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6 Do’s and don’ts of editing your dissertation

Picture this: You’ve just finished up the last paragraph of a section in your dissertation. Now comes the time to read over the whole chapter and edit it, even though you feel that you’ve been over it a million times, so maybe you’ll be fine without editing—right? Wrong. Editing your dissertation is one of the most important things you’ll do before submitting it and earning your doctorate, so here are some do’s and don’ts of editing your dissertation.

Do edit your dissertation. Some students believe they can quickly read through their dissertation (having just finished it) and pass that off as “editing.” However, carefully editing by reading each line of text is important. Understandably, students get tired of looking at their paper, but if you have the time, take a few days to recharge your batteries before reading it again.

Don’t edit as you write. It’s definitely easier said than done, but getting your thoughts on paper should be your first priority. You’re usually going to be typing up the paper instead of etching it in stone, so you have the freedom to leave sentences and paragraphs unedited. A good time to start editing is when you get writer’s block; read over some content to edit, and get re-inspired.

Do think about hiring an editor. You’ve spent months (and years) looking at this document, so don’t automatically rule out hiring an editor. You can find quality services at good prices if you do your research. Some dissertation editors even customize their services to fit your needs, so if you only want to have one or two chapters edited, remember that you have options. They can also make sure you are following university guidelines so you don’t have to deal with angry committee members.

Don’t forget about friends. Your family and friends have been there to support you through this whole journey, so most of them would be happy to read through your dissertation for a quick proofread. Though they might not be professional editors, they can help point out awkward phrases and tie up any loose ends (e.g., double words, missed periods, etc.). Also, colleagues in the program with you will already know about university guidelines, so they would be great help to you.

Do edit your dissertation in stages. However you decide to divide up your dissertation and edit it is up to you. You might physically chunk it into sections or chapters (usually, the smaller chunks are easier to handle) or editorially chunk it (e.g., edit for tense/voice in one revision, edit for university guidelines in another revision, etc.). Either way, provide plenty of time between writing and editing the same chunk.

Don’t try to edit the whole dissertation in one sitting. Reading through potentially hundreds of pages can be daunting, especially if you have already gone through a couple of chunked revisions. Committee members, friends, and editors probably do not read dissertations in one sitting, so why edit it all at once? Instead, try chapter by chapter or by sections within chapters. However, don’t break up the dissertation the same way you chunked editing revisions because you’ll need to see how chapters and sections of the dissertation flow together.

Editing an entire dissertation can be intimidating, but if you take your time, focus on chunked information, and allow others to help in the revision process, you’ll feel more confident in the end. Happy editing!

Ami HansonAmi Hanson is an Editor and Content Specialist at Elite Research, LLC. Elite Research is a global provider of research, editing, and statistical consulting. Please visit our site and like our Facebook page to learn how you can receive editing services for your dissertations, manuscripts, grant proposals, and more.


bootcampJoin TAA’s Dissertators United Chapter and gain access to the resources you need to improve your writing, enhance your productivity, and ultimately complete your dissertation. Dissertators United Chapter members can participate in TAA’s DU Chapter Writing Boot Camp series, featuring nine monthly virtual writing boot camps to help keep you motivated and productive, moving you closer to the dissertation finish line. TAA is also offering a Dissertators United Chapter Writing Boot Camp series, featuring nine monthly virtual writing boot camps to help keep you motivated and productive, moving you closer to the dissertation finish line.

The second boot camp will be held September 20-21 and will feature a mini webinar titled “Writing with POWER”, presented by Margarita Huerta, Assistant Professor of English Language Learning/Early Childhood Education at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. As a postdoctoral research assistant, Huerta was integrally involved with P.O.W.E.R. Writing Services program at Texas A&M University, a program that provides “motivational and instrumental support for graduate students’ and faculty’s academic writing”. In this webinar she will share tools and strategies from the P.O.W.E.R. writing program that can help you jump-start your dissertation project. You can learn more about P.O.W.E.R., which stands for Promoting Outstanding Writing for Excellence in Research, by visiting Register