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Step 14: Research Paper Review

An esteemed writer once said that there is no good writing, only good rewriting. When a paper is completed, a thorough review provides the opportunity to fix spelling, grammar, or formatting mistakes, clarify main points, and better understand your argument in terms of structure and overall message.  Many professional authors have an editor or proofreader to examine their works, but anyone can carefully read through an essay to determine where mistakes or weaknesses are present. There are a number of techniques and tools available to help you review your paper and perfect that final draft. 

Reading Aloud 

A great way to check if sentences are well constructed in terms of syntax, grammar, and meaning is to read your essay aloud, as if it were a speech. Read the following sentence aloud:

Example

This sentence is correct completely because the author reviewed closely.

 

Your word processor will not flag this sentence for any grammatical errors. However, by reading the sentence aloud, it becomes clear that the order of words and lack of object make it sound choppy and confusing. The sentence should state: 

Example

This sentence is completely correct because the author reviewed it closely.

 

Another reason that reading aloud is useful is that the process of reading slows you down and forces you to read through the paper carefully, rather than skimming over familiar sounding passages. This practice is particularly important for long papers that might entice a speedy, cursory reading. Reading your essay aloud can also be helpful because it engages a different part of the brain than writing, and this may lead to novel insights or tangents that could improve your essay. Pretend that your essay is a conversation, and ask yourself how a friend might respond to your statements? This can expose counterarguments or rhetorical flaws. Reading an essay aloud is like having a conversation with your own thought process, allowing for reflection and deep consideration. This is called empathetic writing, which means getting in touch with your potential reader’s feelings.  Allow yourself to consider the flow, accessibility, and tone of the essay. If a sentence or paragraph is difficult to speak, it is also likely hard to understand. This situation may call for a rewrite using a Hemingway-style strategy of succinct, clear statements.  Thus, reading aloud is an invaluable tool for reviewing your essay. Reading aloud can help discover run-on sentences because though it will feel like the thought has concluded, the sentence continues without a period. Despite slowing down the process of reading and emphasizing sound and detail, simply reading aloud may not be sufficient to catch small errors in grammar. 

Common Grammar Errors

An incomplete sentence is called a fragment. A complete sentence requires a subject and a predicate. The subject is “who” and the predicate is “what” takes place in a sentence. Though there are some exceptions to this rule found in literature and creative writing, academic and business writing call for clear, complete sentences that make a point. Sentences should include a subject, verb, and object (if applicable), along with the articles, prepositions, or other words that link everything together. A subject is the actor of the sentence, the word or phrase that performs the action found in the verb. An incomplete sentence will be missing one or more of these key ingredients, and the thought will feel unfinished.

Example

Incomplete: Ancient Egyptians pyramids desert.

 

Complete:: Ancient Egyptians built pyramids in the desert.

 

The verb “built,” connects the subject “Egyptians” to the object “pyramid,” while the preposition and article “in the” links the rest of the sentence together. It can be easy to overlook this kind of mistake when writing, but reviewing your essay will enable you to catch any fragments and go back to complete your thoughts. Sometimes, a fragment will occur because of jumping around the document and forgetting to finish the sentence.

Example

Fragment: Mountain lions from the genus Puma

 

This sentence does not finish the thought: what do these lions do?

Example

Complete: Mountain lions from the genus Puma live in the Americas.

 

The complete sentence is no longer a fragment. Careful review, including looking for the lack of periods, will assist you in editing these areas of your essay. 

Syntax 

Syntax errors are a bit trickier than grammar errors. Syntax refers to the choice and position of words. Proper syntax enables sentences that convey the exact message the author intended.

Example

Syntax: Only Romans eat figs.

 

Example

Syntax: Romans only eat figs.

 

The latter sentence is significantly different from the former sentence, simply by changing the position of the world “only.” Longer and more complex sentences have a greater chance of accumulating syntax errors, so be sure to check over them carefully. 

Example

While camping in the Alps, the tent collapsed.

 

In this sentence, the subject is “the tent,” which cannot go camping on its own. 

The statement should instead read:

Example

While we were camping in the Alps, our tent collapsed.

 

Syntax is highly important, especially when paraphrasing other’s work or summarizing your own arguments, because it can shift the meaning of a sentence in unintended ways. 

The use of commas can be dictated by style guides. In most cases, commas can be found where natural pauses would be taken in speech, separating items in a list, or connecting two clauses together. Commas should not be used to create run-on sentences by stringing together two or more independent thoughts. This bad writing practice is called comma splicing.

Example

Diabetes affects the pancreas, therefore insulin medication is used to treat diabetes, diabetes is prevalent in America.

 

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Periods could replace these commas to create clear, bold sentences. 

Example

Diabetes affects the pancreas. Therefore, insulin medication is used to treat diabetes. Diabetes is prevalent in America.

 

In some cases, a semicolon may be more appropriate than a comma.

Example

Most cases are hereditary, many cases also result from environmental and lifestyle factors.

 

The semicolon indicates that the clauses are independent clauses, but still closely related. 

Example

Most cases are hereditary; many cases also result from environmental and lifestyle factors.

 

A semicolon might itself be replaced by a dash, when the secondary point being made is especially shocking or profound. 

Example

Type one diabetes results from genetics – type two diabetes is caused by one’s lifestyle.

 

These general guidelines should assist you in following the stylistic ways that different types of words and punctuation are used. However, typos and missing or misplaced punctuation are not merely failures of style – these errors often show up in final drafts when you forget to review your essay thoroughly.  

Punctuation Errors

Punctuation errors include missing punctuation marks and unnecessary punctuation marks. Carefully check for punctuation mistakes, including those that pertain to the APA, MLA, or other style guide. Common punctuation errors include misplaced or hanging quotation marks or parentheses.

Example

“This is an example of an author’s quote (Author, 2014

 

This sentence is missing the closing parenthesis and the closing quotation mark, and should instead read:

Example

“This is an example of an author’s quote (Author, 2014)”

 

Use a colon when introducing a list or making a statement that further defines the main point.

Example

My grocery list consists of eggs, milk, juice, and bread.

 

This requires a colon to separate the list from the rest of the sentence. 

Example

My grocery list consists of: eggs, milk, juice, and bread.

 

The following sentence has too much punctuation.

Example

This sentence is; a worthy sentence, because, it uses, so many punctuation marks!

 

Avoid separating sentences into fragmentary pieces using punctuation. Strive for clarity and brevity, even when discussing complex ideas. 

Example

This sentence is a worthy sentence because it uses so few punctuation marks.

 

Remain aware of the syntax implications of misplaced or absent punctuation.

Checking the formatting (APA, MLA, etc).

The best way to learn proper formatting is by experience, based on the initial knowledge acquired by closely reading the style guide for the type of paper you are writing. Check your formatting to resolve any issues related to the style guide rules. An APA format paper, for example, has four parts: the title page, the abstract, the main body, and the references page. The title page must have a header with a page number:

Example

Running Header: SHORT TITLE OF PAPER #

 

After that, the other pages have a header labeled simply:

Example

SHORT TITLE OF PAPER pg. #

 

Review the paper to ensure these headers are present and properly formatted. Use the “first page has a different header” option in your word processing program.

Use proper citations in the correct format for the style guide and remain consistent throughout the paper. APA citations require the author’s last name, the year of publication, and for direct quotes, the page number. MLA citations require the author’s last name and, for direct quotes, the name and page number only. Chicago citations call for footnotes that include the full biographical information, or the author’s name and page number. Reviewing the paper can find missing elements such as citations. For example, a sentence with a direct quote and no citation:

Example

The author of the study stated that “this sentence is a direct quote.”  pg. #

 

There is no citation, so this mistake appears to be plagiarism. The sentence should read:

Example

The author (Year, p. #) stated that “this sentence is a direct quote.” 

 

Or,

Example

According to one study, “this sentence is a direct quote” (Author, Year, p. #). 

 

APA format calls for an abstract, which is very important for long papers. The abstract is a 150-205 word summary of the contents of the paper. If desired, a short list of keywords that are relevant to the paper follows the abstract. The abstract is not indented, and comes after the title page, but before the body of the paper.

A careful reading of the finished paper will allow for mistakes to be identified and corrected, as well as enable a better understanding of the essay’s main points. Use this to your advantage by waiting to craft the abstract until the paper is finished. Another strategy is to write a preliminary abstract. This gives a head-start to the essay, and can be modified later as the paper develops.  Ultimately, the best writing comes from excellent proofreading and editing. The only way to ensure a final paper is polished, complete, and follows the style guide is by thoroughly reviewing it both during the writing process and after each draft is completed.  

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