5 thesis hacks from an academic proofreader

It’s no surprise that I recommend students preparing to submit a major piece of written work use a proofreading service. You might be putting together your longest and most complex piece of writing yet, and the stakes are likely high.

That said, hiring a proofreader can be prohibitively expensive and, as with so much else in life, you tend to get what you pay for. As a result, many candidates turn to friends and family for a last read-through before submission. That’s a great idea! But there’s a lot you can do for yourself at every stage of the drafting process, long before you enlist your nearest and dearest.

Here’s five tips to help improve your writing, sharpen your style and (gently) manage your loved ones as they check your final draft:

Watch your tone

Do assume we know the basics, and briefly summarise anything else. Don’t be afraid to tell us when an opinion is personal – consider this your written permission to do so in the first person. Remember: you can write in academic register without being elitist, just like you can write with clarity without dumbing down.

Read academic writing

Your lit review isn’t just a way to demonstrate knowledge of your subject; it’s an opportunity to see how published professionals in your field communicate their ideas. This doesn’t mean copying a particular author’s style; rather, it means recognising what is and isn’t effective about a given text. Like an article? Write down five reasons why, then use the list to influence your own work.

Consistency = clarity

A typical thesis features aims, objectives and research questions that are restated throughout the document. If you know a section of text is going to be repeated, keep it in a separate file. Make any changes to this ‘master’ version and paste it wherever you need at the end of the drafting stage. You can even store multiple items on Word’s clipboard, so the latest versions are always at your fingertips.

Heads up

Headings and subheadings help you to organise your thoughts, structure your argument and make the workload more manageable. Microsoft Word users should set aside some time to learn how to use Word Styles – these can help with presentation, but they’ll also help readers navigate your work. Use them properly and you’ll be able to auto-compile a table of contents, and even lists of figures, tables and other visuals. Best of all, these lists are interactive, meaning readers can use them to navigate your thesis with one click – even when you convert the file to PDF.

Use a (bunch of) proofreader(s)

Good writing isn’t done in a vacuum, so be prepared to share. Full-time proofreaders scan texts looking for one or two issues at a time, so take a look at this checklist and assign the items on it to different family members. Oh, and change the font for anyone doubling up: it tricks the brain into thinking you’re reading something new – reinvigorating that all-important hawk-eye.