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Substantive Editing: Recommendations

1. Define terms when first used

In the Self Replication document, many technical terms are used that are not defined. Some terms are new (coined in this document) but readers are forced to develop their own meanings from context. Other terms may have accepted definitions familiar to experts in this field, but be unfamiliar to lay readers or technical readers from other fields.

The first sentence of the paper is, “A replicative assembly methodology may be based on assembly stations each with two degrees of rotational freedom.” Although assembly stations are discussed throughout the paper, and an example is described, the term is not defined in its general sense.

The fourth sentence of the paper, “The term ‘exponential assembly’ is proposed to differentiate this from self-replication.” introduces the term exponential assembly, which is not defined until five paragraphs later.

To make the document clear to all readers, coined terms must be defined. To make the document clear to readers who are not experts in this field, technical terms specific to the field should also be defined. Define a new or potentially unfamiliar term in the paragraph where it is first used or in the following paragraph, when a term requires a paragraph for its definition. Terms introduced in the Abstract may be defined in the paper, preferably in the section that immediately follows.

2. Use clear, definite language

Flowery phrases in the Self Replication paper obscure, rather than reveal, meaning.

The first paragraph of the Introduction contains the phrase, “self-replicating entities of the biological arena.” This elaborate phrase does not tell the reader what entities are under consideration.

Favor clarity over poetry. Use specific terms or examples. Instead of “self-replicating entities of the biological arena,” name the entities by category. Specifically list viruses, one-celled life forms, or whatever classifications that are meant by the flowery phrase.

3. Be specific

The Self Replication paper contains a number of imprecise references. It is vague on dates and length scales. It refers to systems or features that are “desired.” A number of sentences refer to sets which are neither described nor itemized.

The second paragraph of the Introduction begins with “The first artificial, self-replicating mechanical structures were built by Penrose, and the first electro- mechanical systems were created by Jacobson decades ago.” On page 10, in the paragraphs under Implementation Methods, length scales are discussed in vague terms. For example, “The replicative demonstration by Jacobson mentioned above was built using model railroading parts and the exponential assembly system defined here could likely be demonstrated at such a scale.”

The third paragraph on page 2 begins, “During the approach to mature molecular manufacturing, interim systems, showing just enough replicating aspects to assist the progression to more complex, mature assembly systems is desired.”

The bottom paragraph on page 2 begins, “To simplify the required assembly operations, the system shares certain degrees of freedom and instructions, as well as off-loading parts manufacture to some other method.”

Be specific. Use actual dates and numbers instead of imprecise references. Rather than the imprecise decades ago, use the dates of the first system from each researcher.

If a feature is needed or desired, list the required qualities or the benefits that accrue from a quality. For the example interim system, also state how such systems assist the progression to more complex, mature systems.

List or describe the required assembly operations. Address how the shared degrees of freedom and instructions and the off-loaded parts manufacture simplifies the required assembly operations.

4. Prefer active voice

Passive voice is used unnecessarily in the Self Replication paper. Passive voice is appropriate when the sentence needs to be structured to emphasize the recipient of the action. In technical writing, it is appropriate as the author is understood to be the agent of action. Active voice, however, tends to be clearer, and should be used whenever possible.

On page 7, the caption of Figure 3a reads, “The rotational stages are labeled as are the gripper, handle, and attachment points.”

On page 8, the first full sentence begins, “The same sequence of operations is now provided to both assembled stations…”

On page 11, the first sentence of the Summary is “Exponential assembly has been proposed as a possible replicative methodology for assembly-based manufacturing systems.”

Unless the subject of the sentence receives the action, or the actions can be understood to be performed by the authors, recast sentences into active voice. Look for the possibility of a non-human agent.

The complex and passive structure of figure caption is unnecessary. It would be clearer and easier to read as, “The schematic shows the rotation stages, the gripper, the handle, and the attachment points.” Active voice is possible in this case, since the schematic can be the agent of action. (The schematic can show.)

In the second example, presumably it is the control system that provides the sequence of operations. This agent of action should be used: “The control system now provides the same sequence of operations to both assembled stations…”

The third example would be better as “We propose exponential assembly as a possible replicative method for assembly- based manufacturing systems.” Although readers will likely assume that the authors are making the proposal, it is worth clarifying and emphasizing this point.

5. List the steps in a process

In order for a reader to follow a process, the events must be well- ordered and clearly described. The complex processes described in this paper are difficult to follow.

In the Self-Replication paper, the descriptive text for the assembly process of a surface is presented twice, once in Figures 2a-2d and once in the second paragraph below Figure 2d. In the paragraph, the steps run together:

Initially, site A(1,1) is located across from B(1,1). The assembly process is started and station A(1,1) assembles station B (1,1). The assembly process for a suggested station will be outlined in detail in the next section. The station at site A(1,1) is then returned to its as-assembled configuration and the station at B(1,1) is enabled for operation. The surfaces are then translated such that site A(1,1) is across from B(2,1), which implies that the newly constructed B(1,1) is across from A(2,1) as shown in Figure 2c. Because surface B is a mirror image copy of surface A, the same assembly sequence will work for B(1,1) in constructing A(2,1) as works for A(1,1) in constructing B(2,1). The two can perform the assembly sequence simultaneously. When the sequence is completed there is newly assembled stations at A(2,1) and at B(2,1). This iteration ends by returning the operating stations (those at A(1,1) and B(1,1)) to their as-assembled configurations and enabling the newly assembled stations at A(2,1) and B(2,1) for operation. (…)

Since the steps must be performed in order, present the information in a numbered list. This has the added benefit of being more readable. Using the same step numbers in the figure captions will make it easier for readers to compare the steps to the illustrations. Replace the free-flowing paragraph with an ordered discussion:

The assembly process for a suggested station will be outlined in detail in the next section. Here, we describe the process of assembling an array of stations. Initially, site A(1,1) is located across from B(1,1) and the assembly process for the first row is begun:

  1. Surface B is rotated 180 degrees about its z-axis and translated so that site B(1,1) again faces A(1,1).
  2. Station A(1,1) assembles station B (1,1).
  3. Station A(1,1) is returned to its as-assembled configuration; station B(1,1) is enabled for operation.
  4. Site A(1,1) is translated to face site B(2,1); B(1,1) faces A(2,1). See Figure 2c.
  5. Simultaneously, B(1,1)constructs A(2,1) and A(1,1) constructs B(2,1).
  6. Stations A(1,1) and B(1,1) are returned to their as-assembled configurations; stations A(2,1) and B(2,1) are enabled for operation.
  7. Site A(1,1) is translated to face B(4,1) as shown in Figure 2d. and the four operating stations can assemble another four.

After some number of assembly iterations, each surface contains an entire row of assembled and functioning stations. Row A(n,1) is translated to face B(n,2), which also positions row B(n,1) facing row A(n,2). Entire rows are now assembled simultaneously. After iterating through the rows, both surfaces will be completely assembled.

6. Use parallel form for captions in a series of figures

A series of figures (for example, Figures 2a-d or Figures 4a-g) presents similar information. According to Strunk and White (The Elements of Style, 4th ed.), parallel construction “requires that expressions similar in content and function be outwardly similar.”

In the Self Replication paper, the figure captions—internally within each series—are not parallel. Consider the captions for Figures 3a and 3b:

Figure 3a. The rotational stages are labeled as are the gripper, handle, and attachment points.
Figure 3b. When the two components are assembled, the assembly station is as shown.

The first caption is static, while the second contains a temporal relationship.

For each figure series, make the captions parallel. The captions for Figures 3a and 3b, can be recast to emphasize what is shown in the figure:

Figure 3a.The rotational stages, the gripper, the handle, and the attachment points.
Figure 3b. The assembly station with the two components assembled.

7. Avoid anthropomorphism

Some sentences in the Self Replication paper transcend passive voice and become anthropomorphic statements, giving human or living qualities to electro-mechanical objects.

On page 3, the second sentence under Figure 1 begins, “The control system knows the location…”

The sentence that begins on the bottom of page 9 is, “In practice, we expect that more complex operations and structures will prove desirable; these more evolved and complex systems evolving naturally from the original concept.”

For the first example, use the verb track: “The control system tracks the location…” To know implies a level of (artificial) intelligence that the paper does not assign to the control system.

For the second example, researchers should be put back into the picture. Improved designs by researchers are more likely than electro-mechanical systems that evolve: “these more advanced and complex systems deriving from and building upon from the original concept.”

8. Reconcile text and illustrations

Some of the figures in the Self Replication paper conflict with the text they illustrate.

In Figure 1, the translating mechanism appears to be attached only to Surface 1, yet the text throughout indicates that the translation mechanism is shared between the two surfaces. Also, this figure shows Surfaces 1 and 2, although the paper refers to them as A and B.

In the paragraph below Figure 1, the fourth sentence states: “The lower-leftfirst grid site has address A(1,1), the upper-right has final site has A(n,n) as depicted in Figure 2a.” The figure shows A(1,1) in the lower right and A(n,n) in the upper left.

Where figures and text disagree, verify the statements and edit the illustration or text appropriately.

9. Include all referenced illustrations

The Exponential Assembly paper appears to be missing two illustrations.

The third paragraph of the Exponential Assembly paper describes the Zyvex robotic arm. The fifth paragraph describes the planar rotating stage. Both have the phrase “(see illustration),” yet no illustrations appear to exist. The two images in this paper are referenced elsewhere and do not illustrate the robotic arm.

Verify that illustrations exist before including cross references.

10. Use terms consistently

When referring to the same object or concept, in the same sense, use the same term.

In the sixth and seventh paragraphs of the Exponential Assembly paper, the user is directed to “Click on the illustration…the picture…is one of the first few frames from the video.”

In the Self Replication paper, we have assembly stations. In the Exponential Assembly paper, we have robotic arms.

For the image links in the Exponential Assembly paper, use illustration or picture (or image), and use it consistently: “Click on the image…the image…is one of the first few frames from the video.”

For a document set, ensure that terms are used consistently between all documents.

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