Skip to content

Revising Your Dissertation

Don't underestimate the time required to review and revise your dissertation. In this third and final part of our series, we look at how to do a good job of editing.

Review your work as a whole

Keep your outline plan in front of you, and go through your work as a whole. Have you developed a clear argument in response to your central question or dissertation title?

Make sure the content matches the title appropriately – don't be afraid to re-phrase your dissertation topic if you've shifted focus while writing or you want to do so while reviewing.

Have you defined key words and concepts early on? That way you remove the risk of confusing the reader. Try to imagine a friend or member of your family who has no knowledge of the subject reading your dissertation, and ask yourself whether you have done enough to explain each term and concept.

Review each section

Read over each section, and make up a title for it to help you check that all points and details are directly relevant.

Does the content all belong in this section? Highlight anything that might be better placed in another section or could be cut, such as parts that are peripheral to the discussion or have been repeated elsewhere.

Is there too much description and not enough analysis? You may need to be more explicit about the implications of a point. In other words, make it clearer to the reader why the point is included, and how it helps to address the problems or questions within your inquiry.

Review each paragraph

Ensure that the first sentence of each paragraph introduces the idea you want to communicate and shows how this paragraph relates to the discussion so far.

Opening phrases such as: "In addition to this problem," "Furthermore," "However," and "In contrast to this view," can help to clarify this relationship. Bear in mind that each paragraph should have just one key idea.

Subsequent sentences in the paragraph might include:
• An explanation or development of the point you're making
• A quote or indirect reference from your reading that supports it
• An example of your own
• A hint at what still remains to be addressed

Review each sentence

When editing such a large document, it's easy to make simple mistakes. Make sure that you have no sentences longer than three lines and carefully review all punctuation.

To help you with this, read each sentence aloud. Check all quotations are surrounded by quotation marks – double or single, as long as you are consistent throughout – check for common homophone errors (like their/there and advice/advise), and ensure your apostrophes are in the right place.

Identify the main subject of each sentence and the main action. Are they buried among too many unnecessary words and phrases? Cut every unnecessary word and read again.

Don't underestimate the importance of spellchecking and pay particular attention to the spellings of key names and theories. Make sure your use of capital letters is both correct and consistent.

Thanks to Goldsmiths University for supplying this content.

The University of Nebraska Press does not consider unrevised dissertations. Considerable differences exist between a dissertation and a book, and even the best dissertation will need to be revised before being submitted for publication. Most commonly, scholars seeking to publish their revised dissertations will need to do the following:

Eliminate or drastically reduce the “review of scholarly literature” section. While it may be a standard feature of dissertations, such a review is superfluous in a book. You are no longer writing for your committee in fulfillment of degree requirements; you are writing as an authority on your chosen subject matter.

Pare down your notes. Most dissertations have roughly twice as many notes as necessary. Again, you are now the authority. As such, exhaustive notation is overly defensive, not proof of sound scholarship.

Eliminate discursive notes. If the facts or details in a note are important, incorporate them into your text; if not, delete them. Too often, notes become places to park extraneous information. Resist that temptation.

Likewise, pare down and streamline your bibliography.

Weed out scaffolding. Many dissertations are highly structured: authors might begin each chapter with a statement of what is going to be argued and conclude with a statement of what has been argued, or they might divide each chapter into excessive headings and subheadings. Recast your manuscript to improve its narrative flow.

Cut, cut, cut. At every possible turn, tighten your prose. Sharpen your argument. Eliminate irrelevant detail. Trust your readers to remember previous content. Repetition and wordiness only weaken a manuscript.