How to Edit Productively
This article provides best practices on how (and when) to edit your research manuscript.
As a follow-up to our tips for productive writing, this article details advice on productive editing. Although some of the practices that are effective for encouraging progress in writing an article or dissertation are obviously applicable to editing (such as “stop waiting and edit,” a variant of productive writing tip 1), there are certain twists on these practices as well as editing-specific tools that can accelerate revision: adopting an open mindset, setting aside dedicated time, and stepping back from your work.
Most people feel committed to their wording once it is on paper (or at least on the computer screen), which can be a barrier to revision. This is especially true if you have spent time carefully choosing phrasing that “sounds nice” or have struggled to write for weeks or months. Therefore, the first step in editing your own work is being open to revision. This willingness to revise should begin while writing, as writers frequently develop new ideas and perspectives and thus need to actively reformulate their argument during the writing process. As a result, this mindset will potentially strengthen your paper and accelerate your post-writing revision. However, you should try not to get so caught up in proofreading as you write that you cannot advance past a particular sentence or paragraph.
As with writing, you have to dedicate time both to the process of revising your work and to briefly putting your writing aside so that you can return to it with a fresh eye. Without this earmarked time, revision can drag on, especially because disjointed editing at odd hours is often less efficient. In particular, you may be distracted by other commitments and may have to keep rereading the preceding text to refresh your memory, in addition to not having the time to take a more global view (see below).
Once you have the right mentality in place as well as time put aside, the following five revision strategies can be very helpful in ensuring meaningful progress. Note that these approaches require stepping back from your paper, whether by assuming a more macro-level perspective, seeking guidance from others, and/or putting yourself in the shoes of your reader.
- Create a checklist. Compiling a list of your objectives to convey, key points to address, main sources to reference, and other aspects to serve as a guide during your editing can be useful for ensuring that nothing is accidentally omitted.
- Reverse outline. This is the technique of outlining your paper after it is written, unlike traditional outlining, which is performed before writing. Looking at a mass of text can be overwhelming and make it difficult to view the bigger picture, so a reverse outline is an effective tool for identifying gaps in logic or disorganization, particularly in combination with the above checklist.
- Get impartial feedback. While editing your own work, you may tend to overlook poor grammar and clarity, especially if you have read your work many times or know your subject matter very well. Colleagues and professional editors can provide a fresh look to catch these errors.
- Keep the “curse of knowledge” in mind. Because you are so immersed in your field, you may forget to define key terms or concepts or may be over-reliant on jargon. Having a colleague, and particularly one in a different field, review your work may again be helpful for minimizing this issue.
- Read out loud. It is sometimes easier to spot errors in your writing when reading aloud, which forces you to review every word, rather than allowing your eyes to skim the page.
We hope that today’s editing tip on editing tips has provided constructive guidance on how to effectively and efficiently revise your writing, which can speed your time to both submission and publication. If you have any questions or comments, please email us at [email protected]. AJE wishes you the best!