NDJ:6 Mary Davis, MD

How to Write a Professional Paper

  1. Think of a topic: a patient who’s driving you crazy, a pattern of behavior you’ve seen repeatedly, a question you want an answer to.
  2. Think of another topic, because the first one is too complicated and you don’t know where to start.
  3. Read lots of papers about the first topic, and forget what your original question was.
  4. As you’re listening to patients, get distracted by thoughts about what you’ve read.
  5. Begin to use what you’ve read as you listen to patients.
  6. Remember the original question, and realize it’s meaningless, but there’s another, related question that’s interesting.
  7. Read everything you can find about the new question, and then forget that question.
  8. After a year or so, remember the second question, because your most difficult patient is illustrating it perfectly.
  9. Write down that patient’s history and put into words what her central problem is, after changing your mind about that central problem at least twice.
  10. Talk to trusted colleagues about your patient, and argue about what they think.
  11. Rewrite what you’ve written.
  12. Repeat steps 10 and 11 at least three times.
  13. Throw out what you have written so far and repeat step 9.
  14. Repeat steps 10 through 13 until done.

(Optional) Add footnotes and bibliography.

(Optional)  Submit for publication.

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