Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Two Week Method of Writing Academic Articles

Can you really write an article in two weeks? Of course you can, but you are pretty unlikely to be able to write a publishable article in that short of a time. Nevertheless, two weeks is a good amount of time to give yourself to work on a project before taking a break from it.

One strategy that has worked well for me is to write for two hours every day for two weeks on a single short project: a book chapter or an article. Working consistently for two weeks, I can come up with a very rough draft of an article. After working on it for two weeks, I put it aside. If it is in good enough shape to share with a trusted colleague, I will do so. If not, I put it aside and come back to it in a week or two.

How does this work? The 2-2-1 method: (Two weeks, two hours, one project)

  •           Work on a single project for two weeks at a time. You can have other smaller projects, but one will be your top priority.
  •           Work on your top-priority project for two hours a day. This work should mostly be writing, but also can include taking reading notes, revising, arranging the bibliography, etc.
  •           At the end of two weeks, decide if it is ready for you to solicit feedback, send to an editor, submit for review, or just set aside.
  •           Get it off your desk and wait at least one week before you give it another two weeks. This will allow you to approach your project with fresh eyes.

When I revisit my article or chapter after setting it aside, and, hopefully, with feedback from a colleague, I give myself another two weeks to work on it to create a better draft. I continue to do this until it is ready for submission. Once I have submitted an article to a journal, and I receive the feedback, I give myself two weeks to revise it. Depending on the number of revisions required, I may re-submit the article, set it aside, or ask a colleague to review it.

This method works for me only if I do two things: 1) Write every day for at least two hours Monday to Friday and 2) Have this article as my priority for the entire two weeks, meaning I work on it every day, first thing in the morning.

Depending on the project at hand, the level of complexity, my familiarity with the research, and the richness of the data, writing a complete, ready-to-submit draft of an article takes me between one and six two-week sessions.

Working on something for two weeks at a time allows me to approach the project with fresh eyes the next time I pick it up. It also forces me to stop and ask for feedback when I am having trouble moving forward.

The 2-2-1 method may or may not work for you. If it does, great! If it doesn’t, it is still important to decide ahead of time how much time you will commit to a project before you begin. Without setting these internal deadlines, you risk creating a situation where you revise and revise an article without ever submitting it.


  1. Tanya, this suggestion is so helpful. I plan to try it after the new year. Thanks so much for your blog - it is great.


  2. Thanks, Zig! Glad you found the post useful and thanks for checking the site out!

  3. I love this blog. Thank you for writing it. I have been struggling with how to juggle several writing projects, so I will give this a try. I'm worried about over-reading and over-researching and never getting to the writing in the two-week sessions. Do you have a strategy for making sure that you produce a tangible document during your sessions?

  4. Thanks for your comment!

    It is often difficult to assess how much reading we need to do. If I have NO knowledge of an area, I give myself one week to take notes before I begin the actual writing. But, the second week, I have to begin the "real" writing.

    I agree with you: it is really important to limit the amount of time we spend diving into the morass which is the current literature in an area. One good thing about limiting that to one week is that once I begin to write, it becomes clearer and clearer to me which articles and books I actually need to read!

    I also have a blog entry about writing a literature review:

  5. This sounds brilliant (by which I mean, it sounds like a compatible work method for me) and I had not thought of it before / heard of it.

    I mean, it sounds downright inspiring. !!!