My Re-Writing Chronicles (Part 2): How do you edit to tell a better story?

Alice Eden, an early career academic, is currently completing a book manuscript for publication which draws on her PhD research. During the peer review process for the book, Alice gained comments which requested changes including providing more information for the reader. She has been taking action in these areas. In this second post of a series about re-writing, Alice details specific examples of textual changes she has been making.


During my re-write I have deployed a number of methods to improve the readability of the book. One review comment suggested more background information or context for historical arguments. One simple way I could address this has been through moving footnote details up into the text. Whereas previous sentences referred to the footnote for further clarification, the re-write version restored that material up from the footnote and included more scholarly literature to present the main arguments of the book. I have also moved passages of text around in order to make chapters easier to digest, breaking up dense passages, re-ordering for clarity.

Referring Back

I have considered the introduction of arguments and key ideas early on in the book and how they are then referred back to throughout the text. For example, I revisited my introduction to make sure that key themes such as feminisms and Edwardian spiritualities were introduced at the start but also that they are re-introduced in a fluid way within each chapter. It is important that the chapters could now stand alone and be read independently from the whole book. have needed to develop new ways of referring back to ideas and building on them. While the introduction included detailed historiographical summaries, chapters then referred back to the outline in the introduction with a briefer, less developed overview. Then the text of the chapter referred back to its own introductory statements. I developed a range of phrases such as:

‘This description revives the theme of…’

‘Returning to the subject broached in the introduction…’

‘An ongoing theme throughout the book…’

And others!

An Example Re-Write

Here is an example re-write from the book where I needed to add more context:

Original Text:

‘Maurice Maeterlinck was at the heart of the Symbolist movement and a leading Rosicrucian. In 1911, Maeterlinck wrote to Cayley Robinson, in praise of his drawings for the illustrated book of The Blue Bird. Cayley Robinson’s artworks relating to The Blue Bird were discussed in detail in Martin Wood’s article of 1910 in The Studio.’


‘Maurice Maeterlinck (1862 – 1949) was at the heart of the Symbolist movement and a leading Rosicrucian. By 1908 when he published The Blue Bird, he was well-known as a pioneer of a new form of theatre emerging from the avant-garde…’ [Then followed more details of his credentials in terms of the Symbolist movement, the nature of his plays, his interests in mysticism and the occult, how his work became known in English translation, key features of his plays and so on. Then I included a summary of The Blue Bird, which I hadn’t had space to do in the thesis. Only then did I move on to the specific connections with the artist Frederick Cayley Robinson and the article of 1910.]

In the re-written text, I also directed the reader to make connections back through the book such as below:

The Blue Bird should be considered within the context of Edwardian enchantments, as outlined in the introduction.’

‘Returning to a theme of previous chapters, this example may be framed by scholarship on the Edwardian interior and domesticities.’

‘The connection with Maeterlinck evidences the occult context for Cayley Robinson’s works as explored within scholarship on Edwardian spiritualities and mysticism.’

The re-written version was much fuller, more informative for new audiences and included material that had not been needed within the specific requirements of my thesis. The re-write version was handled differently within the book through signposting: included in the main introduction, the start of the chapters and referred back to fluidly on several occasions.

During these types of re-writing processes, I have thought more and more about how the narratives in my work may be better presented to new readers. This is quite a different mindset, involving a shift from a purely academic concentration on historical research, detail and evidence to an approach where storytelling becomes more valuable. This was one of the most valuable learning point from the peer review process, which I will return to in a forthcoming post.

Don’t forget to check out My Re-Writing Chronicles (Part 1): Ways of Writing for New Audiences


Is anyone else going through a re-writing process? How have you handled it? Tweet us at @ResearchEx, email us at, or leave a comment below.


Alice Eden is a Research Curator at Leamington Spa Art Gallery and Early Career academic. Her primary interests are modern British cultural history, spiritualities and feminisms, with expertise in Victorian and Edwardian art history. She is an Associate Tutor in the History of Art department, University of Warwick and is writing a book based on her PhD thesis. Alice can be contacted via email and followed on twitter at @Alice_Eden4.


Cover image:  person-writing-on-white-printer-paper-on-beige-wooden-table-1371181 / rawpixel / CC0 1.0

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