Getting the Writing Pipeline Flowing

November 3, 2020

Pharmacy writers seeking to improve their scholarly writing may have heard of the ever-expanding writing sprint called the #RXWritingChallenge. The #RXWritingChallenge is a 14-day challenge designed to encourage participants to dedicate 30 minutes a day, Monday through Friday, to writing. The aim of the challenge is to jump start or reinvigorate publication progress – whether you are in the literature search, manuscript drafting, or revise and resubmit phases. Throughout the two weeks, participants get daily emails with short pearls or vignettes from its founder, Dr. Kristin Janke (Executive Associate Editor of Currents in Pharmacy Teaching and Learning), self-reflection prompts, and highlights from trending Twitter posts associated with the challenge. The #RXWritingChallenge also shares literature to help writers develop their technical writing skills and research quality, as well as webinars hosted by various editorial board members from the top nine most prominent pharmacy journals.

This October’s #RXWritingChallenge theme was “Clogs, Bottlenecks and Leaks: Keeping the Writing Pipeline Flowing,” inspired by Dr. Helen Sword’s internationally best-selling book, Air & Light & Time & Space: How Successful Academics Write. Dr. Sword is a renowned author and Professor of Humanities at the University of Auckland. In her book, she describes the writing BASE model, where strong writing habits are made up of the following four parts.

Behavioral habits – dedicating time to writing
Artisanal habits – crafting your work and writing skills
Social habits – seeking support and feedback from others
Emotional habits – finding writing pleasurable and challenging

So, what does this have to do with water pipes and clogs? The writing process can be seen as a system of water pipes, where ideas flow from conceptualization, research, data collection, analysis, drafting, submission, revision, and finally, acceptance for publication. However, instead of having a steady flow from stage to stage, we often see our research and writing processes stalled at various phases. The clogs in our water pipes, or writing process, refer to places where ideas get stuck due to intrinsic factors. For example, after this experience, I have realized that I find the least enjoyment from data collection, therefore, my pipeline gets clogged here.

The bottlenecks in our writing pipeline refer to places where ideas pile up due to extrinsic factors. Journals are notorious for having long waiting periods for manuscript review – first at the initial decision to accept or reject, then through the first round of peer review, and finally through revision stages. The leaks refer to places where ideas seem to exit the pipeline entirely. Examples of leaks could be enthusiastic students who sign on to do research, then get distracted by schoolwork or internships, and miss project deadlines – holding your pipeline up. Alternatively, maybe a former colleague or resident has left the institution and abandoned the project, leaving you to pick up the work. Or maybe someone has “scooped” your idea and now research is pouring out in the area you originally were investigating.

Going back to Dr. Sword’s writing BASE model, we must first examine how we organize our writing pipeline, areas where clogs, bottlenecks, and leaks occur, and ways to mitigate those, before we can jump in and change our habits. The #RXWritingChallenge complements the writing BASE model by having participants commit to writing every day for 14 days to shape up our behavioral habits, sharing literature and pearls to improve technical research and writing skills (our artisanal habits), and providing a community of support through their Twitter hashtag to tap into our social and emotional habits.

This makes sense – now what do I do?

Ask yourself how you organize your writing pipeline. Do you use technology to help you – such as project management apps like Trello or Notion or a Google sheet? Are you old school and keep track of your projects by hand with a whiteboard or journal? Here’s an example.

Before the #RXWritingChallenge, I hadn’t given any thought to my organization. I just plotted projects onto my whiteboard and noted where in the process they were, but I wasn’t seeing the bigger picture of how my projects were moving together. Translation, how my scholarship and productivity were moving. So now, my whiteboard looks like this:


Ideas and Research Questions Literature Review IRB Protocol Data Collection
Analysis and Interpretation Manuscript Draft Submission Revisions

Pause here and think about how you organize your writing pipeline. How would you change it?

Now that my ideas were plotted, I had to think about where my clogs, bottlenecks, and leaks were and why they existed. I also noticed my gaps and wondered why those existed. Although we are not a research-intensive institution, we all chose to become academics because deep down, we enjoy scholarship in some aspect – either as the consumer, producer, or both.

I noticed that my clogs (or where my oldest projects were) were around data collection and analysis. Sure, I could devote ten minutes a day to combing through a few more patient charts instead of getting on Instagram, but I don’t. Even when someone’s given me the data (analysis phase), I get overwhelmed by the statistical tests and interpreting how it supports or disproves my hypothesis. Worse, when I see p-values >0.05, my soul dies and I get even more discouraged to publish my results. So, what do I do? Perhaps getting committed students to share the tedious work of data collection would help. Or maybe I need to talk through my results with a colleague to convert those statistics into words. Perhaps I just need to lay those projects to rest.

I won’t go through where my bottlenecks and leaks are, but I will skip to my gaps. Juggling multiple projects made me feel like I was active in every area of the pipeline, until I came to the harsh reality that I wasn’t. Thanks to our recent switch to IRBManager, I quickly wrapped up all pending IRB protocols and closed out completed studies, so had an empty space to start new projects. Furthermore, with the help of my co-authors, I finished all manuscripts that were stuck in the drafting phase. What did that tell me? One, pat on the back for completing those recent achievements. Two, I need to unclog my pipes to get the writing flowing again. Three, with this new chronological mapping, I can easily see which projects are almost to the finish line and where I should start pouring the proverbial Drano.

I’m relieved that Roseman encourages and supports scholarship without the culture of publish or perish. Although we don’t employ stringent, unspoken rules like the 2-2-2 rule (always have two manuscripts in preparation, two in review, and two in press), we should celebrate and be excited that our careers as academics allows us to think, discover, and share through writing!

For further reading, check out this article: Lebo, M. Managing Your Research Pipeline. Political Science & Politics. 2016;49(2):259-264. doi:10.1017/S1049096516000160

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Angela Chu, PharmD, BCPS
Assistant Professor of Pharmacy Practice Director-IPE South Jordan
Roseman University of Health Sciences College of Pharmacy