Tag Archives: editing

Long subjects


A Most Serious Subject by Stuart Richards, Attribution-NoDerivs Licence

In scientific writing, there can be a tendency to write really long subjects in sentences. The subject is the thing which the sentence is about. It does the action in the sentence. Take a simple sentence like

The dog ate the bone.

The subject of the sentence is “the dog”. It does the eating.

You might make the subject longer by adding some descriptive and qualifying words to make the sentence about a more specific dog.

The brown, long-haired dog ate the bone.

The subject is now “the brown long-haired dog”.

So that’s manageable for readers and the sentence is fine. But sometimes authors stack up so many descriptors and qualifiers on their subject that it takes ages to get to the verb. Until the reader gets to the verb, they don’t know what is happening, as it’s the verb that tells them this.

Take this sentence:

An immunologically mediated reaction to a protein allergen (food) possibly precipitated by mucosal disruption (viral) activates the cascade of immunologic events that may create and perpetuate recurrent oral diseases. Lyon (2005) page 898

The verb in this sentence is “activates”. There are 15 words to read before you get to the verb. Did you find it easy to read? Where is the subject? Its all of those 15 words. Some punctuation might have helped the reader a bit, with a dash and some commas, like this:

An immunologically-mediated reaction to a protein allergen (food), possibly precipitated by mucosal disruption (viral), activates the cascade of immunologic events that may create and perpetuate recurrent oral diseases.

For more information on using hyphens see my recent post here.

So how could this sentence be improved? Well the first line of attack would be to break the ideas up into more than one sentence. Basically the author is saying three things:

  1. Viral diseases may disrupt the mucosa and allow proteins from food to penetrate.
  2. Protein allergens may initiate immunologic reactions
  3. Immunologic reactions may create and perpetuate recurrent oral diseases

Writing out what you are trying to say in point form like this, then helps you structure more simple sentences for readers.

Lyon KF (2005) Gingivostomatitis, Vet Clin Small Anim, 35, 891-911


The comments tool in word


When you send your supervisor a draft for feedback, they may annotate it electronically using the comment tool. Comments are also useful for you to keep helpful notes for yourself, or to explain where you are up to, to your supervisor. A major advantage of the comments is that they can be hidden, so you can read without the interfering with your reading when you need to. Because of this I much prefer to use comments when making notes to myself than to use highlighting or add temporary text.

This posting gives you some basic instructions which include how to add, delete, and hide comments.

Structural editing


Maple Structure by Steve Jurvetson Attribution License

When it comes time to edit your first draft, where should you start? Don’t begin with the sentences. You need to look at the whole structure and make the big changes first. You need a plan and that needs to begin with working out what you are actually trying to say – what the elements of your argument are.

In another fantastic post, Katherine Firth, from Research Degree Voodoo, has lots of good advice about how to make your structural changes. http://researchvoodoo.wordpress.com/2013/10/26/structural-editing-getting-your-writing-into-shape/

Tracked changes



Tracked changes are a great editing tool in Word. I find it especially useful when more than one person works on a document. It allows me to keep track of the changes someone else has made, so I can check I agree with them. Your supervisor will likely use tracked changes if they make editing suggestions to your document so you should make sure you understand how to view them and accept them.

Here is a short overview video and also some more detailed instructions

DemoTrainer (2008) Word 2007 Demo: Use tracked changes in documents

Microsoft (2014) Track changes while you edit

These are the settings I find most useful for using tracked changes: