Episode 12 – How to edit your writing effectively

In this episode, Michael and Jen are joined by our wonderful UniMelbSciComm colleague Dr Linden Ashcroft to discuss why editing is such an important skill. We all agree that allowing sufficient time to edit our writing is essential if we want to produce clear, concise and easy-to-read writing. Together we explore how we all learned to edit our writing and the different approaches we’ve learned along the way. We share our top tips and bond over the fact that effective editing can be a hard, but vital, skill to develop. In addition to our thoughts, hear fantastic advice from two of our UniMelbSciComm alumni, Ethan Wake and Connor McMahon.

Here are some good reads which may help your approach to editing:


Jen (00:00:00)
Welcome to Let’s Talk SciComm, a podcast by the University of Melbourne Science Communication Teaching Team. I’m Dr Jen Martin and my co-host is Dr Michael Wheeler and we believe science isn’t finished until it’s communicated.

Jen (00:00:39)
Hello and welcome to another episode of Let’s Talk SciComm.
I’m Jen and as always, I am thrilled to be joined by Michael. Hi Michael.

Michael (00:00:51)
Hey Jen, it’s great to be here as always.

Jen (00:00:54)
And Michael and I are really thrilled to welcome Dr Linden Ashcroft back to the show.
Linden is a climate scientist, a member of our SciComm teaching team at Melbourne Uni, and she is an all-round brilliant science communicator. Welcome back, Linden.

Linden (00:01:10)
Hey guys, nice to see you again.

Jen (00:01:13)
So Linden this time we’re not going to be asking you questions about you as much as I could talk about you happily all day.

Linden (00:01:21)
And you know that I could also talk about myself all day.

Jen (00:01:21)
Yeah, well, I think most people can happily talk about themselves at length. But no today we want to pick your brains Linden, we’ve invited you back for a very particular reason. And that is that we’re going to talk about one of my favourite topics, which is how to edit our writing effectively. And I happen to know that you are very savvy when it comes to editing your writing. And obviously Michael, I know you’re very savvy too, so I want us to have a chat about editing, because I think editing can be a hard thing, you know. We had an episode in season one where we talked about how to improve your science writing, but we sort of kept alluding to the fact that we’ll talk about editing later because a big part of producing easy-to-read and well structured and interesting writing I think, is knowing how to edit well, that the actual nuts and bolts of editing. But we didn’t have time to talk about it in our previous episode.
So I guess our starting place for this discussion is what we were talking about in that episode – that we’ve all been taught to write in quite a formal academic style, but that style of writing doesn’t always lend itself to being very readable. And at the end of the day, if you’re going to put effort into writing something, you want people to read it, to find it easy to understand, easy to read, perhaps even enjoyable to read. And I think writing something that is easy to follow, that is a pleasure for your audience to read, it’s all about the editing. So that’s why Linden and Michael, I can’t wait to pick both your brains about how you do that.
So just before I turn to you, I thought I’d set the scene by talking about how I learned to edit because when I was younger than I am now, I really thought that editing meant proofreading, you know, I always left things ’til the last minute. That was my habit. So I’d have an essay or an assignment that I had written, I’d only started it far too late in the piece and my version of editing was really just doing proofreading, I was picking up typos that I’d made because I’ve done the thing in a rush. And then I started to realise that my Dad was someone that I could ask advice from because my Dad is a very skilled writer, an incredible editor and at some point, I don’t know whether it happened sort of late in my school days or in my uni days that I started saying, “Dad, if I managed to finish this a day ahead of schedule, could you read it for me?” And because he’s a wonderful, wonderful, generous man, and I think because he always enjoyed seeing what I was learning, he’d say “Yes, absolutely, really happy to do that.”
And so he would read things for me, and this was back in the day where he would actually be writing on paper rather than editing on screen, and he’d give it back to me and it would just be covered in suggestions and improvements, about cut this bit and change this bit. And he really taught me that editing is a painstaking, detailed, time-consuming, but highly rewarding process whereby you whittle down your initial thoughts to something concise and beautifully expressed and clear and easy to read. And he just really taught me that spending time going through sentence by sentence was something that you might not feel that you have time for, but it’s absolutely worth making the time for. And I think because of my reliance on my Dad then for so many years to give me feedback, it meant that I learned to separate the writing process and the editing process. So I would write, write, write, write, write, have to get it ready in time for my Dad to have time to look at it. And then he would give me his feedback.
And so this feeds into this whole idea that I know we all want to get across to our listeners: that writing and editing are separate; you have to do them separately and they actually take quite different mindsets. So this is where the quote that is always attributed to Ernest Hemingway comes in, that you should write drunk, so you just have to get it down, you just get your ideas down, you don’t be terribly picky. You write drunk, but then you edit sober because editing is a very detailed, time-consuming, and really thoughtful process and I’m so grateful that my Dad taught me that many, many years ago.
But enough from me, I’d really love to hear from each of you how you learn to edit. So Linden, let’s start with you. If you think about when you learned that editing was a process in and of itself, how did that start for you?

Linden (00:05:37)
I actually think I’m still learning how to do that, Jen. I think I’m still learning how to find my perfect process for editing. I remember I was the same as you. I had always been told that I was a good writer through school and through uni. So with every assignment or every essay that I needed to write, I left it later and later and just sort of did the proofreading right at the end and hoped for the best. But it wasn’t really until my PhD that I learned to leave enough time to do that.
And now as I write in an academic space, to make sure that I separate out those two processes of getting it down and then cleaning it up, I suppose? Or rewording it? And I actually find that really liberating to be able to just spew it all out on the page, write your rubbish first draft, just get all your ideas down. And I often find for me what works now, you know, I’m working part-time with lots of other commitments. To sit down and say OK, I’m just gonna write stuff down for half an hour, 45 minutes and then I’m going to print it out and that’s the practice that I think I learned from my PhD supervisor.
She would always start the day, if she was writing something, she would print it out at the end of the day, and so the next morning she would come in and she would have the draft there on her desk to start with. Not starting with your email, not starting with even turning the computer on, starting with a grey lead pencil and the manuscript.

Jen (00:06:57)
Wow, that’s a revelation to me, the idea that you don’t even need to turn your computer on to start some productive work. That’s brilliant.

Linden (00:07:05)
Yeah, obviously it’s kind of privileged in some way because people have lots of other things that they need to do. But in a perfect world, that’s how I have learned to edit best, and I still reflect on my writing the best when it’s on the page. You can change the font or you can change the colour, or you can change how your screen looks on your computer to edit that way so it looks like you’re seeing it in a different way. But for me, the best way that I edit is with a pencil and a piece of paper so I can put the arrows and do the squiggles.
And the problem that I have now is that I write with a pen so rarely that I often can’t read my own handwriting. So I have to be like what did I want to change that word to? But it allows me to look at my words in a different way. And half of the time I think oh, actually, ok, that sentence didn’t make any sense, and there were a lot of typos. But the ideas that I’ve got here are much clearer, and that’s liberating too. And I think that being able to embrace that aspect of editing, that it’s a way of seeing your ideas and being able to restructure them and identify them, it’s a really important part of not just the scientific writing process, but the scientific process.
If you’re writing stuff down and you’re thinking OK, I think the main result of that figure is this, and I think the main finding is this, oh, but also this, but also this. As you’re going through and editing it, not just from a sentence level or a word level, but from an idea structure level, I am increasingly realising that that is a key part of the research process. Not the bit you do at the end, when you promised your coauthors that you’d submit the manuscript to them by the end of the week, but that you have to incorporate that in the process.

Michael (00:08:42)
Hmm, it’s really interesting when you hear other people’s approach to editing ’cause different things work differently for different people.
Pen and paper works really well for you Linden and Jen, so you write drunk and edit sober.

Jen (00:08:53)
Oh no, I’ve just outed myself. No, that was Ernest..

Linden (00:09:00)
Don’t you work very early in the morning, Jen? What’s happening here?

Michael (00:09:04)
What’s the best drink for writing drunk Jen?
‘Cause you don’t want to be too drunk, right?

Jen (00:09:09)
Oh look clearly I’m just drunk on life.
I mean come on, can’t you guys handle metaphors?

Linden (00:09:17)
Drunk on your own prose.

Michael (00:09:19)
But no, it, it reminds me of something that my supervisor used to say, which is, yeah, you throw up on the page and then you come back later and clean it up, which I think is another common saying. For me, when I kind of reflect back on how I learned to edit, I think that maybe at one stage I had a nonexistent ability to edit writing. So when I was in secondary school, I used to just write on paper. It’s very hard to go back and edit it then, because you have to essentially just rewrite it. Maybe changing some typos by putting a line through the word and correcting it above it.
And yeah, I don’t think it was really until I got to university and started doing group work and having other people read my writing and then having kind of peer feedback. Especially once I started my PhD, then I had two professors who were giving me feedback on my writing and asking me to clarify this and what exactly do you mean here; and I’m kind of thinking, I thought it was obvious, but OK, I can maybe put myself in your shoes and see that yeah, maybe can make it a bit clearer if I explain it in this way, then it really does help improve the flow of ideas.
So I kind of imagine it as you know, that sport, ice curling where person throws a ball or slides it down the ice and you have two people like rubbing the ice in front of the ball to make the path nice and smooth? That’s how I imagine editing. So I’ll write something and then it won’t be a smooth flow of ideas and I have to scrub it. I’m always thinking OK, how can I make it smoother? How can I make it flow better?

Jen (00:10:55)
I love it. That’s awesome. I’m going to think about that forever now that I’m chucking my words out on the ice and I just want them to slide beautifully in front of me with nothing impeding their way.

Michael (00:11:13)
It’s strange how I think about that, ’cause I’ve never played ice curling so I could be completely wrong.
One day I’ll play it. I’ll be like ‘It’s nothing like editing at all. It’s just completely different’.

Linden (00:11:28)
It is interesting though Michael, talking about getting feedback from your supervisor. And that’s another space for me where I learnt how to really focus on different parts of my writing from the punctuation to the sentence structure to the order of ideas. And listening to you Jen, talking about your relationship with your dad and how he was able to give you feedback. I think that’s such an incredible gift to be able to feel comfortable giving your writing to someone who’s so close to you like that.
I think the supervisor-student relationship can sometimes make editing a little bit trickier, or seem a little bit more daunting, maybe it just puts a lot of extra pressure on the writing. If you’re not really aware that the writing step and editing step needs to be done separately, and you’re nervous about giving a draft to your supervisor in case they give it back to you covered in red pen or covered in track changes and question marks and angry emojis then can easily get paralysed with that, I think.
You know, I have to write it perfectly, and if I don’t write it perfectly, then I’m gonna get in trouble, or they’re gonna realise that I’m not supposed to be here, you know. You guys have talked about imposter syndrome before. So I feel like really identifying the importance of editing for that step is valuable as well. I certainly found that when I was a PhD student.

Jen (00:12:41)
Absolutely, and I think the key thing to recognise is we tend to use editing as a catch-all phrase to actually describe a lot of different processes. Because a lot of people you know, what I sort of mentioned that for me initially I thought editing was proofreading. Proofreading is a part of editing, and then there’s sort of another level up, which is the copy editing, which is where you look for consistencies in spelling and italics and expression, and cutting out words that are redundant, and all the things that I’m sure we’re going to talk about later.
But then you were also talking before Linden about this big picture, structural or developmental editing. And I think as students, it’s really important to remember that you can be asking your supervisor for feedback on the big picture stuff and just let them know, I’m not fussed about the sentences yet, please don’t bother to correct every sentence and improve every expression, I just want to know what you think of my ideas here because it’s such different editing.
And I had another very profound editing experience as an honours student. A wonderful PhD student who was just a year or two ahead of me, who’s still a very dear friend. It was I think a couple of days before our honours theses were due and my discussion [section] was just a dog’s breakfast. I had so many good ideas. I will own it that they were good ideas, but they just weren’t structured. And I’ll never forget the generosity of Tash who sat down with me and effectively helped me to write topic sentences, which I hadn’t done because I’d always been a good writer, had always been given feedback that I was a good writer, and so I’d never really learned to structure things properly. And we actually printed it out, took out scissors, and cut paragraphs into separate sections and then she made me go through logically. So what’s the point of this and why is this idea next? So we shifted it all around and her spending maybe an hour, maybe 2 hours, I don’t know what it was with me helping me actually work out the big picture structure of my discussion in my honours thesis. It stayed with me to this moment.
If you’re listening Tash, I’ll have to tell you to listen so you can hear me singing your praises. That was a big moment for me, in learning that editing is not just proofreading and improving sentences, it’s making sure the ideas are there, they’re the right ideas and they’re in the right order.

Michael (00:14:39)
Yeah, that’s a great process to go through. Editing is often a collaboration as well, you know, when you’re working with your supervisor. And I think just to kind of reflect on that, I think it’s different for everyone because everyone got a different relationship with their supervisor or with whoever is editing their work.
And if it’s someone who’s going to be reviewing your work quite often, I think it can be very helpful to have a conversation with that person and say OK, “So when I’m sending you work, what kind of format would you like me to send it in?” Because every supervisor will have their own preferences.
Maybe your supervisor might only want to see really advanced drafts and they’re too busy to help with anything before that. But I think it can be really helpful to find that line of OK well, where can you be most useful in terms of the editing process?

Linden (00:15:25)
Do you think that idea Michael extends to yourself? I often find… I’m working on a manuscript at the moment, for example, and I’m at the stage where I need to structure the structure, I probably need to get the scissors out. But I find when I am reading with my pen, you know at the ready, whether I’m on the tram or whether I’m sitting on my couch or something.
I often find that I edit best away from my desk, so I’m away from distractions. But I get distracted by the small things? I get easily sidelined by oh I spelled that word wrong, that sentence could be broken up, there needs to be a comma there. Do you think you could listen to that advice yourself and say look Michael, stop looking for typos, you look at the structural changes here, look for how I can organise my ideas. Any tips on how to do that? Just asking for a friend.

Michael (00:16:18)
Yeah definitely. I mean, I guess it helps, doesn’t it? To kind of have different hats on when you’re reviewing your own work and tell yourself, yeah, I’m only looking for structural changes or OK, I’m only looking for consistency here because I know I’ve used lots of different terms for the same idea and maybe that’s a bit confusing and to kind of have a bit of a focused mission.
I’m not sure if I do that or not, but it sounds like a good idea. I think I’m a bit like you Linden, I just get distracted by things that I notice. So yeah, it can be a slow process, sometimes, can’t it?

Jen (00:16:52)
So I think this is exactly what I wanted to ask you both about. And that is, we’ve talked a bit about what editing actually is. But I’d really like to talk more about why it’s so challenging because it is. I think editing is very difficult and obviously editing comes after you’ve gone through some other major challenges and spoiler alert, we do have an episode coming up on procrastination and how to tackle procrastination.
But let’s assume that you’ve managed to get yourself to the stage of writing. For me, one of the biggest problems and one of the problems that I hear a lot from our students is this idea that we get caught into this trap of editing while we write, so a little bit about what you’ve just been speaking about, noticing that you’re just still in that phase of getting everything down. And you guys know I love Anne Lamott’s book, Bird by Bird and she introduced me to this idea of you’ve got to have three different drafts. You have your ‘down draft’, which is just where you get all your ideas down, and that’s otherwise colloquially known as the shitty first draft. It’s gonna be bad, you’re just getting it all down. And then you have your ‘up draft’, which is where you start to fix it up. And then your third draft is your ‘dental draft’, which is where you go through everything with a fine-tooth comb.
But what we’re talking about is mixing up that ‘down draft’, and that dental draft, really, that before you manage to just get it all down, you’re already picking through it and editing every little bit. And editing every sentence as you go, meaning that you kind of don’t get anywhere. And a saying that, that I absolutely love which I read somewhere is that editing while you write is like chopping down a tree that you’re trying to climb. You can’t get any higher up the tree if you’re not allowing yourself just to kind of let it be.
And Linden, I know you once shared a post with me about this idea of the perfect sentence vortex as a real challenge of editing. Do you remember about the perfect sentence vortex?

Linden (00:18:41)
My memory of that… I need to hunt that Twitter post-it up again, from an academic in the US. Yeah, it is that idea of cutting the legs out from underneath yourself or chopping down that tree that while you’re trying to get to the top of it. It’s, it’s a spiral that just leads you more and more and more and more inward without any words on the page at the end.
Because you kind of think right, I want to say this, or maybe I should say it like that and you’re typing and then deleting and then you’re typing and then deleting, I’m not sure how familiar that experience is for you. It’s certainly familiar for me and it takes effort to just let go of that and say, write it down, even if half of what you’re writing is oh, and then some rubbish about this and then this and this and this and this and this. Moving away from that vortex if the sentence has to be perfect when I put it on the page otherwise I’m not going to put anything down at all. That’s what I remember from it, Jenny, what did you take away?

Jen (00:19:30)
Yeah, exactly that, you just get caught in this vicious cycle that you never actually get anywhere because you, you’re never happy with what you’ve actually written down. And I think it’s a matter of being aware of what this nuts and bolts process is. That’s okay, you’ve got to force yourself just to write it down without being critical of yourself.
So for me, one of the tricks I use is to change my font to white so I can’t see anything that I’m writing. I just sit there and type type, type, type, type. I turn off my spell check so I don’t get lots of red and green squiggly lines under what I’m writing. Just get it all down and then come back and really be very particular about the process of knowing the mistakes that I tend to make in my writing, knowing what I’m actually looking for in my writing.
And for me, it’s absolutely essential that I get it all down and then I read it aloud. Because the only way I can pick up if my writing sounds the way I want it to sound is to actually hear it aloud. But I’d love to hear from you both. What are you looking for in your own writing? How do you find it? What is editing? What are the nuts and bolts of editing for you, Linden?

Linden (00:20:33)
I think one key ingredient for me when it comes to editing, and possibly it’s a luxury, I now know that I have to factor it in is space from what I’m writing. So I use the white text technique now Jenny, it’s so… it’s so empowering, it’s amazing. I’ll pump out 1000 words in 20 minutes, if I’m just vomiting stuff down on the page. And then I’ll turn it to black and then I’ll do some fiddling. But then I will leave it, I’ll leave it overnight, I’ll leave it for a day, so I can come back to it with fresh eyes.
Because to me, that is what editing provides me, it gives me a chance to look at my writing with fresh eyes, with a bit of a rejuvenated brain and it’s amazing what you couldn’t see the day before or the couple of days before or that night, you can see the next morning. And what appeared as a huge mountain, oh I’m never going to get through this. I just can’t find a way through this discussion section. I don’t know what the point of this is. I can’t figure out what my argument is. The editing process to me the next day I really genuinely, most of the time find oh okay, so alright, well, that idea should be up there and oh, I can see what I was trying to say, but what I’m missing is this part and that process. I don’t often read it out loud, maybe I should. But reading it for that flow, oh man, it just feels so good to do that.
And then now that I’m getting a bit better at writing plainly and making sure that every word counts in what I’m saying, I can be a little bit verbose. I think it’s just the nature of reading academic articles for so long, you do find that you want to say “the majority of the results suggested” where you can say “most results found”. That sort of editing I need to start being a bit more ruthless about, and that’s what I’m looking for now in my editing of, of writing. But finding that time and making sure that I factor in that time is a challenge that I more and more realise I need, I need to do.

Michael (00:22:29)
Yeah, ’cause you can get really attached to your writing. It’s like the IKEA effect, isn’t it? If you make something, you’re likely to be biassed and think it’s fantastic. So I think that’s one major challenge and I think good way of getting over that is to think well, if I do end up deleting stuff, it’s not actually a waste of time because it’s been really helpful in aligning my thoughts and really getting to the bottom of okay, what’s the most important thing to say here?
And I feel like for me anyway, I kind of want to always know a little bit more about what I’m writing about so that I can write about it in a way where it’s clear to the reader that I’ve kind of identified what are the important elements here. So for example, if you’re writing about a study, let’s say this is a discussion section of your thesis, rather than commenting on all of the, the methods that they use, it’s useful to know all of that stuff but then to really know okay, what’s the important thing here in terms of their methods and just comment on that so you’re not just hitting the reader with blocks of information.

Linden (00:23:36)
Do you delete though Michael or do you have that file that’s gold from Michael that I might use later?
That’s what I’ve got, cut bits that might come in handy.

Michael (00:23:46)
Yeah, hahaha I do, how did you know? Yeah, yeah I’m not throwing it away and then you go back and look at it and you’re like, doesn’t make sense but yeah, it’s useful to have emotionally I think. Yeah, I think that’s a good point Linden, I do actually do that.

Jen (00:24:04)
Me too.

Linden (00:24:06)
They might be really beautifully written as well. But if they’re not serving your key purpose, if they’re not helping you get your curling ball or curling disc to the end, then they need to be put somewhere else as beautiful as they are.

Michael (00:24:23)
Archive them.

Jen (00:24:25)
But I think that’s really important, that’s where the idea of kill your darlings comes from, because they are your darlings, you’ve crafted these words and they may have taken quite a lot of blood, sweat and tears to get on the screen.
So you don’t want to just delete them, you just want to preserve them for later in case they’ve become useful.

Linden (00:24:40)
And often to write those 100 words just like if you’re writing 1000 words or 3000 words, you’re probably going to need to write double that at least, before you can whittle down the key arguments you want to make, the key story that you’re trying to tell, which again, is hard, particularly if you’ve been working in an essay-based environment for much of your education where you’re going to a word limit and you’re like right, just got to get to that limit and then I’m done. That can be a tough thing to do, to be ruthless and say you’re not serving my purpose, you gotta go, gotta go in the golden nuggets Word document, never to be seen again.

Jen (00:25:11)
Yeah, absolutely. I was just going to touch on what you were saying before Linden, about identifying what everyone calls deadweight phrases that are so common in academic writing that actually aren’t necessary. And for me, that’s why I have to read aloud because that’s when I hear that I’ve used the word that three times in a sentence or “there is” or “there are”, or “in order to”, or “it’s been suggested that” or all these phrases that we now know are pretty much redundancies. And for me also reading aloud is where I hear the times that I’ve slipped into using big words that aren’t necessary.
And you both know I have this massive bugbear about the word utilise, because I just don’t know very many places where the word utilise is any better than the word use. And for me reading aloud allows me to pick up places where I’ve slipped into more academic speak and adopted these bigger words just because somewhere along the line I picked up that they were how I sounded like I knew what I was talking about and get rid of them and go back to the simpler words, like “use” or whatever it is. So for me, that’s why reading aloud is so important.
But I couldn’t agree more in terms of you’ve got to write early, you’ve got to get over your procrastination early enough, that you can look at it with fresh eyes. So whether that means printing it out or changing the font and the colour, the size, it’s just so important that you can look at it and it feels like something that maybe somebody else wrote rather than you wrote because you’ve got distance from it.

Michael (00:26:31)
Hmm yeah, I think one of the best things that you can do, I’ve certainly found this anyway is to actually write an abstract where you’ve got really tight word limit and it really makes you think about every single word that you use. And that’s a great process to go through because then you’re able to transfer that over to other aspects of your writing. And yeah, really cut out the fluff that’s not needed.

Jen (00:26:57)
The guff, the fluff, whatever you want to call it. And that’s such a good point. ‘Cause we all know in one of our subjects, we ask our students to write a 100-word lay summary about their research. And you see initially, they’re like, “oh, awesome, we get 10% of our mark for writing 100 words, that sounds easy”. And then of course they start and realise that writing when you’ve only got 100 words and you’re trying to summarise or at least introduce your research topic, every word has to fight for its place. Every sentence has to be so beautifully written and it’s just hard work.

Michael (00:27:27)
Yeah, I think for me it would be to really try and be as open-minded as possible that the person reading this writing might not be seeing it in the same way as you and more than likely they’re going to be viewing it differently.
So really trying to think about how to make it as clear and as explicit as possible and leaving as little room for confusion as you can.

Jen (00:27:51)
Yeah, absolutely, I think that’s a really big lesson to learn. If your word limit is 2000 words, you should be writing at least 4000 words, which seems like such a waste of time. But the point is, when you edit properly, you’ll get rid of all the crap and the 2000 words you’re left with will be fantastic.
So we’re nearly out of time, my friends and I feel like we could talk about this for hours. But I’d really like to finish just with absolute top tips. So Linden, your top tip for effective editing.

Linden (00:28:19)
Find a space, find an otherness to your writing, just like you say Jen. So it’s like you’re reading someone else’s work and give yourself enough time to do that. Whether that’s printing it out, changing your computer to dark mode, go into a separate space to where you write, having a soundtrack that’s your editing soundtrack, go into a cafe, test it out and try different approaches until you find one that works for you.

Jen (00:28:44)
Perfect, which all comes back to basic good science communication practice doesn’t it? You’ve got to think about your audience, think about who’s reading it, think about how you can support them. Yeah, look. I think they’re brilliant tips.
For me, I’ve already said about reading every word aloud, and I mean aloud aloud, not just in your head. I think that’s really crucial to improving your writing, but I think my main one would be similar to yours, Linden. That’s just to allow the time to recognise that the you have to have time in your system to edit because it’s not a simple process. I can only edit well for short blocks of time. I have to be able to concentrate really well.
And it’s a long process to really whittle down your writing to something that’s going to be, something you’re really proud of and I, I love the famous quote by Blaise Pascal, which is “I’ve only made this letter rather long because I’ve not had time to make it shorter.” It’s easy to write lots of words once you stop procrastinating, but it’s hard to write very concise good words, I reckon.

Michael (00:29:37)
What a fantastic quote.

Jen (00:29:39)
Absolutely brilliant.
Well Linden, our time is rapidly running out, but thank you so much for your time today, what a joy to speak with you.

Michael (00:29:48)
Thank you so much, Linden.

Linden (00:29:49)
Thanks guys. Anytime.

Michael (00:29:51)
So I think we’re going to move on to the next part of the podcast, which is the student tips.

Ethan (00:30:04)
Hi, my name is Ethan Wake. I’m a Melbourne University Bachelor of Science graduate and I’m currently studying a Master of Secondary Teaching. My tip today regards editing in science communication.
The great depths and breadth of material that science communicators must distil for their reader is our blessing and our curse, and we can address this through the way that we structure our editing process. A first draft to me presents the opportunity to go way overboard with range and detail. If a piece of information has any potential to make the final cut, write it into your first draft. In subsequent drafts, get brutal. I recommend taking a page out of the book of Gabrielle Chanel, the iconic fashion designer. In an interview in 1945, she revealed that when designing a new piece, she would begin by making the dress of dreams. Then she would cut, and trim, and remove. Most importantly, she would never add.
So think of your first draft as the piece of your dreams. It represents everything you would ever like to say to your reader. Then your final draft, after much cutting, trimming, rearranging, and most importantly never adding, will contain everything your audience wants to actually read.
Thanks, happy editing.

Connor (00:32:26)
Hi, I’m Connor and I’m a secondary science teacher here in Melbourne. Editing your writing is crucial for any type of communication, but especially for science communication where you are often distilling complex topics and concepts into language that is easier for your audience to grasp. Whether your writing is more long form such as a blog post or article, or short form such as a slide presentation, the tenet of science communication still holds true.
Know your audience. A slide presentation that I create for Year 7s is going to be completely different than one for Year 12s, which is different again for a conference presentation. With your audience in mind, start by writing your first draft. After that is complete, what works for me is to leave it for a couple of days. Let it marinate. You’ll come back to it fresh and hopefully with a bit less attachment to what you wrote.
This is important because the next step is to be ruthless in your cuts. You’ll find it harder to cut a sentence that you just wrote than if you come back to it after a day or so. Again, come back to your audience, cut or reword sentences that aren’t targeting your audience. You should also use this time to get rid of unnecessary jargon that would just take up room in your audiences’ short term memories.
Two last things. Reading or writing out loud helps you get a clearer idea of the flow of your piece. Come back and split up those sentences that are too long. Aim for a short sentence long sentence alternation. Finally, get someone else to read it, preferably in your target audience, as a final check of whether it needs further refinement. Good luck.

Michael (00:34:01)
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