A 3 day challenge OR how NOT to write a conference paper…

I’ve been meaning to write about writing for a long time. And now when I’ve recently submitted my first ever conference paper it is probably about time to reflect on it.

When I reflect on the writing process the first phrase that comes to my mind is “Don’t get it right, get it written!” I’ve discovered it in the blog of one PhD student (sorrrrrry, can’t remember whose blog it was :(), and loved it. I think it reflects more than anything my approach to writing.

My first bit of advice is…don’t do it! Don’t leave as little time as 3 days to write your paper. But if you have problems with being organised as much as I do, this crash course might be of some help. My personal problem is that I always underestimate the amount of time I will need to complete something. This time it took me ages to transcribe the data, and code it in NViVo. So by the time I got that done, I had nothing apart from 3 poor days. Oh, well…and 3 nights!

  1. So let’s get the writing started! The first thing that you absolutely need to do is…to calm down! I know… it’s only 3 days left…but… I distinguish between two types of stress…productive and counterproductive. We absolutely need to get into the mood for the first one…otherwise all is lost. But positive pressure is good…at least for me…it makes me do stuff!!! So in order to transform the negative pressure into a positive I…listen to music. Karunesh is always helpful to me in this sense. But you need to find what works for you.
  2. Make a plan! Planning is essential in a paper writing…or in any type of writing. And I looooove writing plans! Since when the plan is written, you no longer have a blank page to stare at! So yes…plan is a must! Otherwise you’ve lost the battle before even starting it!
  3. And then… simply start filling in the gaps between the plan parts! 🙂 I always leave intro and conclusions till the end. Start with what seems to be the easiest part for you. It will help to overcome the fear and boost your confidence. Nothing is impossible! I prefer to start with presenting data collection results (but it will all of course depend on the type of paper you are writing). And the results comprise a decent chunk of a paper anyway, so after a few hours a good 1,500-2000 words will be on paper. And then I do the rest…lit review, discussion, conclusion and introduction. I won’t describe various approaches that exist to writing intro, conclusions, developing an arguments etc. You can read it all in clever books. And if you don’t have enough of them…feel free to search through some of my bookmarks on academic writing. My only (non) useful advice on the writing process would be…don’t  criticise it! Just get it written first…and leave the criticism and correction for later…for your poor supervisors and peers.
  4. Please…read your final paper! Due to a shortage of time and lack of sleep, I made lots of minor stupid mistakes which dear reviewers were kind enough to draw my attention to. So yes…to avoid embarrassment and disappointment…do read what you’ve written!
  5. It is an ideal situation if your supervisor can read the paper too...But given that there are only 3 days…we don’t live in an ideal world…and supervisors have other commitments apart from taking care of us (beloved)… this may result in the paper submitted without them having read it. But don’t fall into despair! Remember: you are never alone! That’s what our PhD peers are for – to give us a critical insight and helping hand when we need it. So do ask for help! Since if you don’t ask, you won’t get!
  6. Submit it on time! I submitted mine 5 minutes before the deadline. So proud of myself:)
  7. Now…this rule is COMPULSORY! After the submission…go and enjoy life 🙂 Salsa…is my choice and best remedy :)Don’t sit and moan that the paper was not of a high quality, appropriate standard etc. What is done is done! And from this point onwards your life is in the hands of kind (or not so kind)…reviewers.
  8. And what is most important of all this is…reflect on your experience like a real mature self-regulated learner  and PhD student, and move on with a whole baggage of knowledge on  academic writing and strong determination that you are NEVER…EVER going to leave things till the last minute again… 🙂

Well, this comes an end to my very (un)helpful tips on academic writing and how NOT to do it. But we are here to share…knowledge, experience, understanding… Since  sharing is caring!

What have YOU got to share?


About elenaphd

I am a PhD fellow at Glasgow Caledonian University, Scotland. In my research project I am looking at employability of social science doctoral researchers.
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11 Responses to A 3 day challenge OR how NOT to write a conference paper…

  1. Nathan says:

    Great post, really thoughtful and lots of practical advice. Have you thought about perhaps cross-posting this to the Vitae What’s Up Doc? PGR blog? I think that it would really add something to the discussions and things that people are sharing on there.

  2. Jorge Azorin says:

    Great post Elena !!!
    Just 3 days !!! I think it is a very challenging task. Sometimes there are problems with being organised or sometimes a little time to write a paper is organised. If you know you have a deadline, you know you have to finish it within that time. So, you can’t postpone it. You don’t have time to do other tasks and you have to focus on the paper 120%. Maybe it is a good idea for not procrastinating (something that I do lately a lot) but also is a very hard work and day or 2 days after deadline… for example, I’m exhausted to be working with other matters.
    The one thing I would add it would be in 3rd point: Instead of “Just get it written first…and leave the criticism and correction for later…for your poor supervisors and peers”, I would modify with “Just get it written first. After finished a draft version, try to critic and correct it. Leave the final criticism and correction for your poor supervisors and peers.” 😀

    • elenaphd says:

      Hi, Jorge! Thanks a million for a useful insight from a perspective of a supervisor:) It is indeed very important to check and reread the final draft before submitting it to supervisors and causing their total frustration. And as for the deadlines, I love them:) Nothing works better for me. And I think it’s a key to success in a PhD process – trying to figure out what works for you…and apply it in practice!

  3. David Roberts says:

    Oh, Elena, such a deep insightful experience-sharing post!!! I might add that I am particularly amazed of the fact that you were able to finish on time. I mean, there must such a lot of things going on in you head when facing a situation like yours.
    But to be honest, 3 days is a lot of time to do things, to change things! Ok, maybe I am an optimist, but I believe that events developed in a shorter time-scale, lets say one hour for example, can radically change our perception of the world!. Therefore I can just extrapolate and imagine what can be achieved in 2 or 3 days.
    Congratulations for your return to this space, we missed you!!

    • elenaphd says:

      Dear David! Thanks a lot for your positive comments and optimism that I am a big fan of too! I am actually not sure how one can complete a PhD without keeping at least a bit of optimism on the way. So I am trying to use its magical power when I need it…especially in such stressful situations as conference paper deadlines. But this is maybe the time when the best ideas come to my mind…under time pressure…I start generating them in abundance. Maybe that’s actually a key to generating the most creative ideas??? Not sure…but this guy seems to know lots about it http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/steven_johnson_where_good_ideas_come_from.html
      Hope your PhD is going well, and happy to hear that I was missed. Will try to write more often:)

  4. Great post, keep posting these useful advices

  5. varshadhare says:


    i have the same experience :)… liked ur post

  6. Pingback: Publications – Tips! « Our Research Notes

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