Ready to send your written document to your PI or collaborators for feedback? Before you do, take a moment to intentionally edit. Often when we write long documents, we focus on the take-home message and the flow of our information. By the time we finish our text and figures, we are so tired of looking at our document that we neglect to make some really critical edits.

Below is a checklist for long written documents. Each step should be done deliberately, with only that step in mind. We know that this process will take time – but the more you do it, the more natural it will become. Going through this checklist will ensure that your document is well-written, logical, and easy to follow.

Edit at the message level

ᙸ Confirm that the message in your title reflects the take-home message in your abstract, introduction, and discussion. 

ᙸ Confirm that the key conclusions that support your take-home message are clear, in your abstract, introduction, caption titles, results section titles, and discussion. 

Edit at the section level

Read through topic sentences to make sure you can understand your story.

ᙸ Check each section against the hourglass structure to ensure you didn’t leave out a critical section. 

ᙸ Compare the structure of different sections to ensure you have parallel alignment.

ᙸ Confirm that all figures are referenced in the correct order and without any errors.

Edit at the paragraph level

Check the structure of each paragraph. 

    • The first sentence summarizes the main point of the paragraph.
    • The remainder of the paragraph provides evidence to support that idea.
    • The last sentence should transition to the next idea.

ᙸ Check that the subject from one sentences logically transitions to the subject from the next sentence.

ᙸ Check that the verb tense is the same in all the sentences. If not, be sure that the change in tense is intentional. 

Edit at the sentence level

ᙸ Confirm that the subject agrees with the verb. Also, check that your subject and verb are as close together as possible. 

ᙸ Identify the main message of the sentence, and as much as possible, ensure that that comes at the beginning of the sentence.

ᙸ  Search for “this”, “that”, and “they”, and make sure each has a clear subject that it refers to.

ᙸ Vary your sentence length to make your writing more enjoyable. Identify long sentences and determine if they can be split.

As you write, you have lots of choices within each of these levels of writing. Maintain your voice, while making it easy for your reader to follow along. Editing is the easiest way to ensure that your message comes across clearly to your reader. 

Automated Feedback Apps

There are many automated writing feedback systems that have been developed. While none seem to be perfect for scientific writing, most can help go through some of the steps above. Some include: 

  • Grammarly – The free version gives basic feedback on grammar and punctuation. It can be integrated into your internet browser or other programs to help with editing for everything you are writing. There is also a paid version that comments on sentence length and tone, among other things.   
  • Hemingway Editor – Copy your text into the document and edit as you get feedback. This may work for technical scientific documents, but is geared for feedback to K-12 students, so this app is likely better for feedback on documents geared towards a lay or non-specific technical audience.

If you want feedback on your draft or want help going through this process, make an appointment with a Comm Lab Fellow today. 

Blog post written by Prerna Bhargava