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Proofreading Checklist: Thesis or Dissertation

Whether at master’s or PhD level, theses and dissertations are complex documents. This can make them difficult to proofread. With that in mind, though, we’ve prepared this handy proofreading checklist you can use when working on a thesis or dissertation.

Parts of the Thesis/Dissertation

Theses and dissertations typically comprise several parts, including:

  • A strong title that clearly reflects the content of the document.
  • A cover page with the title, author’s name, and any extra details required by the examining institution (e.g., name of school, date of submission).
  • An acknowledgements page thanking people who helped the author.
  • A clear, concise abstract that summarizes the full document.
  • A table of contents, plus lists of charts, figures, and abbreviations where applicable.
  • An introduction, the main body of the document, and a conclusion. For experimental work, this will usually follow the IMRAD format. In other cases, it should comprise a series of chapters, each covering part of the overall argument.
  • A bibliography or reference list (as per your client’s chosen citation style).
  • Any appendices or supplementary material required.

However, the details here can vary depending on the degree level and subject area. As such, you should check your client’s style guide for advice on what the thesis or dissertation should include, plus guidelines for each section (e.g., cover page details, abstract length).

Mechanical Issues

Spelling, grammar, and punctuation are the starting point of any proofreading job. When proofreading a thesis or dissertation, then, you will need to look for:

  • Basic spelling errors, plus issues related to proper nouns, technical terms, neologisms and other words that the spellchecker might miss.
  • Incorrect or unclear grammar and punctuation.
  • Inconsistencies in punctuation style, capitalization, and terminology.
  • Any additional mechanical requirements in your client’s style guide.

These should all be obvious points for an experienced proofreader. But it’s easy to overlook a few inconsistencies or typos in longer documents, so make sure to be thorough!

Academic Writing Style

Theses and dissertations typically focus on complex ideas or topics, with a dry, academic tone. However, good academic writing is also easy to read. When proofreading, then, you should help your client maintain a scholarly tone while making sure the document is clear.

In practice, this typically means looking out for the following:

  • Correct use of technical terminology for the subject area (while also highlighting issues with excessive jargon or unnecessarily convoluted phrasing).
  • A formal writing style throughout, with no colloquial or informal language.
  • Unnecessary wordiness and repetition that makes text difficult to follow.
  • Undefined or incorrectly introduced acronyms and abbreviations.
  • Unnecessarily gendered or biased language.
  • Inappropriate use of the first person or other subjective language.
  • Over reliance on the passive voice where the active voice would be clearer.
  • Awkward phrasing or transitions that detract from the flow of the text.

Keep in mind, too, that a thesis or dissertation is the culmination of years of study. Ensuring an academic tone is thus a very important aspect of proofreading.

Referencing Issues

As they are longer than standard essays and research papers, theses and dissertations will typically include a lot of references. When proofreading, then, you should:

  • Make sure you are familiar with the referencing style your client is using.
  • Check that all citations in the main text are clear and consistent.
  • Look for issues with quotations and block quotes.
  • Check that the reference list/bibliography is correctly formatted.
  • Make sure all sources cited in the main text are present in the reference list, that all entries are correctly formatted for the source type, and that all entries are complete.
  • Check that repeated author’s names and book titles are consistent and correct.

However, be careful about editing references directly. Minor corrections to inconsistencies or typos are fine, but making substantial changes could lead to accusations of plagiarism. On a purely practical level, moreover, it’s often difficult to be certain about any changes you make to references unless you have access to the same sources as your client.

As such, it is usually better to comment on referencing issues than correct them directly.

Images and Charts

Many theses and dissertations have images, tables, or charts. If this is true of the document you’re proofreading, you will need to check that:

  • Images, tables, and charts all have captions with clear, error-free labels.
  • All images, tables, and charts are listed (either together or separately, depending on how many of each type the document contains) after the table of contents.
  • Captions are consistent between lists of figures and the main text.
  • Visual elements of the same type are labelled consistently, typically with a sequential numbering system for ease of reference in the main text.
  • The relationship between visual elements and the main text is clear (e.g., that mentions of images in the text are clearly labelled with “see figure X” or similar).
  • All images from sources (e.g., an existing technical illustration) are cited correctly.

Make sure to check your client’s style guide for advice on presenting images and charts, too.

Dissertation and Thesis Formatting

The correct formatting for a dissertation or thesis will depend on the examining institution, so make sure to check your client’s style guide! However, you will usually need to ensure:

  • Consistent uses of fonts, styles, and spacing options in different parts of the text.
  • All headings and subheadings are formatted to appear in the table of contents.
  • Captions are formatted so they’ll appear in lists of charts/figures.
  • Correct use of indentations (e.g., block quotes).
  • That the layout matches your client’s style guide (especially margin sizes).
  • Correctly formatted page numbers (e.g., theses and dissertations often use roman numerals for introductory pages and arabic numerals for the main text).
  • Use of section breaks between chapters (in line with your client’s style guide).
  • Running headers match the chapter titles in each section.

Many theses and dissertations are bound when finished, so correct formatting can be very important (e.g., making sure the document has a gutter margin for binding).

Becoming A Proofreader

Whether you are an experienced proofreader brushing up on your academic proofreading skills or interested in a more flexible freelancing lifestyle, why not give our Becoming A Proofreader course a try? Sign up for a free trial now.

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