Reflection on my first paper writing experience
post by Natalie Leesakul (2018 cohort)
Citation: Urquhart, L., Reedman-Flint, D. and Leesakul, N. (2019), “Responsible domestic robotics: exploring ethical implications of robots in the home”, Journal of Information, Communication and Ethics in Society, Vol. 17 No. 2, pp. 246-272. https://doi.org/10.1108/JICES-12-2018-0096
As I was wrapping up my first study and starting to draft the paper, I thought this might be a good time to write a reflection piece on my first paper writing experience. Writing a paper can feel a bit daunting. There are always so many ideas to cover and it is so easy to get consumed by the findings and the need to make the paper perfect – and that is where I’m usually stuck at. So, I have to often remind myself that writing a paper is a journey on its own and it is going to take several drafts and many revisions before arriving at the final document, but even that is not the end!
When I was in my first year, my supervisor, Dr Lachlan Urquhart, invited me to join in on a paper that he was working with another Horizon student, Dominic Reedman-Flint, for ETHICOMP 2018 conference in Sopot, Poland. The motivation of the paper was to introduce empirical observation and conceptual analysis to present how responsible robotics should be built and what people think of life with robots. As the paper focused on exploring challenges and requirements for designing responsible domestic robots, it was very much aligned with my interest in robotics and the law, so I got on board. Following the submission to the conference, we were invited to submit the paper to Journal of Information, Communication and Ethics in Society, and the paper was accepted and published in May 2019. Although it has been over a year since the conference, I still remember the feeling when I gave a presentation at a conference for the first time and the excitement when we found out that the paper was finally in the pipeline for publishing.
For paper preparation, we were working remotely prior to the conference – Lachlan was the lead on this paper while Dom looked at the exploratory study and my responsibility was to support and fill the gaps in some parts of literature review, data analysis and copy editing. We collaborated via email and used Dropbox to keep track of different paper versions and editing (the raw survey data was not stored on here). Through collaboration, the paper started to develop from a rough outline of the paper format to the final draft ready for submission. Unfortunately, neither Lachlan nor Dom was able to attend the conference. Although it was quite nerve-racking when I found out I would be going to the conference and presenting the paper, this experience really set a good start for my PhD (I’ll save the details for another storytelling!).
After returning from the conference, we took into consideration the questions that were asked during the presentation and addressed this further in our paper. Some of the questions we received were around the main themes of the survey, how the questions were formed, and the general question on how robots can be used for other purposes such as helping those who are socially isolated. In this case, Dom and I were able to work together in person to revise the paper before submitting to the journal. It was definitely easier to collaborate in person as we needed to make some substantial changes to comply with the journal formatting requirements and criteria, decisions could be made faster this way. It took a few days of in-person meetings but intensive email exchanging between all three of us until we had the final draft.
After the paper was accepted and went through peer review process, we received feedback with a minor revision (adding an appendix that includes the statistical analysis). This part of the process allowed us one last chance to edit the paper before publication. It was a very crucial stage to ensure that the paper was airtight which only meant more revision and more back and forth emailing. As I mentioned from the beginning, having a final draft is still not the end of the journey. The paper can always be made better, but it is important to know when to stop. After reading over the paper several times and everyone double, triple, quadruple checked the paper, we then agreed on the final editing.
What I have learned from this experience is very valuable to my PhD journey. For practical skills, I personally think it is a good practice to maintain a record of each revision. I found the recommendation from Lachlan very useful for collaborative writing – so instead of everyone editing the master document, we created a copy of it to add our content to with track changes on. All the revisions must be uploaded onto a shared folder but then only one person compiles all the content onto the master document as this will prevent confusion and corrupted files. For personal development, although I was new to this process, I found that the key for successful collaboration consisted of being flexible and open to new suggestions, respecting each other’s opinions, being supportive, and having good communication, which both Lachlan and Dom have shown me 😊. It was certainly a good first paper writing experience and a nice reminder to be patient with the process.