Today I received a reminder about my joint paper at the Southern Economic Association meetings in late November. I need to finish preparing the data for the Data Envelopment Analysis (DEA) and the subsequent panel regressions. Yikes! As I read this kind reminder from my co-author, I thought about the data preparation that I still need to do. So much data to clean-up. No fun, I told myself.
Whether you are a current doctoral student, graduate, or faculty member, conducting research is an integral part of being part of the world of scholarship. The challenges we face when doing research can often feel enormous from our perception. As researchers, we will all have this problem, and we will likely ask ourselves, “Is there an easier way?”
The goal of this blog is to discuss the common roadblocks in research and provide possible remedies for them.
Manage Your Time
The most common research roadblock that exists to researchers is poor time management. It is difficult to choose between priorities: day job, schoolwork, family activities, and other events in life. In earlier years, I really struggled with time management. If you have ever written a paper in 24 hours before a conference, you know what I am talking about. However, over time I learned how to better handle the time and now it is not nearly as large of an issue.
The easiest way to do this is by showing accountability. For example, working with a co-author can make it easier to have accountability. My co-authors and I would often have conversations via telephone or Skype to go over obstacles, progress etc. I found that these interactions help tremendously in managing my time.
If you are the sole author of the paper, finding a third party to help with accountability, or setting up regular reminders for yourself of the upcoming deadline to submit your paper to the conference or journal, can help keep you on track.
Break the Work Down into Chunks
While working alone for another paper, I would break down the paper into chunks and do a chunk each week. This can work just as easily for those who are co-authoring. To begin, you make a list of the sections, I call them “chunks,” that are required in the paper. This forms your outline. Some chunks of the paper may include: perusing the literature, collect the data, prepare the data, develop the statistical methodology, run the statistical analysis, write about the statistical results, and write the conclusions. Each chunk will take a week to complete.
As I completed each chunk, I reward myself by going for lunch somewhere special, going to Starbucks, and even taking a small road trip. Before you know it, the paper is done!
Finding Secondary Data
In empirical research, finding secondary data can be a challenge and enormously time-consuming. It becomes frustrating if you spend a lot of time searching for the appropriate data after doing the literature review etc., and no such data occurs. Instead, do it backwards.
Do the data work first thing in a research project after a brief perusal of the literature and save the writing for later? Yep. You got it: no actual writing yet.
A few months ago I had an idea for research: looking at income divergence or convergence in Pennsylvania counties from 1980 to present using spatial regression methods. Then, I jumped into the data collection right away. I hit a roadblock because the older data from the 1980s and early 1990s from Census were not available. I really needed to go back to these earlier years or I could not tell my story. Then, I stumbled onto the Pennsylvania Statistical Services by the State of Pennsylvania and I contacted them about my data needs on a Friday afternoon and by Monday afternoon I received the data. Now I had all of my data; I was happy.
As a reminder, remember to acknowledge people in your paper who helped you find data for your paper. Also, do not be afraid to reach out and ask specific organizations if they can provide assistance in data collection. It can save lots of time, and they are often specialists in the data and may understand clearly what you need. That is, the might be more helpful to a researcher than what the researcher anticipated
Sometimes a researcher will need to design a survey to collect the data to answer their research questions. Survey development can be tedious and somewhat expensive. The development of a survey can be an intimidating task in itself because you need to develop the questions for the survey, field/pilot the survey instrument, find the participants, administer the survey, input the data, and do the data analysis.
As a first step and possible timesaver, you will want to check to see if an existing survey form is available for use. Many leadership surveys exist that a researcher can use rather than resorting to survey development. If a survey is available, review it carefully to see if the data collected will answer your research questions. Then, contact the author(s) of the survey to see if you are able to use the survey. If permitted, be sure to acknowledge the use of the survey in your paper.
If the survey is available, you will need to think about the population and sample of the participants. Afterwards, you’ll need to determine how you will conduct the survey. A common survey tool is the use of SurveyMonkey but be aware of the costs of each survey using this tool.
Incorporating Feedback from Referees
Once you’ve finished the paper, the next challenging step is to find a publication outlet suitable for your publication. Let’s assume for this discussion that your paper was submitted to a peer reviewed journal. Now the paper enters its first round of review. Keep in mind that all journals will have different processes for peer review. If you are not sure what the process of the peer review entails, you should ask the editor! Most credible, peer-reviewed journals will often have two rounds of reviews. After receiving the first round of reviews, many authors become frustrated by the comments and how to address them. The latter is the toughest part.
As a rule of thumb, you will need to address all the comments in the referee reports. If not, the paper could be rejected. Addressing the comments can be a time-consuming task and sometimes authors will take months to address the comments. It is best to read the comments the first time and read them again a few days later. You will be surprised that after a few days, the comments start to make more sense especially after dealing with the initial blow of receiving them. Then, start addressing the comments. Here are some suggested guidelines to address the comments by the referees:
If the referee suggests a change that improves the paper, then just make the change.
If the referee suggests a change that does improve the paper on the margin, then just make the change.
If the referee suggests a change that does not improve the paper, but this change provides no harm to the content of the paper, then just make the change.
If the referee suggests a change that does not fit any of the above, then do not make the change and provide your reasoning in your letter to the editor.
The above guidelines minimize the agony of addressing referee’s comments. Remember, you are trying to publish your work; antagonizing the referees and editor with disagreements will not get you to that end goal. Try to set time aside to incorporate the comments and attempt to do them within a week. Then, put the revised paper aside for a few days and read it again in a few days to make sure the revisions fit what the referees are asking.
These are the most common roadblocks when doing research. If you ever have a roadblock, reach out to your colleagues or even your research center chair. Such assistance can provide valuable information that can lead you to your goal of getting a paper published in a peer reviewed journal.