For most documents, I recommend the following six-step process for writing and editing a paper.
The first two steps entail creation of outlines—basic and detailed. Creating these outlines is not a superfluous activity—consider these two outlines to be mandatory. To achieve the best outcome for your paper, we should never skip these steps.
Draft 1: Create a basic outline of your paper.
Draft 2: Create a detailed outline of your paper. After you create your detailed outline, check the logic of your outline’s structure. In your outline, subsections will become individual paragraphs. In each subsection, is the subsection’s topic identifiable and clear? Are the subordinate items under the title item topically appropriate? Is the sequence of subordinate items logical?
A note for students: Ordinarily, I recommend that a professor should first review a student’s outline, and then later review Draft 2. Draft 2 will not be perfect, but word choice, sentence logic, and paragraph organization will all be qualitatively sufficient to enable your professor to give you helpful feedback. Be sure to explain to your professor that Draft 2 may contain minor writing errors. At this point in your paper’s development, you’re seeking your professor’s feedback on your paper’s scientific content—not your writing quality.
If possible, send your detailed outline to an advisor for a quick review.
Next, send your outline—with any revisions from your advisor—to me for a quick review (at no charge).
Then re-write your outline in basic manuscript format.
Draft 3 editing focus: word choice, internal sentence logic, and word/sentence-level semantic accuracy.
Draft 4 editing focus: internal paragraph organization and cohesion (i.e., sentence order, transitions, etc.) and section organization and cohesion.
Draft 5 editing focus: all other details (e.g., APA citation, reference list, concision, etc.).
Draft 6 editing focus: again, “all other details.” Draft 6 editing should be done manually on a printed hardcopy, not on a computer. In conducting Draft 6 editing, you may be surprised by the number of opportunities for further improvement that were overlooked when we edited your paper’s first three drafts. In these earlier drafts, we may have missed opportunities for improvement because we typically read a hardcopy of a document more carefully than we read a document on a computer monitor.
IMPORTANT TIP: To maximize the effectiveness of Draft 5 and Draft 6 editing, edit these drafts in a series of scans of your paper; with each scan, examine only a single aspect of writing (e.g., verb tense, punctuation, citation). With Draft 5 and Draft 6 editing, do not attempt to look at multiple issues simultaneously in a single editorial scan. (During both Draft 5 and Draft 6 editing, I typically scan individual writing issues in a series of 30+ editorial passes over the paper.)
Note: By “scan,” I don’t mean “glance.” With Draft 5 and Draft 6, “to scan” means “to examine carefully.” As with Draft 1 and Draft 2 editing, Draft 5 editing and Draft 6 editing are highly focused. With each successive draft, the type and object of focus is different.