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For two years I've been working on drafts of a paper. I'm happy to keep incorporating new sources and improving the paper, because the topic is fascinating, and I'm confident that my work is worth publishing. However, when I print the current draft out to look over after making edits, I can barely read a paragraph before my eyes glaze over and I lose interest. Earlier in the project, when my paper was worse but the subject was fresher in my mind, I was able to calmly read my own writing. Now I find it very difficult.

I wouldn't expect anyone else to read something that I can't, which makes me reluctant to seek feedback -- I don't want to waste people's time. Still, I'm pretty sure the writing itself isn't a total catastrophe, and that I am just "sick" of working on this paper. That's hardly a useful diagnosis. What should I do?

  • A similar problem was a minor part of this question: academia.stackexchange.com/questions/46586/… – Aaron Brick Sep 8 '16 at 17:25
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    How do you reconcile "I'm confident that my work is worth publishing" and "I wouldn't expect anyone else to read something that I can't"? I'm not trying to be mean of course, but there's something weird here... – user9646 Sep 8 '16 at 17:38
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    To ask the obvious question, are you ready to submit the paper? Having the end in sight is good motivation to do whatever it takes to finish. – Patrick Sanan Sep 8 '16 at 18:11
  • @NajibIdrissi, there's a difference between the result being interesting or important, and the proof of the result being fascinating to read. – Dilworth Sep 8 '16 at 21:51
  • @Dilworth Even if the result is interesting or important, if the paper is unreadable I don't believe it's publishable... An editor has to glance at it, reviewers have to read it, and of course the goal of publication is to get other people to read your paper... Of course I don't really believe OP's paper is unreadable (read the answers to the question). – user9646 Sep 9 '16 at 6:16
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Just a few conceptual points:

For two years I've been working on drafts of a paper. I'm happy to keep incorporating new sources and improving the paper, because the topic is fascinating

This is a debatable action because it can delays your publication rhythm. For every paper, lay out the hypotheses, research questions, or objectives clearly and then work on the piece. Once the conclusion answers the questions, either seek feedback or submit it. New findings are going to emerge constantly and if one "keeps incorporating" new sources the paper will never leave.

In very rare occasions, one may want to add some new thing. For instance, by chance a very relevant paper was published during the composition of the final draft. To improve the relevance of the paper it'd be good to include that new work in the right section. Otherwise, there needs to be an end date in sight.

However, when I print the current draft out to look over after making edits, I can barely read a paragraph before my eyes glaze over and I lose interest

This is not abnormal because you have read this multiple times and no new stimulation is coming out. Here are some ways to work through it:

  1. Circulate it among peers for a round of proof reading. Pay them with something: pizza, chocolate, a favor, etc. Consider forming a writing club, in which everyone can circulate works in different stages of development.
  2. Hire an editor, preferably knowledgeable in your area, to proof read it.
  3. Put this project down and work on some others, return to it again when you're ready.
  4. Read it out loud. It's actually very helpful because reading out loud lets you hear the rhythm of the words and this helps isolating clunky parts in the paper.
  5. Read it from the back. Start from the paragraph, and can also consider start from the last sentence and working its way up. This technique breaks the contextual flow and allows you pay more attention to missing words or typos, etc.

I wouldn't expect anyone else to read something that I can't, which makes me reluctant to seek feedback

Why not? This is one of the mind blocks that scares a lot of writers. You don't need to share only perfect works. When you circulate the piece, just be sure to:

  1. State what this article is for and what stage it is in: is this a draft, a revised and resubmit version, a grant proposal, etc.
  2. Be very specific on what kind of advice you seek: for more drafty work you can ask for comments on overall big picture and structure. For more developed work you can ask for comments on prose clarity and wording. For final draft you can ask for proof reading level comments.

Overall, as a comment has pointed out there are some conflicting thoughts within your question and I'd just humbly advise you to let the security issue go and be open to criticism and comments. Your writing is not the entire you; no need to shy away from people's criticism. After all, writing is about communicating ideas and it's better to get early and frank inputs from peers and friends now than from the reviewers with the rejection letter.

  • Penguin_Knight, this is great. I've been trying to save my reviewers for "when the time is right" and finding a steady stream of relevant material makes that date farther away. This problem crosses a number of fields and eras, but the most damning thing is what you said: I haven't addressed the initial question and called it done. I'm going to use your proofreading and reviewing advice. Thanks! – Aaron Brick Sep 13 '16 at 0:06

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