Paper woes

I’m trying to write a journal paper. It’s really hard. It’s the first paper I’ve ever written. Even if it does not get published, it is very good practice. It would be good to be first author.

The paper is about using the experimental technique of switching measurements (aka Macroscopic Quantum Tunneling) to assess the quality of Josephson junctions for qubit applications (I can’t give too much away though).

It’s quite frustrating though: Just silly things like ordering of sections, what concepts to introduce in what order, which figures to put in, how to present them (that’s actually not too hard to work out, you just look at similar things in the literature), and how mathematical to be when you are describing the model to fit to the data, and pulling together several ideas from the literature to support your work (this is the hardest bit).

There’s also the worry that something exactly the same exists already, somewhere in the literature, and you just haven’t found it.

6 thoughts on “Paper woes

  1. rrtucci says:

    My advice:
    Make sure you use Latex. It’s well worth learning.

    To avoid writer’s block, I break it down into small, “fun” tasks. First I write down everything I want to remember in what I call “my lab notebook”. Those are messy, because the process of thinking is messy, at least for me. Then, once I decide to write a paper, I make handwritten notes distilling all relevant “lab notebook” material. Then I type all the equations and do all the figures first. That’s because I write theory papers, and I believe that one should be able to read a theory paper only by reading the equations. If the paper is not a theory paper, then maybe I would do the first line of each paragraph and the figures first. Once this skeleton looks strong and logical and easy to follow by the reader, I fill in the “in betweens”.

  2. Andrew says:

    You could always post roughly what it is about and hope that people read your blog and will point you to relevant papers that you might have missed. Given the complexity of setting up measurements, I doubt you will lose anything by trying a bit of “open-notebook” science.


  3. Geordie says:

    One thing I find really helps is to focus first on what your last figure is going to be in some detail. This is particularly useful for PRL where you have 4 figures and the last one is the punchline. After you have that last figure in publication-quality shape, think about what the second to last figure will be and repeat. Once you have these two figures done, write the paper focused on explaining how you got the results shown in them and what it all means.

    Here is a link that I found helpful.

    Another important point is to stick with it. Writing well is 99% hard work. And find a good editor to go over it, once you’ve been starting at something for a while you stop being objective.

  4. physicsandcake says:

    Thank you everyone for the nice comments! Yes, I am using LaTeX, I got a paper template which helps as you can actually see how it would look as a published article, qhich seems to help psychologically for some reason.

    I think I’ll just stick at it, do a little bit each day or something like that, eventually it will turn out ok. I have only a small amount of time to spend on it, as I have got loads of experiments running continuously, and although I can do bits and pieces of data analysis whilst running the experiments (e.g. whilst the cryostats are cooling and stuff), to write properly requires a lot of concentration and a nice relaxing (but inspiring) surrounding. Actually I find I write quite well in coffee shops for some reason, I wrote some of my thesis in espresso bars 🙂

  5. I second Geordie’s advice. Your figures tell your story. Come up with the figures in the order that best tells the story, and you’re most of the way there. Good luck!

  6. quantummoxie says:

    If you want, you could e-mail it to me when you’re done and I’ll proof it. I’m pretty good at proofing other people’s stuff (though not always my own). Do you know Barry Sanders? He’s another great proofreader. So is Terry Rudolph (Tez). Do you know him?

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