Upon believing that you have completed work sufficient to write a peer reviewed manuscript, follow the below steps in order. If you are simply writing an abstract, just do 1 and 7.

  1. Write a one sentence summary of your work (will become your title; ~5 min). This sentences describes the main take home message / main result. It should not have any words that most of your readership will not be familiar with. It should be attention grabby, it should have less than 88 characters.

  2. Describe the “killer fig” that makes the point as clearly and concisely as possible. Guidance for making paper quality figures is here. (~5 min)

  3. Describe the other results, typically 3-5 additional figures or theorems. The goal of each of these is to support the main claim, for example, by further refining, adding controls, etc. Ideally, they are sequenced together in a logical chain, like a proof, each building on the next, to tell the story. (~1 hr)

  4. Make a first draft of all the figures and tables with detailed captions (~ 1 week). Captions should each be about a paragraph long. At this point, the figures need not be “camera ready”, but should have all the main points made.

  5. Get feedback on figures (~1 week). Show the figures to your colleagues who are not co-authors on your paper, do not show them the captions, and ask them to tell you what the main point of each figure is. If they don’t get it right on their first try, interupt them, and ask them to go to the next figure. Then, spend another week updating the figures, and repeat.

  6. Make all the figures and captions “camera ready” (~1 week). Consult this to confirm that they are

  7. Write a one paragraph summary (will become your abstract; ~30 min). This will be about 250 - 300 words, more than 500 words is a page, not an abstract. To include:
    1. Big opportunity sentence: what is the grandest opportunity that this work is addressing?
    2. Specific opportunity: what opportuntity specifically will this manuscript address?
    3. Challenge sentence: what is hard about addressing this opportunity?
    4. Gap sentence: what is currently missing?
    5. Action sentence: what did you do to address the gap, overcome the challenge, and therefore meet the opportunity? it should provide the key intuition/insight, the magic that makes this work, where others failed.
    6. Resolution sentence: what changes for the reader now that you have met this challenge?
  8. Write a five paragraph intro (~1 hr). This will be structured as follows:
    1. bulleted list of ~3-5 main factors that create an opportunity for your work, filtering from most general to most specific, and not including anything ancillary (~20 min)
    2. bulleted list of the ~3-5 main challenges that must be overcome (~20 min)
    3. 1 sentence summary of the gap, that is, the key ingredient that is missing (~5 min)
    4. 2-3 sentence summary of what you did (~5 min)
    5. 2-3 sentence summary on how your work changes the world (~5 min)
  9. Outline the methods and results: this is a 1 sentence summary of every point in methods_paper (~20 min)

  10. Fill in the details of the methods and results (~ 1 week).

  11. Write discussion (~1 hr), to include (not a summary)
    1. bulleted list of previous related work (~20 min)
    2. bulleted list of potential extensions (~20 min)
  12. Update abstract and introduction to final pre-feedback draft on text (~1 day).
  13. Get lots of feedback from >1 person who is in the community of potential readers of your published manuscript. Ask them to read it as if they are reviewing it for a journal, and to hold nothing back. Ask them to give you comments in one week. You are not beholden to them, but taking their criticism seriously and making improvements to the manuscript on their basis would be wise.

  14. Revise manuscript addressing each and every one of their concerns (~1 week). This does not necessarily mean making new figures, rather, it might mean clarifying various points of confusion.

  15. Do another round of feedback, give them another week.
  16. Finalize manuscript (~1 wk).

If you follow the above plan, you will have a manuscript ready to submit 2 months after you start writing.