We should not judge people by their peak of excellence; but by the distance they have traveled from the point where they started.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Research paper and movie making

Writing a research paper is like making a movie. How? I explain here. 

Great movies are a product of great storytelling. First there is a script with a great story. The director is the person in charge of molding the script, making real life scenarios out of the story passages, controlling the actors who enact the passages with suitable dialogues, and makes sure that the entire flow of the story telling goes smoothly. If the entire process goes well, the result is a product which is loved by the audience and attracts both financial and critical success. 

A research paper has extreme similarities to the process of movie making. Great papers are those, which tell a great scientific story. The core theme is centered around a central idea around which the entire paper's narration revolves. There could be multiple directors here instead of a single one like movies. However, different directors have different roles and importance. The main author is many times like an actor + 
sub-ordinate director, while the main professor maintains the core focus and making sure that flow stays coherent with the story line. 

Experiments are  like different movie scenarios which help reveal the beauty of the story, convey why the story matters, and why it should be cared about. There is an introduction, there is a middle ground and there is a climax. So it all matches in tune with a movie's flow.

The editing process in movie making and films is often very similar. The director repeats and retakes multiple shots of the same scene until he is satisfied. Similarly an experiment is repeated till one gets expected results. The passages in a paper are re-written and edited continuously to make sure that they fit the story line. At the end when the complete movie is ready, it goes into post-production phase where different digital effects, dubbing, voice synchronization, editing is done. A research paper also goes into a post production phase once its first complete draft is ready. Lot of cuts are made in the texts, extra verbose text is omitted, paragraphs are re-aligned to make sure that they fit in the natural flow, presentation of figures, graphs etc is adjusted to make the representation as simple and as precise as possible so that the focus is not lost. 

And finally both movies and research papers are submitted in the market. A movie goes to a wider audience, a research paper goes to conference reviewers, where the fate of both is sealed. A good movie certainly is going to get good acknowledgement, however if it is bad in some aspects, it never gets a second chance and dies quickly. In contrast the conference paper reviewers (3 mostly), decide the fate of your papers publication solely. Many times the process seems unfair where papers get rejected on trivial reasons with irrelevant comments. However, unlike movies there are multiple chances. A paper once rejected could be resubmitted by improving on the feedback from the reviewers to another conference where its chances of acceptance could be higher. And the process continues until it is accepted. Even good papers could take around 3 rejections to get finally accepted. However, after that if the paper is really bad, it dies a natural death as there is a limit to which you could sell your idea in different dimensions to cater to reviewer comments. 

So I feel every PhD student should understand the process of moving making if he / she wants to get better at the art of research paper writing. At least there will be some useful new insights to seek, and new knowledge of any sort is always good.

On the leaving note here is an excellent piece of advise on why writing a good paper matters

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