So, what’s easier: writing a blog entry every working day, or writing one scientific publication? The blog, the blog, no doubt about it. I write quickly, and pretty much always have, but putting a paper together is still slow work.
One difficulty is the length restriction, especially for a communication. Working in all the necessary details while still telling a coherent story are not always compatible goals, and doing it within four printed pages can be a real challenge. Many med-chem projects are pretty shaggy by the time it comes to publish, and there’s no way to get in all the twists and turns (nor would anyone want to read about them, in most cases).
So you have to decide how the work is going to be presented to give a readable but accurate account. The problem is, almost any project can be turned into a flowing narrative if you’re willing to throw away enough work and to lie about the rest. If you’re not going to do that (and I recommend against it!) then you have a harder job on your hands. You’re going to have to leave out something, but you’re going to have to be able to recognize what’s left.
It’s for sure that you’re not going to be able to talk about every single analog, so one good technique is to narrow down to representative compounds. That won’t always be popular with your co-authors, though. Odds are that some of the people who worked on the project will end up feeling slighted when their contributions make it onto the bottom few rows of a table, or are just mentioned in passing in the text: “Substitution with groups larger than methyl led to rapid loss of activity (data not shown), so our attention then turned to. . .”
Another difficulty is that series of analogs aren’t often made in the order that makes sense in hindsight. I think it’s acceptable to mess around with the timelines a bit in presenting the data, as long as you aren’t rearranging things that had an impact on the main flow of the SAR. That course of events you’re stuck with, and you just have to find a way to make your decisions seem reasonable. It helps if they actually were reasonable, of course. That condition does not always obtain.
As for writing style, I recommend a difficult one: the kind that you hardly see at all. Keeping someone reading along while you deliver the dry, concentrated, chewy news isn’t easy to do, but it’s a goal worth struggling for. Most papers scan as if they’ve been sprayed with light coating of eye repellent: you slide right off of them after a paragraph or so. If you can avoid that, you’re already well out from the pack. As for extra touches, I actually enjoy seeing a bit of personality and humor come through in a scientific paper, but getting that bit right is very difficult. Getting it wrong is very easy, though, and the results are unpleasant. If you’re not sure of your touch, keep your hands off the spice rack. This isn’t the time to be Henry James (is there ever a time?), William Faulkner, or Marcel Proust. If you’re going to emulate a novelist, think Hemingway. Early Hemingway. If you want a journalistic role model, you can aim for Orwell, but that’s a high mark – he had style to burn, but managed not to call attention to it. Good luck!