By Shaun Stevenson, PhD Student, Carleton University

Shawn StevensonThis article provides a number of key ideas that will help you edit and revise your dissertation. There’s no hard and fast way to approach the editing and revision process, but there are a number of strategic tactics that will help you to manage your time and avoid being buried under a backlog of work in need of significant revisions.

Strategize your editing

Editing large sections of your dissertation can appear daunting, not to mention that the entire document will require a full and careful edit upon completion. The Guardian’s three-part series on “dissertation dos and don’ts” includes a helpful article on how to review and revise your dissertation. The article recommends a funnel-down approach, suggesting you review your work as a whole, review each section on its own, review each paragraph, and finally, review each sentence. This approach allows you to analyze your overall project for content, coherence, and cohesiveness, while also paying close attention to sentence structure, grammar, etc, on a sentence-by-sentence basis.

There are dozens of tips that can help you through the editing and revision process. Here’s just a handful of the most commonly emphasized practices:

  • Read your work aloud, paying careful attention to each and every sentence.
  • Identify topic sentences as you edit paragraphs and sections. If you can’t identify a topic sentence, your argument may have lost focus.
  • Make notes in the margins, listing the main points from each paragraph. This will help you to ensure that your argument is unfolding in a linear, coherent way, and provide you with easy reference points as you work through your dissertation.
  • Pay careful attention to quotation marks and in-text citations. Minor citation errors, while easily overlooked, are not a minor issue.
  • Keep your proposal or chapter outlines handy as you edit. Have you done what you set out to do? Do the sections flow logically from one to the next? Are they clearly tied to your central argument? If not, revise!
  • Have your work edited by multiple people, both inside and outside of your field. Often, those with a greater distance from your work best catch the most glaring issues. This last point brings me to my next section.

Address edits and revisions promptly

You should think of editing as an ongoing process. Most supervisors will request to review chapters or chapter sections at various stages of your writing. When you have received your supervisor’s comments on a draft of your work, you should revise that particular chapter or piece immediately. This allows you to apply your supervisor’s comments while they’re fresh in your mind and to avoid the accumulation of unaddressed edits. Significant edits and requests for revisions can even potentially change the shape and direction of your dissertation; address these comments as they come in to ensure that you and your supervisor remain on the same page throughout the writing process.

Peer review and collective editing

The simplest and most informal way to workshop your research is with a group of like-minded colleagues. Create a weekly reading group, critically engage with each other’s work and provide feedback. Find someone you trust and whose work you respect, and edit one another’s work on a regular basis. Building small networks of fellow researchers as you complete your dissertation not only provides you with critical and diverse feedback, but also makes the whole experience less solitary and isolating.

Back-up your work with each edit

Emphasizing the necessity of backing up your work surely goes without saying, and yet, we’ve all heard the horror stories of months, or even years, worth of work lost to a crashed hard drive. Editing and revising can often take your work in directions you hadn’t intended. Saving your work in separate drafts will allow you to return to an original idea that you’ve edited over. Back these drafts up on external or third party servers. You’ll end up with multiple versions of your dissertation, ideally saved in a number of locations. Clearly identify the file names, as you never know what revisions you might want to return to.

Editing, reviewing, and revising your dissertation are integral aspects of a successfully submitted dissertation project. While there’s no standardized way to approach this process, find a method that works for you and stick to it from the beginning.

Other articles in this series can be found in our Grad Student Blog section.