Let authorship guide collaboration and vice versa

An early decision about authorship allows the work of writing to be divided accordingly When several people are collaborating on a typescript, one's first temptation may be to simply assign a section to each and compile the sections. This poses potential problems - including illogical strategy, weak transitions, and inconsistencies in language, to name a few of the more common.

An alternative method of dividing responsibility that often works better is to designate the best writer in the group as coordinator. Assign this person the responsibility for the outline, introduction, summary or abstract, and conclusions. Divide responsibility for the other sections among the remaining authors. Set clear deadlines for each step of the writing. Communicate often and clearly, using email for speed and efficiency if possible.

When the rough drafts are collected, give the coordinator the license to change any section in order to make it flow smoothly into the whole. Then give all contributors the opportunity to comment on the collated draft. Before submitting the final version to a journal, be sure to have all coauthors read and approve it.

PRODUCTIVITY TOOLS AND PITFALLS

My computer is down. I hope it's something serious.

- Graffito

Word processing programs have become incredibly sophisticated, with all manner of developments that at least theoretically ease the mechanics of writing. At the same time, however, they have robbed reluctant writers of some of their best, most time-honored excuses, and introduced new pitfalls for the unwary. Think about them as you write your first draft; once again, knowledge is power.

Use word processing to write more efficiently

The words come out of you like toothpaste sometimes.

- Garrison Keillor

With a computer and appropriate word processing software, even young children can type, revise, and print text with minimal effort. By all means, use the computer to compose your scientific paper, right from the beginning. While the typescript is on the screen, insert and delete words or passages and rearrange text without repetitious retyping. With a single command, change a word or a spelling throughout the manuscript. From the first draft to the last, word processing will save hours of time. In addition, most journals are now accepting electronic submissions, either as disk copy, through an email attachment, or directly downloaded to a website. This is a welcome development for everyone involved, saving time and money and decreasing the probability of errors creeping into the final publication.

Master the tools that will make your writing life simpler

Human beings are creatures of habit, but new habits can be surprisingly difficult to cultivate. Each of us has our private glitches in this regard. You may know that almost nothing in a word-processed typescript need be numbered, alphabetized, or sorted manually - yet you persist in typing in the numbers manually in your lists. Or you may be aware that the software includes a thesaurus, but you've never bothered to use it.

Stepping outside your comfort zone to master new techniques is a matter of attitude. In general, these features are included because a great many people have found them useful. Will you be one of them? Probably, but you will never know unless you take the time to try them.

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