Today I wrote minus 1663 words…

… and I counted them! It took 158 cuts, and now the paper is under the required length. Funnily enough, I like deleting words (mostly rewriting, actually) if the outcome appears to be clearer.

Tracking Revisions Step by Step

Sometimes my work involves revisions that take a considerable amount of time, and I split the work over a longer period. Revising a page every day makes the work much less daunting. Here is how I go about staying motivated: a graph to track the revisions.

When doing revisions, I first identify the changes I want to make (e.g. in response to reviewer comments), and then identify where exactly in the manuscript I’m going to make changes. In a word processor, I usually use “comments”. This is work that usually does not take me long, but the revisions can. So I count the number of pages, and the number of comments, and track them in a simple spreadsheet. Whenever I have “done” one of the comments, I remove the comment in the manuscript, and update the progress chart.

Here’s what this looks like. At the top, I track the progress, with a row for each day until the target date. At the beginning of a day, I copy over the values from the day before, and update them as I go along. At the bottom, there’s a simple graph, with a smoothed trend line. On top of the graph, I draw lines that link to the target date, and to roughly a week before that. This gives me a range where my lines should be if I’m making progress as planned.

I also include a shaded area for situations where I know I won’t be (able to) doing any revisions.

In this particular instance, a journal article, I was “on target” at the beginning; then follows a day (Thursday, week 1) where I made progress on the comments front, but not in terms of pages. It was a combination of many comments on a single page and removing text. Later, after the planned time off, I managed to address many comments in one go (Tuesday, week 2), and at the end we have the list of references, so a rapid progress in terms of pages.


Here’s another example, of a longer project. In this instance, I added two shaded areas after the fact (“no work on the train”, “computer died”), in addition to the planned time off (“visitors”). HT1 etc. is just a peculiar way to refer to week names.


In this case, I actually started a bit slow, not tackling many comments, and falling behind in terms of pages. Perhaps these were rather substantive comments, or I struggled to get back into the project. With the chart on the progress, I could see that I needed to put in more effort if I wanted to finish on time. We can also see a “classic” situation in the first shaded area; I planned to do revisions on the train, but after successfully getting into the range just before (at least for the red line), the pressure was off, and I did other things.

During the second week, I progressed well, perhaps in anticipation that I wouldn’t get any work done with visitors around (second shaded area). Then the computer died (as Murphy’s law dictates), but with a quick replacement and a range for the target, this would not throw me off. As in the example above, at the end we have the list of references, which means rapid progress.

One final note, the lines on top of the figure are deliberately not parallel, but narrow at the beginning and wide at the end. This way the figure is less forgiving at the beginning, but once I am into the revisions, remains flexible.

Why am I doing all this? To keep motivated when 275 pages and 376 comments seem too much to get started, or when these three weeks seem so far away. The figures help start early and keep going (at least one comment a day).

Which Journal to Submit to?

One part of being an academic is (trying to) publish research in peer-reviewed journals (well, most do…). There are literally thousands of journals, so which one should we choose? There are different ways to approach this problem, but I’m afraid no easy answers.

Apparently there are scholars who undertake research with a particular journal in mind: the research design and writing process is geared towards this journal. This sounds great, but actually just shifts the problem. Moreover, what do you do when the targeted journal rejects the article?

An easier way is to look at your references. Which journals do you cite most often? Which debates do you relate to? I find this one of the most useful approaches, although one problem is that even simple and unexciting papers often refer to papers in top journals. The challenge is to distinguish between “referring to” a paper, and “engaging with” a paper or debate.

Perhaps easier still is asking a senior colleague in the field. This only works if you know what the contribution of the paper is (or what you want it to be), which usually means having a good abstract in hand. Knowledge of journals comes from reading these journals, but also from having submitted papers to journal. Sites like SciRev, laudable as they are by letting us review journals and the submission process, are, however, no substitute to knowledge of the field. And remember, apparently even the most seasoned academics sometimes get it wrong…