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Scott Hill

I find that having many preps makes research hard. But if I have one prep and/or am teaching only classes I have taught a lot before, it is easier to make time to do research and to read.

So if I have 4 or more classes but just one prep and all classes are on the same days of the week, it can be a productive semester research wise. But if I have a bunch of different preps and haven’t taught the courses before, research goes out the window.

So if you have some say in what you teach, asking for all the same classes on all the same days really helps. If there is an intro class that everybody hates teaching and wants to avoid, for example, you can ask to get as many sections of that class as you can.

writing flow

I get that time is limited, but I think it's helpful to recognize that research is not just something that is going to add x more hours onto your writing project. In my experience, research really alters the writing process, spurring more and better writing (and cutting down, I think, on the amount of time I would otherwise spend writing). If I start off my day reading someone else's paper, I am soon enough itching to write down my own ideas. When I do, I write more quickly, with more excitement and more direction. My recommendation, then, would be to toggle back and forth. Start with research, and only put it down when you can't stand not to be putting your own thoughts to paper. Once the flow of writing slows down again, turn back to the research (perhaps fanning out from the bibliography of those one or two papers you knew you needed to read). Researching and writing (quickly) are not at cross purposes.


Yes, write first. Use what you've written to focus your reading. There is always more to read, so use the skeleton of your paper to guide you in what you should prioritize.

But also: approach reading like you approach writing. You don't need to spend an entire day reading; break it up into manageable daily chunks. It adds up quickly.

I love research

I find the idea of just writing "MY paper" a bit disconcerting. Our contributions to the scholarly literature are to engage the existing literature, build on it, react to, criticize it. As such, research is not an add-on, that we should want to do without. Rather, it is an essential part of the process. Imagine a world where all of us just wrote OUR own papers, with no engagement with the existing literature. Who would read such stuff?

Prof L

Yes, write first, read later. It's easier to see if a paper is relevant to another once that other one is (mostly) written. This will make the reading faster, more directed.

Related to this, however, is learning how to revise. This was a huge hurdle to me and I think to most graduate students, who research, write, and turn in, and never really revise a paper until (perhaps) their dissertation. I had a huge mental block to deleting paragraphs or entire sections of a paper to rewrite them, preferring instead to tweak the wording here and there when I saw a problem, was incorporating relevant literature, or was responding to comments. If you read after writing and then do that latter kind of "revising", it's not going to be a great paper.

Also, once you really develop a specialty, you'll have all that reading under your belt, and can publish in the vicinity.

Assistant Professor

Like Marcus, I tend to do the quick lit reviews on my idea/topic to scan for relevant literature about which I might be unaware, but overall try to write out an idea first and fill in detailed references later. But to the worries about writing "MY paper" first and reading later, I would add that I would like to imagine that most of us taking this approach are doing so because we are generally familiar with what the relevant literature is that informs the idea, or which which the idea is in conversation. It is not just armchair thinking as though we've produced an entirely new and original idea from thin air, it is by being steeped in the relevant literature/debates that we tend to produce those new ideas for our papers. But maybe this is just my imagination about process...


Thanks for the feedback on my question(s) folks. And yes to Assistant Professor: I wrote the question from the place of wanting to write 'MY paper' while already having a sense for the most relevant work in the area, but without knowing every little related corner. Saying as much should also address 'i love research'. I wasn't saying that I wish to ignore the literature; I was saying that given constraints on my time from teaching, I would ideally like to write without doing all the research first. To be clear, I sort of wrote the question because I struggle with this. I still read/research too much, and that coupled with constraints on my time means I am not as productive as I'd like to be.

Jacob Joseph Andrews

1. I find it helps to have a practice of skimming new journals + a way to quickly note articles that might be useful for projects. For instance, a Word doc for each project where you copy and paste references. Don't read them until you're actually working on the project. It saves me so much time to start on a project, or hear from a reviewer that I need more references, and not have to go hunting for a place to start reading.

2. The disagreement between writing first vs reading first in the comments is fascinating. I find most people, including myself, read too much before writing. It helps me to have a separate time for reading and note taking that is different from, and smaller than, my writing time.

Timmy J

One solution: just write less well-researched papers! Remember: your referees are people like you. Not all of them have read the every little corner of the literature either.

Case in point: I teach a lot. I also referee a lot. I do sometimes R&R a paper and say “hey you oughta read x”. I basically never reject a paper for lack of citations (not literally never; I once had a paper sent to me that had two citations total, both from before 1900).

One last bit: the key to doing research (for me) is focusing on doing the research you *will* do, not just trying hard to do research you *in principle could* do. If “writing MY paper” is the research you *will* do, then do it. And once it’s R&R’d you’ll likely find adding the few extra citations your (mostly normal and friendly) referees ask for is also something you *will* do. Or at least that’s how it works for me.


I think the writing first vs reading first disagreement might depend on the specific project that you are working on and what motivates it. Sometimes I begin a project because I think I have a great idea that I have not seen before. In those cases, I do some basic research to confirm as much as I can that it has not been written about, and then I mostly write first.

But sometimes I am interested in writing about an under-analyzed topic even though I do not yet know what exact position I will take. In those cases, I read a ton before I start writing (or even outlining).

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