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Discussion fatigue: getting over the finish line

We’d like to discuss a common problem that many scientific writers face during manuscript preparation: discussion fatigue.

Writing a scientific manuscript is a long and arduous task that requires a mix of creative demands (e.g., crafting that perfect introductory sentence) and meticulous attention to details (e.g., seemingly endless reference formatting). This inevitably leads to writing fatigue at the latter stages of the process. Unfortunately, one of the most important sections of the manuscript—the Discussion—is also one of the last elements completed. The result is that we see numerous papers where the discussion section tails off in terms of quality and impact relative to the rest of the manuscript. This is a tell-tale sign of writing fatigue and it can ruin an otherwise good paper. It is particularly embarrassing when it results in the final sentence or two of the entire paper being overly general and uninspired.

The question then is: How can you avoid and resolve this issue? The first step is simply awareness of the problem, which you now have thanks to the preceding explanation. However, there are numerous steps you can take to further mitigate this phenomenon.

1. Start working on your discussion in the early stages of the writing process. Once you collected and critically reviewed your data, you’ll have conclusions and interpretations of these results. Begin to immediately write these ideas into the manuscript. Even if they are preliminary and the final sentences do not make it to the final draft, it at least gives you something to work with when you enter the final stages. This can alleviate writing fatigue, relative to a scenario where you are staring at a blank page once you start the discussion.

2. Prepare a discussion outline. Tackling some of the easy items of your discussion by setting up framework can ease the task for you. Rather than agonizing over the perfect sentence at a time when you may be suffering writing fatigue, you can simply input placeholders for content that you know must eventually be included.

3. “Vocalize” your content. Often, it can be tremendously helpful to actually discuss—in the physical sense— the content that you are attempting to write. Use a mentor, colleague, lab mate, or even just a friend that you can discuss your findings with. You may find that it is easier to “find” the correct words in an oral discussion versus staring at a blank page. Additionally, the act of sharing you work often sparks the inspiration, motivation, and creativity necessary to generate a high-quality Discussion section.

Use these tips if you are struggling with this problem, but most importantly, try to remain self-aware so that you take action when you sense yourself being affected by writing fatigue.


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