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Louis deRosset

Developing talks and handouts for talks is very good for some things, and less good for others.

Talks are good for boiling things down to essentials and honing formulations of key claims, examples, and arguments.

Talks are not good for developing the best version of the position of a target of criticism. They are not good for giving a sense of the landscape of alternative views, or carefully explaining why you isolate the question at issue in the way that you do, as opposed, say, to the way it is standardly understood in the literature.

You can do a few of these things in a single talk. But a good paper will do all of these things, and will then keep doing them for the entire length of the paper. So, I think the advice to develop a talk and associated handout is a good start, but only a start.

Perhaps an adaptation of the "develop a talk and associated handout" method might serve: go ahead and develop the talk for the paper; but then do something similar for each of your sections. This will force you to confront the question of what the point of each section is, and will allow you to hone formulations, etc., at the requisite level of detail.

After you've got all that nailed down, you still will need to draft and then edit (ruthlessly) for style and punchiness.

Anon Postdoc

I will second Marcus's method. I don't know if this is the optimal method, but it is the only method I have found to work. Although I don't necessarily start each day at the beginning: Say I got up to section 4 one day, I might start from section 4 the next day. If it has been a while then I'm more likely to start from the start.

I'd also add to the advice to give a talk: I often find that the actual process of trying to say everything out-loud to an audience helps me. It tells me which parts are find because they are easy to cover, and it tells me which sections aren't so good because I struggle with them. I think you lose this benefit if you give a talk where you have a completely prepared script that you have memorised, so it is best used when giving talks in venues where a slightly rough and ready presentation is more acceptable (a WIP group or similar, rather than the departments big weekly seminar). And I also don't think you get this benefit by just trying to talk to yourself or by writing the talk (although that might have other benefits)—the key ingredient is being forced to keep talking without doubling back to fix what you just said.

Marcus Arvan

On Twitter, Malcolm Keating writes: "On the question about half-baked ideas. @Going_Loopy has a blog post on exactly this issue


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