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How to Edit Your Work

Craft clear, understandable prose that gives readers the information they need to understand your study

Ensuring your manuscript is well-written makes it easier for editors, reviewers and readers to understand your work. Avoiding language errors can help accelerate review and minimize delays in the publication of your research.


Why editing matters

Clear and accurate writing increases accessibility

Typographical errors, grammar mistakes, and translation inconsistencies can make your manuscript difficult to understand. A clear, well-written manuscript that is free from errors will help convey your research in a concise way that is easier for your fellow researchers to read and understand.

Why editing matters

Proofreading and copyediting your work can accelerate review

Journal staff, editors, and reviewers must be able to understand your article in order to move it through the editorial screening and peer review processes. Proofreading and copyediting your work early—before you submit—can help accelerate review and minimize delays in the publication of your research.

Start out strong by setting goals

Establishing clear goals makes both writing and editing your early drafts much easier. When you’re deeply engaged with your research it’s hard to intuit the appropriate level of information to share; as an expert, aspects of the work that seem obvious to you may be new to your readers. 

Take a moment to plan out what you need to cover in your article. 

Before you start drafting your journal article, write a short list articulating what you hope to communicate in your article.

Check your work against your intentions.

When your first draft is complete, revisit the original list. Have you hit all the points you identified? Are they presented clearly, with enough supporting information?

Double check that you’ve captured everything readers may need to know.

When you’re finished writing, put the draft aside for a day or two and return to it with fresh eyes. When you re-review, try to put yourself in the position of someone unfamiliar with your project. What information would they need in order to thoroughly understand the study? What information would they need in order to successfully reproduce your results?

Easy ways to ensure your writing is clear and engaging

Writing your manuscript in a way that is clear and concise will save you time in proofreading later and make it easier to understand your work.  As you work, aim to:

Introduce only one new idea per sentence

Don’t use double negatives. For example:  “not uncommon”

Avoid over-repetition of information

Be careful not to over-complicate by using a variety of terminology to refer to the same phenomenon

Draw clear and explicit links between ideas (don’t rely on readers to connect the dots themselves)

Be specific and direct. Try to avoid filler words and general terms like “very often” or “different sources.” Instead, say how often, exactly. Describe which sources in particular and how you identified them.

More Writing Tips

Title | Abstract | Methodology | Statistics

Put your best manuscript forward

Most journal editors are more interested in the science behind your study than your typos and grammar, but making your manuscript easy to understand will enable editors and reviewers to easily make sense of your research, and help to ensure a fast and fair assessment.

Write for your audience. If you’re submitting to a highly technical, discipline-specific journal your language should reflect that. If readership is more broad, make sure the concepts described in your paper are easy to understand.

Get a second opinion. Before you submit, ask a colleague to read through your manuscript to make sure it’s easy to read and free of errors. See our tips for asking a colleague for help below.

Decide whether you will need professional copyediting service. If you are struggling with grammar and syntax, consider a copyediting service. Does the journal  employ a professional copyeditor? If so, find out what this service will cost and when to request it. If not, plan for extra time to engage a copyeditor of your own.

Make edits while you can. Different journals will have different cut offs for edits, and some won’t allow general edits after acceptance,so the earlier you proofread your manuscript, the better. 

Check your proof thoroughly. Before publication, some journals supply an author proof of the typeset article. It’s important to check this thoroughly for any last minute issues or errors. 

Having trouble spotting errors?

After dozens of read-throughs, catching errors can become more difficult. Reading your manuscript aloud helps to ensure each sentence makes sense and avoid skimming over mistakes. For a radically new perspective, try reading your manuscript in reverse order, one sentence at a time.  This trick forces you to focus on the sense and structure of each passage.

Writing (and editing) in another language

If the language you’re writing in isn’t your first language and you’re concerned your science might get lost in translation, use these tips to make your writing as clear as possible.

1. Don’t rely on text translators alone
Basic text translators are a good start but they aren’t equipped to deal with technical language and can introduce new errors. Always proofread your translated work, or ask a colleague with knowledge of your discipline to proofread for you.

2. Engage a professional translation service
If you have some budget available, consider engaging a professional translation service that can match your paper to an editor with experience in your discipline. Here are a few to start with:

3. Check it yourself using the EASE Guidelines
If you don’t have a budget for a professional, don’t worry! Use the EASE guidelines for translation to help you proofread the article yourself. You could also ask a colleague to use the guidelines and check your work.

Tips on asking a colleague for help

If you have someone you can ask it’s a great idea to get feedback on your writing. Be specific about what you’re hoping for help with.

  • Start with the context
    Let your colleague know what you hope to accomplish with your article, why you’re reaching out to them for feedback,  and if you’ve asked for feedback from anyone else.
  • Give a timeline
    It’s more than likely that anyone you ask for help is pretty busy themselves. Give them a date that you’re hoping for some feedback by, so that they have a target and can let you know if they aren’t available.
  • Tell them your opinion
    Get them caught up fast by sharing what you think: If you’re happy with one part, tell them; if you know another isn’t as good but you’re struggling to make it clearer, shorter etc. tell them. 
  • Ask for the kind of feedback you want
    Feedback on your writing could be anything from ‘Please perform a quick proofread to check for errors’, to ‘Please help me re-write this whole section so that it makes more sense’. Let your colleague know what you’re really worried about so that they can provide the kind of feedback you’re looking for.

This should help your friend/colleague to focus on what you really want help with, and worry less about hurting your feelings or providing too much or too little feedback.

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