3 Tips for Polishing Your Academic Manuscript

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When you have completed all of your research, it’s time to gather your facts, figures, and data into a manuscript. Your first draft might be all over the place in terms of structure, organization, and general readability, and that’s okay. In fact, that is the whole point of a first draft. No one writes a masterpiece in one go—a first draft is more like an extremely detailed outline. It provides a chance for you to organize your thoughts and figure out the best way to present your research and findings. You will then take your manuscript through several revisions to produce a polished paper.

Though drafting your manuscript might seem like a tedious process, there is no need for it to be daunting. Think of your first draft as a mere outline, and don’t obsess over the flow of your writing or the number of typos you’re leaving behind—when you return to polish your text and turn it into a veritable paper, you will already have a lot to work on. If your manuscript needs any more primping or touching up before publication, send it to our editing and proofreading experts

Don’t approach your title lightly

Finding the right title for your manuscript can prove a more delicate task than you think. A title should be informative, concise, and engaging—all three elements are important.

Read the following sample titles. Which one sounds better? 

  1. A Linguistic and Sociological Approach to the Reasons Behind Humans’ Common Usage of Entomological Terms in Modern-Day Language and Expressions, Including a Ubiquitous Phrase Regarding Lepidoptera, Blood Flow, and a Range of Emotions, First Coined in 1908
  2. Insect Idioms

Trick question! Both are bad titles, and we’ll tell you why.
The first one is too informative (and, honestly, pretty boring). You’re not trying to put your audience to sleep before they have even scrolled down to your introduction, are you? If your title is too dry and wordy, as is this one, you run the risk of your readers skimming the entire piece since they have likely skimmed the title or had to read it twice. Your title shouldn’t be an entire paragraph itself, and you certainly don’t need to mention examples you use in your paper.

The second title is far too succinct. “Insect Idioms” doesn’t offer nearly enough information about the contents of the paper, and while you might think you’re covering all your bases by having a more general title, it winds up feeling too broad. A title like this doesn’t reveal what aspect of insect idioms your paper explores, and like the first one, it is boring—there’s nothing to hook the audience and entice them to read your paper instead of that of someone else working in your field.

The ideal title contains between 10 and 20 words, provides appropriate information about your work without giving away your entire thesis, and uses no unnecessary terminology. A better title for our example manuscript could be “Butterflies in Your Stomach: The Interconnectedness of Entomology and Etymology Throughout the History of English Idioms.” The most common format for academic paper titles is exactly this: an interesting hook followed by a colon that introduces a succinct description of the topic explored.

Be mindful of how you present your research

You can’t just dump your facts, figures, and data onto the page—you need to organize them into a coherent body of text that paints as comprehensive a picture as possible of your research. You want to take another look to make sure you’re saying exactly what you want to say since it is easy to be careless with your wording in a first draft. That is normal, but now it’s time to tighten up your language to create a smooth reading experience for your audience. It’s also vital to ensure that you’re not accidentally plagiarizing. Accidental plagiarism is more common than you might think and can severely damage your academic reputation, so have us check your manuscript for possible plagiarism

You want your findings to be as clear as possible, and the reality is that some of your readers will skim your work for images, even if you are the greatest academic writer of all time.

If your paper contains a good amount of scientific data or other figures, it’s usually wise to include crisp graphics, photos, and charts. If any data can be presented via a graphic, it is a good idea to do so—in this way, you ensure that the skimmers still come away with a solid understanding of your research. Additionally, charts and images can help hammer home your data even for those carefully reading your every word, so these are always great to have.

If you conducted experiments, make sure that you present them in an easy-to-follow way so that another researcher could use your article or book as a reference. You can include any supplementary materials that enhance your paper, pictures being an excellent option. Why not insert a map? How about a scientific drawing? Obviously, you will also provide a detailed explanation in words, but the more support you can offer for your process and conclusions, the more you will boost your credibility. Just remember to cite all of your sources.

Be sure your manuscript’s structure makes sense

Take a look at other books and journals in your field. What do you notice about the structure of the chapters and the articles? It’s likely that most of them follow the hourglass organizational structure known as IMRaD (introduction, materials/methods, results, and discussion). This is the standard for a reason, and you should always stick to the conventions unless you have an excellent justification for straying.

There is plenty of room to play around within this common structure, but it’s popular for a reason. It makes your paper readable, nicely designed, and tidy even if your research findings are highly complex. You should present your results in a logical order, which might not be chronological, and discuss the meaning of your findings in the discussion/conclusion section. Try not to neglect a good outline before you dive into the body of your work so that you avoid tangents as much as possible; plus, drafting a good outline before you start writing will help you play with structures until you come up with something that works for your paper. Also, pay special attention to your introduction to hook readers—if you can’t pique their interest early on, they may not bother to read the entire paper.

Sidenote: Your abstract is equally important, so make sure it can stand on its own if one were to pluck it out of the paper. It should essentially be an extremely condensed version of your paper that communicates the most critical points. Include specific keywords to ensure that your work is easily found.

If you’re still having trouble evaluating your work objectively, get a quote for our deluxe academic package and let us help you with your manuscript. With our feedback, you can improve its flow and readability, impressing your publishers and peers and producing a paper you can be proud of.

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