Editing half-baked drafts into publishable work?




In our newest “how can we help you?” thread, James asks:

People say most of the work of writing a publishable paper comes out in the editing process. Let’s say you have a first draft. Can you advise on the way to edit a half-baked piece of writing into a polished work of philosophy? Sometimes it’s easy to get “stuck in your head” or overly perfectionistic to the point that you give up on the draft altogether. Thanks.

This is a great question, and a couple of other readers submitted replies to weigh in. An Easter Coaster writes:

James, I would do the Mumford method, https://sites.google.com/site/stephendmumford/the-mumford-method with intellectual peers you respect.

I find this an interesting suggestion, because I basically do everything Mumford says not to do! I mostly just draft papers from beginning to end, working out my ideas on paper but using the drafting of the paper’s introductory paragraph as more or less the paper’s “outline” so that I at least know where I am headed. Then, after a half-baked version is done, I basically go through the paper from the very beginning again and again day after day, progressively refining the ideas and writing from beginning to end. Because I always start from the beginning each day, the early parts of the paper get polished more quickly, but over a period of time the whole thing ends up polished. This seems to work well for me at least, but if you haven’t tried Mumford’s method, it seems probably worth a shot!

Another reader writes:

I found that making it into a talk helps. Talks are different from papers, but the process of making a paper into a talk really helps myself rethink each argumentative step in the paper. If I can’t comfortably say something to an imaginary audience, or find myself being unsure about the transition from one point to another, then I know I need to revise something or rethink the order of presentation.

I’ve found this to be helpful too, though I normally only do it if I have a talk to give! One nice thing about it is that if you use PowerPoint for talks (like I do), then the size of a PowerPoint slide constrains how much stuff you can cram into a slide. I’ve found that this is helpful, in that it can encourage you to break each step in the argument down to a clear, manageable number of points (which can also be helpful in deciding where to place paragraph breaks when writing). I’ll also just ad that actually giving talks (at conferences) can be really helpful in terms of turning a half-baked draft into a polished piece, as audience feedback can be really helpful in determining what you need to fix/polish.

But these are just a few quick thoughts. What are yours? How do you turn half-baked drafts into polished, publishable work? Any specific tips for the OP?

Originally appeared on The Philosophers’ Cocoon Read More