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How to add final touches to a thesis or dissertation

General information

You and your supervisor* will have been very close indeed to your work and research for a considerable time. You, in particular, will know it inside out and back to front. So the links between its components may be entirely obvious to you both, while not being particularly clear to anyone who has met your work recently.

So it is important to minimise misunderstandings and to find out as early as possible where clarification is necessary. Giving departmental seminars will have helped, as will giving conference presentations and writing journal articles.

If you have not done any of these recently, try to find someone new to your work, who will listen to you explaining it or, ideally, will read the draft thesis or dissertation and say where they have trouble following your arguments. This is not cheating, neither does it detract from the work being your own. Remember: all academic books and journal articles have editors, who invariably send material back to authors for some sort of revision.

You must work through the final draft of the thesis in an editorial mode.

Finalising a thesis is always much more time-consuming than expected. The style must be academic; the text must be written to make a case; chapters have to be linked into a storyline; cross-references and 'pointers' need to be inserted to keep the reader orientated to what is where and why; there should be no typing or stylistic errors; and tables, figures and references should be complete, accurate and presented in whatever format has been agreed with the supervisor.

Sections from The Research Student's Guide to Success in the chapter on preparing the thesis / dissertation

The importance of the thesis

The need to recap on the writing and referencing techniques of previous chapters

Orientating yourself for the task ahead

Developing a framework of chapters

Developing the content of a chapter

Sequencing the content within a chapter

Linking chapters into one or more storylines

Cross-referencing in the thesis

The writing process

Producing the abstract

Presenting the thesis in accordance with institutional requirements

Pay particular attention to the abstract, contents list, beginnings and ends of chapters and the final chapter, as it is these which examiners tend to study first, and it is on these that they may form their impressions and first impressions count.

The institutional guidelines on maximum length should not be difficult to achieve if you are ruthless with padding.

© Pat Cryer

* 'Supervisor' is a shorthand for 'research degree supervisor', 'advisor' or 'tutor', and applies to varying extents for all research degrees: PhD, DPhil. MPhil, Prof Doc and even undergraduate and masters' projects. In some countries, notably the USA, a 'supervisor' is known as an 'advisor'.