Written by Dr. Hannes Nel
As a last snippet of information on writing and reviewing a thesis or dissertation, I briefly discuss the following salient issue in this article:
- The title page for thesis or dissertation.
- Proofreading the manuscript.
- Adding appendices to a thesis or dissertation.
- Using a review checklist.
- Presentation of the thesis or dissertation.
The title page
The title should convey clearly and succinctly the topic being researched. Avoid obscure and unnecessarily lengthy titles. Some universities recommend that titles should not exceed 15 words. Start off with a working title and revisit and reformulate as you read for greater focus.
Proofreading is primarily about searching for errors, both grammatical and typographical, before submitting your manuscript to a study leader. You need to take note of the technical and editorial requirements for a thesis or dissertation as prescribed by the university.
Do not underestimate the importance of proofreading. It does not matter how good your langue proficiency is, you should still have your thesis or dissertation language-edited. Language editors can also make mistakes and miss errors, therefore you should still personally read the final draft of your thesis with utmost care, correcting all typing errors before you present the completed thesis to your study leader.
It helps to determine in advance what to look for when proofreading your manuscript. This process of individualisation can be done by preparing a checklist of criteria against which you can test your work.
Experienced researchers will know what common errors and flaws to look out for and they can often search for these by computer, thereby rendering the proofreading process more efficient and effective than if they were to blindly read the entire manuscript. Even so, it is always a good idea to read everything as many times as you possibly can. It also helps to ask somebody else to critically read the manuscript because we tend to miss our own mistakes. You should find out what your typical problem areas are and look for each type of error individually. There is no single right way in which to do proofreading, so the following are just guidelines:
- Find out what errors you typically make. This is something that comes with experience and writing even just one thesis or dissertation will already give you a good idea of the kind of errors that you tend to make repeatedly. Your study leader can point out such bad habits and help you understand why you make the errors so that you can learn to be on the lookout for them and to avoid them.
- Learn how to fix your common errors. Use a structured proofreading process. Some students prefer to read the assignment or thesis from the back to the front, others read chapters or sections in a specific sequence, others read word-by word (which is very time-consuming, but effective). Review your study leader’s comments about your writing and/or have your thesis or dissertation reviewed by a language editor. Learn what facilities your computer and software offer you with which you can correct errors more quickly.
- Take a break. Allow yourself time between writing and proofreading. It is not healthy to sit behind your desk all day, especially if you work on computer. Besides, taking a short break every hour or so will help you get some distance from, and allow you time to think about what you have written. Any researcher can testify that taking a break and sleeping on a challenge can do wonders to findings solutions to challenges, and seeing what you have written more clearly in your mind.
- Leave yourself enough time to review what you have written. Working against time seldom, if ever, works when writing and proofreading. Deep thinking is necessary, and it requires thinking about what you have written and the message that you wish to convey. Reading what you have written critically will help you to see a multitude of possible errors, such as cognitive dissonance, spelling errors, typing errors, subjectivity and many more. Always read through your writing slowly and think about what you have written. If you read at normal speed, you will not give your eyes and mind sufficient time to spot errors.
- Read aloud when you are alone. Reading aloud encourages you to read word by word. This is rather strenuous and almost impossible for most people who need to read hundreds of pages. However, it is effective when you find a sentence, paragraph or argument difficult to understand. Besides, any statement that you find difficult to understand will most certainly also confuse and frustrate those who read it but did not write it. It might even be an indication of plagiarism. Therefore, such sentences, paragraphs or arguments should be reformulated, motivated, explained or omitted.
- Role-play and “predict”. Especially procedures can be tested by simulating them. You should also try to foresee how your study leader will react to what you have written. It would be irresponsible to submit work that you know is not good enough, especially if you know that the chances are good that the study leader will not be satisfied with it. You should also think how other readers will respond to your work. If you doubt that they will understand, agree with or like your arguments, you will need to change them or motivate them as well as you possibly can.
- Ask others for feedback. Asking a friend, your wife or husband, a colleague or a language editor to read your manuscript will let you get another perspective on your writing. A different reader will be able to help you catch mistakes that you might have overlooked, although people close to you might not always be completely honest and objective in their feedback.
Make use of appendices to provide the reader with evidence that substantiates arguments made in the thesis or dissertation but is too long to include in the body. Appendices can also explain long processes and provide additional and complete information on aspects that appear in the main text that are too long to include in a specific chapter or section. Appendices should be numbered.
A review checklist
It is unlikely that your study leader or any of the external assessors will use a checklist to assess your thesis or dissertation. They are mostly experienced academics and deficiencies in your work are likely to attract their attention. Even so, you can use a checklist to spot most of the deficiencies that they might find.
Presentation of the thesis or dissertation
Dissemination is the process by which you communicate your thesis or dissertation, its findings and recommendations, to other potentially interested parties. You might need to present your findings to the following possible interested parties before and after you have submitted your thesis or dissertation for graduation purposes:
- within your organisation,
- to meetings where people from similar organisations and fields of interest gather,
- to your union branch,
- to professional associations,
- to a local adult education group, and
- at national or international conferences.
There are also various formats in which you might present your work, for example as a lecture (or series of lectures), at a seminar, at a workshop, etc. Whichever format you adopt, you will need to give some thought (and practice) to how you present, particularly if you have not done this kind of thing before.
Really confident and eloquent speakers can just sit or stand and talk for however much time is needed or available; or, at least, they seem to be able to do so. Most of us, however, need supports of some kind or another.
The days of ‘chalk and talk’ seem now long gone, and even overhead transparencies are already old fashioned. The more dynamic speakers can still work wonders with a flipchart and pens, scribbling down ideas and issues as they arise. PowerPoint presentation is currently in fashion, but you should be careful not to overdo it or to use it incorrectly, for example by writing everything on slides and then reading off from them. Whatever form of presentation you adopt, planning and practice will be necessary.
The title of your thesis must be clear, short, and relevant to the topic of your research.
You should personally proofread the manuscript for your thesis or dissertation.
Check for grammar and typographical errors.
Make sure that you meet the technical and editorial requirements of the university.
You should have your manuscript language-edited.
You can use dedicated computer software and a checklist to proofread your manuscript.
The following guidelines can improve the efficiency and effectiveness of your proofreading:
- Find out what errors you typically make.
- Learn how to fix your common errors.
- Take a break.
- Leave yourself enough time to review what you have written.
- Read aloud when you are alone.
- Role-play and “predict”.
- Ask others for feedback.
Check that you use appendices to substantiate arguments, explain long processes and to provide additional information.
You should disseminate your thesis or dissertation to other potential and real interested parties.
This is the last of the 109 videos and articles on research methodology that I made and posted.
I will now prepare a ten to twenty question test on each video.
Those of you who watched the videos on the Mentornet online platform (https://mentornetonline.co.za/videoCourses.php) can do the tests at no additional cost. You can repeat the tests as many times as you wish and, once you have successfully completed all 109 tests, you will automatically be issued with a Mentornet Proficiency Certificate in Research Methodology.
Study leaders and lecturers who are in the know will know that you not only worked through the entire research process on master’s and doctoral level, but also that you understand the concepts and processes.
You can also gain access to the videos for free on YOUTUBE. However, here we post only one video per week.
Also, you will, unfortunately, not be able to do the tests if you did not watch the videos on the Mentornet online platform.
Enjoy your studies.