Finding readers

Aphra Behn by John Riley (1646-1691) Wikimedia Commons

Aphra Behn
by John Riley (1646-1691)
Wikimedia Commons

Dear Aphra,

As a new and evolving scholar of the eighteenth century, I am always looking for ways to improve my writing.  I have been told that having other people review my work is a good way to improve my writing, but I have questions about this process.  For instance, how many people do you suggest look at an article, book chapter, or manuscript before sending it out for publication?  Is it most useful to have the same person(s) look at a work in different phases?  Am I “bothering” someone if I ask them to read my work?  Should I always go to the same person(s) when I need feedback on my writing? And, perhaps the most difficult query, when do I know to put the work down and send it off?

Yours Graciously,
An Intimidated Graduate Student

Dear Intimidated,

So many are of the belief that writing is a solitary venture; or that it is, at most a Duet between your Muse and your Self. Congratulations for recognizing that this is indeed a Skill that can be learned and improved. Antipodea well remembers the desperate and consistent search for good readers and advanced writing skills, and hopes that the following tale will give Intimidated a path to ponder.

The Fair Felicia, accepted into a Graduate Program, began her own search for adequate readers in her seminars. By offering to trade and read Papers, she hoped to get a sense of what could be better clarified, while remaining in her own peer group. She managed to find that all of this early Feedback was helpful in some way, but soon discovered how readily she fell in with some over others. Miss Precise was rather excellent at pointing out specific and small errors and other grammatical and mechanical concerns, but was less inclined to comment on Structure and Argument. While Mr. Forthright, though abrupt and absolute in his comments, could point out ways to help with conciseness and argument. Over the years, she amassed a coalition on whom she could depend.

One day, Felicia received a note from a Professor that one of her papers would be, with sufficient revision, an excellent option for greater Publication. She arranged a meeting with this Advisor, and received a fair amount of feedback that enabled her to revise. Fully confident now with this new revision, she shared it with a certain Reading Group on her campus that had the sole purpose of helping such Students to revise and submit to Journals. But when she left that meeting—what confusion! As many Professors as there were in the room were the responses; each had a thought about what the paper should do, what more she should read, what more she should cover, what more should be said, all the things she didn’t say, and all ideas that related to their own individual research ideas. After an evening spent in the agonies of Confusion, augmented mightily by untold quantities of Wine and Tears, she realized that the fewer, more select the group of readers were, the more beneficial the feedback was to her own Process. She currently keeps her readership coterie to about three readers, one for each phase of the paper—though she is apt to recognize that others may come up with their own rules for engagement.

Felicia now knew that her peers were best for early drafts, and her Advisor best for very late drafts indeed. She still struggles with the fact that it can always be improved; it could always be re-edited, re-revised, and re-done. But she had learnt that once she has spent about 12 weeks, start to finish on a singular idea, that that idea must go out into the world and face its own music. Just as infants cannot grow only so large when in the Mother’s Womb, so a paper cannot expand if it stays safely in a Word Document unsent.

Thus did Felicia discover her own path. Aphra does encourage others to share their own discoveries to writing success, and offers some more advice: often Universities have departments, workshops, or programs of some sort dedicated to improving writing. Aphra suggests that Intimidated look into such workshops on her campus who can guide her in a more specific manner. Aphra also suggests that Intimidated invest in a copy of Wendy Laura Belcher’s Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks: A Guide to Academic Publishing Success, as she thinks it will be most useful for years to come.

Your truly and etc.,

Aphra Behn

Aphra Behn

Aphra Behn is a pseudonym for ABOPublic. This is not the real Aphra Behn—she died in 1688, and the world hasn't been the same since!
Aphra Behn

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