How many thesis drafts do you need to write?

August 31, 2011

There will always be more you can do.But there's also got to come a point where it's good enough to submit your thesis and get on with your life.So here are a few guidelines to revising your thesis from one draft to the next.

First Draft

The content shouldn't come as a complete surprise to your supervisor if you've been communicating during your research.At the very least, you should discuss what you're going to put in and a rough outline before you start writing.Still, it's going to come back with quite a lot of suggested changes, whether it's spelling mistakes, factual errors, or changes in the structure or style. That's OK, as long as you're clear about what they want you to do to make it better.If there's even the slightest doubt, ask.

Second Draft

Any major changes should have been made, and it should be pretty close to the final thing, though there'll probably be a few new mistakes in there.At this point, your supervisor shouldn't suggest any major new sections. If they do... well why didn't they say so after the first draft? This is why it's so important to clarify what they want you to do after the first draft.

Third Draft

By this point, there should be no obvious technical mistakes or bits missing.There will still be spelling errors, there will still be more you could do, but from this point on, any further rounds of revision will have a rapidly diminishing effect on the quality of your thesis.

The hardest thing to edit...

The most difficult thing to edit is your writing style. If in doubt, keep your sentences as short as you can. This will generally make them clearer, and clarity is king.

How to avoid endless rounds of revision

Of course some chapters might take a fourth draft to get right, but if it's going up to 6 or 7, then it's just silly. Here's how to avoid getting into that situation.

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PhD: an uncommon guide to research, writing & PhD life

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