The Editorial Process

I’m now a full week in to my final stretch of pre-defense dissertation revisions. So far, it’s going well…except for today. Today has mostly been made of fail, although I count that as okay because I did meet with a member of my dissertation committee to get feedback on some dissertation content and I finished off a project I’d promised someone two weeks ago (which I’d then forgotten about for half of last week).

In light of those advances, I’m counting it okay that I won’t get as far on Chapter 4 revisions today as I’d like.  I’m still making progress, and I still think that by the end of Wednesday (yes, this Wednesday the 23rd) I’ll have finished off most of the revisions I need to make.

When I found myself facing a 3/30 deadline, my initial thought, of course, was to panic a little bit and wonder how the heck I’d get everything done. My theory, though, was that the worst that would happen would be that 3/30 would roll around and I’d simply have to send some emails saying “hey….we need to reschedule.” There’s no way that’ll happen now, but knowing that was the worst case scenario helped a bit. So I started in on the edits, and pretty soon I developed a process, which I’ll share here.

Step 1: Understand the Advisor’s Comments
While I tend to be all about using digital copies of texts, my advisor reads printed versions of my work and gives me a printout with her comments (which we discuss in our meetings). When I get back to my laptop, then, I open my files and type her marginal comments in to an electronic version as comment bubbles. Typing up her comments helps me spend time thinking about them and evaluating them in light of my content, and it can be incredibly useful.

Step 2: Break it down to the paragraph level
I’ve talked before about how I have a practice of cutting chapters into paragraph-length units, laying it all out on the floor, and looking over everything. I’m doing this again now, but the difference is that I’m slicing and dicing and then looking at each individual paragraph. It may be a bit “hoosier,” as a friend of mine called it today, but something about stepping away from the machine and taking each paragraph one on one has become useful. At this smaller level, I can ask myself “is this a good topic sentence? Do I have any passive voice in this paragraph? Who are the key actors/what issues of agency do I need to deal with here? Am I being repetitive?”

The point is that I’m not letting the other paragraphs distract me as they might do when I look at the electronic version of the document. With this format, each paragraph gets optimal attention.

Step 3: Take it one section at a time
After I’ve gone through each paragraph, then I go back to my practice of laying everything out on the floor. Only instead of laying out the whole chapter, I’ll simply lay out the chapter’s introduction, or its first subsection (and so on). This gives me a sense of how things are organized within a section – and I often wind up finding places where I can cut further for repetition or shift content around to help everything flow better.

Step 4: Make the changes.
Steps 1-3 are time consuming, but they work. They force me to take time and think through what I’m doing, something that I think can be difficult for me at this point in the game (let’s face it: I’m a bit tired and ready to give the project a much-needed break). Once I’ve gone through these steps, it’s time to face the computer: I sit down and begin the process of changing the file itself, moving around the paragraphs, making edits, reconsidering my topic sentences – you name it.

And it’s getting there. Slowly, but successfully, I think.


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