Redrafting & Polishing Your Dissertation

So, you have now finished the first draft of your dissertation. Well done – take a couple of days off and recharge your batteries.

Having rested, you are now in a position to polish your work. Do not underestimate the importance of polishing and redrafting. You are strongly recommended to submit your draft dissertation to a professional proof reading and editing service which will make suggestions as to how to further improve your work as well as ensure that your sentences make sense. Such services do cost but they are likely to improve your grade by at least one degree class (i.e. from a 2:2 to a 2:1, or a 2:1 to a First).

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Even if you decide to use a professional service, you should undertake the following exercise. First, read the entire document and ask yourself a series of questions as you read your work.

  • Does what I have written make sense?
  • Does it answer the question?
  • Have I provided a reference and a clear link to my topic area?

If the answer to any of these three questions is ‘no’, then the section you have read will need to be redrafted. Once you have finished rereading your work and noted the sections which did not address the dissertation topic (from the questions above) you will be aware of that which needs to be rewritten. You will also be aware of how many words you need to cut or add, as well as how many additional references you need to add.

If you have not decided to use a professional service, try to exchange dissertations with another student so that each of you may gain a more objective perspective of the writing. Asking someone to read – critically – ten thousand or more words is a considerable favour and you will need to ensure time is allowed for this. Proof reading is an important component of this process. You have lived and breathed your dissertation for months, often re-reading the same section of text dozens of times. It is easy to miss minor errors because you know the work so well that it is hard not to ‘skim’ some sections. Do not rely on MSWord (or similar) to find all the errors. Homophones (words which sound the same but are spelt differently and have different meanings) are common in English and are frequently missed by word processors. MSWord may also erroneously flag sentences as fragments, or reject the passive voice. Remember that professional writers use independent proof readers routinely and thus you should not be ashamed to seek to have your work checked by someone else.

Ideally you will have timetabled your research and draft writing to give yourself at least a month to rewrite sections of your dissertation. In my experience, a First class dissertation usually takes three substantial rewrites to ensure that every sentence flows, every section is erudite, and that every point is well made. In addition, compiling a proper bibliography and ensuring that your work conforms to all the academic conventions required in the handbook for your course takes a good week of work. Do not under-estimate how long this will take; a bibliography will take at least ten hours to check and format correctly, and issues such as incorrectly formatted margins, page numbers, fonts and similar will result in penalties that are easily avoided.


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