already gone through it a few times. Perhaps you have gained ideas in the process that will serve you well in reviewing, rewising, and rewriting your paper.

The editing phase is where the paper’s structure, arguments, and clarity are rigorously reviewed and improved. This is the phase where researchers ensure that their ideas are coherently presented, their arguments are well-supported, and their conclusions are logically derived. It’s also where any gaps in reasoning, inconsistencies, or areas of potential confusion are identified and rectified.

Moreover, editing is the stage where researchers confirm that their paper effectively communicates its contributions to the field. Given that reviewers assess a paper’s novelty, significance, and impact on the field, it’s crucial that these aspects are clearly articulated.

How to use InstaText in the editing process

The editing phase is where InstaText is especially useful. It helps you to improve your text and make it more readable and understandable. Persuasive papers are easy to read and easy to understand. Persuasive papers must be concise and clear.

InstaText produces more ideas and deeper suggestions for improving your writing than any other language-related tool. It can be of great help in the editing phase, when there is usually no one around to make useful suggestions.

InstaText was developed by academics for academics. Your great ideas in research get trapped when you don’t communicate effectively.

So let’s take a look at the new and improved InstaText editor and how to use it to streamline your editing process. In fact, InstaText will help you in both editing and proofreading phase. The second weekend will be more than enough to finish and submit your paper.

The right canvas shows suggestions for improving your text. The revised text may include improved vocabulary and word usage. Sometimes whole sentences are rewritten to improve the readability of the text.

You can accept or reject suggestions in several ways:

1. Revise with buttons

The first option is clicking the Accept and next (✓) or Reject and next (×) button above the right canvas.

2. Revise with mouse

The second option to accept or reject suggestions is by mouse clicking on specific word or phrase and choosing to accept or reject it. 

3. Revise with keyboard shortcuts

Expand the menu on the right to see the keyboard hotkeys. They can help you maximise your efficiency when revising the suggested improvements.

The new features are designed to give you more control, provide quicker access to tools, and overall, enhance your productivity.

Here are some recently added features you might want to explore:

Flexible editing space: Adjust the size of the editor’s canvas by dragging the line in the middle left and right.

Keyboard shortcuts: Navigate through the editor swiftly and smoothly, saving time and making your writing experience even more efficient.

Select and revise with one click: Select text with your mouse, then accept or reject all suggestions by clicking the accept/reject button above the editor.

Easy access to Language settings: Quickly change the tone of your text (formal/informal) or choose between UK/US English.

Personal dictionary at your fingertips: Keep your professional language or personal style by easily adding words and word combinations.

Finally, InstaText browser extension allows you to use InstaText within Google Docs or even Overleaf.

A note on AI tools in academic writing

The rise of digital tools in research, particularly in the writing and editing process, necessitates a new set of skills and understanding.

The role of critical thinking is more important than ever. No matter how advanced AI tools become, they are unlikely to fully replace the critical thinking skills required in research. Researchers will still need to generate original research questions, design studies or experiments, interpret data, and draw conclusions.

It is especially important that you write and edit the paper yourself. Do not let anyone write or edit the work for you – neither a human nor a language model. You must keep your academic integrity in mind. Yes, you can use ChatGPT for brainstorming ideas, explaining concepts and even research strategies. But don’t use generative AI tools to write or edit your paper. It is important that you develop and maintain your own writing style and voice.

Even more importantly, you should be proud of your paper when it is published. You need to feel that it’s yours. An editing tool like InstaText helps you edit your work in an iterative and interactive way. It doesn’t rob you of the joy of the editing process. You remain the rightful author of your text and ideas.

Why is mastering of the writing and editing process important?

Mastering the writing process, and particularly the editing phase, is crucial for several reasons:

1. Clear Communication: Editing ensures your work is coherent, clear, and concise. This is essential for effectively communicating your research findings or ideas. Without proper editing, your arguments can become muddled, and your message may not come across as intended.

2. Credibility and Professionalism: Careful editing and proofreading demonstrate attention to detail and a commitment to producing high-quality work. A paper riddled with errors, inconsistencies, or unclear writing can undermine your credibility as a researcher.

3. Logical Flow and Argumentation: The editing process involves more than just fixing grammar or spelling errors. It’s also about checking the logic and flow of your arguments, ensuring that your ideas connect smoothly, and your conclusions follow logically from your data or analysis.

4. Critical Thinking Skills: Editing your own work forces you to critically evaluate your arguments, evidence, and overall structure. It encourages you to reflect on your ideas, understand potential weaknesses in your argument, and address them.

5. Reader Understanding: Editing helps ensure that your work is accessible and understandable to your intended audience. This includes other researchers, policymakers, or the public, depending on your field and the purpose of your writing.

Final points

Always review the manuscript requirements for the journal of interest. There’s no point in writing a paper that doesn’t follow the manuscript requirements. It will likely be returned unreviewed with a semi-nasty note from the editor.

Remember, writing is the most exacting part of our scientific endeavour. By mastering the writing and editing process, it can also be a very exciting part of our work as scientists.

The article was inspired by an excellent video How to Write a Paper in a Weekend by Prof. Pete Carr of the University of Minnesota. However, we have added a second weekend because we believe that the editing phase is too important to be taken lightly.

“I find InstaText very helpful. It makes me much faster in writing papers. I’m a perfectionist and usually spend (way too) much time finding the right words and making sure that sentences are easily readable even if the concepts are arbitrarily complicated. InstaText makes my life easier. I recommend it to any PhD student or researcher, whether a native English speaker or not.”

— Giulia Guidi, PhD Student, University of California, Berkeley

“I have been using InstaText for over a year. In that time, I have worked mostly in academia, on my doctoral thesis, a dozen papers, and, to a lesser extent, private correspondence. I have to admit that InstaText is superior to its competitors (I tested several), which mainly check grammar, punctuation, and spelling (InstaText makes you sound like a very educated native speaker). Interestingly, InstaText corrects a lot of the text written by my collaborators who are native English speakers! All in all, this software allows me to enjoy work and focus on WHAT I want to say without worrying about HOW I should say something.”

— Dr. Michal Folwarczny, Researcher

“An impressive and innovative writing and editing tool. Completely changed the way I write. A big thank you to the team that delivered this product!”

— İbrahim Niftiyev, Researcher and Lecturer

Photos by InstaText, Buro Millenial, and Pavel Danilyuk.