It sounded like a great idea at the time.
This was going to be THE piece of work that would revolutionise the way we thought about animal syndromic surveillance; would earn me big brownie points with the head of my research institute; and would show my peers how awesome I was. I felt on top of the world.
It took a long time to get people on board, many meetings and convincing smiles to have key players in the food-producing industry to agree to part with their very valuable data, and then finally, many months later, the big data file landed in my inbox. By that point, I had to pick up duties from a colleague who had gone on maternity leave, Schmallenberg was running loose throughout Europe and keeping everyone on alert, and my desk (and working day) looked a bit like this:
When I finally looked at the data, and set about a week aside to get it into a shape that will be recognised as analysable data by any software worth using, my vision for a Nature paper was about as laughable as the Kardashian sisters’ attempts to be considered fashion icons. Anyone daring to interrupt my “head- bashing- against-the-computer keyboard” was met with this:
So what had happened?
Well, the data turned out to be unlike anything I had worked with before and I wasn’t sure how to start to make sense of it. It seemed very likely though that the data were not going to back up the scientific hypothesis I had in mind. Adieu “most downloaded paper of the year award”, adieu la revolución and adieu Syndromic Hall of Fame. I entered the dreaded catch-22 situation:
It took months (ahem a year??!) to finally get that publication out of my computer and out of my life. And years later, I still bear some emotional scars from this experience. Looking back, it really did not have to be that way.
Sounds familiar? … No?? Replace “animal syndromic surveillance” with your field of expertise/research, the “head of research institute” with whoever distribute brownie points in your line of work and “Nature” for the most coveted publication outlet in your field.
Ah! I knew you would relate!
So what do YOU need to write that report?
What did I find helpful?
- Some solid guidelines to avoid staring at a blank page until the cows come home. This is especially important if this is the first time you are faced with such task.
If it’s a scientific paper you wish to produce and submit for publication, Nature education has some clear guidelines to help you select and organise your content, draft your paper, and revise your writing so that your final paper is useful to a broad audience.
If it’s a NGO you’re writing for, I find the report writing guide put together by the charity CARE to be full of useful nuggets of information on writing effective reports.
If it’s a project final report or evaluation report, CDC has put together a technical assistance workbook for use by program managers.
- Have a writing plan/timeline and stick to it.
Create a consistent writing routine and chip at the block every day. For a lot of people, willpower is at its peak in the morning and this is when you should physically block 1 or 2 hours of your time to sit down and write without interruption. If your working day is least likely to be filled with meetings etc… in the afternoon, then do it then. The key is to do a bit of it every day, whether you set yourself a time goal (e.g. writing continuously for 90 minutes) or a word goal (e.g. 1000 words a day). I found these nice fact sheets published by the BBC on planning your writing and this blog post explaining the different stages of putting together a writing plan.
- Ask for help, delegate, collaborate…reach out!
I finally got some mojo back to get my publication done once I asked for some help. It turned out that all I needed was to brainstorm with another data analyst for a couple of hours to come up with a strategy to get the most out of my data. And finally having some tangible output in front of me was enough to motivate me to knuckle down and start writing.
Don’t have the right person to help you in-house? Consider hiring an expert to help you with the task at hand. Is the idea of spending money making you uncomfortable? Chances are that that person will be able to fix your problem in 1/10th of the time it would take you, for less amount of money than what your time is worth.
- (Finally) give in to the power of negative (or luke warm) results.
“Science is, by its nature, a collaborative discipline, and one of the principal reasons why we should report negative results is so our colleagues do not waste their time and resources repeating our findings.”
If institutions like Elsevier (publisher) or the World Health Organisation take a stance to encourage a paradigm shift, we should follow suit and aim to bring balance to the literature available to decision-makers in our field.
Can you visualise your written report now?
Does the whole thing seem achievable (and perhaps even enjoyable now)? I certainly hope so.
And remember, nobody knows everything. If you feel that you cannot pull it off on your own,
At Epi-Connect, we understand that professionals may sometimes benefit from help in identifying and addressing project needs; and meeting key deadlines.
So whether you are looking for someone to pull all your hard work into one cohesive report, or for someone to critically assess and provide feedback on your draft before publication, Epi-Connect will help you reach that mountain top.
Contact us today at email@example.com to start discussing the solutions that are right for you and to receive a free quote.