A FEW SUGGESTIONS ON EDITING RESEARCH PAPERS IN THE AGE OF WORD PROCESSORS

by
Ron Dorn
Geography Department
Arizona State University

SUGGESTION #1: HAVE YOUR COMPUTER READ YOUR WRITING OUT LOUD AS YOU EDIT IT

Editors have long recognized that reading out loud is one of the best ways of catching mistakes.  This can be automated!  Macintosh computers come with the "Simpletext" program that will read your writing out loud for you.  You can obtain similar programs for PCs.
[HINT: The most efficient solution is to put two computers, side-by-side. One computer (e.g., an old Macintosh computer that cost you $20 at a garage sale) does the reading.  You then edit on the second computer.  Just remember to get a cup of coffee before you start.]

SUGGESTION #2: FORMULAE FOR WRITING AN ABSTRACT

Step 1: Make a list of all of the words that YOU would select as key words in your searching about your research.  Think methodologically. Think topically.  Think geographically.  Think applied.

Step 2: Use all of those words to prepare the equivalent of a "movie promo".  Don't oversell.  But don't undersell.  This is your one shot at international access.

Step 3: Use suggestion #5 below in destroying all passive verbs before you finish.
 

SUGGESTION #3: THROW YOUR READER A BONE! GIVE THEM A ROAD MAP!

You must tell your reader the organization of your paper or chapter.  Do this as soon as you can in the introduction.

Then, you must also tell the reader the organization of each large section of your paper or chapter.  Do this as soon as you can in the first paragraph of each section.

You simply cannot go wrong in telling them what's coming in advance.

As a part of your road map, be sure to practice proper scholarship in citing (referencing) your sources.  If you are unsure of the right way to cite references, including electronic references, click here.
 

SUGGESTION #4: REMEMBER TO DO A VICTORY LAP

This section is for those of you who are writing a research paper for publication or a thesis.

You spent a huge chunk of your life reading the literature on your research topic.  You spent another big chunk of your paper or thesis in reviewing that literature.

When your paper/thesis is over, connect your research advances to that literature.  Nobody expects you to rewrite a field of study.  Your reader expects that you added a sand grain of knowledge to the hour glass of your field of study.  But for goodness sakes, explain how your sand grain adds to your field and connects to the bigger picture.
 

SUGGESTION #5: NUKE PASSIVE VOICE

Some silly scientists think that passive voice (it is believed; some have found; the field site is located; the sample was first ground) somehow makes them sound scientific and objective.  I think that these beliefs are a refuge of lazy writers.  Please, pretty please, search and destroy passive voice.  This section explains how to use word processors to take control of your writing and dig out all passive verbs from your research paper/thesis.

Why Active Verbs?

Writers often make lazy choices. We use generic all-purpose verbs such as been, be, had, have, were, was, and is. Especially in scientific journal articles, these verbs make encore appearances with more regularity than car commercials in a football game. Yet these "passive" words convey little. Even worse are the catch all "deal with" and "show" choices. I scream in frustration everytime I read another: "it has been thought by Schuckitelly that..."

Why not try something more exciting, such as:"Schmuckitelly revealed"...

Active verbs convey meaning as you describe work and ideas. As a rule, passive verbs show up most commonly in:

Of course, you will have to use passive voice throughout your writing. Varying sentence structure keeps your reader from writhing in pain over reading the same sentence structures over and over.  By trying your very best to search and destroy your passive voice, leaving a few are-will-have been-is and other passive verbs emphasize your variety.  If in doubt, use active verbs.  But if you just have to use a passive verb, you won't hesitate.
 

How do I get rid of the Passive Voice?

You can get rid of passive voice writing in one night.  Well.  Okay.  It may take a little bit longer.  But you can identify all of your targets in a few seconds.

Step 1: Make your word processor show revisions.  You will have to search for this choice in your word processes.  For example, in Microsoft Word, revisions... is under "tools."  You must select the show revisions option.

Step 2: Use the "search and replace" ability of your program, by

replace ^is^ with ^REPLACE ME^ (^ is my way of telling you to put in a space before and after the verb)

replace ^was^ with ^REPLACE ME^
replace ^were^ with ^REPLACE ME^
replace ^had^ with ^REPLACE ME^
replace ^have^ with ^REPLACE ME^
replace ^get^ with ^REPLACE ME^
replace ^got^ with ^REPLACE ME^
replace ^be^ with ^REPLACE ME^
replace ^been^ with ^REPLACE ME^
replace ^deal with^ with ^REPLACE ME^
replace ^show^ with ^REPLACE ME^
replace ^any other passive verb your editor/teacher hates^ with ^REPLACE ME^

Step 3: Rewrite each sentence with an active verb. Passive sentences typically place the true subject at the end.   Thus, you may need to turn the sentence backwards to destroy passive voice.

Step 4: You can see all the changes at once by clicking off the show revisions option, or some programs allow you to accept or reject the changes one-by-one.
 

Look below for two lists of active words developed by Dr. Joe Schall at Penn State University.  I recommend that you visit his website for more insights into writing at http://www.ems.psu.edu/~schall/Schall.html
 

Yet be careful!  Each of these words infers specific individual, analytical meaning. When using this list, be sure to choose the best verb for a situation. For efficiency, accuracy, and your own credibility, always aim for the best and simplest verb. If you are unsure of meaning, be sure to look it up.
 

Active Verbs That Describe Work
yield illustrate illuminate reveal employ mean suggest
clarify indicate represent prove insist propose imply
assert postulate consider infer state extrapolate estimate
define classify invoke analyze compare hypothesize synthesize
summarize disagree generalize narrate evaluate simplify measure
note predict introduce report chalenge delineate depict
construe interpret provide acknowledge distinguish inform specify
restrict determine detail sum up designate point out set forth
deduce derive characterize guide maintain believe speculate
present organize investigate assess determine calculate support
devise construct evaluate attribute obtain argue reiterate

Active Verbs That Describe Phenomena
 
discharge overlie emanate radiate scatter exchange separate
surround combine eliminate emit transmit carry bombard
exert exude interact behave exchange absorb converge
extend constrain force elongate contract trend plunge
occur fracture continue mix slow quicken produce
bond interlock fuse deteriorate migrate encompass access
traverse join dominate deposit underlie overlap originate
isolate invade permeate evolve divide sinter reclaim
restore abandon contain accrue precede influence saturate
circulate orient forecast distribute allow lag terminate
activate cease record form transect condense enrich
invert convert alter link superimpose rotate rupture
streamline appear require ascend descend collapse superpose
crystallize bisect coalesce disperse propel disseminate cede

Good luck on your paper!