Writing my first first-author paper

by Tiffany Walmsley


17 months ago, when I first started my PhD, my supervisor gave me some data to analyse from a past experiment that would eventually go into a paper. This paper will be my first first-author paper, and, many months later, I’m still striving to make it my perfect journal debut.

After about 6 months of data analysis, I began co-writing the paper with another DPhil student who started at the same time as me. We were so sure we knew what we were doing and that we understood the data and that it would all be finished in a couple of months in time to submit it to a special issue paperin our field…


Months later, two deadlines for two special issues have passedand the paper has undergone many revisions. So many revisions, in fact, that if you looked at the original draft, you would struggle to see the connection. During the writing process, I continued to analyse data, and by doing so, made new connections and conclusions--disproving original theories and completely derailing the `hook’ of the paper. Even now, I’m still writing and re-vising, but this time I’m sure we are almost reaching a final draft. I’ve definitely learnt and picked up a few things for the next time I write a paper though…


1. Co-authoring is harder than you expect. I tend to word-vomit everything into a LaTex document in terrible short-hand, making it very difficult for my co-author to understand what on earth I am trying to convey. Things can therefore get lost in translation, and so divvying out separate jobs to do and sections to write makes it easier to stay on topic and to not get in each other’s way in the initial stages of writing!


2. Having your supervisor in the loop constantly is very helpful to keep you on track, to continue to discuss changes to your conclusions, and keep your hopes up that the paper will one day actually be finished :’)


3. Don’t worry so much about the first few drafts being completely perfect. Chances are you will have to re-think and re-write many parts of the paper again anyway, soyou can save a lot of time and effort if you lower your expectations of your own grammar and writing style and save the DEEP proof-reads for the final few drafts!