Red Pen Editorial

Finalising your dissertation

hands writing in a notebook with a laptop and coffee nearby

1. Allow plenty of time for this stage

Hopefully, you have allowed two weeks at the end to put the final draft away while you sort out your bibliography (which always takes longer than expected). Then when your mind is clear, go back and re-read the draft then – you will spot typos and grammatical errors more easily after a break.

2. Check your word count

The word count usually includes all of the body text, subheadings, and footnotes. It usually excludes the bibliography. Check your draft to see whether you have gone over and where you can cut it back. Look for repeated points before you try trimming down and rephrasing – look for the big easy cuts first.

3. Check your argument

Does it convince you of what you’re trying to say? Is every major point backed up with evidence (a quotation, fact, or statistic)? Check that every paragraph contains its key information and is clearly linked to the title or signals its key point. Is the structure clear? Are the main transitions in the discussion clearly flagged up?

4. Check your tables, statistics, and any illustrations

Are they clearly presented? Are they accurate? Are any sources credited appropriately? Are quotations accurate and clearly referenced? Do you have permissions to use any copyrighted material and is it properly credited?

5. Make sure every section is well organised and says what you want it to

Have you left anything out? Does it read well? Is it all clearly related to your title/question? Are the stages in your discussion clearly signalled?

6. Ask for help if you need it

If you don’t feel entirely confident, you can ask a professional copy-editor to help with the final polishing and presentation. If this is for assessed work you must check with your tutor whether this is permitted. If it isn’t, your college or university will have centralised academic writing support services available to all students, and they can help with more detailed support than is provided in these tips.

If you have dyslexia you may be able to pay for copy-editing support with your Disabled Students’ Allowance. Your words will still be yours and the copy-editor will not bring any subject knowledge to bear. But a good copy-editor can help you make sure that your work is presented to its best advantage. It should be:

  • Within the word limit
  • Well organised, with an argument that flows naturally from one point to the next
  • Free of typos and grammatical errors
  • Correctly referenced both in footnotes and bibliography
  • Well presented with a contents page and correct heading levels

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