Developing a methodology for getting to the final text – and small culture formation on the go

Finalising the text in your book or your thesis in a global manner, making sure everything is clear and fits together, is a very important task.

My co-author and I have just spent three days working on the final draft of our book. Our aim was to make every part of it speak with a clear message.

We had already written enough words for the book; but now our task was to bring out the main message. I don’t think it was clear to either of us exactly how we were going to do this. We had already worked intensively on a conclusion. I had presented about the book at Southampton University three weeks before, and written an abstract for the next IALIC conference. My co-author had also given presentations. All of this had helped.

So this is what we did.

We began with the conclusion and searched the whole book for the main points we had made there. This was to make sure that we really had talked about the things we thought we had, that the terms we were using were consistent, that the discussion flowed, that things were explained in the most appropriate places, and so on.

This process threw up a range of terms, concepts and bits of information that were not consistent and needed to be brought into synchrony. An example of this was that in some places we used ‘focus group’ and in some ‘workshop’ to refer to the same thing. We spent some time reviewing with each other which term we should use and then made sure that all through the text this was consistent. This wasn’t just a choice between two terms, but became a very fruitful discussion about methodological approach and what this meant about understanding the people we were writing about.

As we looked around the text to check these things, other issues emerged that we also had to check through the book and put right.

When we though that we were almost done, we met with a colleague who asked us what the book was about. We decided to read aloud to him the first sentences of the first chapter and discovered that they weren’t clear at all! The result was that we went back not just to the beginning of the first chapter but also to the preface to do more re-writing – which again meant looking through the whole text for consistency.

Another important issue is that some of our thinking has actually changed during the process of researching and writing the book. In particular, our view of small culture formation on the go has changed. It is now quite definitely a site within which things happen – a place where the intercultural can be observed – rather than something which is produced. Therefore, every single place where it was mentioned needed to be looked at carefully to make sure that the message was consistent.

The publisher has also requested that we lose about 500 words. This required a careful edit all the way through – simplifying sentences and pruning dense thickets of verbiage. There were obvious places to look for where things could be cut or shortened – footnotes, long quotations, and references which were gratuitous, too long or redundant because of what had been said elsewhere. It’s worth remembering that deleting a reference in the text also deletes an item in the bibliography and saves quite a few words. In one case there were three references to the same person; and we decided that the most recent one covered the other two, which could therefore be removed.

We found in the first chapter two whole paragraphs that could be deleted because what they talked about had been dealt with in other chapters.

We are still not finished. It is good to have a little time to continue to look around and to edit through. It’s good that we asked for a short extension six months ago to ensure that we would have this time.

A book is a huge opportunity and privilege – a large space within which to put lots of things that will be read for some time to come. It is therefore so important not to waste this opportunity and to get things as right as possible.

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