This error isn’t just limited to writing (or academia), but it is something that I’ve seen again and again: failing to ask for help or request feedback. If you’ve done as suggested in tip #5 and given yourself time before submission, you should have a chance to ask someone to take a look at your paper. Indeed, there are at least two someones who should read your academic writing before submission:
- Someone who understands the content: This is especially important for anything that will undergo peer review, such as journal publications, conference submissions, and funding proposals. The hint is in the name—if it’s going to be looked at by your peers, give yourself a head start by getting feedback from your peers. Ask them to be ruthless: it’s much better if your friends, colleagues, or mentors tear your paper apart before submission when you still have an opportunity to strengthen the argument, clarify the methodology, or re-word anything that strikes them as confusing. Give them a copy of the reviewing form—all journals, conferences, and funding agencies should have the assessment criteria listed somewhere on their website. How would they review it if it landed on their desk?
However, because they understand what you are trying to say, they may elide over gaps in structure or not notice typos. For that reason, it’s also good to find …
- Someone who doesn’t understand the content: Focusing on the ins and outs of a specific topic can sometimes blind a reader to other problems in a document. This is where a proofreader or editor steps in (ahem), or a friend or relative may be happy to cast their eye over your paper. They can help catch typos, ask questions about inconsistencies, and flag up problems with flow.
If you really don’t have time to have someone else read your writing (or they’re busy battling against their own deadlines), there are ways of proofreading your own documents. Stay tuned for tips on how to do this, or consider signing up to the Blue Eagle Blog to have the latest blog post delivered directly to your inbox.
For students in particular, the ideas and words in any piece of academic writing should be your own, and all references duly cited using your institution’s preferred style guide. The point of this tip is not to copy, plagiarize, or in any way steal someone else’s thoughts or writing, but to help improve yours. If you’re not sure what’s acceptable at your university, please talk to your lecturer or tutor.