Fulfilling the brief - Reviewing and editing your work

Success in Academic Writing - Trevor Day 2018

Fulfilling the brief
Reviewing and editing your work

For most of us, reviewing and editing our work is essential, and greatly improves the final result. Many professional writers review and edit their work three times, often more, at different stages in the writing process. So should you.

In book publishing, reviewing and editing occurs in three phases and it is useful to check your own work in a similar manner. This involves moving from the general to the specific. This is logical. It means that you are less likely to spend time working on fine detail only to discover later that the effort has been wasted as you remove this material because it no longer serves your purpose.

As we have seen in Chapter 1, it is common to consider the process of revising your work in three stages: developmental editing, copy-editing and proofreading (Figure 10.1). These steps may not be as distinct as Figure 10.1 suggests, although there is clear progression from the general to the specific. Changing one aspect of the work, e.g. moving a table or figure, has ’knock on’ effects on other aspects, which will need checking.

Read your work out loud

At proofreading stage (if not before), you should read your work out loud. When you do, you will discover improvements you can make that you would not have discovered otherwise.

When we read our own work ’in our heads’, without speaking, it is easy to ’fill in the gaps’ and assume our writing is actually saying what we think it is saying. Reading the work out loud reveals the naked truth. We may have missed a word or used an incorrect word. Our elegant sentences are not as elegant as we thought. We stumble over reading them, discovering that our punctuation is not as effective as we thought, or that a sentence construction is clumsy or overlong. If your work is important, read it out loud. The time taken will more than repay itself.


Figure 10.1 Reviewing and editing in stages

10.1 Fulfilling the brief

Chapters 1 and 2 explored the nature of fulfilling a writing brief - meeting the assignment guidelines - from a variety of perspectives. Section 3.1 suggested some questions you might ask your assessor. Here, I propose some questions you might ask yourself, and actions you could take, when you come to review your work. When a draft of your work is complete or nearly complete:

1Go back to the assignment guidelines, and check that you have interpreted them correctly. In broad outline, have you met them? The detail, you can check later - citing and referencing, word count, use of graphic elements, and so on - but have you met the broad intent of the assignment? Now is the time to check that, while you still have time to steer your work in the right direction.

2Ask yourself: Have you expressed your identity as you wished? Are you writing from a particular viewpoint? And is that viewpoint appropriate?

3Weigh up: Have you met the purpose of the assignment from your reader’s perspective? What should your reader have gained from reading your completed assignment?

4Consider: Have you correctly interpreted the nature of the audience (readership) for your assignment? Have you taken into account what your reader is bringing to their reading, which will influence how they interpret your writing? If your assessor is adopting a particular persona — for example, as an employer to whom you are submitting a report, or a member of the public who does not have specialist knowledge of the subject - have you responded appropriately to that persona?

5Decide: Have you adopted an appropriate code (format, structure and writing style) in your assignment? Have you misinterpreted any of the requirements or overlooked them?

Now is the time to consider these broad matters, along with a more detailed consideration of the organisation of your document and the clarity and strength of its overall argument.