The Tweed Philosophy on Subheads

Section headings, a.k.a. subheads, can be powerful tools for the academic writer. Without them, chapters in scholarly books and journal articles would be huge, undifferentiated blocks of text. Subheads can announce topics, they can transition for us, they can display wit, and they can scaffold. Perhaps that’s why it’s tempting to rely on them a bit too much. As an editor, I have seen pitch-perfect subheads, but I have also seen them overused and haphazardly phrased. (I sometimes wonder whether ineffective subheads are left over from much earlier drafts and are simply out of place in the revised material.) Clearly, subheads can be powerful, and they can strengthen already strong manuscripts. They can’t, however, make up for deficiencies in argumentation. So to use subheads well, we must implement them judiciously and conscientiously. So how do we strike that balance—employing subheads strategically without basing too much of our organizational strategy on them? Let’s start with The Chicago Manual of Style‘s take: 1.53 Subheads—general principles Subheads within a chapter should be short and meaningful and, like chapter titles, parallel in structure and tone. It is rarely imperative that a subhead begin a new page. The first sentence of text following a subhead should not refer syntactically to the subhead; words should be repeated where necessary. For example: SECONDARY SPONGIOSA The secondary spongiosa, a vaulted structure. . . not SECONDARY SPONGIOSA This vaulted structure . . . So subheads should be brief, informative, and parallel in structure. And running text should not immediately refer to them. I would take this advisement a bit further: the first part of a section following a subhead should act as if the subhead...

Lost in Spaces (between Sentences)

If you’re submitting articles to journals or shopping around your scholarly book proposal, content is key. But when you also adhere closely to a publisher’s or journal’s style guidelines, you demonstrate professionalism and your ability to honor parameters. It shows that you can work in the service of something larger than your own project. If you could do something simple to send the subtle message that your submission fits and enhances the image of your target journal or press, would you do it? Attention to details—like the spaces between sentences—can give your work a leg up. Luckily, there are only a couple dominant standards for the number of spaces between sentences: one space or two. And the best way to enforce consistent between-sentence spacing is by using a function built right into Microsoft Word: find and replace. (For a basic introduction to this feature, here is Microsoft’s own guide. Find-and-replace functionality is available in every version of Word I’ve ever had, but this link is specifically for Office 2010. I believe find and replace operations are also possible in Google Documents and OpenOffice, but I can’t vouch for some of the advanced techniques below. If you try them out, let me know your results!) These tips are tried and true, but before you make any big find-and-replace moves, save your document! That way, if anything goes haywire, your precious work remains unharmed. Chicago and MLA: One Space Chicago and MLA styles go by the one-space standard. No matter how many times you accidentally hit the space bar while typing your manuscript, achieving only one space after every period is...

Did You See the Last Tweed Newsletter?

In case you missed it, I draw your attention to the last issue of the Tweed newsletter, Annotations. In it, I unveiled a new structure that highlights the best of the academic-writing Web and Tweed’s website, too. Look how long—but, I hasten to add, easily navigable—that sucker is! I had to do two screencaps to show it all. The theme is the hard choices that scholar-authors make, which I know you all confront regularly. A new issue is coming out shortly, so be sure to stay in the loop by signing up. Even though the links are best experienced fresh—so you can keep your finger on the pulse of the scholarly-writing community—you can always catch up retrospectively at the...

How to Unfile Research Paperwork

My filing cabinets had been bursting with grad-school materials for years. This weekend, I finally got around to addressing the problem. I’m calling the solution my unfiling system. Recognize That Past Research Projects Take Up Precious Space Something I’ve realized: if I keep all the hard-copy research I’ve done, I’ll be buried alive in paperwork. I would wager that a pack rat lurks inside every researcher—but even for an academic, I boast a pretty pronounced hoarding instinct. My boyfriend generously calls it my documentarian nature. As a girl, I collected brochures and menus. Now in my thirties, I continue to amass stationery. Grad school was a paper heaven for me. With academia come piles of paperwork. I don’t just mean bureaucratic detritus and the kinds of program brochures and promotional materials that I love to collect. I mean research, class notes, syllabi fodder, teaching materials, past dossiers, old cover letters, and handouts that may not be useful in the future but that I’m lazy enough to keep anyway. I’m guessing you, gentle reader, might exhibit the same tendency from time to time. Weigh Practicality and Sentimentality I have a pretty extensive filing system for all of my academic research; what I’ve lacked is a way to make space for current and future projects. To do that, I know I must make peace with the past and move along. At least I had hanging files set up to categorize the papers I kept. Teaching materials and coursework are sorted according to class and semester. My thesis and dissertation research have their own files, several for each project. Thank goodness I’d...

How I Self-Revised My Dissertation, a Video Presentation

Today, I’m proud to share with you a project that’s been on my mind for a long time now: a video presentation detailing the steps I took to revise my own dissertation. Sometimes it’s difficult to dive right into revisioning and redrafting (the components of revising) because there’s no clear first step. Every PhD has found a way through the mire; as I’m in a position to share my approach, I’ll do just that. Revising from the Standpoint of a Developmental Editor To bypass the hemming and hawing that can accompany the academic revision process, I ultimately drew on my training and experience in developmental editing. That approach allowed me to accomplish several important tasks all in one phase: solidifying the argument from the ground up and restructuring accordingly sharpening the thesis and its many permutations addressing faculty feedback polishing the writing adding almost 100 pages of content I emerged from this process with a defense draft of my dissertation that was stronger than the previous version in every way. To accomplish such a total overhaul, I had to have a way in; otherwise, it would have just been too daunting to start. Sharing My Revision Experience I surprised myself with how much I was able to improve my dissertation in a span of two months, so I have for some time known that I wanted to dissect and relate my experiences for others’ benefit. It’s what we all do: having accomplished, we look back and extend a hand to those who are following the same path. The resulting twelve-minute video presentation details the process I used so that...