Thursday, April 09, 2015

The Art of Nudging

On a friend's complaint about a PI not getting back to her about the next stop on a project, I was reminded of this neat advice from cognitive psychologist Dennis Pelli, on his great page of concrete writing advice:
Nudging. Collaboration is wonderful. The key ingredient is that you both must need each other. That's what will carry you through the hard patches. However, many manuscripts die sitting on the desk of someone who is planning to get back to it soon. How do you get it moving again? This is often described in moral terms specific to the personal association, but, after many years of sending and receiving reminders, I've come to think that it's a professional skill. Some people are good at it and they collaborate to produce many papers. Others aren't immoral; they just aren't good at it. Watching, from both sides, what works and what doesn't, I note that there is a trick to it. Start very very mildly, lightly reminding. And stay there. Don't escalate. This is counter-intuitive because, as a sender, one is embarrased by the implicit criticism of the reminder, and one feels a need to justify the action by moralizing and describing dire consequences. But all that negative stuff discourages the recipient who probably needs only the reminder and perhaps some encouragement. And, of course, do it. Always very lightly, but frequently enough to keep the paper in your recipient's mind. Mastering this unsung skill and collaborating with good nudgers — nudging and being nudged — may greatly increase the number of papers that you publish.

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