Team Paper Writing

I’m working on putting the finishing touches on a paper. A really lovely paper. The project and the writing itself have been a lot of fun, but coming to the end of the writing process has been a little more taxing. Did I mention that I really love this paper??

Here’s the deal. There are lots (>5) authors on this paper that are all involved in the editing of the text. Very hands on, all of us are. While I think that’s awesome, I also see problems with the complete democratic approach to editing a manuscript- especially when you can’t all physically be in the same room talking about issues that need to be resolved, and especially in the final stages prior to submission. When I’ve looked at the manuscript in the last couple of days  I felt like there are parts of the text that I was reading for the first time…. and that shouldn’t be happening one or two days prior to submission!! Yesterday someone decided to remake one of the figures in a new way… but looking essentially exactly the same as the original version. I’m asking myself WHY??? We should be at the dotting the i(s) and crossing the t(s) stage, not the re-inventing the wheel stage.

Why is this happening? Who knows. Maybe I didn’t read the manuscript very well on previous runs, maybe my memory is shot, maybe I’m cranky?, Maybe we have too many cooks in the kitchen. Actually, I think the answer is in that last option (although I freely admit I probably am a little cranky)- there are too many of us pulling in too many different directions, or writing with slightly different emphasis. Normally I wouldn’t mind this- all good intellectual exchange and bla bla bla, make the manuscript better bla bla bla,  but we are NOT at the early manuscript stage anymore here-we are the T-1 ready to submit revised manuscript stage. I think its time to start cutting back on the number of cooks, and have someone be the ‘decider’ (or maybe the two senior authors) on when we’ve reached the appropriate level of awesomeness in the manuscript to stop worrying about absolute perfection and push this thing out the door.

Otherwise, the manuscript will languish here for too much longer with too many cooks each adding their own secret sauce.

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10 thoughts on “Team Paper Writing

  1. A very wise advisor, a world-class scientist and longtime editor of one of the “glamourmag” type journals, once told me that “a ship can only have one captain”. He was speaking metaphorically about a paper on which I was first author and he was last author, and he was telling me that he was the captain, and maybe someday if I kept up the hard work, I could be the captain of my own ship, but in the meanwhile, he was making the final decisions on that manuscript. I was utterly infuriated! He wasn’t right about everything, but I have to admit that I have come to agree with the idea that a paper can really only have one “captain”.

  2. This here is a cooker who like to be head chef. Read: I’m anal AND I always think I’m right. I agree, it is time to designate a head honcho or else the paper-go-round could go on ad infinitum.

  3. Yeah, someone has to be the decider. The worst is when there is one person who has the clear authority to occupy the role of captain, but refuses to step up and do the captain job. I am trying to learn to identify these situations earlier so that I can avoid them at all costs in the future.

  4. crystal doc- generally, I think you are right-someone has to be in charge. In my case I have a co-author that I write well with – but more than two can be a crowd for clear direction in a manuscript…

    Candid- I LIKE to be in charge- stuff gets done! Its the tail chasing at the 11th hour that makes me nuts.

    yolio- I have a feeling that I’m going to be the one that says hey bud, time to step up and put a stop to continuously circling the roundabout- if that doesn’t work, I’m going to designate myself the decider. Maybe I should skip directly to step 2?

  5. The senior/corresponding author has the responsibility and the power to end this kind of thing and to make final decisions that are not up for discussion about the content of the manuscript to be submitted.

  6. Ugh…I hate, hate, hate team paper-writing for exactly the reasons you mentioned. Not sure which is more annoying–having co-authors make major changes at the late paper preparation stage, or having co-authors bicker about the color of the bars and the font of the axis labels on the graphs before everyone’s even agreed on what pieces of data will be in the paper!

  7. Mad Hatter- The suffering is almost over, and I put a stop to the round-robin writing a couple of days ago. It was frustrating though, re-writing what I’d already re-written after someone else got a hold of it!

  8. It’s Friday, and I’ve got nothin’ of merit to contribute here. All I can think about is Simon Pegg, playing a FedEx-Kinko employee, telling his colleagues:

    “There’s no “I” in “team”. But there is an “I” in “pie”… “meat pie”. And “meat” is an anagram for…”

  9. drdrA,

    Did your group use the “Comments” function in MS Word? It’s something our unit uses quite a lot (since we do a lot of handing papers off for comments, peer-review, before sending them off to the journals) and it comes in very handy. If you don’t think a comment/edit was necessary, just undo it.

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