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Preparing a PhD for proofreading

Posted on 6th February 2016

This blog looks at some hints and tips about things to consider when starting to write your PhD thesis or when getting your final draft ready for proofreading.

Well, this blog is about preparing any academic text, be it a thesis, dissertation or article, for publication, but that would have made the title less punchy, and I like the alliteration.

I work on quite a few PhD theses and often encounter similar issues, so I thought I'd write this blog for those of you in the process of writing up your research. My remit for proofreading work that is going to be submitted is clarified on my academic services page, and though I can help point out inconsistencies or make amendments if a few errors slip through, I can't implement styles or systems from scratch. Some universities have very clear guidelines for students to use, and others suggest following general styles, such as APA; if this is the case, make sure you follow those rules. This blog doesn't look at the trials and tribulations of the reference section; I could write a thesis on that alone!

  • Tense. When referring to other literature, do you want to use the present or the past tense? Sometimes variation is OK when saying that someone wrote something in the past but that the findings still show X, but I regularly see a mix of tenses throughout, regardless of what it relates to. If in doubt, ask your supervisor or check some publications in your field to see what's used there.
  • Order of in-text references. The reference section at the end is usually alphabetical but I often see in-text references, for example (Bloggs, 2001; Jones, 2003; Smith, 2008), in a mix of orders, sometimes alphabetical, sometimes chronological and sometimes a random mix. If in doubt, choose a style and stick to it. Mention that preference to the proofreader and any that fall through the net can be picked up, but if the file comes to me with no clear style, I can only comment for you to then amend throughout. At that stage, new errors may be introduced and they probably won't get checked again.
  • Length of text in displayed quotes. Often, when a quote is more than 40 words long, it gets offset in the file, using smaller font and single-line spacing and has no quote marks around it. Some styles stipulate 50 words or more, and others have rules about how a quote is to be treated depending on whether it's a complete sentence or not. If you aren't given a set rule, choose your own and stick to it.
  • ise or ize. UK English accepts both ize and ise endings, as I wrote about here. I won't repeat those details but just want to emphasise that although either is fine, make sure you're consistent. The exception of course is in relation to quotes, which need to be left with the original spelling.
  • I/we/the author. There are two issues here. First, are you allowed to refer to yourself in the first person and if so, is it consistent? Second, if it's just you who's done the work and written it, using 'we' might confuse readers. If your university or style guide wants you to avoid using passive language, it becomes very wordy and cumbersome to also avoid using the first person pronoun. However, it's worth checking this and making sure you follow the submission requirements. I've worked for journals with very specific guidelines on this sort of thing, and you don't want to be rejected for publication due to fairly basic language issues.

Written by Kate Haigh.