The word 'dissertation' strikes fear into the bravest of students. Huge word counts, enormous amounts of reading and research, as well as the need to produce a word-perfect dissertation wipes the smile off most faces. For some, the dissertation is strangely enjoyable – myself included when I did both of mine – as their interest grows throughout their ongoing learning; for others, there is no escaping the enormous chore that it represents from start to finish.
But fear not brave academics, because we've put our heads together to compile a guide to methodically remove errors and style issues at the same time as writing your dissertation!
Dissertation proofreading strategy
We all work in different ways, so there isn't one universal way to efficiently write a perfect dissertation. But, as a dissertation is often written section by section, we could all employ a little strategy to multitask proofreading and editing while writing our drafts to reduce the amount of time necessary to produce perfection.
Dissertation proofreading technique: separate the concept of proofreading from editing
First, it's important to understand the difference between the two concepts of proofreading and editing, as they are very different. Imagine proofreading as editing's lesser complex sibling. The idea of proofreading is to catch every error, regardless of what it is, and correct it. Editing, however, requires careful thought and a more methodical approach to match your institutions style guide, referencing style, but also to avoid repetition and elevate the language to the next level.
Tip: use Microsoft Word's styles to establish a standard style from the beginning
On the Home menu bar, you'll see: Normal, No Space, Heading 1, Heading 2, etc. If you get into the habit of using these style settings, either the default settings or your own custom settings, you'll save a lot of time later on. The heading styles can be used to automatically build a contents page too, which will save even more time. Plus, your contents page will automatically update if the page numbers change due to adding or removing text. Finally, you don't need to consider if your fonts, titles, headings and subheadings meet the required standards either, as they are all controlled by Word's style settings, which you can easily change to meet any requirements.
Preliminary proofreading: an ongoing, but less thorough, method to remove errors while refining your section drafts
Once you've scrambled together the first draft of a section, take a break! The time away is like hitting the reset button on your brain, and it enables you to come back fresher and more critically able to edit your writing. Proofread with a keen eye for any errors and fix them as you see them, but simply highlight any more complex editing problems that you encounter (e.g. the exact punctuation for citations, the uniform wording of concepts, any details that need to be double checked, etc.). A notepad can be very useful for recording the types of issues that need to be checked later too.
The idea of proofreading this way is to focus on developing your ideas into a real word count first, but also to begin to clean up a large number of the clumsiest errors. You should not focus on fixing every error at this stage, as that will slow down your writing process. The content of your message is always more important than the language, so assign a focus priority of around 75% on content development and 25% on language clean up during these early stages.
Proofread & lightly edit during a full draft read through of your dissertation
Your completed first draft should have all of the content required to pass, but it will not be word perfect yet. At this point, proofread the entire dissertation as many times as you need to feel confident that the quality of the text is as high as possible, while making sure that you continue to refine your wording and highlight any areas that require further editing later.
Use Word's find function to navigate to problem areas
Formatting shouldn't be too much of an issue as you've put Word to work by using its style settings for headers, etc., plus you'll have an automatically updated contents page. However, now is the time to fix those editing issues that you've highlighted and written on your notepad. Use Word's find function to search for concepts that you've jotted down and begin to correct them in a standard way (removing the highlighting as you go).
Repetition in a dissertation is a huge problem as many institutions require an introduction at the beginning of a section and then a summing up at the end. This can quickly introduce repetition, so it's important to make sure that you vary your wording in these text areas; this is when a thesaurus should become your best friend! Try to reword any repetition by comparing each bit of text with the others to make sure they are worded differently.
Proofreading dissertations can be a tiring experience for a writer, but with a little strategy you can save time and produce a great dissertation a little more easily.