My work as a writing consultant is different from the work I do as an editor. When clients need writing consultation, it is usually because they are in the early stages of writing, and they would not be served well by copyediting or even substantive editing. They need an intervention that is more substantial than what I can offer with either of the aforementioned services.
In this post I want to provide a snapshot of what the process of working with a client looks like. While my work with each client varies, there are some practices and principles that I stick to, and that’s what I will outline below. Keep in mind that the description below is not for any particular client, but rather highlights what a “typical” process looks like for client working on an article manuscript.
First, a client sends me a rough draft of an article manuscript. I read through and prepare a memo with comments and suggestions for revisions. I make minimal in text comments because I expect the text will be substantially revised. Then, I send the memo to the client, and they read it. At this point, we establish a plan and a timeline for revisions. Based on the client’s preference I will either prepare the plan in advance then send it to them or we will work on the plan and timeline together through a Skype conversation.
Before we prepare the revision plan, I advise the client to select a journal to submit to. The client then reads 2-3 recently published articles from that journal. I make sure my client selects articles that were published during the tenure of the current editor. Once the client has read the articles and in some cases passed the articles along to me, we brainstorm ways that the client can model their article to fit the requirements of the journal. For instance, there might be certain literatures the client is expected to engage, or an emphasis on methodology or theory. At the very least, they will write in adherence to the style guide of the journal.
When we prepare the revision plan, we address the manuscript section by section but don’t necessarily plan to revise in order. There might also be issues address that cross multiple sections, such as framing and use of theory. For many of my clients, who happen to be social scientists, the methodology and data sections are usually the first to be revised.
Here is an abbreviated version of a revision plan (remember, the example below is made up – this is not from a particular client):
Introduction: Move last two pages of introduction to literature review section.
Data: The section needs more data. Pull at least 2 more quotes from your interview data to integrate into the section.
Theory/Discussion: Your paper is undertheorized, as outlined in the revision memo. Your inclination to address theory X is a good one – if you are not familiar with that literature then first read A, B, C then we can discuss how to include it in literature review.
*** At times like this it’s almost always necessary to talk to a client. Generally before I read their initial draft, a client will express something along the lines of “I’m concerned I’m not addressing the most recent debates in intersectionality.” I’ll read the manuscript and make a judgment, then ask the client what they think are the most recent debates, and if they are up to date on the literature. If they aren’t up to date, we’ll talk about a reading list. If they are, then we’ll identify which pieces of literature need to be included in the article. At this point we’ll get pretty specific, and decide on the exact pieces of literature that client needs to read, and how they intend to integrate that literature into their article.
Literature Review: Too much summary. Revise to reflect gaps in literature, ways in which authors agree and disagree with each other, and how good of a job the literature does at addressing your research question.
Conclusion: I might ask the client if the articles they read from their prospective journal all address avenues for future research in their conclusions. If they do, I’ll advise my client to do the same.
The revision plan is substantially shorter than the memo upon which it is based. While the memo provides a rationale and justification for each critique of the manuscript that I made, the plan focuses more on the tasks required for revision.
The client will read through the plan and determine how many days it will take to complete each task. If the client has signed on for time management, we will bring those days to the calendar and create a schedule together. If not, the client will determine a date at which they can send me a revised document to review. Below is a sample of a schedule we might create together.
Week One: Revise Data Section (2 writing sessions) and Literature Review (1 session)
Week Two: Revise Lit Review (1 sessions) and Discussion (2 sessions)
Week Three: Revise Discussion (1 sessions) and Theory (2 sessions)
Week Four: Revise Intro (1 session) and Conclusion (2 sessions)
Week Five: Read entire mss, address outstanding issues, send to Jane for review
The process of working with a writing consultant is both collaborative and iterative. A client and I might have several conversations before finalizing a revision plan. Even with a plan in place, a client may change her mind or hit a stumbling block. At times like this we will revisit the plan and make amendments if necessary.
Some might liken this experience to working with a very attentive reviewer, but it is more than that. Working with me, you receive not only the details on how to improve your manuscript but also a clear plan for how to make those improvements. You get answers to the “why” – “why do I need to make these changes?” and the “how” – “how can I actually make these changes?” It’s not easy to go from rough draft to complete manuscript, but with support and clear instruction you will make it happen.