research technology

Extreme writing

In February 2010 I came across this blog post discussing the possibility of writing a draft literature review in a short period of time i.e. 1 hour, which I found intriguing. I left a comment on the post saying I was keen to try, and also bounced the idea around on Twitter a bit, but nothing came of it. I’ve kept it in the back of my mind though, and recently tried to put more structure into the idea. The following is a simple method for putting together a small, focused team to write an academic article very quickly, without sacrificing quality.
The idea is to produce a draft article in a short period of time (a “sprint” of a few hours) by collaborating in small teams of distributed authors, potentially even from different disciplines, who each bring different skills to the writing process (e.g. editorial, methodology, theoretical frameworks, etc). The primary author is the organiser / planner / person who pulls it all together.

The team is organised by the primary author according to the skills that are necessary for a particular piece of work. In addition, unless the work is only going to be a literature review, someone needs to bring the data to the sprint. Since the person with the data is the most likely person to have a good understanding of the study, this person will most likely be the primary author.

Contributors are all acknowledged as authors, unless their contribution only qualifies for an acknowledgement. For example, if certain team members are asked to conduct a critical review of the draft when it is finished, they may not qualify for author status. See below for a template of the tasks required to complete a draft. All team members will agree to their tasks prior to beginning the writing process, as well as understanding the requirements for authorship credit.

Writing tasks

  • Introduction (written near the end of the sprint, probably as each team member adds a short section based on the work they’ve done)
  • Literature review
    • Primary author to identify the main aim / theme / outline of this section
    • Secondary author/s to identify and distribute (e.g. via a shared folder on Mendeley) relevant articles prior to beginning the sprint
    • Secondary author/s to also build the Reference list during this process
  • Method (completed by study designer / primary author)
  • Results (completed by study designer / primary author)
  • Discussion (Secondary author/s identified based on expertise with linking ideas from Literature review and Results sections)
  • Conclusion (Primary author ties the work together, possibly based on points highlighted by others)
  • Reference list (bulk of this work to be done by Literature review author/s, but also sees contributions from other authors as they add their own citations)
  • Additional tasks that may not be eligible for authorship credit if no other tasks are completed by these team members:
    • Editorial (team member who will take responsibility for spelling / grammatical / formatting work, as well as ensuring a “unified voice” throughout the article)
    • Critical review (at least 2 reviewers, who may or may not be team members, who will take responsibility for critically reviewing the final draft)
Team members choose a date and period of time to dedicate to the process. The primary author determines the main tasks and preparatory work that the team must complete so that when the sprint arrives, members are prepared. This includes clearly defining the aim, objectives, etc of the article prior to beginning writing.

The idea is to use the time to write, not to search for literature, so all preparation should be done beforehand. Authors should use online collaborative tools like Google Docs and Skype where possible, in order to work together in real time.

Let me know if you think I’ve left anything out, or if you think it’s just a silly idea 🙂