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4 Principles of academic revisions

A recent visitor to the TAA website communicating with us over chat said: “I would like to know some academic principles we can use for revisions.”

As authors, revisions can be one of the most challenging parts of the writing process. Most writers create easily but find it difficult to critique and edit their own work. Regardless, the revision process is essential for producing polished and effective manuscripts.

Short of hiring a professional editor to review your work and offer guidance on needed revisions, here are four principles you can use when revising your academic work.

1) Give your manuscript time to breathe

After the first draft is written, put it aside before beginning the revision process. For many academics this can be a challenge. We’re often faced with deadlines that leave little to no time for revisions, much less breathing room. As a result, planning ahead and establishing deadlines for drafts in advance of the actual manuscript deadline is essential to affording the time for proper review and revision. Depending on the length of the manuscript, the breathing room needed may be a few hours or a few weeks. The idea behind this principle is to allow enough time to return to the document with a “fresh set of eyes” before revising begins.

2) Ensure that any thoughts that were not original (even when paraphrased) are cited in the manuscript

The greatest academic crime one can commit is plagiarism – or so it seems. Even for the most prepared of academic writers, inserting citations into the manuscript can be a tedious task. It can also be one that is overlooked in those moments of flow when writing comes easy. When revising an academic work, it is important to review your manuscript in an effort to identify ideas that are not originally yours and ensure proper citation. While uncited quotations are easy to spot, be cautious to consider the source of any paraphrased content as well.

3) Reverse outline your manuscript and check the flow of content

When editing a manuscript, it is easy to get lost in the details and lose sight of the big picture. A reverse outline or “after-the-fact outline” can be an effective tool for isolating the overall structure and flow of the document. List all major headings and concepts in the order that they appear within the document as you are re-reading it and then check the list for any “storyline” issues that may exist. When identified, move the entire section to fit the new sequence.

4) Verify that introduced ideas and the conclusions drawn are supported by the information in between

During the writing process things may be added or omitted from the manuscript that were not in the original plan. While revising, it is important to identify supporting information in the document for each idea included in the introduction. Similarly, conclusions should be logically based on the information presented in the manuscript.

A key difference between the writing and revision processes is that during revision you are exploring the flow and content from a reader perspective rather than from a creative one. Being able to take on the role of an objective reader to identify places where your writing is unclear or disconnected will make the revision process more successful.