8th December 2010: Reflections on Editing 1

I spent several hours today editing the third draft of a forthcoming article co-written with Ben Eltham. Some reflections on the process today:

1. Find a co-author who you have synergies with, and whose strengths are a foil for your weaknesses. For the past 5 years I’ve had problems in structuring articles, whereas this is Ben’s specialty.

2. Leave some time to look at a manuscript. Ben finished the third draft in September from conversations that we originally had in November 2009 and earlier. Since then, I’ve read more on Waltzian neo-realism and strategic culture for PhD research. With the extra time, I could immediately see a narrative arc, new argumentation and possible references.

3. Read the journal’s background material: the editorial policy, reference style, and other information. At a strategic level this helps ‘frame’ a developmental editing approach. It also heightens the probability that your academic paper will be accepted into a top scholarly journal.

4. Signpost your key arguments and insights. Often the really interesting material is buried in a paragraph or at the end of a section. Use redrafting to draw it out more clearly for readers. Sometimes it takes a draft or two of getting material down for these ideas to emerge.

5. Kill your darlings. In the first draft I wrote a section on different security threats. It’s irrelevant and misplaced in the current draft. The easiest thing to do was to just cut the entire section. We may have to cut 3,000 words to fit the journal’s preferred word length, so some longer quotations may have to go.

6. Craft your sections and the transitions between each of them. For the article’s narrative arc, I felt several sections from the third draft could be resequenced into a stronger opening. We’ll see how this works – if it doesn’t we can always ‘revert changes’ to the third draft.

7. To hone your material know the field you are writing about. In the subject matter of this particular paper, scholars are expected to immerse themselves in the canonical literature and to understand policymaking processes. Being abreast of this material means we can shape our arguments through careful selection of quotes and references. This is an entirely different approach to some other areas we both write about, which are more fragmented and fluid.