Revising and Editing Medical Documents

Revising and Editing Medical Documents

Revising and Editing Medical Documents

Revising and Editing a Medical Document is just as important, if not more important, than the original draft. It can change an average document into an excellent one. However, it is an aspect often overlooked by doctors and scientists. Many consider revising and editing a once over of a draft, correcting grammar and spelling. This is not enough if you wish to have an excellent piece of writing. In fact, a better ratio of time spent on a document is revising/editing  to writing of 3:1.

During an internship at the European Office of the World Health Organization, my supervisor and I revised and then edited the same text three times over a three day period. I was quite frustrated at the time, wondering why we had to go over the text again and again! However, the end result was excellent and far better than the first revised version; and for me an excellent lesson learned.

An inverted pyramid

Revising and then editing should be thought of as an inverted pyramid. First we focus on the big picture, the concepts, the flow and organization, then the paragraphs and then each sentence and lastly the words.

Let´s start with the difference between revising and editing. These two concepts are not the same. Revising focuses on the big picture and deals with the paper as a whole, whereas editing focuses on sentence structure, spelling and word choice.

These are some steps you can follow to revise and edit your document.

  1. Revising

This may mean adding, deleting or moving around paragraphs, deleting sentences, adding definitions or re-organizing the document flow.

Step 1: General overlook

Questions to ask yourself for general revision include:

  • Have I fulfilled the intention of the document?
  • Does it have the right tone and genre for the audience?
  • Have you provided sufficient evidence to support your argument(s)?
  • Are there any sections or sentences with redundant or repetitive information?
  • Are there vague or difficult to understand sections?
  • Are there terms that need extra defining?
  • What are the strengths and the weaknesses in the document and in the writing?

Step 2: Organization

Questions to organize your writing include:

  • Does my introduction grab attention and inform the reader of the documents purpose?
  • Are the ideas organized in a manner that flows well and makes a logical stepwise progression to the conclusion?
  • Do I need to re-arrange some sections for better flow?
  • Are ideas and sections connected?
  • Does the conclusion successfully round up and answer the question or purpose of the document and will the reader understand how you got there?

Step 3: Paragraphs

This step looks at each paragraph as a whole. (See previous post on writing simply for more on this.)

  • Does each paragraph contain only one idea?
  • Does the first sentence of each paragraph supply the paragraphs argument or idea?
  • Do the following sentences adequately support the first sentence?
  • Can a reader understand the text as a whole if they only read the first sentence of each paragraph?
  1. Editing

This deals with the text at a sentence and word level. Consider the following questions as reminders in things to look for when editing:

  • Does each sentence make sense?
  • Is each sentence easy to read and understand?
  • Are there any words that are over-used and can be reworded?
  • Is the word choice adequate and appropriate for the intended audience?
  • Are there any grammar errors?
  • Are there any spelling errors?
  • Are there any punctuation errors?

We read differently on screen than on paper. Knowing this difference is important as it may mean that some errors are missed on screen. Print out your document and revise and edit the old fashion way – with pen and paper!

Lastly, a writer is too closely connected with the document. As a result the brain reads what we think we have written rather than what is actually on the page. There are two ways to overcome this issue: 1) Leave the document a few days and then re-read, or, even better, 2) give the document to someone else to correct and criticise.

While this blog post is not meant to be an exhaustive list of steps to follow, with these few steps and tools you can now improve any medical document you have written.


Click here to find out how I can help you improve your text and get it to a final polished copy.

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