Process Of Writing And Editing Your Research Paper

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This Study Guide addresses the process of editing an extended document such as a dissertation or a thesis. Related Study Guides are: Writing a dissertation; Using paragraphs; and Writing for science.

Introduction

When you start to produce a piece of written work, you are likely to be aware of various targets and standards that you need to work to, such as:

  • the stipulated word limit;
  • the required level of academic writing;
  • the need to present material in a clear and logical order; and
  • the necessary high standards in spelling, referencing, and grammar.

However, if you become too concerned at this stage about the required standard of the end product, you may feel reluctant to begin writing at all.

This is why making a clear separation between the processes of ‘writing’ and ‘editing’ can be helpful. Brookes and Marshall (2004 p213) suggest it is usually more helpful to produce something imperfect, then revise it, than to waste time trying to produce something that is perfect first time round. The following table describes how writing can be a relatively free and expansive process; while editing can take care of the critical attention and refinement that will ensure your writing reaches the required standard.

Writing may involveEditing may involve
creatingcritiquing
includingadding and removing
presentingimproving
recordingreviewing
feeling closely involvedfeeling fairly objective
an immediate, but naive producta subsequent, refined product
making a messtidying it up late

What is editing?

This Study Guide uses the term ‘editing’ to refer to the broad intellectual task of raising the overall academic standard of a piece of writing, via an iterative process of critique and revision. It uses the term ‘proof reading’ to refer to the narrower job of checking such elements as spelling, grammar, and page numbering. Detailed proof reading is usually best done as the last stage in the editing process.

Typical aspects of writing that you can critique within the editing process include:

  • the overall logical structure and balance of the thesis;
  • adherence to your stated title / research question / plans;
  • signposting and linking of content;
  • appropriate content under appropriate headings;
  • the coherence of the line of argument;
  • use of active / passive voice, and of past / present tense;
  • clarity of explanation;
  • length of sentences, and economy of word use.

The examiner will be able to tell how much attention you have paid to the editing process. He or she will not appreciate reading material that has clearly not been thoroughly edited. If the reader’s main response is irritation at a poorly edited thesis, this will make it less likely that he or she will develop a positive impression of the content of your writing.

It is better that you spot and make the improvements necessary, than that the examiner is the first to spot them.

Positive and negative feelings about editing

Students can experience a range of feelings as they approach the task of editing their thesis. For some, editing can feel like a negative experience, after the relatively creative and positive process of writing:

  • Perhaps you have already spent such a lot of effort writing, that it feels impossible to improve on what you’ve done, even though you know it probably does need improving.
  • Perhaps you face the task of reducing the total number of words by 30%, and can’t see how you can do this without losing crucial material.
  • Perhaps you are tired of looking at your writing, and the thought of studying it again closely for the editing process makes you want to run away.

For others, editing can feel more positive than writing, because they know that this is a stage where they can really raise the standard of their work. Some positive points about editing are:

  • If you are thinking about editing your work, it means that you must already have written something reasonably substantial.
  • Editing tends to be a highly constructive process. Every single useful change you make is a guaranteed step towards improving the quality of your thesis.
  • It tends to be much easier to criticise and improve on your writing, than it was to produce the writing in the first place.
  • It can therefore be relatively quick to produce significant improvements within the editing stage.

Where to work?

One way of separating the processes of writing and editing is to do them in different places. Print out your writing, so that you can do the editing work on hard copy, away from the computer e.g.: on the train or bus; in a café; on a park seat; somewhere else well away from the work environment; or at your desk if you prefer.

Printing the work out and working on hard copy can help you feel as if you are reviewing someone else’s writing. This is useful, as it is important not to get too attached to any particular parts of your writing: “Until a manuscript is in print, not a word you have written is sacrosanct.” (Wolcott 2001 p112).

Some people do choose to edit while sitting at a computer, but it is still important to print the work out at some point in the editing process, as only then will you see the reality of “the density of the ink, the sharpness of the printing … Fonts, size of type, headings, spaces and blocks of text all may look different when you are holding a piece of paper in your hands rather than staring at a screen” (Brookes and Marshall 2004 p219).

Recording your critique

When you are editing away from the computer, it is important to make full notes of any improvements that occur to you. They may seem obvious at the time, but it is disappointing when you come to make the alterations later on, to find you have forgotten the seemingly perfect re-phrasing you had thought of earlier; or that you can’t read the scrawl you made in the margin. So, make sure you record your suggested modifications very clearly, so you can  follow them easily when you type in the alterations at a later time.

Overall editing plan

Effective editing will invariably require a number of sweeps through the work, and a series of drafts. An example of an editing plan is provided below.

It may be tempting to work paragraph by paragraph, trying to perfect each one before attending to the next. This is, however, neither an efficient nor an effective method for editing a large document. Several of the processes, e.g.: maintaining a logical thread throughout; and identifying duplication; require more of an overview to be taken, involving review at a chapter or thesis level, rather than at a sentence or paragraph level.

DraftAimsTechniques
1Editing for academic rigour
  • check that you have explicitly written down what you intended to do, and what you did do in your research, rather than just having it in your head
  • ensure you have a clear, logical thread running throughout
  • back up all claims and interpretations
2Reducing redundancyIdentify and remove unnecessary duplication, explanation, and interesting but irrelevant material. Un-clutter the language used.
3Editing for consistencyCheck consistent use of tenses, voice, style.
4Signposting and linkingLet the reader know what to expect, and summarise what has just been read. It is then easier for the reader to establish a structure into which your research can be understood.
5Proof readingCheck details of spelling, grammar, numbering.

Draft 1: Editing for academic rigour

This relates to the essence of academic writing. It needs to be your main editing focus. And will take the most time. Academic journals publish the criteria they use to evaluate articles, and these can be useful in guiding the process. There may also be detailed guidance available within your own department. This section describes three aspects to ‘editing for academic rigour’, which should help you to work through this process using a structured approach.

Firstly, on a broad level, it can be very helpful to ask these two deceptively simple questions:

  • ‘What did I try to do and did I do it?’
  • ‘What am I trying to say, and do I say it?’

Each of  these questions is in two parts. The first part asks what you are trying to do, and the second asks whether you consider you did it. Both parts of each question are essential.

What did I try to do and did I do it?

You may not need to prove that you did everything that you intended to, but you do need to show that you are clear about what you intended to do, and that you are fully aware of how your eventual research related to your initial plans, and why there may be some discrepancies. Addressing this question closely and thoroughly will take you through a review of the rationale for your research; the methods chosen; how they were employed; and a critique of how things went.

What am I trying to say, and do I say it?

When you are deeply involved in your research, and know about it in great detail, it can be very easy to think that you have explained something, only to find that important, and basic, elements of the explanation are missing. So, while it is important to ask What am I trying to say? It is essential to add Do I say it? and to be highly critical when reading through your writing to check that you do actually state clearly what you are trying to say, rather than leaving the reader to fill in gaps.

Secondly, you need to ensure that you have provided a well-supported and clear thread of logical reasoning throughout your thesis. You need to check that your sections are arranged in an order that will present your reasoning most effectively. Take a step back from your detailed writing, and create an outline of a straightforward, logical structure you could use for your thesis. An effective way to do this is to explain aloud, to a friend, or alone but using a tape recorder, in as logical and clear a way as possible:

  • the overall reason for your research;
  • what you did; and
  • what you found.

If your friend takes notes, or if you tape-record the explanation, you can use the record to produce a coherent outline for your structure.  Then read through your writing thus far, and produce an outline of the structure that you have actually used. By comparing the two structures you can identify: where the ordering is confusing;  where you have written too much or too little; where new sections are needed; and where others can be swapped around.

Thirdly, you need to attend to the reader’s ever-present question: “Why should I believe this?”. Ideally, you will be able to adopt the role of an awkward reader of your own writing. The aim is to make sure that all the claims you make are either supported or removed. If you can read your own work with a provocative and questioning attitude, it will help you to identify the places where you need to provide more evidence for your statements and interpretations.

Draft 2: Reducing redundancy; simplifying and shortening

Some parts of your writing may be true, interesting, and well-written but, if they do not strictly form part of the main thread or ‘story’ of the writing, it is better to remove them. You may have spent time describing an aspect of context, theory, practice, or experience that you now decide is not directly relevant to your main argument or research study. However attached you feel to that bit of writing, you do need to be ruthless in removing it.

This is good practice in all academic writing, but is particularly useful when you need to reduce your number of words. Initially it is best not to think too much about word limits. Later however, as you edit, you will see many examples of redundancy where you can remove words, phrases, paragraphs, and even whole sections, to improve the coherence and logical flow of your writing. If you worry about losing material that you might want to bring back, you can keep it temporarily in a reserve file, rather than delete it completely.

You can also reduce the number of words by simplifying the language used, as in this table from Barrass (1978 pp 61 & 70-72).

Long versionCol 11Shorter version
on a regular basisregularly
if at all possibleif possible
during the month of Aprilin April
an increased appetite was manifested by all the ratsall the rats ate more
during the time thatwhile
conduct an investigation intoinvestigate
has an ability tocan
on two separate occasionstwice
which goes under the name ofis called
it may well be thatperhaps
take into considerationconsider
it was observed in the course of the demonstration thatwe observed that

Another way to reduce redundancy, and to increase clarity, is to write in the active rather than the passive tense e.g.:

the box was opened by the experimenter becomes

the experimenter opened the box

a reduction from 7 to 5 words; and an increase in clarity.

Similarly:

It was decided that the order in which the questions were asked should be changed could become

I decided to change the order of the questions

a reduction from 15 to 9; and an increase in clarity.

This second example introduces the question of whether it is acceptable to use the voice of the researcher in the first person i.e.: how acceptable is it to say “I did …”?. It is essential to seek advice within your academic field about this. It may even be possible to ascertain the views of your particular thesis examiner. It is becoming more acceptable to write in the first person, particularly in the social sciences. A general guide is to use the third person routinely but, where there is a decision to explain, it is acceptable to take clear responsibility for that decision by using the first person at that point.

This can be demonstrated with the example of giving details of a methodology. It would read awkwardly if every element were to be described in the first person e.g.:

I set up the apparatus, then I prepared the recording sheet. I added the first element then I waited for it … etc etc.

However, it is more acceptable to write about specific decisions in the first person e.g.:

the weather was colder than anticipated, so I decided to focus the data collection on the hours around mid-day.

Styles are changing in this area, and they currently vary across disciplines, so it is important to check preferences in your own field regarding the balance between use of the first and third person.

Draft 3: Editing for consistency

A thesis is a large document, written over time, so it is almost inevitable that problems may occur with consistency. The kinds of elements to review for consistency are:

  • consistent use of the third person rather than the first person, except in places where you have specifically decided to use a different voice;
  • consistent use of one tense throughout a section, unless there is a specific reason to change;
  • consistent use and formatting of headings and sub-headings;
  • a reasonable (not necessarily equal) balance in the lengths of sections;
  • consistent use of either bullet points or numbering for lists;
  • consistency in referencing style;
  • consistency in labelling and numbering appendices, tables, diagrams, figures, photos, and other items.

Draft 4: Signposting and linking

Signposting and linking are particularly important in a long document such as a thesis. The reader has a lot of information to take in, and is unlikely to read the whole document in one go. It is in your own interest to help the reader construct and maintain a coherent picture of the research you are describing.

Typical wording for signposting:

In this chapter, the method will be described in detail. The chapter begins with a description of the physical setting in which the data were collected. It then describes the process of recruitment to the study. Each element of the experiment is described in turn, and illustrated using a typical participant journey. Copies of the letters, information sheets, and consent forms used are included in Appendix F. The chapter ends with a description of …

Signposting is helpful in the Introduction and at the beginning of chapters. It allows the reader to prepare a structure in his or her own mind, into which can be placed the material that is then read. It reduces the chance that the reader will wonder why you seem to have missed something out, only to find it is included in an unexpected place. It also helps the reader to appreciate the logical flow of your writing.

Linking is used to guide the reader through different sections or paragraphs, so that the logical structure of your writing is highlighted. Creating and inserting appropriate links is a useful test of the logical structure of your writing. If you find it straightforward to insert links, it suggests that your writing is logically and coherently ordered. If you find it more difficult, it could be a sign that you need to re-think some of the ordering.

Typical wording for links:

  • In the previous chapter I described …. In this chapter I will …
  • The argument just presented is the main one used by theorists in this field. The next sections describe three other related arguments that could be used to extend it.
  • This is the background as far as the providers were concerned. The next section explores the background from the users’ perspective.

Each of these links looks both backwards and forwards, thereby both reviewing what has just been said, and introducing what is about to be said. It is easy to feel that, by using links like these, you are wasting words. Ironically, by using these ‘extra’ words, you are actually employing a very efficient method of streamlining and structuring your content.

Editing to increase the number of words

In the editing process you may identify certain sections of your writing that are relatively brief and superficial, and which you consider need to be extended. Techniques you can use are:

  • taking the idea contained within one sentence, and developing it into a whole paragraph;
  • increasing the amount of comment as opposed to pure description;
  • being more generous with the signposting, linking, and summaries;
  • asking the questions ‘So what?’ and ‘Why should I believe this?’, then providing the extra rationale that is needed;
  • thinking further through the implications of your research for e.g.: theory; practice; research;
  • thinking further about how the research could have been done better.

It is vital that the words you add enhance the academic quality of the thesis, rather than simply fill the space. Having space to increase the number of words is an excellent and relatively rare opportunity to read your work from the examiner’s viewpoint, then to be able to add in further explanation where this seems necessary.

Editing fatigue

There may come a point at which you feel that you have lost the critical eye you need to review your writing. It is important to recognise when this happens. There is little point in continuing to edit that piece of work if you are losing your sense of judgment. When this happens you can put it aside to look at it yourself a few days later.  Editing is best done is a series of short, focussed efforts, rather than attempting a long, sustained effort.

Draft 5: Proof reading

Proof reading is the last stage in the editing process. It needs to be done thoroughly and systematically, otherwise it is very easy to miss details that need to be changed.  Here are five suggestions to feed into a proof reading strategy.

  1. Take a structured approach: focus in turn on specific potential problems, rather than trying to identify everything at one go.
  2. Make your proof reading relevant to your own writing. Look through some previous writing that has been marked, and make a list of your own typical errors, then use this to form the basis of your proof reading strategy.
  3. Examples of common problems are:
    • faulty abbreviations
    • duplication of words
    • spelling errors
    • too much space between two words
    • missing or misplaced apostrophes
    • inappropriate changes of tense
    • singular and plural mixed up
    • inaccurate cross-referencing of pages
    • leaving a reference in the list, when it has been removed from the text
  4. Check referencing format in detail: it must be appropriate, accurate, and consistent.
  5. Final check of tables; figures; diagrams; page numbering; contents list; appendices; and all the references to any of these within the text.

References

  • Barrass R. (1978) Scientists must write. Chapman & Hall: London.
  • Brookes I. and Marshall D. (2004) Good writing guide. Chambers: Edinburgh.
  • Wolcott H. (2001) Writing up qualitative research. 2nd Edition. Sage: Thousand Oaks.

Guidance

As well as any guidance given from your own department, the following website is recommended:

Material on websites is subject to revision or deletion, so it is always worth looking out for new and relevant guidance.

Given all the time and effort you have put into your research project, you will want to make sure that your final draft represents your best work. This requires taking the time to revise and edit your paper carefully.

You may feel like you need a break from your paper before you revise and edit it. That is understandable—but leave yourself with enough time to complete this important stage of the writing process. In this section, you will learn the following specific strategies that are useful for revising and editing a research paper:

Revising Your Paper: Organization and Cohesion

When writing a research paper, it is easy to become overly focused on editorial details, such as the proper format for bibliographical entries. These details do matter. However, before you begin to address them, it is important to spend time reviewing and revising the content of the paper.

A good research paper is both organized and cohesive. Organization means that your argument flows logically from one point to the next. Cohesion means that the elements of your paper work together smoothly and naturally. In a cohesive research paper, information from research is seamlessly integrated with the writer’s ideas.

Revise to Improve Organization

When you revise to improve organization, you look at the flow of ideas throughout the essay as a whole and within individual paragraphs. You check to see that your essay moves logically from the introduction to the body paragraphs to the conclusion, and that each section reinforces your thesis. Use Checklist 12.1 to help you.

Checklist 12.1

Revision: Organization

At the essay level

  • Does my introduction proceed clearly from the opening to the thesis?
  • Does each body paragraph have a clear main idea that relates to the thesis?
  • Do the main ideas in the body paragraphs flow in a logical order? Is each paragraph connected to the one before it?
  • Do I need to add or revise topic sentences or transitions to make the overall flow of ideas clearer?
  • Does my conclusion summarize my main ideas and revisit my thesis?

At the paragraph level

  • Does the topic sentence clearly state the main idea?
  • Do the details in the paragraph relate to the main idea?
  • Do I need to recast any sentences or add transitions to improve the flow of sentences?

Jorge reread his draft paragraph by paragraph. As he read, he highlighted the main idea of each paragraph so he could see whether his ideas proceeded in a logical order. For the most part, the flow of ideas was clear. However, he did notice that one paragraph did not have a clear main idea. It interrupted the flow of the writing. During revision, Jorge added a topic sentence that clearly connected the paragraph to the one that had preceded it. He also added transitions to improve the flow of ideas from sentence to sentence.

Read the following paragraphs twice, the first time without Jorge’s changes, and the second time with them.

Exercise 1

Follow these steps to begin revising your paper’s overall organization.

  1. Print out a hard copy of your paper.
  2. Read your paper paragraph by paragraph. Highlight your thesis and the topic sentence of each paragraph.
  3. Using the thesis and topic sentences as starting points, outline the ideas you presented—just as you would do if you were outlining a chapter in a textbook. Do not look at the outline you created during prewriting. You may write in the margins of your draft or create a formal outline on a separate sheet of paper.
  4. Next, reread your paper more slowly, looking for how ideas flow from sentence to sentence. Identify places where adding a transition or recasting a sentence would make the ideas flow more logically.
  5. Review the topics on your outline. Is there a logical flow of ideas? Identify any places where you may need to reorganize ideas.
  6. Begin to revise your paper to improve organization. Start with any major issues, such as needing to move an entire paragraph. Then proceed to minor revisions, such as adding a transitional phrase or tweaking a topic sentence so it connects ideas more clearly.

Collaboration

Please share your paper with a classmate. Repeat the six steps and take notes on a separate piece of paper. Share and compare notes.

Revise to Improve Cohesion

When you revise to improve cohesion, you analyze how the parts of your paper work together. You look for anything that seems awkward or out of place. Revision may involve deleting unnecessary material or rewriting parts of the paper so that the out-of-place material fits in smoothly.

In a research paper, problems with cohesion usually occur when a writer has trouble integrating source material. If facts or quotations have been awkwardly dropped into a paragraph, they distract or confuse the reader instead of working to support the writer’s point. Overusing paraphrased and quoted material has the same effect. Use Checklist 12.2 to review your essay for cohesion.

Checklist 12.2

Revision: Cohesion

  • Does the opening of the paper clearly connect to the broader topic and thesis? Make sure entertaining quotes or anecdotes serve a purpose.
  • Have I included support from research for each main point in the body of my paper?
  • Have I included introductory material before any quotations? Quotations should never stand alone in a paragraph.
  • Does paraphrased and quoted material clearly serve to develop my own points?
  • Do I need to add to or revise parts of the paper to help the reader understand how certain information from a source is relevant?
  • Are there any places where I have overused material from sources?
  • Does my conclusion make sense based on the rest of the paper? Make sure any new questions or suggestions in the conclusion are clearly linked to earlier material.

As Jorge reread his draft, he looked to see how the different pieces fit together to prove his thesis. He realized that some of his supporting information needed to be integrated more carefully and decided to omit some details entirely. Read the following paragraph, first without Jorge’s revisions and then with them.

Jorge decided that his comment about pizza and birthday cake came across as subjective and was not necessary to make his point, so he deleted it. He also realized that the quotation at the end of the paragraph was awkward and ineffective. How would his readers know who Kwon was or why her opinion should be taken seriously? Adding an introductory phrase helped Jorge integrate this quotation smoothly and establish the credibility of his source.

Exercise 2

Follow these steps to begin revising your paper to improve cohesion.

  1. Print out a hard copy of your paper, or work with your printout from Note 12.33 “Exercise 1”.
  2. Read the body paragraphs of your paper first. Each time you come to a place that cites information from sources, ask yourself what purpose this information serves. Check that it helps support a point and that it is clearly related to the other sentences in the paragraph.
  3. Identify unnecessary information from sources that you can delete.
  4. Identify places where you need to revise your writing so that readers understand the significance of the details cited from sources.
  5. Skim the body paragraphs once more, looking for any paragraphs that seem packed with citations. Review these paragraphs carefully for cohesion.
  6. Review your introduction and conclusion. Make sure the information presented works with ideas in the body of the paper.
  7. Revise the places you identified in your paper to improve cohesion.

Collaboration

Please exchange papers with a classmate. Complete step four. On a separate piece of paper, note any areas that would benefit from clarification. Return and compare notes.

Writing at Work

Understanding cohesion can also benefit you in the workplace, especially when you have to write and deliver a presentation. Speakers sometimes rely on cute graphics or funny quotations to hold their audience’s attention. If you choose to use these elements, make sure they work well with the substantive content of your presentation. For example, if you are asked to give a financial presentation, and the financial report shows that the company lost money, funny illustrations would not be relevant or appropriate for the presentation.

Using a Consistent Style and Tone

Once you are certain that the content of your paper fulfills your purpose, you can begin revising to improve style and tone. Together, your style and tone create the voice of your paper, or how you come across to readers. Style refers to the way you use language as a writer—the sentence structures you use and the word choices you make. Tone is the attitude toward your subject and audience that you convey through your word choice.

Determining an Appropriate Style and Tone

Although accepted writing styles will vary within different disciplines, the underlying goal is the same—to come across to your readers as a knowledgeable, authoritative guide. Writing about research is like being a tour guide who walks readers through a topic. A stuffy, overly formal tour guide can make readers feel put off or intimidated. Too much informality or humor can make readers wonder whether the tour guide really knows what he or she is talking about. Extreme or emotionally charged language comes across as unbalanced.

To help prevent being overly formal or informal, determine an appropriate style and tone at the beginning of the research process. Consider your topic and audience because these can help dictate style and tone. For example, a paper on new breakthroughs in cancer research should be more formal than a paper on ways to get a good night’s sleep.

A strong research paper comes across as straightforward, appropriately academic, and serious. It is generally best to avoid writing in the first person, as this can make your paper seem overly subjective and opinion based. Use Checklist 12.3 on style to review your paper for other issues that affect style and tone. You can check for consistency at the end of the writing process. Checking for consistency is discussed later in this section.

Checklist 12.3

Style

  • My paper avoids excessive wordiness.
  • My sentences are varied in length and structure.
  • I have avoided using first-person pronouns such as I and we.
  • I have used the active voice whenever possible.
  • I have defined specialized terms that might be unfamiliar to readers.
  • I have used clear, straightforward language whenever possible and avoided unnecessary jargon.
  • My paper states my point of view using a balanced tone—neither too indecisive nor too forceful.

Word Choice

Note that word choice is an especially important aspect of style. In addition to checking the points noted on Checklist 12.3, review your paper to make sure your language is precise, conveys no unintended connotations, and is free of biases. Here are some of the points to check for:

  • Vague or imprecise terms
  • Slang
  • Repetition of the same phrases (“Smith states…, Jones states…”) to introduce quoted and paraphrased material (For a full list of strong verbs to use with in-text citations, see Chapter 13 “APA and MLA Documentation and Formatting”.)
  • Exclusive use of masculine pronouns or awkward use of he or she
  • Use of language with negative connotations, such as haughty or ridiculous
  • Use of outdated or offensive terms to refer to specific ethnic, racial, or religious groups

Tip

Using plural nouns and pronouns or recasting a sentence can help you keep your language gender neutral while avoiding awkwardness. Consider the following examples.

  • Gender-biased: When a writer cites a source in the body of his paper, he must list it on his references page.
  • Awkward: When a writer cites a source in the body of his or her paper, he or she must list it on his or her references page.
  • Improved: Writers must list any sources cited in the body of a paper on the references page.

Keeping Your Style Consistent

As you revise your paper, make sure your style is consistent throughout. Look for instances where a word, phrase, or sentence just does not seem to fit with the rest of the writing. It is best to reread for style after you have completed the other revisions so that you are not distracted by any larger content issues. Revising strategies you can use include the following:

  • Read your paper aloud. Sometimes your ears catch inconsistencies that your eyes miss.
  • Share your paper with another reader whom you trust to give you honest feedback. It is often difficult to evaluate one’s own style objectively—especially in the final phase of a challenging writing project. Another reader may be more likely to notice instances of wordiness, confusing language, or other issues that affect style and tone.
  • Line-edit your paper slowly, sentence by sentence. You may even wish to use a sheet of paper to cover everything on the page except the paragraph you are editing—that forces you to read slowly and carefully. Mark any areas where you notice problems in style or tone, and then take time to rework those sections.

On reviewing his paper, Jorge found that he had generally used an appropriately academic style and tone. However, he noticed one glaring exception—his first paragraph. He realized there were places where his overly informal writing could come across as unserious or, worse, disparaging. Revising his word choice and omitting a humorous aside helped Jorge maintain a consistent tone. Read his revisions.

Exercise 3

Using Checklist 12.3, line-edit your paper. You may use either of these techniques:

  1. Print out a hard copy of your paper, or work with your printout from Note 12.33 “Exercise 1”. Read it line by line. Check for the issues noted on Checklist 12.3, as well as any other aspects of your writing style you have previously identified as areas for improvement. Mark any areas where you notice problems in style or tone, and then take time to rework those sections.
  2. If you prefer to work with an electronic document, use the menu options in your word-processing program to enlarge the text to 150 or 200 percent of the original size. Make sure the type is large enough that you can focus on only one paragraph at a time. Read the paper line by line as described in step 1. Highlight any areas where you notice problems in style or tone, and then take time to rework those sections.

Collaboration

Please exchange papers with a classmate. On a separate piece of paper, note places where the essay does not seem to flow or you have questions about what was written. Return the essay and compare notes.

Editing Your Paper

After revising your paper to address problems in content or style, you will complete one final editorial review. Perhaps you already have caught and corrected minor mistakes during previous revisions. Nevertheless, give your draft a final edit to make sure it is error-free. Your final edit should focus on two broad areas:

  1. Errors in grammar, mechanics, usage, and spelling
  2. Errors in citing and formatting sources

For in-depth information on these two topics, see Chapter 2 “Writing Basics: What Makes a Good Sentence?” and Chapter 13 “APA and MLA Documentation and Formatting”.

Correcting Errors

Given how much work you have put into your research paper, you will want to check for any errors that could distract or confuse your readers. Using the spell-checking feature in your word-processing program can be helpful—but this should not replace a full, careful review of your document. Be sure to check for any errors that may have come up frequently for you in the past. Use Checklist 12.4 to help you as you edit:

Checklist 12.4

Grammar, Mechanics, Punctuation, Usage, and Spelling

  • My paper is free of grammatical errors, such as errors in subject-verb agreement and sentence fragments. (For additional guidance on grammar, see Chapter 2 “Writing Basics: What Makes a Good Sentence?”.)
  • My paper is free of errors in punctuation and mechanics, such as misplaced commas or incorrectly formatted source titles. (For additional guidance on punctuation and mechanics, see Chapter 3 “Punctuation”.)
  • My paper is free of common usage errors, such as alot and alright. (For additional guidance on correct usage, see Chapter 4 “Working with Words: Which Word Is Right?”.)
  • My paper is free of spelling errors. I have proofread my paper for spelling in addition to using the spell-checking feature in my word-processing program.
  • I have checked my paper for any editing errors that I know I tend to make frequently.

Checking Citations and Formatting

When editing a research paper, it is also important to check that you have cited sources properly and formatted your document according to the specified guidelines. There are two reasons for this. First and foremost, citing sources correctly ensures that you have given proper credit to other people for ideas and information that helped you in your work. Second, using correct formatting establishes your paper as one student’s contribution to the work developed by and for a larger academic community. Increasingly, American Psychological Association (APA) style guidelines are the standard for many academic fields. Modern Language Association (MLA) is also a standard style in many fields. Use Checklist 12.5 to help you check citations and formatting.

Checklist 12.5

Citations and Formatting

  • Within the body of my paper, each fact or idea taken from a source is credited to the correct source.
  • Each in-text citation includes the source author’s name (or, where applicable, the organization name or source title) and year of publication. I have used the correct format of in-text and parenthetical citations.
  • Each source cited in the body of my paper has a corresponding entry in the references section of my paper.
  • My references section includes a heading and double-spaced, alphabetized entries.
  • Each entry in my references section is indented on the second line and all subsequent lines.
  • Each entry in my references section includes all the necessary information for that source type, in the correct sequence and format.
  • My paper includes a title page.
  • My paper includes a running head.
  • The margins of my paper are set at one inch. Text is double spaced and set in a standard 12-point font.

For detailed guidelines on APA and MLA citation and formatting, see Chapter 13 “APA and MLA Documentation and Formatting”.

Writing at Work

Following APA or MLA citation and formatting guidelines may require time and effort. However, it is good practice for learning how to follow accepted conventions in any professional field. Many large corporations create a style manual with guidelines for editing and formatting documents produced by that corporation. Employees follow the style manual when creating internal documents and documents for publication.

During the process of revising and editing, Jorge made changes in the content and style of his paper. He also gave the paper a final review to check for overall correctness and, particularly, correct APA or MLA citations and formatting. Read the final draft of his paper.

Key Takeaways

  • Organization in a research paper means that the argument proceeds logically from the introduction to the body to the conclusion. It flows logically from one point to the next. When revising a research paper, evaluate the organization of the paper as a whole and the organization of individual paragraphs.
  • In a cohesive research paper, the elements of the paper work together smoothly and naturally. When revising a research paper, evaluate its cohesion. In particular, check that information from research is smoothly integrated with your ideas.
  • An effective research paper uses a style and tone that are appropriately academic and serious. When revising a research paper, check that the style and tone are consistent throughout.
  • Editing a research paper involves checking for errors in grammar, mechanics, punctuation, usage, spelling, citations, and formatting.

This is a derivative of Writing for Success by a publisher who has requested that they and the original author not receive attribution, originally released and is used under CC BY-NC-SA. This work, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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