Writing up a full paper in a single week? Maybe you think that’s impossible. Yet I have done it repeatedly, and so have students in my courses. This is an exceptionally joyful (even if demanding) experience: being so productive just feels great! You are not wasting any time, and a paper produced in one go is typically coherent and nice to read. Even if you are a slow writer, you can write a whole paper in a single week — if you follow my strategy. Read below about what you need to prepare and how to approach this project.
I wrote my first paper in 7 days. It started as a desperate effort to stop my procrastination and “just do it”. But I was surprised what a positive experience it was: focused & efficient, I was making daily progress, feeling motivated and content. Finally, the fruits of my hard work were gaining shape — and they did it so quickly!
I realized it was highly effective to write up a paper like this: writing for the whole day, every day until the first draft was finished. My writing project was firmly present in my mind — I didn’t lose time catching up with what I have written in the last session. Since I was not doing anything else, my wandering mind settled in very fast, and I was getting into a routine. The daily progress was clearly visible and motivated me to continue. And the result was a coherent paper that was easy to revise.
Meanwhile, this paper-a-week approach is my favorite. That’s how I write my papers, and that’s what I teach to students. I am leading Writing laboratories with my colleague Dr. Adam Wilkins where we help young scientists draft a whole paper in 5 days, writing one major section per day. At the beginning of the week, many participants have doubts. But at the end of the week, they are all excited to see how much they managed to write in just a single week.
If you would also like to try out this approach, then read on about the necessary preparations, the optimal setting, and a productive writing strategy.
If you want to draft a whole paper in a single week, you need to prepare everything in advance so that you can fully focus on writing and actually finish in a week.
- First, think about your audience and pick a suitable journal. This is an important step because the audience & journal determine the content & style of your paper. As a reference, pick two recent papers on a similar topic published in your target journal.
- Create a storyline for your paper. What is the main message you want to convey, and how are you going to present your results?
- Put together all the results that you need to present your story convincingly: collect the necessary data, finish analyses, and create figures & tables.
- Select & read the relevant background literature as well as studies you want to compare your work with. As you read, note down any point that comes to your mind as something to be mentioned in the Introduction or Discussion section.
- Draft a preliminary Abstract: it will help you keep the direction and not get distracted by secondary ideas as you write the individual sections.
Depending on how complete your results already are, you might need 2-4 weeks to finish all these preparations. To help you keep an overview, I created a checklist with detailed steps that you need to take before you attempt to write up your paper in a week. Subscribe to our Newsletter & get your copy of the checklist.
Reserve a whole week for writing
Now, writing a paper in a single week is a serious business. You can’t do it if you don’t focus solely on the writing and create good writing conditions. Therefore, I recommend the following settings:
- Find a place where you can write without distractions. I have written my first paper over the Easter holidays when there was nobody in the office. You might choose to write at home or in a library. Though if possible, the best is to go for a retreat: removing yourself from your everyday settings immensely helps focus on the writing.
- Cancel (all) social obligations for the week. While it’s crucial to relax in the evening, you want to avoid disturbances associated with social events. Anything that makes your thoughts drift away from your work because it requires planning, exchanging of messages with others, or simply because it’s too exciting is better left for some other week. On the other hand, a quiet meeting with a good friend over a glass of wine or beer might be just the perfect way to unwind & rest after a productive, yet exhausting day of writing.
- Get support from the partner, family or friends — if possible. It’s best when you don’t need to run errands, cook & clean during this week. If you live alone, you can probably easily arrange yourself for undisturbed work. If you live with other people, ask them for consideration & support.
What I described above are the *ideal* conditions for undisturbed writing. But don’t give up if you can’t create such conditions for yourself. Work with what is possible — maybe it will take you 7-8 instead of 5-6 days but that’s still a great result, right?
Maybe you think that you can never ever draft a whole paper in a single week. Because you write so slowly, producing only few paragraphs per day. Well — I agree that if you don’t optimize your writing strategy, it would be hard to impossible to write up a whole paper in a week.
But the good news is that anyone can learn to write effectively! Writing laboratory participants frequently give such a feedback: “I saw myself doing within 5 days things that I would never have been able to do within a month!” How is that possible? They “simply” changed their writing strategy according to my recommendations. I have described my favorite strategy for quick & painless drafting in detail as well as outlined an approach to gain & keep focus for writing — here is just a reminder about the main points:
- Separate the processes of writing and revising. That’s the most important principle. Resist the urge to revise as you write the first draft. Moreover, don’t interrupt your writing to look up missing information. Work with placeholders instead. This allows you to get into the state of flow and proceed much faster than you can imagine.
- Start your writing day with 10 minutes of freewriting. Write without stopping about anything that comes to your mind. This helps you to warm up for writing, clear your head of any unrelated thoughts, and get into the mood of writing without editing.
- Take regular power breaks. I recommend to follow the Pomodoro technique: write for 25 minutes and then take a 5-minute break. After 3-4 such sessions take a longer break of 0.5-1 hour. During the breaks get up, walk a bit, stretch, look around, and breathe deeply. These breaks help you sustain high focus & productivity throughout the whole day.
- Eat and sleep well. What you are doing is similar to a professional athlete. So take care of your brain & body, and they will serve your well.
- Reward yourself. Every day celebrate the progress you have made. You have full right to be proud of you!
Write the individual sections in a reasonable order
If you have written a research paper before, you have probably realized that starting with the Introduction and finishing with the Discussion is not the ideal order in which to tackle the individual sections. Instead, I recommend the following procedure:
- Start with the Methods section. This is the easiest section to write, so it’s great as a warm-up, to get into writing without the need to think (and procrastinate ;)) too much. Look at your figures & tables: what methods did you use to create them? Then describe your methods, one after another.
- Results section: Writing the Methods section refreshes your memory about the research you have done. So writing the Results section next should not be too hard: Take one display object (figure or table) after another, and describe the results they contain. While you do so, you will come across points that need to be discussed in the Discussion section. Note them down so you don’t forget them.
- Introduction: When your results are fresh in your mind, you are in a great position to write the Introduction — because the Introduction should contain selected information that gives the reader context for your research project and allows them to understand your results and their implications.
- Discussion: When you have taken notes while writing the Results section, the Discussion section should be quite easy to draft. Don’t worry too early about the order in which you want to discuss the individual points. Write one paragraph for each point, and then see how you can logically arrange them.
- Abstract & title: On the last day, revise the preliminary Abstract or write a new one. You could also take a break of a few days before tackling the Abstract, to gain clarity and distance. Generate multiple titles (I recommend 6-10), so that you & your co-authors can choose the most appropriate one.
Just do it!
If you wish to get over with that paper — then just do it! Sure, prepare everything as outlined above but don’t hesitate too much and don’t doubt whether you can make it. If the paper is not complete in five days, then take one or two additional days as needed and finish the bloody thing. Imagine how you will feel — how accomplished and proud of yourself!
Once you have written the whole draft, let it sit for a week or two, and then revise it. Follow my tips for efficient revising and get your revision checklist that will guide you step-by-step through the whole process.
Now I am curious about your experience: Have you ever written up an academic article quickly? How did you do it? Please, share with us your tips & strategies!