How to edit your work for proper format and quality presentation

AcWriChatLast week during TAA’s bi-weekly #AcWriChat TweetChat event on Twitter, we discussed how to edit your academic writing for proper format and quality presentation. Included in the discussion were the three common style guides (APA, MLA, and Chicago), common practices and mistakes, and the effect of poor formatting and presentation on credibility of the work. We also discussed how to evaluate flow and what elements of consistency should be evaluated during the editing process.

Common style guides

It is likely that as an academic author, you are expected to follow one of the major style guides when producing your academic work. The three most common used in academia are:

  • APA – “APA Style is used by writers in many disciplines around the world for concise, powerful, and persuasive scholarly communication.”
  • MLA – “MLA style is a system for documenting sources in scholarly writing. It has been widely adopted for classroom instruction and used throughout the world by scholars, journal publishers, and academic and commercial presses.”
  • Chicago – “The Chicago Manual of Style Online is the venerable, time-tested guide to style, usage, and grammar in an accessible online format.”

General formatting guidelines

Although most journals will have specific author guidelines that should be adhered to when writing your paper, there are some general guidelines for preparing manuscript text, presenting terminology, preparing illustrations and figures, etc. Scribendi offers advice on how to format a scientific paper following the IMRaD structure. BMC shares general information on preparing your manuscript as well as specific formatting guidelines for commentary, debate, methodology, research, short report, study protocol, and systematic review articles.

In their tutorial, “Editing your paper before submission”, Open Access Academy shares details on the following five steps:

  1. Making a checklist of requirements.
  2. Creating a Reverse Outline of your draft.
  3. Content editing for the writing and argument of the paper.
  4. Format editing for the paper’s appearance and style.
  5. Proofreading the final draft for any lingering troubles.

Common errors in formatting

Errors in formatting can appear as general problems with the overall structure of the manuscript, formatting errors on specific pages of the manuscript, or as problems within the individual sections of the manuscript.

Liberty University offers advice on the most common formatting mistakes in overall structure. This includes using the wrong header font or size, incorrect line spacing, centering paragraphs, excessive margins, and incorrectly formatting sources, title pages, and headings.

Indiana University of Pennsylvania shares a list of specific formatting errors common to the pages and sections of a manuscript. These include the title page, copyright page, signature page, abstract page, acknowledgements page, table of contents, list of tables, list of figures, body of your document, references, and appendices.

Finally, Jorge Faber published an article titled “Writing scientific manuscripts: most common mistakes” in the Dental Press Journal of Orthodontics where he shared specific mistakes and guidelines for the following sections of a manuscript: introduction, material and methods, results, discussion, and conclusion.

Effect of poor formatting and presentation on credibility

Poor formatting is the most common reason for journal rejection. According to a Typeset blog article, “Each journal has its own set of writing guidelines…. Not following the writing standard set by a journal is often the most common reason for rejection of papers among early-career researchers.” Further, as noted by Walden University, “If your readers cannot follow your train of thought, or if they become distracted by problematic formatting, they might not trust your credibility as a researcher.”

Evaluating the flow of your writing

In an additional resource on transitions, Walden University states, “The strength of any argument largely hinges on the writer’s ability to make clear connections between his or her assessments, assertions, and research.” To ensure that your readers can follow your train of thought and make clear connections, you want to evaluate your flow.

One way to accomplish this is through reading aloud. Peter Elbow claims, “Reading aloud intensifies our own experience of our own words by increasing our bodily experience them: we get to feel them with our mouths and hear them in our ears and indeed experience them in our bodies—not just see with the eye and understand with the mind.”

Another is with an external reviewer. The Writing Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill says, “Asking someone to ‘proofread’ your paper might get you some type of feedback, but the more specific you can be about what you want comments on, the better the feedback will be.” Further, they suggest the following list of specific questions to ask of your writing:

  • Are my ideas in a useful order?
  • Can you follow the logic of my argument?
  • Are my transitions clear?
  • Does the third paragraph make sense?
  • Choosing the correct preposition can be difficult for me. Can you make sure I’m using them correctly?
  • I’m confused about which verb tense to use in the Methods section.
  • I’ve noticed that I sometimes make agreement errors with nouns and verbs. Can you go over this with me?

Considering consistency when editing

The Excelsior Online Writing Lab reminds us that When writing a research paper and other academic writing (what is called academic discourse) you’ll want to use what is called the academic voice, which is meant to sound objective, authoritative, and reasonable.”

To accomplish this, The Writing Center at George Mason University provides guidance on the main functions of the three common tenses used in academic writing, as follows:

  • The Present Simple Tense – Present simple is the most common tense in academic writing, and it is usually considered as the “default” unless there is a certain reason to choose another tense
  • The Past Simple Tense – Generally, past simple is used to refer to actions completed in the past
  • The Present Perfect Tense – Present perfect is usually used when referring to previous research, and since it is a present tense, it indicates that the findings are relevant today

TAA hosts a new topic every other week on Twitter at 11am ET on Fridays using the hashtag #AcWriChat. We welcome you to join the discussion about source citation and documentation next week at 11am ET on 5/1. See you there!


Eric Schmieder

Eric Schmieder is the Membership Marketing Manager for TAA. He has taught computer technology concepts to curriculum, continuing education, and corporate training students since 2001. A lifelong learner, teacher, and textbook author, Eric seeks to use technology in ways that improve results in his daily processes and in the lives of those he serves. His latest textbook, Web, Database, and Programming: A foundational approach to data-driven application development using HTML, CSS, JavaScript, jQuery, MySQL, and PHP, First Edition, is available now through Sentia Publishing.