“I can write your peer-reviewed article and get you published” was the theme of a recent article I wrote on LinkedIn. In that article, I explained how I diagnose research projects when trying to help researchers complete their research protocols and actually publish their results.
“I can write your peer-reviewed article” is also a message I give my academic customers who have hired me to do other things (such as consult on health quality research, help design and build a dashboard, or teach data science). The reason I wrote the LinkedIn article is that recently, a lot of both new and long-term customers are coming to me and asking for my “data to draft” service. This has given me a lot to think and write about!
One of the things it has allowed me to do is actually develop a flat-fee price for this service. In this blog post, I’ll explain to you why I can offer you a flat fee of $4,000 to help you go from having all the data for your research, to writing it up and publishing it in the peer-reviewed literature, without even knowing the condition of your data, or the topic of your research.
“I Can Write Your Peer-Reviewed Article for $4,000” Sounds Too Good To be True
If you have ever worked with public health and data science contractors, you are probably thinking that anyone who says, “I can write your peer-reviewed article for $4,000” is either going to just steal your data, or produce something unreadable. That’s kind of like telling someone you are going to sell them a bicycle for a dollar. If they actually give you anything in return for the dollar you give them, it probably isn’t a bicycle, and if it is, you probably will get hurt if you ride it, so please don’t!
How My Competitors Do It
Why does it cost so much when consulting companies help you write your peer-reviewed article? This is because the big competitors to my company – you know, the kind without a social responsibility orientation that are happy to take money from drug companies, such as Booz Allen Hamilton, Westat, and RTI – usually charge the customer at least $100/hour for the services of their contractors. And for a peer-reviewed article, they will need to assign at least three pretty sophisticated contractors to the project, because they will need to employ different skills sets.
I used to run a data repository at the US Army about 10 years ago, so I was a data broker, and would ethically dispense data to teams that would analyze it and publish papers. These teams would have consultants on them, and this would be the typical breakdown of the budget (Disclaimer: These prices were as of 10 years ago – I do not know what they are now, but I can imagine they are way higher):
What they could do on the project
Army Principal Investigator
Subject matter expertise, sometimes study design
20-30 hours total on the project
Generally, projects like this needed very little top-level oversight – just a few meetings.
Subject matter expertise
10-20 hours total for each on the project
Depending upon the topic, contractors often had to interview a lot of Army people to understand what they were studying. They served on the team and got credit as well.
Managed all contractor personnel on site. Managed contract. Responsible for having the team complete the outcomes.
About 10 hours per month
Projects would take six months to one year to complete, but did not need a lot of oversight. The cost to the customer for the Lead Epidemiologist role was close to that of the Statistician role, even though they typically had a PhD and the Statistician only a master’s.
Did most of the operational work of developing the paper: Maintained citation library, wrote, added edits from researchers, worked with statistician to format statistical output for publication, shepherded manuscript through publication.
20-40 hours per month
This person was typically an MPH who took home much less than $100/hour, but the consulting company charged their customers about $100/hour for this role.
Typically, the only person with access to the raw data. Built analytic datasets, produced analysis from SAS, R, SPSS, statistical consulting.
20-40 hours per month
This person was typically a biostatistician who took home closer to $100/hour, so the consulting company would charge its customers a lot more for this role than the Project Coordinator role.
As you can see by this budget table, a research team typically consisted of people from the Army where I worked (whose salaries really weren’t figured into the consulting budget), and at least three contracted roles: Lead Epidemiologist, Project Coordinator, and Statistician. In reality, the entire research team would usually agree to throw in a little extra funding for the Lead Epidemiologist to consult with other Epidemiologists at the consulting firm (who were leading other projects) so that they could get their names as authors on the final paper, too, and also, provide some external scientific oversight. But in actually, it was these three contracted roles that were enormously expensive for whoever was paying for the analysis.
Distribution of Work Among Skill Sets
As you can see by the table, in terms of the three roles, most of the actual grunt work was done by the Project Coordinator – all the paperwork having to do with these projects, including protocol writing, IRB work, writing the first draft, adding edits, making sure all the authors read and edited things, organizing and running meetings, library work – all that shitwork, I would call it.
When I was there, I noticed that Project Coordinators were usually women with their MPHs. Often the Project Coordinator would get authorship, too, but the people really getting credit for all the work were the subject matter experts (SMEs) and the Lead Epidemiologist, who often did very little, but charged a lot. And Statisticians typically insulate themselves from having to do shitwork by remaining ignorant as to how to do it (as a rule), so the Project Coordinator would have to reformat all this horrible SAS output provided by the Statistician to try to make tables and figures presentable for the journal.
Timeline and Budget Estimate for Projects
As you can see by my budget estimate table, projects would typically take six months to one year. You need to think in terms of paying part of these three peoples’ salaries for a few months to get the paper done. But of course, they would not all be working full-time on your paper, so you are not paying their full salaries for six months, or however long the timeline is. You are just paying them for the time they work on your project.
Let’s imagine a scenario in which a project lasts six months, so you have would estimate this many hours per role:
- Lead Epidemiologist = 60 hours
- Project coordinator = 120 hours
- Statistician = 120 hours
At $100/hour at least, you’d be paying about $30,000. This is not atypical. There are firms that can speed up the timeline and reduce the budget to something closer to $15,000 or $20,000 – but then the scope would decrease.
To be fair, the teams sometimes generated one analytic dataset that supported multiple papers, and this was one way to cut down costs. But in the end, no one should expect to go from a raw dataset to a published, peer-reviewed article for less than $10,000 when using these consulting firms.
“I Can Write Your Peer-Reviewed Article for $4,000” – Seriously? How?
Okay, well let’s start by deconstructing that budget above, because that budget still encapsulates all the work that needs to get done when developing a peer-reviewed article. Let’s say we wanted to make one of these roles super-efficient to reduce hours. Which one should we do it with – the Lead Epidemiologist, the Project Coordinator, or the Statistician?
I would suggest we start with the Project Coordinator, because that role takes up most of the hours on the budget.
Making the Project Coordinator Role More Efficient
This role is big, requiring expertise on many different lower-level tasks. Probably the main skills that should be targeted for efficiency are typing speed, writing ability (not only the paper, but communication to team members), and skills for dealing with annoying administration – like IRB forms, journal submission portals, citation management programs, and Excel tables. So, if we take the Project Coordinator role, and we make this person very good at writing, and type at least 120 wpm, and have background running offices that actually set up forms and portals and things, then you have someone who will go lightning fast on all of that.
That’s me. I used to run grants departments, among other things. Some people freak out the first time they see me type, because my hands look so weird going so fast. So I found that even though I’m a Lead Epidemiologist myself, which is a higher-level task, it was always just easier for me to do all my own Project Coordination.
Reducing Overhead by Reducing Roles
I observed when working at the Army that one of the biggest money- and time-sinks was having the Project Coordinator have to communicate with the entire team, and organize all the paperwork together so everyone could access everything. I often thought, “What if the Project Coordinator just did it all herself?”
One big waste of money was having the Statistician use SAS and create all this ugly SAS output, and then have the Project Coordinator spend forever formatting it. I try to use R whenever possible, and if you’ve taken my courses in how to use R, you can see that you can output tables to Excel that are mostly-formatted.
Also, because of the very sharp wall erected between the Statistician’s work and the work of the rest of the team, there would always be a lot of effort spent trying to keep the Statistician on the same page as everyone else. Also, it was hard to do oversight of the Statistician – not so much because that person would do something bad, but because they would misunderstand something and model it wrong.
Once I became an epidemiologist, I realized that statisticians typically don’t know epidemiology. I know that should be obvious, but it wasn’t to me. Epidemiologists and biostatisticians are taught both topics in school, but only the one we are trying to study on purpose actually sinks in – usually.
Since I really actually understood biostatistics when I was done studying it, I hit the roof when the biostatisticians looked at me with blank stares. I’d yell at them, “Remember Epi 101?” over and over (which does not make you popular, by the way).
But this gave me an idea. It made me realize – this is a signal I do not need a Statistician! I’ll just do it all myself! Hence, I’m now a “data scientist”.
Reducing Roles Reduces Timeline
- Okay, so now we have me as a Project Coordinator, a Lead Epidemiologist, and a Statistician.
- I know how to do all these things with experience and efficiency, so we have eliminated most of the overhead.
- Also, I can go really fast, so we have now reduced the hours for the Project Coordinator role.
And I’m all the same person, so we can reduce the timeline. For example, if I have a few weeks where I don’t have anything pressing scheduled, I could go from data to draft in a month.
My Trick: Elimination of Roles and Use of Efficient Process
Since I have written papers with many, many research teams, I have developed an efficient process for going from “data to draft” ASAP. I will not give away my secrets, but I will say in general, my trick lies in meeting with the customer pre-contract, and ensuring sufficient curation files exist about their research project before I agree to take it on.
I do not mind doing pre-contract work and having pre-contract meetings to ensure that we have a research paper here for you that you will be able to publish. That is because if the project has any of these characteristics, I will not agree to take it on:
- IRB issues are not resolved
- Authors are arguing; issues with data/study leadership
- Study design or measurement issues preclude the possibility of an analysis
- Appearance or suspicion of research misconduct
- The literature “doesn’t want it” – it’s not appropriate for the current state of the literature
I explain more about the research projects I reject in my LinkedIn article. But for most projects, I see a pathway forward which I lay out for the customer. If they want it, we sign a contract, and that’s what we do.
What if “I Can Write Your Peer-Reviewed Article for $4,000” Doesn’t Persuade the Customer?
If the customer does not like the data-to-draft plan I lay out for them, then they can go on their way, and the work I did for them was free.
How can I afford that? Well, to be honest, most of the time, after they go shopping around and see what their options are, they come back to me. In the end, it’s all good, because I like people to feel like they really want to work with me before they agree to do it. And it’s no problem to pull out all my notes from the quote I made earlier to immediately get started on the contract – only now, thanks to their shopping around, their timeline is delayed!
But the bottom line is that if you think you might want to hire me to help you write a paper, and you have $4,000, but you are not 100% sure, just contact me by e-mail or my profile on LinkedIn. I’ll set up a video meeting with you, and we can see if your project is a good candidate for my $4,000 data-to-draft flat fee.
Updated Dec. 19, 2021 – added videos.
Having trouble getting your research published? I can write your peer-reviewed article for $4,000. That sounds too cheap, right? This blog post explains why I can offer such a low price while still delivering high quality.