So, you have written a full draft of your thesis? Congratulations! That’s the hard part out of the way. Now comes the work of refining and perfecting, which can be fun—provided, of course, that you’ve left yourself enough time to do so before your submission date. Depending on the state of your initial draft, you will need at least a couple of weeks to check your document for things like inconsistencies in style and missing references, and to ensure that it adheres to your university’s guidelines for developing theses. Your document will need to be formatted according to these guidelines and presented in a clear and appropriate way.
If your thesis is at an earlier draft stage, it might need restructuring or rewriting in certain sections, which could take longer, so when writing, be sure to leave yourself as much time as possible before the deadline to improve and polish your work and to produce the best dissertation you possibly can. You will want to remove as many errors, inconsistencies and issues of clarity as possible to produce a final draft. That way, when you send your final draft to an editor, or when you begin your last edit of the thesis, you or your editor can focus solely on the language, making it as close to flawless as possible (and remember that a good editor can take all the painful work out of formatting for you, ensuring that your document is professionally and consistently styled, too).
But what is the fastest way to work into shape this document that has been your sole focus for the past few years? Here is a checklist for you to follow. Work your way through it and you will be looking at a final draft.
At the thesis level:
- Has it got an introduction?
- Does this introduction outline the proposed direction of the thesis clearly and succinctly without moving off topic or including unnecessary information?
- Has it got a conclusion?
- Does this conclusion (a) restate the central findings or arguments of the thesis, (b) clarify the implications of these findings, (c) clearly state why these findings or arguments are exceptional within the field, (d) propose directions for future research?
- Does it have frontmatter (arranged according to your university’s guidelines for producing a thesis)? In other words, does it have (a) a title page, (b) a page for acknowledgements, (c) a declaration of originality and (d) a table of contents, plus, if relevant, (e) a list of appendices, (f) a list of tables, (g) a list of figures and (h) a list of abbreviations? (Note that the page numbers for this frontmatter should be in lower-case Roman numerals—i.e. i, ii, iii, v.)
- Does it have figures, tables or appendices? If so, are they numbered consistently and are their captions presented in a consistent style (for example, are they all in bold or is their capitalisation consistent throughout the thesis)?
- Are all references presented in a recognised (and recognisable) style, such as Harvard, Chicago, MLA, APA or IEEE—or OSCOLA, AGLC or Bluebook for law theses? Check you have not included a mixture of referencing styles.
- Does your thesis have a bibliography or reference list (if applicable to your chosen style)? If so, is this bibliography or reference list arranged in alphabetical order?
- Does your thesis contain all the relevant sections and headings for your discipline? For example, if it is a thesis in the sciences, does it have an introduction, a literature review, a methodology section, a results section, a discussion section and a conclusion?
- Has your thesis been formatted according to your university’s guidelines for producing theses? If not, can you put your hands on these guidelines for your editor to implement?
- Does your thesis have page numbers (with lower-case Roman numerals for frontmatter and the first page of the introduction numbered 1)? Do the page numbers appear on every page of the document (sometimes, new sections of a thesis require page numbers to be added again)?
- Have you appropriately acknowledged all contributions and funding sources?
At the paragraph level:
- Does your thesis have any single-sentence paragraphs? If the answer is yes, it is advisable to remove these and combine them with longer paragraphs.
- Does each paragraph follow on clearly from the next?
- Do all paragraphs address a central topic? In other words, make sure that your paragraphs do not sprawl and simply run your ideas together. Each should have a single point and make it clearly.
- Have you clearly introduced all tables and figures in the paragraphs that precede them?
At the sentence level:
- Does each sentence clearly follow on from the points made before it?
- Are all sentences grammatically correct?
- Are all citations clearly referenced?
- Are quotations of three lines or longer (or of a particular word count, depending on your chosen formatting style) placed on a new line and indented?
Emily Finlay, PhD, AE (IPeD)