Revising a scientific manuscript can feel like a daunting task. However, a revision does not necessarily mean rewriting the entire paper. Sometimes, revision simply requires revising specific sections to match what you have discovered during the writing process. Sometimes, revision requires writing stronger arguments to defend your final position or providing more vivid examples to illustrate your main point. It is rare that your idea will be expressed perfectly in the first draft. All experienced writers revise their work.
Let it sit, then, read it through.
- It is best to let your first draft sit for a day or two before attempting a revision. Start by going to your target journal and refreshing your mind on the Author Instructions. Then, do your own appraisal of your first draft. Read through the first draft as a general reader and try to highlight any big problems. Do not get lost, diverted, or lapse into fiddling or tinkering.
- Consider making a reverse outline of your draft. A reverse outline is an outline that you make after your paper has been written. It will help you to see your draft’s structure and logical flow.
Organize your thoughts.
- Identify any consistency problems in your manuscript. Consider the order in which you are presenting the information, key terminology or phrases that you use throughout the paper, make sure that your conclusion matches your introduction.
- Work on each individual section to identify its strengths and weaknesses within the larger paper. Do you have a saggy middle methods section, or perhaps your results sections are a little confusing, or the critical and oh-so-important conclusion?
- Work on continuity and consistency, such as paragraph length and style, how key terms are introduced and referenced, and how literature is cited.
- Finally, work on those individual corrections and tweaks, from typos to one-off clunky paragraphs, to missing research.
Other steps to consider in later revisions.
- Consider the balance within your paper in accordance with your target journal patterns. Most journals follow a specific pattern, such as a small introduction and a larger discussion. Are some parts of your manuscript out of proportion with others? Do you give lots of detail early on and then let your points get thinner by the end?
- Double-check that your manuscript follows through on what the thesis promises. Make sure that you have supported all the claims in your thesis with quality literature references.
- Check the organization of the manuscript for smooth transitions from one point to the next.
- Check your information and citations to ensure everything is accurate.
- Check your conclusion to ensure your last paragraph ties the paper together smoothly and ends on a perfect note.
- Kliewer MA. Writing It Up: A Step-by-Step Guide to Publication for Beginning Investigators. Published online 2005:6.
- Henneke. 5 Steps to Turn Shitty First Drafts into Shiny Content. Enchanting Marketing. Published January 10, 2017. Accessed August 4, 2020. https://www.enchantingmarketing.com/revision-process-in-writing/
- Harvard College Writing Center. Revising the Draft. Revising the Draft. Published 1998. Accessed August 4, 2020. https://writingcenter.fas.harvard.edu/pages/revising-draft