Revising Your Work
When you’re writing a research article, be prepared to complete multiple drafts. Once you’ve completed a first draft of your paper or manuscript, you can start the revision process.
Although many people will use the terms “revising” and “editing” synonymously, when you’re writing a research article, distinguishing between these two stages is helpful.
Breaking down the word “revision” to its prefix “re” and suffix “vision” illustrates how this term means “to see again” or “to modify your direction.” In the context of writing, revision means moving beyond rephrasing individual sentences and words to reconsider the content, structure, and organization of your work. The revision process can involve reconceptualizing your work and developing your ideas, refining your argument, clarifying your findings, or changing the structure and organization of your article.
Once you’ve revised your work, you can move on to the process of editing, which involves making changes to sentence style, word choice, grammar, and formatting.
Here are some tips for approaching the revision process:
Take a break between finishing a draft and starting to revise. Taking a break can give you a fresh perspective on your document. The critical distance that you gain from taking a break helps you approach your article from the perspective of a reader.
Before you start to make changes to your article, read your full document and take notes. (Using track changes and the comments function can be a useful strategy for note-taking.) If you start making changes before you’ve taken notes, you may move a paragraph only to realize a few paragraphs later that you had put that paragraph in its original place for a good reason. Reading and taking notes before launching into the revision process can help you approach your article with the big picture in mind and allow you to make changes that are deliberate and thoughtful.If you find yourself tempted to make changes as you read, try printing a copy of your document and taking notes by hand.
Compare your draft to your outline to ensure that you’ve provided all the information that you set out to include. If you did not create an outline or if your original draft deviated substantially from your outline, check out the reverse outlining technique described below.
Choose one aspect of the document to focus on each time you read and revise. For example, you may wish to focus on content for your first revision and on structure for your second revision.
Consider saving your article as a new document when you start to revise. Having your original draft as a backup version ensures that you can return to some of your original content if you change your mind about some of the revisions that you’ve made. Another option is writing in a program that autosaves your version history, such as Google Docs.
Share your work with a friend, colleague, or writing centre consultant to gain their perspective. If you’re not sure how to approach telling your research story in writing, pay attention to how you explain your work to someone in a conversation. Consider which elements of this explanation you could incorporate into your writing.
Reverse outlining is a strategy that you can use to strengthen the organization and flow of your writing. A reverse outline is an outline that you create after you’ve completed your first draft. It may sound counterintuitive to return to the outlining stage after you’ve already completed a draft, but the reverse outline serves a different purpose.
A reverse outline can be useful for writers who get frustrated with traditional outlines and prefer to just start writing. A reverse outline helps you ensure that even if you didn’t start with an outline, your writing is organized, and others can logically follow your ideas.
A reverse outline is also useful for writers who enjoy traditional outlining. Sometimes the order that makes sense to you when you’re creating an outline doesn’t quite work once you start writing. Even the best thought-out plans require adjustments in the moment.
For example, if we take the analogy of a banquet hall, even if you, as the host of the banquet, carefully plan all of the seating arrangements in advance, your arrangement might change on the day of the event. Guests might bring unexpected friends, your guests may start to wander to other chairs, or your guests may decide not to show up.
Similarly, once you start writing from your outline, you may need to cite other researchers, you may need to move your discussion of a study from one paragraph to another, and you may end up removing sub-sections that you had planned to include. A reverse outline helps you identify when you need to adjust your plan to ensure an optimal reading experience.
Creating a reverse outline involves going through your document paragraph by paragraph. For each paragraph that you read, you’ll want to note these two key pieces of information:
1. What is the topic of this paragraph?
Another way to think about the topic of a paragraph is to ask yourself what this paragraph specifically contributes to your research question.
2. What is the topic sentence?
The topic sentence is the first sentence of the paragraph that lets the reader know what the paragraph is about. Ask yourself if this sentence is clear and explicit.
Reverse outlining can help you check for three main things:
First of all, this strategy helps you assess the logical order of your document. Often, when you’re completing a reverse outline, you’ll realize that something that’s written in one place in the document needs to be moved up or down for the reader to be able to follow.
A reverse outline also lets you check to see whether your transitions from topic to topic are clear. Sometimes, when you create a reverse outline, you may realize that the overall order makes sense, but it might not be apparent to other readers yet because you haven’t used effective topic sentences and transitions that show the relationship between ideas. Sometimes, when you know your topic really well, it’s easy to make logical leaps that the reader won’t necessarily be able to follow because you’ve assumed knowledge on their part about context that they don’t have. The reverse outline helps you identify when you can revise your topic sentences to make the relationship between ideas clearer, which can improve the reader’s navigation of the document.
And finally, it can help with paragraph length. Although there’s no set length for paragraphs, a particularly long paragraph might be a sign that you should separate it into two shorter paragraphs so that each idea stands out. Or, a short paragraph could be a sign that you need to develop an idea further or a sign that this point isn’t as central and could be omitted.
The reverse outline is a useful revision strategy to use when you’re writing collaboratively. If you’re stitching together paragraphs or sections written by different authors, completing a reverse outline can help you smooth out transitions from topic to topic and ensure the piece still feels cohesive even with multiple contributors.
Overall, reverse outlining allows you to take a systematic approach to revision that involves moving beyond changing individual sentences and words to rethink the overall structure and organization of your research story.
Editing Your Work
Once you’re satisfied with the content and structure of your draft, you can start to edit your work. You’ll want to ensure that your paragraphs are cohesive, that your sentences are clear and concise, and that you’ve identified and corrected any grammatical mistakes. In addition to editing your writing, ensure that your formatting is consistent and your citations are accurate. To learn techniques for making your writing clear, concise, and cohesive, see the Additional Resources page.
Here are some tips for approaching the editing process:
Choose one aspect of the document to focus on each time you read and edit. For example, you may wish to focus on word count for your first revision and on formatting for your second revision.
Use tools like Microsoft Word’s editing function to flag spelling and grammar errors, but don’t accept changes automatically. Word will not recognize many of the scientific terms that you use in your writing and may make suggestions that are not appropriate for your research context. Review any suggested changes carefully before implementing them.
If you’re over your word count for your research article, cut excess words and rephrase sentences to make them more concise before you cut your content. Try looking at one paragraph at a time. Look at the number of words that appear in the last line of your paragraph and see if you can cut enough words to make your paragraph one line shorter. If you complete this exercise for each paragraph in the article, you’ll be able to trim excess words without erasing ideas.
Read aloud or listen to your computer read your document aloud. Reading and listening can help you identify missing or extra words and help you recognize long or awkward sentences that you can rephrase for clarity.
Consider reviewing a hard copy of your article. A new medium can help you notice different things, so you may spot errors in print that you didn’t notice on your screen. Positioning your finger under each word on your printed document as you read each sentence out loud can help you spot missing words.
Responding to Feedback
“The production of a completed manuscript is a notable landmark, but one closer to the beginning of the composition process than the end. Every paper I write gets overhauled repeatedly, going through multiple rounds of revision before anyone else ever sees it, followed by many more rounds in response to comments from friends and colleagues and then from peer reviewers and editors. Dozens of drafts are routine, spread over many months (occasionally years).”(Heard, 2016, p. 191)
Working with feedback on large writing projects can be challenging because you must address comments on multiple aspects of your project: from your overall ideas to your paragraph organization and your sentence structure.
Writers in the sciences typically write many drafts and receive significant feedback before their articles are published. Being asked to revise an article, either by your supervisor or by a peer-reviewer, is not a sign of failure. Revising and editing in response to feedback is a normal and expected part of the writing process.
Here are some tips for responding to feedback:
Take a break between receiving your feedback and responding to it. Sharing your writing with others takes courage, and receiving feedback can be difficult. If you receive extensive feedback on an article that you’ve devoted significant time and energy to write, you may feel defeated, frustrated, or angry – even if you recognize that the feedback is ultimately helpful. Taking a break between receiving and responding to feedback gives you an opportunity to process your emotions, reflect on your learning, and respond to your feedback with critical distance.
Read all the feedback that you’ve received, including marginal notes, end comments, and comments received in the body of an email. Take note of any questions that you’ll want to follow up on with your advisor or reviewer.
Before starting to revise, organize your feedback in a way that makes sense to you. For example, rather than responding one by one through the comments that you’ve received, organize the comments in an order that works for your writing process. Start with comments that relate to the big picture (e.g., content and structure) and then address smaller concerns (e.g., sentence structure and formatting).
A feedback chart can help you organize and respond to the feedback that you’ve received, ensuring that you move beyond incorporating small suggestions and engage deeply with the big-picture issues that your advisor or peer reviewer has asked you to consider.
Writing comments to respond to specific feedback creates a useful record of the changes you’ve made and any potential reviewer suggestions that you do not agree with. These comments can direct conversations with your advisor, prompting further discussions about content, focus, and direction.
Before you resubmit your article to your supervisor or to the journal, review the comments and assess whether you’ve addressed each point in your new draft. Although you may not choose to take every suggestion that a reviewer has made, you should make sure that you have not left any major questions or comments unanswered.
Responding to Feedback – Template
This PDF Download: Responding to Feedback Chart provides a structured approach for writers to respond to reviewers’ feedback. This template has four steps that you can use to create a feedback chart.
NOTE: You can view this document online, but you can also download it as an accessible screen reader document.
Now that you’ve learned approaches for revising, editing, and responding to feedback, you’re ready to start your second draft. Thank you for completing the Writing Research Articles module. We wish you every success with the publication process.
The content of this page was created by Dr. Jodie Salter and Dr. Sarah Gibbons.