Revising your work may seem like a tedious and dispiriting prospect, but it’s here that some of the most important work gets done. This is where you move from the phase of getting your ideas and information down on paper to the phase of thinking about how best to communicate with your

readers. Of course, we’ve been looking at aspects of communication all the way through this resource, and as you revise, you may want to go back to previous sections and also forward to the section on “Language of the Thesis”. In particular, you may need to revisit the section titled “Challenges of the Midsection”, where signposting and cohesion were discussed. But in this section, I’m assuming that you haven’t necessarily got all of that worked out in your drafts to date, and that’s fine. As I’ve said earlier, it can be very liberating just to write your first draft without worrying about this sort of stuff, but that means that it’s very important to have a method of bringing that draft under control once you HAVE written it, and that’s what I’m going to show you now. And let me just flag that this is probably the most useful thing I know of to show people about the writing process.

Professional writers tell us that revision should be done in stages, attending first to the most important things – are your ideas all there and do they make sense? – is the material well structured? – and then to matters of editing and proofreading, which are certainly important, but not AS important as structure.

Revising for Structure

When you’ve drafted a chapter, then print it out. At this stage, you need to be able to manipulate the whole thing on paper. Now, next to each paragraph, in the margin, write in a few words what point it’s making. As you know, a paragraph should be focused on one idea, and present the examples and evidence necessary to show this idea to your reader.

If a paragraph isn’t making any point, ask yourself what job it’s doing in there; if it’s not doing anything useful, then weed it out. If it is useful, but you haven’t yet put its point into words, do that now, and put the sentence you’ve made at the beginning of the paragraph. If the point is already in there, but buried in the middle or the end of the paragraph, consider putting it at the beginning, as the

topic sentence. This will make it easier for your reader to recognize your point. If any of your

paragraphs deal with more than one point, split them into separate paragraphs, so each point gets a paragraph of its own (and its own topic sentence).

Now, read down your margins so you can see what points you’ve made, and in what order, without getting bogged down in the writing. If you’ve dealt with any one point in different places, bring that material together, getting rid of any repetition. (Use your scissors and sticky tape; move pieces around on the floor! The reason you’re doing this with paper is that you can see the whole chapter at once, unlike when you read it on your computer screen.) Now look at the sequence of points throughout the draft. Do they flow logically? You can try them out in a different order, if you think that could be more sensible.

When you’re happy with the order, check the transitions between your paragraphs. If there seems to be no obvious reason why one paragraph follows another, figure out what the reason is and get that connection in. It may just take a word or two in the opening sentence of the following paragraph – “however, on the other hand, furthermore, in fact, for example, in the event”. But don’t just put in a

connecting word for the sake of appearing to make a connection! If your word suggests a connection that isn’t really there, you’ll just look confused. Figure out what the connection is, and what word or phrase is best to express it. It may take a whole sentence, or, in a long and complex section, even a short paragraph.

Steps in brief:

Print out your chapter; get ready to literally cut and paste!

Each paragraph should make a point, in its topic (first) sentence, then develop it fully before the next paragraph looks at something that’s different in some way. By labeling each paragraph in your draft with a few words in the margin, you can:

• Make an outline of your whole draft

• See if you’ve dealt with any point in more than one place, bring that material together, and weed out the overlaps.

See if any paragraph doesn’t make any recognizable point. If there is a point to be made, make it; if not, take it out.

• See if any paragraph makes more than one point. If so, separate material into two (or more) paragraphs.

• See if the material flows logically; if not, try rearranging it till it does.

• See if you’ve shown connections between ideas, transitions from one section to the next. Write any missing links.

Revising Your Introduction

Once you’ve got all that under control, you can go back to the beginning of your draft and write a good introduction, because now you know what you’re introducing! Like the introduction to the thesis as a whole, the intro to each chapter is also best written, or at least best revisited, after you’ve written the rest of the chapter. What you’re doing in these introductions will vary, according to what you’re doing in the thesis, but Evans (1995, pp. 8-9) tells us that each chapter introduction should link that chapter to earlier parts of thesis; make it clear why we need this chapter; convey the aim of the chapter, what function it performs in the thesis; and signpost what’s coming up (not with a list of chapter “contents”, but with a passage that makes the connections between the parts of the chapter explicit). Each chapter should also, he says, have a conclusion – not so much a summary of what you found out, but a paragraph about the significance of what you found out. -- Reference: Evans, D. (1995). How to Write a Better Thesis or Report. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press

Checking Your Revision

When you have made all the necessary changes on your computer draft to match what you’ve achieved with the scissors and paste, there’s a quick way of checking how effective your revision has been. You just make a new file and paste in the structural bits of your draft – the introduction, the topic sentence of each paragraph, maybe the final sentence of each paragraph as well, and the conclusion. That will give you one long paragraph that should make sense, and should convey the argument of the chapter.

Steps in brief:

How coherent is each chapter?

Make a separate file and paste in just • your introductory paragraph,

• the first sentence of each subsequent paragraph, and • the concluding paragraph.

Reading this as one continuous passage, does it make sense?

If not, try adding after each first sentence, the last sentence of that paragraph; now does it make sense? If not, worry.

Checking Revision of the Whole Thesis

You can use a similar method to find out how coherent the whole thesis is. In a new file, paste in your introductory paragraph(s), then the introductory and concluding paragraphs of each chapter, and then the concluding paragraph(s) of the thesis. When you read the result as one continuous passage, does this make sense?

Online Resources

In the section on “Challenges of the Midsection”, I gave you a list of online resources where you can find advice and language suggestions to help you with structural parts of your writing like introducing, signposting, linking and transitions. I’m repeating that list here, so you have it handy.

The website of the Writing Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has an explanation of “Transitions”, and a collection of useful phrases, at

Under the heading “Signalling”, at the website of the Centre for Academic and Professional Literacies at the Institute of Education, University of London, you can find another paragraph with the cohesive devices highlighted:

The University of Lancaster, Student Learning Development Centre’s website on “Writing”: at the page on “Organisation”, click on “Cohesive Markers” and “Signposting”

At Monash University’s website, “Learning Support for Higher Degree Research Students”, read the sections on

• “Signposting” • “Connecting ideas”

At the Finnish Virtual University, read the material on “Metatext” by Pennington, Miraftabi, Pitkanen, and McAnsh:

Editing and Proofreading

Now you can focus on revising the language of your thesis, the editing, the references – those things do need to be done, even if they aren’t as important as the structure of the argument. In fact, if you’re utterly exhausted by now, there’s a risk that you may underestimate how important it is to get your proofreading right. But there’s nothing like careless errors to make your examiners lose confidence in you not just as a writer, but also as a researcher. This may seem unfair – shouldn’t they look through your errors and focus on your ideas? – but probably

they can’t! It’s like trying to concentrate on the traffic when you’ve got parrot poo on your windscreen. Yes, the traffic’s more important, but the splash is more riveting. Certainly, ideas are more important than proofreading, but the proofreading (or lack of it) is in the way. A study of how examiners assess PhD theses found that “One of the most common descriptors of a poor thesis by these experienced examiners, across all disciplines, was ‘sloppiness’ ” – because it suggested that the research, too, might be sloppy. One examiner said that students must be careful, and I’m quoting here, “not to ‘flip’ an examiner from ‘reasonable’ to ‘unreasonable’ by having … typos and other careless textual mistakes that indicate lack of attention to detail. Once flipped… , I am irritated and have to work very hard at overcoming this irritation and not letting it influence my view of the thesis, although this is not easy”. This comes from an article called “It’s a PhD, not a Nobel Prize: How experienced examiners assess research theses”, and you may like to go and read the article online.

Reference: Mullins, G. & Kiley, M. (2002). “’It’s a PhD, not a Nobel Prize: How experienced examiners assess research theses”. Studies in Higher Education 27 (4). Available online at

Online Resources: Editing and Proofreading

You can find more advice about editing and proofreading online, at the web addresses below: The University of Queensland’s Student Services site, “PhD -- First Thoughts to Finished Writing” has “Frequently Asked Questions” at

services/linkto/phdwriting/fr_phfaq.html. Click on “PhD Stages”, then “Finishing Touches”, then “Revising and editing”.

Monash University’s website “Learning Support for Higher Degree Research Students” deals with “Editing and Proofreading” at

In document Thesis Thoughts for Postgraduate Students in Humanities and Social Sciences (Page 32-35)