Review And Revision

How do I review my own writing?

Be critical

When editing your own work, be very critical. Be very, very critical. Always ask yourself whether the meaning of what you have written will be instantly clear to the reader. Put yourself in the position of the reader (who is not as familiar with the material as you are) and then read what you’ve written. Any sections with even slightly ambiguous meanings should be re-worked.

Check overall organization

Is your report logically organized?

One step, or line of thinking, must logically follow the preceding one; i.e. there must be a “train of thought”.

Are adjacent paragraphs connected?

Unconnected content will confuse the reader.
Consecutive paragraphs must be in a logical order, and you must make the connections between them clear to the reader. Transitional words can help e.g. “however,” “also,” “yet,” “although” etc. However, make sure that transitional words are used correctly.

Check paragraph quality

Does each paragraph start with a topic sentence?

Does each paragraph deal with only one topic?

Do all other sentences directly relate to the topic sentence?

Is the topic sentence adequately supported?

There must be sufficient supporting details for the reader to follow, and be convinced by, your line of reasoning.

Are the paragraph's sentences logically ordered and connected?

It doesn’t matter if the individual sentences make sense as stand-alone sentences; if there is no logical progression of thought within the paragraph, then the paragraph doesn’t work.

Edit for succinctness

Get rid of extraneous words and phrases

For example: change “during the course of” to “during” and “few in number” to “few”. Similarly, avoid using the phrase “It has been shown that….”; simply describe the thing that has been shown. After all, if you are describing it then it must have “been shown” (and don’t forget to add a reference for the information).

Combine choppy sentences

Strive for a maximum information content of sentences, which in turn will reduce the total number of sentences and total number of words.

Example 1 - from and introduction

Before editing - two sentences

Lamb and Chopp (2010) examined the foraging behaviour of bumblebees on fireweed. They showed that the bumblebees foraged in a manner consistent with the “optimal foraging” model.

After editing - same information - less words - one sentence.

Bumblebees foraging on fireweed exhibit a pattern consistent with the “optimal foraging” model (Lamb and Chopp 2010).

Example 2 - from a results section

Before editing - two poorly connected sentences

Table 1 shows the chlorophyll and carotenoid contents of iron-sufficient and iron-limited algal cells. Iron-sufficient algal cells exhibited greater total pigment content, but a lower carotenoid:chlorophyll ratio.

After editing - one clear sentence

Iron-sufficient algal cells exhibited greater total pigment content than iron-limited cells, but a lower carotenoid:chlorophyll ratio (Table 1).

Edit for precision

Instead of writing “there was a major stimulation in growth due to auxin application,” write “there was a two-fold stimulation in growth due to auxin application.”

How do I review the writing of others?

Reviewing the writing of others is a good way to improve your own writing; it’s easier to see errors in someone else’s writing than it is to see errors in your own. Getting feedback and suggestions for improvement from your peers before you hand in a report for grading is extremely valuable. Not only that, but peer review is something real scientists do. Anonymous peer review is part of the process involved in publishing one’s research.

  • The first step in reviewing a paper is similar to the strategy used to understand a journal article.
    • Begin by skim reading the draft quickly to get a general sense for it.
    • If there is anything you have trouble with, mark it for later.
  • On your second read, examine the overall organization of the assignment.
    • Does it flow?
    • Is it logical?
    • Does it jump around enough that you have to stop reading to figure out what is going on?
  • Does the assignment you are reviewing meet the criteria set out in the criteria document or rubric?
    • If not, how could it be improved so that it meets the criteria?
    • Provide specific comments. Comments like “this is good” or “this needs work” are not specific enough to be useful.

Make sure you are respectful in your tone.

  • For every negative comment, include a positive one.
  • It is essential to include both suggestions for improvement and notations about particularly strong aspects of the paper.
  • Remember to evaluate the writing, not the person doing the writing.

What do I do with the review comments I get back

Remember, the comments are not about you, they are about the writing! We all get very attached to our writing and tend to feel personally attacked when someone makes a lot of negative comments, but try to remember: the comments are there to help you improve.

  • Consider each comment or suggestion carefully.
  • Comments like "I don't understand what you have said here" usually mean your writing is unclear. The fix could be as simple as inserting a missing word; or it could be more complicated, as in you need to rewrite the whole sentence or paragraph.
  • After careful consideration, you many decide that despite the comment/suggestion, the original copy is fine the way it is. You do not have to incorporate every suggested change. However, you should be clear in your mind as to why you have decided your original copy is best.


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