The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Researchers

The 7 Habits of Highly
Effective Researchers
Steve Wallace
Technical writing teacher – NCTU,
NTHU, ITRI - Motivation
Research Researchers
Habits to produce more papers in
higher impact journals.
Collected data from interviews,
phone, conferences and universities
Position as editor has allowed me
this opportunity
Compiled into 7 basic “habits” which
summarize advice and tips in 7 areas
Overview of Researchers
Effective researcher was defined as a researcher who has
publish a average of five or more SCI or SCCI papers a year
every year for the last five years.
There were a total of 146 effective researchers involved
from the following domains:
34 - Engineering
17 - Management and Business
11 - Foreign Language and Literature
10 - Education
31 - Natural sciences
20 - Medicine
12 - Social sciences
6 - Law
5 - History and Liberal Arts
Anonymity of Responses
In order to get the most honest
responses specific researchers
remain anonymous. This was an
important condition to getting
practical material
This was especially true in the area
of submission and handling the
political elements of review.
Develop your own habits
Pay attention to the habits and
borrow those ideas that will be
beneficial to your research habits.
Try to create your own style and
method for writing and publishing.
7 habits and practices that support
those habits.
Habit #1
Effective researchers have a routine for
writing, submitting and revising papers.
“I view producing every paper like producing a
product, a creative product like a movie. We have
screenings, editors and deadlines to release our
product. I am not always the director of the
movie, that might be me or it could be one of my
students. But I am always the producer. The
producer needs to push everybody so that the
movie can be released on time.” - Civil
Engineering Professor # 78
Capturing ideas when away from
the computer:
Collect ideas: - notebook, post it notes
Transferred to ongoing files on the
subject. Notes could be organized and
edited into the beginning of a paper.
Easier to begin writing when there were
already ideas on the page than it was to
start from nothing.
Recycle parts of other papers to
make new papers
Suppose there are two important papers, paper 1
= {A, B, C, and D}, paper 2 = {C, D, and E}
where A, B, ... are ingredients.
Let a new paper= {A, B, E}
Does the new combination make sense? Does it
describe an important phenomenon in a certain
country or does it capture an interesting
If paper new = {A, C, X} where X is totally new,
and if it makes sense, it may be an original idea.
Creating a Supply Chain for
Paper Publication.
Some effective researchers use a
“research log”: a list of papers under
review and where each paper is in the
review process. The purpose of a log is to:
1) know when to send a reminder to the
2) prevent resubmission of a rejected
paper to the same journal and
3) avoid multiple submission of several
papers to the same journal within a short
period of time.
Collect a pool of potential journals
For each paper, note the pool of potential journals. When a
paper is rejected, do not lose time resubmitting the paper
to another journal.
Do not submit two papers to the same journal in two
months, especially if the two articles are related.
Other things being equal, editors prefer to publish two
articles by different authors, rather than two articles by the
same author.
You may submit more papers to the same journal
simultaneously if there is more than one editor. They do not
often communicate with one another. In this instance,
acceptance of one article by one editor does not adversely
affect the chance of another being accepted by a different
Pick journals like you pick stocks
Do homework on journals.
Submit paper to a journal with a rising
impact factor and higher acceptance rates.
avoid declining journals with low
acceptance and diminishing impact factor.
Could cause the journal to be removed
from the SSCI and SCI ranking.
Identifying journals with rising impact factors
Good specialty journal’s impact factors are rising.
General journal’s impact factor, except for a few
at the top, are expected to decline
In general journals, "readers are confronted with
a decreasing probability of finding at least one
important article in their field." (Holub, Tappeiner,
and Eberharter, 1991).
In the 1970s, the top ten journals in every field
were general journals.
In the 1990s, half of the top ten journals were
specialized journals.
Betting your research where you have the
highest probability for publication.
Sometimes journals have groups of researchers they prefer
papers from and other groups of researchers they don’t like
papers from.
Subject matter preferences are seen by checking back
issues of a journal. Empirical papers? Theory papers?
Check past issues of the journal. If you find few or no other
Chinese names in that journal, it might be better to try
your luck somewhere else. However, if there are many
other Taiwanese and Chinese authors who have previously
published in that journal than it is reasonable that they will
consider your paper as well.
Preferences are known; biases are difficult to detect.
Practice for master’s students
Generate papers from your thesis
You invested two or more years writing
your thesis.
Try to generate a couple of papers from
the most important chapters of the thesis.
This is easier than writing a totally new
paper from scratch. Work jointly with your
advisor to help market your papers.
Maintain a stock of papers under review
If the acceptance rate of the top-ranking journals
is 15%, one needs about 7 papers under review
at all times to have one paper accepted per year
at the targeted journals.
If your goal is to get 10 papers accepted in the
first 5 years of your career, you need about a
dozen papers under review at all times.
Half a dozen papers should be under review at all
times for untenured authors. This does not mean
that you should write 7 new papers each year.
Don't put two good ideas in one paper
Separate them into two papers.
As the paper's length increases beyond 15 pages, the
chance of acceptance drops.
When a topic is appropriately split into two papers, the
probability of getting at least one of them accepted more
than doubles.
You also will get a paper accepted sooner.
If x = original length, and p = probability of acceptance,
p(x/2) = 2p(x) + a, where a > 0 and x > 15 pages.
The alpha (a) factor:
– Editors like short papers.
– The chance that a referee will detect a mathematical
error declines.
– Referees will return the report faster.
The chance that a referee will misunderstand the paper also
Approach different types of journals
Sending all papers to top journals is risky.
Sending all papers to low-quality journals
also is unsatisfactory.
Your curriculum vitae should contain some
publications in the top journals.
Quantity of publications also is important.
Having three papers in different journals is
better than three in one journal, if the
relative quality of the journals is the
Incorporate English Editing into your supply chain
Use professional editorial assistance
Particularly if you are not a native English
Editors will not publish papers with
grammatical errors.
It is safe to assume that referees are
biased; they have an excuse to
recommend rejection when grammatical
errors are detected.
You can easily find a copy editor who
charges a reasonable fee.
Reasons for major revision or rejection of Taiwanese
journal papers
Faulty methodology
Inadequate references
Poor quality supporting figures
Outside the scope of journal
Not enough contribution to field
Authors did not follow manuscript instructions
Poor writing style and use of English
Title not representative of study
Subject of little novel interest or not generally
English Errors
Habit #2
Sacrificed social or physical endeavors
to be a better researcher.
The dark side of writing. Many
researchers mentioned that they still
had time for family, but less TV,
computer games, etc…
Habit #3
Writers practice their research and writing in
functional areas in order to identify
No one is born as a talented English
writers but rather improves through
deliberate practice.
Two elements of practice 1) regularity and
2) focus on errors to improve.
Continue to improve throughout their life.
Say they are not talented, just practiced.
“Writing is 20 percent inspiration and 80
percent perspiration.”
Focus on specific skills
Researcher talk about methods,
writing, grammar, etc.. like a golf
player talking about different swing
Writers revise all the time. No one
writes perfect sentences the first
time. They are edited and reworked
many times
Don’t trust spell check!
After the paper is completed, do not
immediately submit it to a journal. (It is not
finished yet.)
You always will find many small errors in text,
notations, explanations, or missing references,
etc. in your finished paper.
Reread the introduction, conclusion, and
abstract before submission – any mistake is
Use, but do not rely totally on spelling checkers
(Spelling checkers do not check word
meanings. )
Imitate skillful writers
Nobody loves English writing. It is only a
Observe how other successful writers
introduce their topic, cite literature, and
get on with their task.
Imitate their words and phrases, and
modify them to suit your purpose.
It is easier to imitate what someone else
has written than to create a totally new
Habit #4
Writers dramatize their work by creating
mental models of the paper writing
See their writing and researching in
dramatic terms like and metaphor
and use this to encourage their lab.
“the great struggle” House model,
dragon model.
The struggle is the glory. Enjoy the
results and so they put up with the
Find meaning and purpose in their research
Not because that is their intention,
but as a by-product
Listen to them telling challenging
stories and their faces lit up.
Happiness= pursuit
There’s always the next question
Habit #5
Writers use the competitive, political and
supportive energy of other researchers.
Supportive energy: Effective researchers
integrate with a support group. Support groups
read and review papers and keep other group
members producing. This is especially helpful at
the PhD level. Create deadlines for themselves
and tell it to others, who hold them accountable.
Competitive energy: Compare themselves with
other researchers. Keep score of number and
impact factor.
Political: Researchers are somewhat political
and use this to gain an advantage in publishing.
Often great researchers are very friendly people.
Make friends easily. The dark side is that half of
peer reviewed articles in top rated journals are
never referenced by anyone. (Holub, Tappeiner,
and Eberharter, SEJ 1991).
Don’t Criticize References
I think that the author knows his subject
better than I do. I usually use his
references to find a suitable reviewer Associate Editor, Journal of Retailing
Don’t emphasize the importance of your
paper by putting down on other papers.
Your references are probably your
reviewers and they are sensitive. When
citing other papers avoid using negative
Reviewers’ comments
“I don’t’ think you treated Smith
fairly in your literature review, his
insights deserve more respect.”
“You forgot to include Smith as a
reference in you paper. His work is
fundamental to understanding your
Cite the papers of potential referees in the
Important references should be mentioned in the first page.
Usually, the editor will read the first page (or the next) when
choosing the reviewers.
The editor may choose reviewers from those mentioned in the
introduction and references.
Works of potential referees should be mentioned in the
introduction, rather than buried in footnotes or the main body.
Give (accurate) credit generously to the most likely referees
Be generous to all authors cited, but particularly to those who are
likely to be referees.
Explain why their works are significant for your analysis.
Write one or two sentences about the contributions of each of the
most likely referees and how their works are related to yours.
This takes up less than 1% of the space, but it can affect the
probability of acceptance significantly.
Attend conferences and meetings to meet
people in your field
There are about a hundred people in your field
who are likely to be referees of your papers.
Prepare a list of one hundred active people in
your main research areas. Try to meet them
within a five-year period.
Present papers at, or at least attend, two
professional meetings a year.
When presenting papers or attending regional,
national, or international meetings, try to get to
know these people. This is your best opportunity
for networking.
When you go to conferences smile and “work the
Cite researchers who like you
Include references to authors who are
known to like your papers. Perhaps they
might become referees.
Include references to people with whom
you have had favorable correspondence.
This is not to bias opinions, but to get a
fair hearing.
Referees have to make a conscious effort
and must be alert in order to be fair to
unknown authors.
Scan journal for related articles
Try to find some related articles in the
journal to which you wish to submit your
Authors who published a paper on a
related subject are likely to be referees.
The editor's memory is still fresh.
Obviously, you need to say something
about, or at least cite, their papers.
Even if they are marginally related, try to
incorporate their references. Make some
effort to explain how your work is related.
Delete or hide the references to undesirable
potential referees
Even with double blind reviews, one can often guess the
identity of the referee from the report because of
references and writing style, etc.
Editors often select referees from your references.
If some referees consistently recommend rejection of your
papers, drop their papers from your references (in the
initial submission).
You can add them later (after the paper is accepted).
This may require rewriting the introduction with a somewhat
different perspective, but it is probably worth the effort.
Depending on the journal, you may ask the editor to eliminate
some persons from the pool of referees. But you should
ask informally (e.g., via e-mail).
Habit #6
Writers have a thick skin
“One gets rejection letters more often
than not.”
“If you cannot swallow rejection easily,
don't submit papers.”
“A good paper deserves at least three
chances at publication in ranking
“If you ignore a rejected paper more than
one month, you are likely to lose interest.
Do something about it.”
“Bad luck eventually comes to an end.”
Eliminate any trace of prior
Do not indicate when the paper was first
written. If the original version was written a few
years earlier, the editors and the referees
clearly see that it has been rejected a few
Do not indicate how often the paper has been
revised. This suggests you do not listen and
properly modify the paper to make it more
In the references, eliminate any references to
papers that were "forthcoming" a few years
back. This not only indicates that your paper
was previously rejected a few times, but also
that you are sloppy in updating the references.
Avoid the journals which consistently
reject your papers
Avoid (temporarily) the journals which have rejected your
papers consistently, say three times in a row.
The editor still remembers all those bad remarks about
your papers.
Wait until a new editor is appointed.
First and middle names, as well as last name, often reveal
the sex, race, or nationality of the authors.
If you have reason to believe that you are being
discriminated against on the basis of sex, race, or
nationality, you may consider using initials instead of
spelling out the first and middle names.
You may reveal your full name after the paper is accepted.
When rejected, try again
– Even Nobel Laureates get rejection
– Papers lying dormant in the file drawer
do not bring any good news!
– Submit the paper to another journal
within one month. But wait!
– If a referee points out a major problem,
you need to address it.
Revise and Resubmit
– You do not have to revise a paper every time it
is rejected.
– But if a paper is rejected 4 times, there is a
serious flaw in the paper. Find and fix the
– Make a modest effort to incorporate the
valuable suggestions of the referee before
submitting to another journal.
– Why? The same referee might get it again.
– Do whatever possible to make sure the
negative referee does not get the paper again.
You are entitled to new referee reports.
Problems of Journals
Association journals: Editors change every few years, and
they tend to accept more papers by colleagues and friends
while they are in charge. Since the editors are chosen from
among a few major institutions, they tend to get a larger
share of publications than under ideal academic conditions.
The are subsidized by associations. (AER, Econometrica,
University journals: Promoting truth and knowledge is not
necessarily the primary concern of these journals. The
universities need to protect their own interests. Will often
have a stated preference for their own teachers’ and
students’ papers. Subsidized by universities. (HBR, MIT
Commercial journals: To maximize profits they are least likely
to have preferences or biases. However, they cannot
survive without reader subscriptions. (Blackwell, NorthHolland)
Habit #7
Writers write (and don’t always enjoy it.)
One of the most common misunderstandings that
I find is that my students believe that good
writers enjoy writing, that they have always
enjoyed it and do it out of pure joy.
This couldn’t be further from the truth. In my
conversations with researchers I found that many
hated the process of writing but enjoyed the
results. They maintained their motivation to
overcome their hatred of the writing process.
This routine is often daily, where they write
whether or not they feel like it.
Quotes about action
“Inspiration is overrated, it’s all about
hard work and there’s really no way
around it.”.
“Whatever you can do, or dream you can
do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power,
and magic in it. Begin it now.” Johann
Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832)
“The gods favor the bold.” – Ovid (43 BC c. 18 AD)
Thinking vs. Action
Talking about writing isn’t writing.
Thinking about writing isn’t writing.
Dreaming or fantasizing isn’t writing.
Neither are outlining, researching, or
making notes. All these may be a part of
the whole milieu of the writing life and
necessary to getting a project completed,
but only writing is writing.
“You can’t sit around thinking,” said fiction
writer David Long. “You must sit around
Maintain intrinsic motivation in their topic
but it often didn’t begin that way.
Initially forced and later the interest
Often as a result of a perceived
advantage in an area.
Are conscious of their total impact.
Desire to be great.
Researcher are proud of their work
Researchers are proud of the name
“researcher” or “writer.” They don’t say
they should write, they just write.
Researcher’s motivation for writing is
different than creative writers, rather than
writing for enjoyment, they viewed writing
as a tool, rather than an end. They
needed it to communicate their findings to
a larger audience.
1) Effective researchers have a routine for writing,
submitting and revising papers.
2) Effective researchers sacrifice social or physical
endeavors to be a better researcher.
3) Effective researchers practice their research and
writing in functional areas in order to identify
4) Effective researchers dramatize their work by
creating mental models of the paper writing process.
5) Effective researchers use the competitive, political
and supportive energy of other researchers.
6) Effective researchers have a thick skin
7) Effective researchers write (and don’t always
enjoy it.)

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