How to Write a Journal Article Fast

There is a smart way to do it.

This can also work for creating your masterpiece—nothing against that—but today I wanted to share some pointers about just getting an object done. A thing. Those times when you just HAVE to get it done, and there’s little time.

Four weeks, is plenty of time, and I’ll tell you why.

As long as the goal is “done and publishable,” four weeks is enough time to finish a journal article draft. The right attitude and the right method is all you need.

Attitude comes first. The key is you are making an object not a masterpiece. Again, this is just a choice that you might make for your own reasons. It’s not a philosophical statement.

The thing to keep in mind about the attitude is the fact that no matter what shape your article object is in, you are going to be asked to revise it. So there’s no sense in working months to take a draft from “OK I Guess” to “Good Enough” if you get basically the same amount of revision requests either way.

Why not reserve that increment of quality for later, and have other people do all the thinking for you? By which I mean, the reviewers. Think of them as outsourced labor! They’re working on your behalf and you don’t even have to pay them.

With these people working for you at no cost, why wouldn’t you get that article out there?

All you need now that you are focused on writing it fast, and getting it out the door, is a method.

Let’s break it down.


Day One

Step one: get laser focused on the journal you are going to publish in.

Later, after you have your object, you can change your mind. Now is the time to have no doubt and go all in.


Step two: search through the titles of articles in recent years and find some that seem very much like the topic your article is going to be about.

Step three: skim through the texts of some of them until you find one that can serve as a model for your article, and read it. It would be a similar topic probably but that’s only because similar topics will have similar research material and similar kinds of theories and similar relationships between the two. You don’t need to be too picky—just find that one model.

If you are not done with that in one day (in other words, 1-3 hours of effort), chances are you need to loosen up! Remember what we’re talking about here. We’re not writing a masterpiece. That’s a different subject. Don’t mix them up. We’re getting an article written FAST and out the door.


Day Two (or hours 2-4 of effort):

Step one: take the article apart.

Divide the article up into types of text and literally count the number of lines for each type. An article might look like this (depends on discipline and genre of course):

Introduction: 51 lines

Literature/Theory: 74 lines

Presentation of Material: 124 lines

Discussion (taking stock): 49 lines

Conclusion: 39 lines

Now this probably isn’t the structure or order of the text, other than intro and conclusion. These different kinds of writing could be distributed in different sections and orders and alternating chunks. You just want the number of lines published of each type of writing that you identify.

Now, get the total number of lines and calculate the proportions.

I’ve noticed that when drafting most people spend a lot of time on the intro and their drafts have hugely disproportionate intros when compared to published articles. That’s just one example of how we get out of whack.

The point is to see the article in a new light, numerically, instead of in terms of meaning and ideas. As you might already anticipate, we are going to start out writing approximately the same proportion of lines for our article and we’re going to stay focused on that as our guide.

That’s how you are going to gage when you are going off course and getting too deep into something and losing too much time.

Is that too limiting? When we’re exploring our ideas and creativity, for many times: yes. Sometimes, the limits are actually creatively productive. 

But that’s neither here nor there. You are just making an object, remember?

Are we being robotic and mechanical about this? Well, yeah sort of. We’re trying to crank out an article fast. It’s not just the modeling that we’re using numbers for. As you’ll see farther below, it’s also about time.

Step two: take the article apart in another way.

Print out the model article and literally cut it to pieces in a way that divides up the kinds of writing in any way that is slightly different than how you did step one.

In my genre, I like to divide articles into theory, material, and interpretation. Theoretical parts are discussions of literature or theory or others’ ideas and findings. Other parts are the material: straight-forward referential sentences describing some reality out there. And some parts are interpretations of that reality.

By the way, the difference between theory and interpretation I take, for these purposes, to be the difference between their modes of reference. “Theory” is referencing and commenting on a discussion out there in academia or in other writings. “Interpretation” is directed toward the “material” being presented.

You can also just have “thought” and “reality,” two types, or you can have more types.

You can also skip this part if your model is kind of all over the place from sentence to sentence. (But such an article might not be a great model for our fast writing purposes here).

So get out those scissors. Again, don’t be too picky. Cut things out and put them in piles. Get nice big chunks of text. It won’t be convenient to have tiny little scraps. Don’t get a bunch of fragments. If you a section of paper has a mix, just assign it to one category. Have some piles that can be held comfortably in your hand and paper clip the piles so it doesn’t get messy.

The act of physically cutting the paper will further knock down the behemoth of the great article and physically impress you with the fact that “writing an article” is actually writing pieces of an article. It also gives you a physical sense of proportions that you see in a new way and also literally feel.

You’ll then also be able to physically isolate the text for your review, which is something, as you’ll see, you’ll use in the drafting days.


“Day” Three (“day” as in reasonable chunk of time, the next hour):

Now that you know what proportion of your text you’ll be spending on each kind of writing, you can put that ratio into the calendar time available. Take the total number of days you’ll be writing, and right on a calendar, like a prisoner marking off days, assign them each to a certain day’s writing according to the ratios you identified. March the 3rd-8th are presentation of material days, April 1-3 are introduction days, etc. 

In other words if you are going to have 30 writing days, and introductory text is going to be 10% of the writing, then 3 of those days will be writing introduction.

If you feel up to it and your model matches what you want for your draft, you might even start with introductions on the first day and finish the conclusion on the last day.

However it’s often best to leave both intro and conclusion for last, and start with either the material or the theory.

The point is to divide up your days and have a real, time-based schedule for cranking out each piece.

It’s important not to be too unrealistic in drawing up this plan, in terms of how much writing can be done in a given amount of time. But if you have say 28 days of writing, that would be about a page a day for a typical article or chapter.

If that seems unreasonable, then just set another time frame. Maybe it’s 38 days.

Anyway, literally get a calendar out and make each writing day an assigned day for doing a certain kind of writing.

This is your goal and your schedule. You just make it happen, knowing that if you stay on schedule you’ll have that article in the end.

Day 4 to 28

Now march and keep marching! Remember, this is about a certain kind of getting things done:

This is for I-better-do-this-or-else writing, or at least I-really-just-want-an-article-draft-and-I-don’t-care-how-I-get-there-as-long-as-I-get-there kind of writing.

You’ve set your fast article writing schedule. As long as it’s reasonable, you stick to it because this is about You, about you getting things done.

Now, remember those piles of cut outs? These are your friends. Before you write, you look these over to remind yourself of the type of writing you are about to do and how it feels and sounds, how much detail vs. how much generality was in it, etc. This too is important for keeping you on track and not writing too condensed or too spacious prose and to keep pace with your model. It’s also a kind of creative priming.

Which reminds me, it would be good if you actually like your model article. I should have said that earlier!


Day 29

Fix it up a bit for readability and send it out to a couple relevant friends and ask for either a specified number of sentences of feedback (“Could you write me three or four sentences about the most important changes I should make?”) or ask 2-3 specific questions (“Is there a theorist I absolutely should have mentioned?” “Does my discussion section make sense?”)

If you break down the work for your friend they are more likely to want to do it quickly, just as it was for you!

At this point you just want to avoid some huge gaffe. Other than that—let the reviewers do the work.

 

Very Soon After:

So send it out. Outsource your writing to others who will think through the rest of the writing of the article. Since you are going to have to do this writing-to-order anyway, no matter what, why do it twice? Why do it before and after submission when you could just do it after submission?

I resent this part, I’m not going to lie. I don’t like being told what to write. But when I think of it as others working for me, I feel a bit better about it. And anyways, if you are doing the write a fast article method, the truth is the whole time you’ve been letting your model tell you what to write, so why not just continue doing that?


Conclusion:

Don’t let an article or chapter occupy a goliath place in your mind. An article is just a bunch of pieces. Break the task down into manageable chunks. Then get them written, small bit-by-bit, on a schedule.

Take the idea of what an article is down a notch in your mind.

If you break it down, mentally and physically, you can come up with a reasonable time-based plan to get if finished fast.

If you feel like you want some accountability to keep you on track every day, for 28 days, with anonymous peers and a coach, the Academic Writing Bootcamp has spots open now for the 28-day session starting Monday August 12. Enrollment closes at Midnight Monday!

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