Editing papers back to front

I have often done this without realising what I do. But a recent tweet (yes, a tweet can also be useful and informative!) from Prof. Arvind Narayanan from Princeton University made me think more thoroughly about it and I want to recommend it here to everyone!

Usually, we write a draft of a paper and then start editing it. We start editing at the beginning and proceed to the end, in sequence. Well, obvious, right? Our readers will do the same. Well, maybe not … ?

  1. When you start editing from the beginning, the first sections will get really polished but the subsequent sections not that much… This is due to us getting tired of the editing process.
  2. Not all readers actually read research publications in sequence. I also don’t. I start with the abstract, skip the introduction and related works completely and get straight to the “research”. I skim the idea, skip all theoretical details and go straight to the results and discussion, which I read carefully. If I miss something there, I look in the respective section. So, those are also the sections which should be edited most carefully.
  3. Without sequence, you often ask yourself questions like “Did I explain this properly before and where exactly” or “Did I give enough details about this in the respective section?”.

So, when editing your papers try to follow these steps:

  1. Leave the paper aside for several days (if you have the time!)
  2. Start editing random sections. For example, just focus on your result section and draw all loose ends that you discover in the other sections.
  3. After you did so at least twice for each section, read the paper again from front to back.
  4. Give the papers to at least 2 colleagues for review. Incorporate their feedback.
  5. Anytime one of your reviews feels like the reviewer (whether colleague or anonymous) did not understand something, ask yourself: Did I explain it properly? Did I explain it on time? Do I need to remind the reader about it?

Have fun editing your papers!

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2 Responses to Editing papers back to front

  1. Jeremy says:

    Would you have a link to the tweet you mentioned? Thank you for all the great thoughts on how to publish more effectively.

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