Telling the story of P cycling and UA in Montreal (process)

I feel like a turtle making this manuscript, slow but steady at the moment
I feel like a turtle making this manuscript, slow but steady at the moment

Since starting data analysis I have been thinking about what the story I want to tell to scientists and participants. I have mentioned it before (here, and here), but now it is getting serious. Writing a paper is hard (as we all know). I have published a few manuscripts and I am lucky to have great collaborators, but I still struggle with the process and always looking for productive ways to get from the idea, to the data, to a successful paper that will be citied. I have tried to pull from what I learnt in writing class in my master’s, the writing science book I have mentioned a few times, my past manuscripts and my mentors this time around. Here are the broad strokes of the steps I have (and are still in the midst) of taking which seem to be working OK:

1. Made a presentation for friends :I made a powerpoint of all my main questions and results and my interpretation and gave a presentation to my labmates. This gave me an opportunity to sit down and force mylself to transform all my excel spreadsheets into key points and graphs, and get some feedback on what they found interesting, unclear, underexploited or perhaps not well presented.

2. Refinement and better representations: Based on the feedback on my first presentation I made some changes. This version was inspired by some of the feedback during my run with labmates, but actually I think mostly from my own critiques and ideas after giving the presentation to them.

3. Made a presentation to committee: I then presented this new and improved version for my thesis committee members. This version included a few new analyses, more refined visualizations, and fewer main messages, and specific questions I had about moving forward (most importantly doing one or 2 papers, if results and messages matched questions, and if there were other analyses or results that would be key to add). I also hope that directly working in presentation mode will help me construct a talk I want to give at the 4th Sustainable Phosphorus Summit in September in Montpellier.

After these 3 steps I came across this post about academic writing that was really nice because it validated a little of what I had done, I am at that stage that I want to make my story and the post gives steps (I love lists!!!)

4. New analyses and creation of main messages: My advisor and committee member had some specific analyses they thought would add to the story, so I ran them (as explained in a past post). I then went back and forth with my advisor distilling the main messages that we really wanted in the publication (so the key story points to then develop text around).

5. Outlines: At this point I am going back and forth on outlines to organize the story pieces. My outlines include section headings and a note or sentence for each paragraph and a list of all the tables and figures I think should be there (and which sections they are associated with). At this stage we have also started to come up with possible venues for the manuscript.

6. Drafts: After we agree on an outline I will start drafting (although I have already drafted a the methods and results sections when I was analyzing the data just to make sure I was keeping track of what I was doing). Based on past experiences, sometimes drafting is not a linear process. Sometimes it takes the “full’ written-out version to see something isn’t quite right, even if you try and take out some of the writing and re-writing while adding new analyses and figures with the outline process. This means that after a draft I might still end up going through steps 1 though 5 again.

I recently came across another blog post that gave me a little guidance in the manuscript writing process (and a little motivation to move forward). The commentary on a study about academic productivity and getting published puts forth the idea that there are many steps to publication (each one a hurdle) but that one just needs to be OK (not amazing) at all of them to be productive (but this also means can’t be great at one and suck at the other steps and think you will get papers out).

Refining my results and thinking about the academic story has of course made me think about the story I want to share with stakeholders that participated, but also about communication with the larger public. I have been asked to talk about my UA and P research on a local radio station in February so the time is now! I also want to be prepared with material and ideas for media outlets for when the paper(s) are published. Through a listserv, I recently came across two interesting platforms that focus on cities: the guardian and the 100resilientcities project.

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