Editing an academic paper is a bit different from that of work destined for a blog or publishing a novel. Because academic and scientific papers are written in a formal style, they need to be carefully edited to ensure the communication of ideas in an unambiguous way, with clarity and solid structure from start to finish.
An academic work is meant to be taken literally, so let’s explore these 6 best practices for editing.
1. Ensure style is consistent throughout.
There are many formats for writing an academic paper, so choose which style will best suit your work and ensure that it’s applied consistently throughout.
The APA writing format (American Psychological Association) was designed for publication in psychological journals, but is widely used in many scientific fields. Whatever style you choose, follow the appropriate outlines and formatting structures for the greatest success.
Some general guidelines to follow are:
- Maintain consistency with margin width: top, bottom and both sides.
- Font size should be used consistently.
- Double space text, including references and bibliographies.
- Text should be aligned to the left margin.
- If your work is to be published, use a Running Head (a short title no longer than 50 characters) at the top of each page, aligned flush left.
- Use the active voice. This is an area of change from the past where an impersonal form was the traditional rule, and personal pronouns weren’t used.
- Pagination and order of pages. The page number should appear at the top of every page, either centered or at the right margin. And the order of pages should be as follows:
- title page
2. Evaluate your paper for supporting parallels.
When writing a paper it’s easy to simply jot ideas down as they pop into your head without concern for their relationship to your main topic. When editing, you need to ensure that all of these ideas marry up and parallel one another. For example, does your thesis parallel the concluding paragraph? The conclusion needs to support the exact position of the thesis without conditions or qualifying statements.
Also, your topic sentences should reflect the points in your thesis. If your thesis states that A, B, and C are qualities found in D (D being your thesis), then you need to commit the appropriate space to analyzing A, B, and C in order to support your claims.
And, any quotes used within your paper need to be scrutinized to ensure they’re supporting your topic sentences, which in turn support your thesis. The thread of your subject needs to run all the way through the fabric of your paper.
3. Mind your words.
An academic paper is meant to be read by peers and professionals within a given field, so the use of technical terms and industry verbiage is an encouraged and accepted practice.
Avoid the common mistakes that detract from your authority or professionalism – spellcheckers will miss homonyms and the meaning behind your word selection, so take the time to edit carefully for Common Errors in English Usage (Paul Brians).
Some of them are:
- Improper use of plurals and possessives.
- Confusing effect and affect.
- Making up words when there are plenty of good ones available.
- Not knowing the accurate meaning of the words you use.
- Use of slang or jargon.
- Not using appropriate technical words and terms.
- Use of contractions.
- Abbreviations. Avoid them and spell out your words. However, acronyms are preferable after they’ve been spelled out the first time used.
This article from the University of Pennsylvania is well worth reading, covering these points and more, in detail.
4. Cut down on wordiness.
An academic paper is formal in nature, but it doesn’t have to be stuffy or boring. Apply the following writing and editing principles for effective communication of your ideas.
- Write from an outline. This gives structure to your thoughts, so your writing is always on topic. And having structure means you don’t have to use filler words or try to “fluff” your paper.
- Stick to one idea per paragraph. And each idea should always be clearly related to the main idea of your thesis.
- Rework any lengthy sentences into clear and compact structures.
- Use expressive nouns and verbs to express your ideas and avoid trying to enliven your writing with empty adjectives and adverbs. Read your text out loud to determine where your prose can be made more direct and vivid.
Bibliographies, references and citations. There’s no getting around it, they need to be included in your work. Many different formats can be used for referencing the resource material used in a paper, so it’s best to pre-determine what the preferences and guidelines are for each one.
In essence, they all require a minimum of information to allow others to locate the source material you’ve cited:
- A bibliography requires the author’s name, title of the book and date of publication.
- A journal article must include volume and page numbers.
- Conference papers need the title of the conference, page numbers and details of publication.
Your paper will need to have a reference for every source you mention so that peer reviewers and those who mark your work will be able to easily access your support documentation. Without them, your credibility and marks will suffer. It’s a valuable detail that needs to be respected.
To be effective, your academic paper should be polished and professional in every aspect. And nothing says “amateur” quite like misspelled words, sloppy punctuation and grammatical mistakes. Don’t count on a spellchecker to do this for you as there are simply too many instances where words and errors are overlooked for any number of reasons.
And there you have our 6 best tips for editing an academic paper. Use these ideas to give your work every opportunity to stand out and be noticed amid the competition.