Writing results outside a paper

I’m working away at analyzing the results from my last experiment. It’s coming along, although a bit slower than I’d like. But that’s because I haven’t been dedicating as much time to it as I should, I’ve been busy with other stuff. And, I get nervous when I start analyzing, because I swear the more analysis I do, the worse the results get. And they were only okay to begin with. So it’s a scary activity.

On the other hand, I’m also doing something different this time. After we started analyzing, and had that initial idea of what we had, my supervisor suggested I start writing the results up. And while I do have a conference I’m going to try to submit to in a few weeks, I’m not actually working on the conference paper. Instead, the goal was to just start writing the results, such that we could see what kind of argument we could frame around them. And then have a better idea of what results come across as the strongest, and what results are best ignored in the paper (there’s no way we have room for everything).

I’m finding this very different. Normally, as we start to analyze the results, and we know where we’re submitting, and we have a good idea of what the results say, and therefore what we want to say, we end up writing the paper and doing the analysis at the same time. And that feels very natural to do so that way. I think probably most people end up writing this way.

However, this time, we have so many factors and variables to look at. And it’s not immediately clear what our strongest results are. So spending some time to write them down, and start sketching out how we’d explain the experiment and the results, without the context of a paper, is actually very freeing. I don’t have to focus specifically on a subset of the results. Instead, I can just see what comes out. And from there, we can determine the context of the paper we’ll submit. Which should, theoretically, make it easier to write the rest of the paper, when I’ll already know what we’re trying to argue.

Either way, at the end of the day, even though most of the results won’t make it into the paper, they should make it into my thesis. Which means I have a leg up on the writing, by having all the results already written out. And, trust me, it’s much easier to look back over old results if they’ve been written up with some context explaining what they mean, then just looking at the raw data files. Been there and done that way too many times.

How do you normally approach writing papers?

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