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Whenever I submit an article, conference paper or other written document, I get tons of useful feedback from my supervisors and other PhD students. So far, I've made sure to adjust my submissions according to their good comments, and then just throw the feedback away. But I feel like I could use that feedback much more efficiently.

I would like to categorise/condense the feedback in some way that makes it easy to identify my weaknesses and common themes, and also to see whether I'm actually improving in all areas or there are some recurring comments.

Does there exist a good framework for this task? If not, how should I approach it?

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    That sounds like a lot of work for too little gain. Ask your advisor / fellow PhD students that regularly review your work, and they probably have a good impression which areas they typically need to work on and improve most. – xLeitix May 28 '14 at 13:31
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Your writing skills usually improve gradually over time. It seems like a very natural approach to obtain feedback and improve papers accordingly,thereby learning important skills.

If you want to be more efficient/structured I suggest that you not try to collect and categorize all feedback you get but try to build up a collection of "Tips and tricks". What I mean is, that you could skim the feedback for general advice and useful tricks that seems to be applicable in more general form (such as "write the introduction from general to specific and write the conclusion from specific to general") and collect only these bits.

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Do you ever have the opportunity to peer-review other peoples' work? This may not seem related to the question of improving your own writing, but it really is. By reviewing the work of others, you generally tend to see where weaknesses can creep into a manuscript -- it is easier to see errors or different ways of wording things when the work is not your own. In doing so, you can often become more conscious if similar "things" occur in your own writing (and of course, you learn a ton from reviewing the content). Peer-review and copy-editing manuscripts for co-authors has helped me a lot in my writing over the last 15 years or so. Of course, I also took a 2 day course on scientific writing, which pretty much opened my eyes up to the reality that you are writing for the reader and must do everything you can to make sure the reader can understand from start (big picture) to finish (graphic details) the story you are trying to tell.

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  • Reviewing the work of others prompted me to ask this question, since I often find patterns in their mistakes. I'd like a structured and organized way of finding these patterns in my own work, from the mistakes found by others. – user15824 May 30 '14 at 10:02
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My approach is simply to be alert to patterns that recur in the feedback I get (or as you call them, themes), so that I can improve in those areas. For example, I have learned that I still have a natural tendency to write too short of an introduction (not providing enough context for my work), and to assume that my audience has knowledge that they may not have. Those are the faults that I'm trying to "cure" myself of at the moment, so these are the areas that I try to pay the most attention to as I write a paper or prepare a presentation.

I don't have a checklist of things to watch out for, although that's not a bad idea. I find that by focusing on a couple of my worst flaws, eventually I internalise what I've learned so that I don't need to think about it. For example, when I first started writing papers, my supervisors had to tell me to show a logical connection from one idea to the next, so that the reader could follow my train of thought. I tend to do that automatically now, which leaves me to focus on other flaws.

I find that I do best if I focus on improving one or two areas at a time, rather than trying to improve everything at once.

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