Monday, April 16, 2012

The 40-Hour Challenge

Since an article consists of about forty 40 paragraphs and you should be able to write a paragraph about something you know in about 30 minutes, you should be able to draft a journal article in around 20 hours. This insight is the basis of the 40-Hour Challenge. Here's what you do.

First, plan a 40-paragraph article. You don't have to use my standard outline (3-paragraph introduction, 5-paragraph background, 5-paragraph theory, 5-paragraph method, 3 x 5-paragraph of analysis, 5-paragraph implications, 2-paragraph conclusion) but it should be something with a similar kind of a down-to-the-paragraph structure. The reason for this, of course, is that you will need to know exactly which paragraph you are going to be writing in which half hour.

Next, find 40 hours of writing time in your calendar. As much as possible, spend at least 30 minutes every working day on this challenge. Never spend more than three hours. Notice that this means you will at most devote 16-weeks (80 working days) and at least two and a half weeks. I would recommend taking the challenge over four to eight weeks, mostly working 1-2 hours a day.

Now, distribute the work of writing the paragraphs you have outlined across the first twenty of the forty hours you've given yourself. Give yourself 30 minutes (including a few minutes of revision and a short break between paragraphs) for each. Plan to spend the 21st hour reading what you have produced and deciding which paragraphs need another 30 minutes. Choose the 20 most revision-needy paragraphs and work on them over the next 10 hours.

The next step is to make an after-the-fact outline of what you have accomplished. Spend about 1 minute per paragraph deciding which sentence expresses its main point (we call this the "key sentence"). Do this in two 30-minute sessions, 20 paragraphs at a time. Do it quickly and effectively.

You can now spend five minutes on each sentence (four minutes, followed by a break) making it as sharp and clear as you can. You have a few hours left. First, make sure that the sequence of key sentences makes sense on its own (without the body of each of paragraph). Your argument should be clear from this survey of just your main points. Next, make a list of the most important defects of the text at this point. Give yourself 30 minutes to work on each of them, starting at the top of the list.

That's it. You're not finished, of course. But you've done forty hours of serious work on a paper. Knowing you can do that, make a plan for another 20 or 40 hours. That's how you'll get your ideas written down in the long run.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wow! This makes a lot of sense--especially as it suggests that the paper doesn't have to publication-ready at the end of the 40 hours--just "done." I like it--very systematic