The Belcher Diagnostic Test

I think it goes without saying that I love Writing your Journal Article in 12 Weeks. I use it constantly, at all different stages of writing. One of the chapters I use the most (and the pages have the coffee stains to prove it) is the chapter called “Week 10: Editing your Sentences.” Every time I reach the final draft stage of an article, I run the Belcher Diagnostic Test: an awesome series of find & replace steps using Word that allows me to easily and quickly identify the little things that weaken my writing: redundant doublings, unneeded pronouns, passive voice, unneeded prepositional phrases… It makes my work look like this:

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Seeing all the colors on the page instantly puts me in a good mood, because I know that within a few days, this piece of writing will be submitted for publication. Once the text is marked up, I go through it, marking the changes I want to make on the text. Belcher’s book is full of useful information like, “start looking at sentences with several blue words, especially when they appear near green words. Could you delete the blue words (vague pronouns)” (59). At this final stage of the writing process, when I’m so close to submitting, I’ve been working with a text for so long that these sorts of things, the mechanics of the beast, so to speak, become invisible. The test makes weaknesses in writing visible, and helps me quickly identify ways to make my writing clearer and more concise.

By the way, by the time I reach this point, it’s not that I feel really ready to submit. It’s that I’ve reached a point when the paper has a clearly articulated argument, an identifiable beginning, middle, and end, and I hit a wall. I never feel that the article is truly “finished,” it’s more that I’m just finished with it. Following Belcher’s advice, I accept the fact that there will always be more to be said and that I will have the opportunity to improve and expand in the next phase of peer review, when an anonymous reviewer will give me the tools I need to identify the weaknesses in my content and argument that I wouldn’t be able to find on my own. Sometimes “good enough” really is good enough, at least for the initial submission. Don’t get me wrong, I would never submit something I think is simply poor writing. But if I waited until a piece of writing was perfect to submit it, the article would never see the light of day. I don’t want poor copy-editing or bad writing to be an obstacle to that process, though. And that’s why I run the test. Every time. Even when I’m feeling happy with what I have.

And every time, those colored words bring a little smile to my face.

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