Early Career Psychologist Column

Writing more

Some tips on increasing writing productivity.

By Adriana Falco, PhD, and Diann Gaalema, PhD

The mantra of the research profession is publish or perish. Here are some thoughts about what has worked for me recently as well as advice I've gotten from established researchers.

Just make yourself do it. Find your mentor, work out some goals about what is reasonable for you and what you should aim for. Do they think you need to shoot for a certain number to be successful in your field? I've also been advised that you should always be working actively on a paper; if you have a paper in review, you should also have a different one that you're getting ready to send down the line.

So how do you get started? A few considerations. Planning on applying for a grant soon? Get a paper submitted that helps show you're an expert in what you're proposing. Have pilot data? Great, get that out there. Don't? Write a review of the literature or go get yourself some data. Some easy places to look? Analyze a national survey data set that helps get at your question. There are many out there and most are easy to access. Or you could go online and gather some data. More recently folks in psychology have been having good luck recruiting participants through Amazon Mechanical Turk for completing surveys or other tasks that can be hosted online.

But likely you already have some data lying around. How about the conference poster/talk you just did? The work is halfway done you just need to throw it into a Word document and keep the momentum rolling. The most important part of writing is to just get it done. And how do you do that? Set some time aside for writing. For me, this consists of having two time slots per week that are dedicated to writing. Monday afternoons you'll find me at the library at a “writing retreat.” Just, me, a laptop, a cup of coffee and three to 10 other faculty members all focused on getting some words on the page. Thursday night you'll find me at Starbucks hosting a writing night for people in our research group who just need a place and a time where there are no excuses not to write. You, too, can try to find an existing group, or make your own. Get in touch with your library and see if they do/would like to host such a thing, or send an offer out on your departmental email list offering to host. Will you need to write outside of these times? Of course; it's amazing the kind of progress you can make chipping away at a manuscript 20 minutes at a time, but the point is to have some time dedicated to nothing but writing. No excuses, and it keeps the process moving. So think about what you should work on, get the data together, schedule yourself some dedicated writing time and just get going!