In the famous words of a person named Yogi Berra,
If you don’t know where you’re going, you might not get there.
And so it is with your paper. If you don’t know where you’re going with it – the main point(s) you want your paper to impress upon its readers through its take-home message – you might not get to the stage of finishing your paper or getting it published. If you never find your paper’s take-home message and therefore cannot articulate the take-home message anywhere in your paper, a reader will have a hard time deducing your paper’s take-home message themselves. This means that your paper’s gatekeeper readers – co-authors, journal editors and / or peer reviewers – could find your paper so difficult to understand that it never gets their tick of approval for passage into the next step towards publication. If that happens, all the time you spent on your paper will be lost.
An alternate consequence of writing your paper without knowing its take-home message is that you’ll spend a lot more time than necessary to get it finished and published. In a road trip taken when you don’t know where you’re going, there can be a lot of trial and error in following a number of different roads and seeing whether they take you somewhere good (or not). You’ll probably eventually find somewhere good on your road trip, but it will take more time than if you knew where you were going before you set out.
Similar to the above road trip analogy, in a paper written when you don’t know what the take-home message is, there can be a lot of trial and error in writing text which doesn’t end up in your paper because it doesn’t quite seem right when you finish the paper. You’ll probably eventually find the take-home message through the trial and error of writing the complete paper with a number of different angles, but this can double, triple or even quadruple the time required to write your paper.
To avoid frittering your precious time, define your paper’s take-home message before you start writing your paper.
That way, writing your paper will feel less like muddling through a series of trial and error turns, and more like cruising along a fast freeway to your ultimate destination.
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