Academic Pubs, Part 6: Drafts & Edits

For previous posts on this topic, see:

First Draft Rule: WORD VOMIT.

Don’t let your “inner editor” slow you down with correcting typos: grammar, spelling, comlete sentences, and coherent thought are NOT your goal now. Your goal is to get as much thought and RAW CONTENT down as possible. Does it sound stupid? Is it wrong? Get it out anyway, all your thoughts there in the file or on the paper.

Edits, Edits… and More Edits

NOW you’re free to get OCD on the grammar, conveying thought, etc. I typically do two to three editing passes with printed copies and a colored pen and/or highlighter, because I catch more typos and sentence structure issues in print. Then I do at least one editing pass in the electronic file, usually as I’m typing in previous edits. I also don’t worry too much about formatting or citations until the second or third draft when I pull out my spiral-bound, tabbed APA Manual. That’s a good activity to do when you have some time to work but no brain left for creating content–I do this on days when I feel like I should write, but my brain will only say “coffeeeeee.” Often it’s draggy Friday afternoons or late in the evening with sitcom reruns on in the background.

Sometimes I’ll pass it by a colleague, but unfortunately I’m doing that less these days. It’s hard to ask a colleague to read and comment on a 20-page paper when you know they’re behind on the same work deadlines as you. But in my learning community we pass drafts around a few times a year or at least discuss the ideas and theory as they unfold, an extremely helpful process. And if you’ve already presented this content as a poster and particularly as a presentation, you’ve most likely built upon content-related feedback.

If you want to get regular external editing for your work, there are two good methods. First, get a dedicated editing/critique partner. Folks, this is what the internet was made for: pairing up people with similar interests, possibly geographically removed from each other. Twitter is fantastic for this, existing networks like ALA and other professional groups are stellar, and if you need suggestions of where to look, email me and we’ll brainstorm. (I love being a librarian and getting paid to help people–woohoo!)

Second, you can hire an editor. Yeah, this isn’t something I want to do with my money either, but if you’re desperate or writing your dissertation, it can be a good option. Want a cost-effective option? Mine your local English departments for rhetoric/formatting nerds who actually like to do that and will work in exchange for coffee and laundry change. It doesn’t hurt to put up a flyer and ask.

But how do you know when you’re DONE?

Okay, yes. I know this feeling from my studio art classes; trust me, you will NEVER be fully satisfied with a painting. You will always, years later when that thing hangs in your living room, look at it and notice a detail you should fix. But you know what? Perfectionism is the enemy of accomplishment. DONE is far better than perfect. Getting your knowledge and insights out there into the world where other people can think about them and try them out and build further upon that knowledge is the purpose of research–the purpose isn’t to create the Perfect American Article. Save your OCD for something practical like keeping your kitchen spotless (and if you’re into that, come over to my place, will you? It’s a terrific mess because I’ve been writing).

But back to the question–when are you done? Well, here’s my very non-professional rule: when I can’t STAND to look at it any longer, OR when I run out of time to do edits, whichever comes first. Seriously. Because you know what? I’m going to send that article to a journal editor. And they, and likely about two other professionals are going to read it and make content edits, and then they’ll either accept it (on condition that I edit it), or they’ll reject it (and possibly give me some pointers on why they rejected it, giving me edits anyway before I submit to another journal). For an accepted article, I’ll make those edits and then a copy editor will send it back with grammatic and spelling edits. They want to be sure what they publish is as spotless as they can make it, so they’ll catch all kinds of things I missed. Trust me, my English BA is a bit wounded when I get back an edited draft… but simultaneously I’m relieved they caught my crazy comma-splicing before it went to press.

Bottom line: DO IT.

If in doubt about a draft or proposal, send it anyway–the worst thing that can happen is getting rejected. And getting rejected is just one step forward toward your goal: it means you actively put something out there, and that you’re one more rejection letter closer to accomplishing your goal of getting published.

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