How do I edit?

At the recent Thesis Boot Camp, I discovered that a lot of people were reluctant to write generatively because they weren’t good at drafting.  They weren’t even sure how to begin editing.  This is the email I sent them to help them get started before we met up individually to workshop their writing.  I include it, in case anyone else is avoiding a Shitty First Draft because they aren’t sure they can get it from Shit to Fantastic.

Some advice on editing before we meet up!

1.  Get some sleep. Take a break from it. You need some critical distance from your text before you try to evaluate it as a reader (rather than as the writer).  2 weeks is ideal, but even a few days is a good thing!
2.  Go and find at least 3 recent (since 2010) PhDs from your department and have a look at their format, style, tone.
How do they introduce paragraphs?
How do they get you from one idea/paragraph to the next?
What verbs do they use?
How long are the sentences?
How long are the paragraphs?
How often do they use sub-headings?
Are they easy to read? Are they effective texts?
3. Write out your argument / thesis statement / hypothesis.
Write out your 4-8 key words.
Put these up on your wall so you can use them!
4. Write a ‘tiny text’ or ‘prompt’ that will help you clarify what you’re doing:
 5.  Read these useful blog posts 
6.  Now go back to your writing.  Scan through it.
Make sure all your sentences are about 25-30 words long.
Try to have no more than 2 clauses in a sentence.
Try to make sure that the subject (key topic) of the sentence is near the beginning!
Make sure all your paragraphs are no more than 1/2 a page long (double spaced).
Make sure early on in each paragraph you say: This paragraph is here because … it contributes to my overall argument by ….
Identify any writing ‘tics‘ (you do overuse ‘interesting’, ‘evidenced’ or ‘moreover’?)
Is there anything you do that you find really irritating?
Is there anything you do that your supervisor often comments on?
Is there anything that you do that you are really unsure about?
Make a list!
This is just a quick starter, and the sort of thing that will help you go to your Reading Buddy, your Mentor, your Supervisor (or your Academic Skills Advisor) with a draft that you can workshop.

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