How many thesis drafts do you need to write?

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.

  • Discuss the thesis structure with your supervisor before you start
  • Plan chapters before you sit down to write, so you know what you’re going to include before you start
  • Give chapters to your supervisor one at a time, rather than drafts of the entire thesis
  • Don’t keep doing new research once you start writing. If you do need to do some extra, stop writing, finish the research!

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Writing your thesis in a second language (Part 2)

<<< Read Part One

5 things you can do to make it easier to write your thesis in a second language

1. Don’t translate

The more you think in the language you’re writing in, the easier it will be to express yourself clearly.

If you translate a fully formed sentence directly from your native language, it won’t flow naturally since different languages have different ways of structuring ideas.

So switch your brain to think in your thesis-writing language. It’ll save you a lot of time and improve your writing.

2. Edit

Don’t worry about getting a sentence perfect first time. Everybody has to edit, whether you’re a native speaker or not.

The first version of any sentence is for your eyes only, so it doesn’t matter how good it is. Get it down on the page, then try to make it better if you can.

3. Keep it simple

Shorter sentences are clearer.

When you edit your work, try to make your sentences short, clear and simple.

It’s easier for the examiner to read, and easier for you to write.

4. Play with the language

When you get stuck editing a sentence, is there another way you could say it? For example;

  • Are there alternative sentence structures?
  • Can you write it a different way?
  • Could you rearrange the sentence?
  • Is there a better way to get your point across?

One problem you can have is when the same sentence structure repeats again and again. It doesn’t matter so much when you speak, but it’s very noticeable when it’s written.

Look at the first words in each line of this post. You’ll notice that “when” repeats in two lines close to each other. Normally I’d change that.

Still try to keep it simple, and don’t change things if it’ll make your sentences more complicated, but there are almost always alternatives to choose from.

5. Plan ahead

Your thesis is all about leading the examiner through your research, so you have to know where you want to take them.

Plan the key points you want to cover, first by writing down every idea you can think of on paper, then by putting them in order.

That way when you’re writing you can concentrate on one section at a time, without worrying about what comes next.

 

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Writing your thesis in a second language (Part 1)

OK, this one’s tough…

… But I’m not interested in why it’s difficult. If you have to write your thesis in your second (or third or fourth) language, how can you make it easier for yourself?

Ideally, it should start long before you sit down to write your thesis, so here are some things you can do from day one.

Practice Writing.

If you sign up for a postgraduate degree, you know what language you’ll have to write in, so start practicing as soon as possible.

That doesn’t mean pulling out all your old grammar textbooks, learning the rules and going through set exercises. It’s not only boring, but also a terrible way to learn a language.

Practice by using the language in writing at every opportunity. Need to send an email? Try new sentence constructions and new vocabulary.

Don’t over-complicate things, just try to just push your ability a little bit each time.

Why email?

One of the basic principles of learning anything is that it’s very, very difficult to learn or improve a skill under stress.

In conversation you have to speak without thinking too much. People understand, but it might not be technically correct or the way a native speaker would say it.

Even when corrected (which might not often happen), you’ll soon revert to the way that you’re accustomed to speaking.

Zero pressure

Writing email, you can take your time, stop, check and rethink phrases without any pressure. You’re also practicing writing the things you naturally want to say, rather than what a textbook author thinks you might need.

(If you don’t have a native speaker to email, try to find one. Or you can probably email your supervisor in English. There is always a solution.)

Practice Reading.

Pick a research or review paper written by a native speaker, and related to your subject.

But don’t read it from start to finish, just read one section or paragraph at a time over several days, and look at the language style.

Is that sentence written the way you would write it? Is there a difference in meaning because of the word order? Or is it different in tone or formality?

I don’t understand that… How can I use it?

When you notice something new, or something you don’t understand, before moving on with reading you should ask yourself, “how can I use it?”

Keep a notebook, write down no more than 2 or 3 things then try to use them in real-life writing over the next few days.

Language Resources

My favorite is definitely Wordreference.com

It doesn’t do translation (online translation is unreliable anyway), but is an amazing resource. Full dictionary definitions, verb conjugations and so on, and online forums where you can see native speakers’ translations of phrases and ask questions.

If you have any great language resources you want to share, comment below!

Coming up in Part 2…

Stuff you can do once you start writing the actual thesis…