tactics for proof-reading

Marialuisa Aliotta:

Practical tips for effective proof-reading – by Pat Thomson

Originally posted on patter:

I am one of the world’s worst at proof-reading my own work. I’m quite good at revising, but not so good at the final checks. Regular readers of this blog will sometimes spot the odd proofreading omission  – the good news is that I usually pick it up, albeit often after a few days :( .

Proof-reading isn’t an easy thing to do – most writers are inclined to see what we thought we’d written, rather than what we actually have. We miss the odd spelling mistake, missing comma, over long sentence, the too often repeated word. It’s hardly surprising we miss these slip ups as most pieces of writing that are ready for proof-reading have been through multiple drafts and revisions. The proof-reading trick is to try to make the text appear unfamiliar and strange, almost as if someone else had written it.

So here’s a few tactics that can help:

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The Academic Writing Kit

The Academic Writing Kit

If you have been following this blog for a while, you may have noticed that from time to time I post announcements of upcoming events, free webinars, and other offerings.

This post is one of those.

I just wanted to let you know of my new FREE 3-part Video Series The Academic Writing Kit.

The series is aimed at aspiring and ongoing PhD students and is meant to give you some advice on issues that most people seem to struggle with when it comes to questions such as:

  • how do I apply for a PhD program?
  • how do I write a research proposal to finally embark on my PhD project?
  • what does a PhD really entails?
  • what are the main challenges I’ll be facing?
  • what skills do I need to develop to succeed?
  • how do I write my PhD thesis?
  • how do I write a research paper?

If you also find yourself asking the same (or similar) questions, then you may want to register for The Academic Writing Kit.

The first video will be out tomorrow.

Look forward to connecting with you!

 

How to Structure Your Chapters in 3 Quick Steps

Structure photo Structure.jpg

One of the things inexperienced writers struggle the most with is getting the structure right!

And I’m not talking about… ‘first comes the introduction, then the literature review, then the methods, data analysis, results and so on’…

That’s the easy bit. Everyone gets that.

I’m talking about writing the actual chapters and arranging your content in a way that makes sense. That’s when the text suddenly loses its structure. And like a body without skeleton, the whole thing just falls apart.

If you constantly receive feedback along the lines… ‘this chapter is unclear’… ‘there are lots of repetitions’… ‘I cannot see where you are going here’… ‘what is the point you are trying to make?’… ‘I think these paragraphs completely lack focus’… chances are the problem may be in the structure (or rather lack thereof!).

In fact, these are just a few examples of the feedback some of the students I coach receive from their supervisors.

It is frustrating, both for the students and for their supervisor.

So what I try to do first and foremost when I work with these students is to take them through a process of creating a structure.

I do not claim that this is the only way to do it, but it works for me. And for my students.

I describe it here in the hope that it can help you too.

1. Make a mind map.

Mind maps are a great tool to quickly generate a comprehensive overview of what you want to put in your chapter. One of the main advantages of this approach is its ‘scalability’. You can use a mind map for your entire thesis, for an individual chapter, or even for a section. The principles remain exactly the same. If you have never done one before, here are some practical tips.

Take a piece of paper (landscape orientation works best) and write in the middle the core topic. For example, literature review, or data analysis, or the name of whatever other chapter you are working on.

From this central ‘node’, start drawing a line (just like the branch of a tree) and at its end write one of the topics that you want to include in this particular chapter. This could be one section. From there, branch out to other bits that should be included in that particular section: draw one branch per item. If appropriate, you may also link items with other lines, just to show that there is a connection or a relation between the two.

When you have exhausted all the topics for that section, move back to the main node (your chapter) and start another branch: a new section. Again branch out with its sub-branches to the various bits that will go into this other section.

Keep going until you think you have included all your key ingredients in your map.

For example, If you are trying to write a literature review to discuss the experience of women in the labor market in your country, your mind map may look something like this:

mind-map-draft

2. Revise your mind map to give it some structure

Most likely your mind map will look rather messy. That’s fine! That’s how is should be.

Remember, a mind map is a visual representation of what you have in your mind when it comes to ‘which items am I going to include/present/discuss in this chapter?’.

But probably, there will be far too many details that you do not want to have into the actual layout of your chapter.

So, an intermediate step may be needed before you get to your final goal (i.e. producing a layout of the chapter’s structure): re-arrange the various nodes and possibly cut down some branches.

This doesn’t mean you are going to leave out the corresponding topics from your text, but you will leave them out from your layout.

A revised version of your mind map may look like this:

mind-map-revised

3. Turn your mind map into a structured layout

Now it’s time to create your chapter’s layout. This is critical because it will provide the bare bones structure for your ‘meat’.

Unlike a mind map, a layout represents an ordered and logical (I repeat, ordered and logical) sequence of the topics in your chapter.

It will showcase the content in a way that should (ideally!) make sense for your reader.

So, this step now is all about looking at the mind map you have just produced and decide which box (with its branches) comes first (in a logical sequence).

Say you are describing the situation of women’s employment in your country and want to compare it to that in different welfare state types.

A good logical sequence would be to provide a brief general introduction about different welfare states FIRST, and THEN about the specific situation in your country. (Remember: always from the general to the specific)

Proceed like this until you have covered all the main nodes (and their main branches) in your mind map.

Your chapter layout may now look something like this (in fact, this is just an excerpt of the full chapter):

layout

Make sure your sections and sub-sections titles are clear and sufficiently descriptive so that your reader can quickly figure out what he/she can expect to find in them.

Eh voila’! Your chapter’s structure is laid out nicely before you.

At this point – I hope – it will become a lot easier to see what goes where and to write each section accordingly. You will avoid un-necessary repetitions and deliver your reader a much better (and clearer!) experience.

Also, once you know what the overall length of your document should be, you can plan more carefully for how many pages each section should be!

 

I hope this helps. If you have questions, please post them in the comments below.

[Note: the examples in this post were taken from real case drafts and have been reproduced with the author’s permission]

PS If you found this post useful, you may also like: City Maps and Theses Layouts, Mastering the Art: The Two Stages of Writing, and What Can Celebrity Chefs Teach You About Writing

The Burden of Knowledge

‘As we accumulate more knowledge, more knowledge must be known before new contributors can contribute.’

It’s called ‘the burden of knowledge‘.

And that’s why, the average age of Nobel Prize-winning work is now 48 compared to 40, as it was before 1905.

Interestingly, the average age at dissertation is 33, which leaves a little window of potential for truly ground-breaking research.

Often, it is the dissertation that lay the foundations for a successful career!  (see infographic – courtesy: Kyata Tobias, Online PhD Programs)

The bottom-line message?

It may just pay off to write it well! :)
Dissertations
Source: Online-PHd-Programs.org

Credits: Kyara Tobias

Reading About Writing: 7 Books You Should Have

Have you ever run a search for ‘Academic Writing’ books on Amazon?

I just have! And there are well over 15000 titles in the Paperback section alone!

No wonder you may get a little overwhelmed in case you want to buy one to improve your writing skills (a great idea, by the way, which I totally support).

So, I thought I’d give you a quick list of some of my favourite books on the topic.

I hope you’ll find the book that suits your needs. And if you have other titles to recommend, just post them in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you.

Here is my list:

glasman-deal

 

H Glasman-Deal: Science Research Writing for Non-Native Speakers of English, Imperial College Press (2010)

A very clear and well-designed book that will take you step by step into the process of structuring the various sections of chapters in your research paper of thesis. Lots of useful tables with frequently used phrases of academic writing.

 

greene

 

A Greene: Writing Science in Plain English. The University of Chicago Press (2013)

A little gem of a book! A must-read for all (students and staff) who want to improve their writing by applying some simple and practical strategies. Plenty of examples (and ‘solutions’) for you to practice your skills.

 

goodson

 

P Goodson: Becoming an Academic Writer – 50 Exercises for Paced, Productive, and Powerful, Writing. SAGE Publishing Ltd (2013)

If you are short on ideas of practical things you can to to improve your writing, here you’ll find plenty of suggestions and examples.

 

sword

 

H Sword: The Writer’s Diet. Pearson New Zealand Ltd. (2007)

I just love the analogy between writing and eating! If you take the Writer’s Diet Test, but don’t get too disappointed with the results… It’s good fun to see at once where your writing is going wrong.

 

 

koerner

 

AM Koerner: Guide to publishing a scientific paper. Routledge (2008)

If you are new to publishing a research paper, this book will take you through every step in the process from choice of journal, to manuscript submission, to response to reviewers’ comments. Excellent advice even if you are not new to publishing!

 

strunk

 

W Strunk: Elements of Style. Dover Publications Inc. (2006)

A classic that never seems to go amiss. Some advice is probably outdated, but plenty is still valid today as it was almost hundred years ago, when the book first came out.

 

 

atkinson

 

I Atkinson: Copy. Righter. LID Publishing Ltd (2011)

Not exactly a book on academic writing. But there’s nothing wrong about borrowing some of the best tactics that highly successful copywriters use to hook their readers!