Editing a research paper or proposal begins as soon as you get down the first crappy draft. Only after you’ve captured the ideas, then unleash your editor. Many productive writers write and edit in sections, and then share those sections with a writing buddy or writing group for feedback. Our best guidance is to wait until you’ve done at least three rounds of editing before you share the work with your very busy advisor.
Try these simple editing exercises to identify problems and improve the quality of your work.
1. Remove words ending in -ly.
Chances are if you use a lot of words ending in -ly (i.e., adjectives or adverbs), you are choosing weak verbs, such as to be or to have. Removing unnecessary -ly words cleans up the writing and reveals where to start for the next editing exercise.
2. Identify and Change Weak Verbs
Weak verbs are those that do not convey clear action. Common weak verbs in research papers include to be, to have, and to use. Go through your paper and mark up all instances where you’ve used a weak verb in any tense (i.e., past, present, or future). Then replace half of those weak verbs with strong verbs. If you’re stuck on identifying replacement verbs, check out visualthesaurus.com for helpful ideas.
3. Passive vs. Active Voice
If some of the weak verbs you found in exercise #2 don’t make sense to replace directly with an active verb, you probably have an instance of passive voice. Purdue’s OWL writing lab explains what this means. If you are not sure which to use, consult with the scientific journal for guidance. Most of the leading scientific journals, including Nature and Science, prefer third-persona active voice. Nature’s Scitable for education offers helpful details and guidance on verbs and best usage.
4. Run Grammarly
When you’ve completed these exercises, it’s time to run Grammarly and check for other composition errors. We run Grammarly after every round of editing. It’s an especially useful tool for polishing final drafts.
Still have questions? Notice something is missing and want to suggest a resource? Want to hire an editor for scientific writing?