Step Back. Close Your Eyes. Breath Deeply. Open your New Eyes.
You cannot appreciate a Monet or a Chuck Close with your nose two inches from the canvas. You must walk to the other side of the room and get some distance to appreciate the whole painting. So, too, you must get distance on your writing once you are through the more mechanical sentence-level and structural edits. Put your paper down. Think. What are your one, two or three key points? Do they sing through? Is the “big picture” view of the research clear? Is the paper balanced? Or are you spending too much time on minor points and, therefore, sounding defensive? What facts work? Are you playing to those strengths? Are you arguing points that are not essential to winning your case and effectively increasing your burden of proof? Are you arguing too many points so that the paper reads like an issue-spotting law-school exam rather than a piece of advocacy for a client?
If your paper is a research memorandum, have you culled the research down? If you include too much information, your reader may find that it is easier to read the research file itself, rather than wade through your paper.
Finally, are you being intellectually honest about the weaknesses of your case? Is the tone confident and integral?
Ask a Colleague for Comments.
You have very smart friends. They are not only smart, they will also have a fresh perspective on your work. So ask a friend—preferably someone slightly senior—to review your paper. You’ll be amazed at how insightful the comments will be. Friends don’t let friends go unedited. And offer to return the favor. Editing the work of others will make you a better writer.
Sleep on It.
Take a long break—and get a good night’s sleep—before this final review. Writing ferments as it ages, so the more time you leave between writing and editing, the better your editing will be. Why? Because when you finish writing, you are still too close to your written words to judge them objectively. You need to put time between you and your writing, so that time can break your love affair with your own words. For this final edit, you must take off your writer’s hat and read as if you were a reader seeing your words for the first time. Only time will give you this objectivity. You will be amazed at your insight if you approach your deep editing from a healthy distance.
And that’s it. The three essential steps for deep editing. First, clean up your sentences. Second, edit for structure. Third, step back, play lawyer and make it sing.
I hope you found this series helpful!
P. S. My Book contains many more tips on writing.