Can’t afford a thesis editor/proofreader? Here are my suggestions

I cannot write this post without addressing one question: where have I been? I last wrote a post on this blog in December 2020 (it is now September 2021!). In that time, I have finished, submitted and passed my PhD! I am now Dr Smithers. In the last six months of my PhD I worked full time while trying to finish writing/editing chapters. I do not recommend this. Naturally, I couldn’t keep up with everything and this blog was left alone for a while.

Although I was working full time, I could not afford a thesis editor to review my manuscript. I was fairly confident with my writing, but scoured the internet for a list of things to ‘check’ before submission. Unfortunately, I could not find any that were comprehensive enough for me to feel confident I had achieved a sufficient level of ‘polish’. I kept a list of things I looked for in this final stage, and I am publishing it here in the hopes it can help you. I should also acknowledge I reached out to Twitter to look for advice, you can read the thread here:

When reading this list, ensure you have an appropriate style guide (such as APA) or your institution’s thesis formatting guidelines to help you.

Things to consider when proofreading your thesis

  1. Consistency of heading capitalisation. Check you have capitalised words consistently in your headings. A style guide may assist with this, or you may be allowed to choose how headings are capitalised.
  2. Use of its vs it’s. I searched my document and triple checked every usage of its vs it’s to ensure I hadn’t made an error.
  3. Consistency of ” and ‘. This check is twofold. First, ensure you have consistently used them across your document when quoting or where participant quotes have speech (I thought I had, but still managed to find one or two cases where I had used the wrong one). Second, ensure the appearance of ” and ‘ are consistent. Let me show you what I mean: and . See how one is straight and the other is curly? I had both of these in my document. Definitely something to check! (Nb: I don’t know how many examiners would care/notice this, but someone I follow on twitter had an examiner pick this up).
  4. Indentation of paragraphs. Ensure you have consistently indented/not indented the first line (depending on preference). If you are not indenting the first line, check the consistency of line breaks after each paragraph.
  5. Capitalisation in reference list. Each referencing style will dictate how you should capitalise journal titles, book titles, article titles etc. Check you have consistently capitalised according to your referencing style. In Microsoft Word the ‘change case’ button may help here:
  6. Confirm spelling of ALL names in reference list. To do this, I opened Endnote and selected the option to only see references from my thesis document. I then manually opened every PDF to check the spelling of every author. It took some time, but I did find two spelling errors so it was worth it. This is especially important in Australia, where you don’t know who your examiners will be. You really don’t want to spell their name wrong throughout the document. Once you are done, remember to update the citations in your Word document.
  7. Consistency of terms. This one will be quite unique to your thesis document, but try to check all of the terms you have used across different chapters. For example, I checked whether I used fieldnote vs field note, tourism personnel vs tourism worker etc. I also checked school pseudonym’s capitalisation (Matopo School vs Matopo school)
  8. Use of possessive apostrophes. Double check your use of apostrophes, make sure you have them were they are needed.
  9. Consistency of research questions. My research questions changed a little as I progressed through the writing process and I had them in three places in my thesis. Make sure they are the most up-to-date version.
  10. Formatting of block quotes. Did you know in APA style, for a block quote the full stop goes before the reference (as opposed to an inline quote, where it goes after)? Make sure your full stops are consistent and check your capitalisation of the first word. To ensure consistent formatting of the quote, use a style and apply it to all block quotes. If you use styles, an easy way to find your block quotes is to search by formatting:

  1. Conduct a final continuity check. Read each introduction and conclusion, do they outline the chapter clearly and correctly? Within chapters, if you refer to another Chapter (Ie. In Chapter 8…) ensure the Chapter number is correct. Do your paragraphs flow? A way to check this is to only read the first and last sentence. Is there a cohesive narrative?
  2. Ensure you meet all requirements set by your Graduate Office. Triple check the submission requirements. Some universities are very explicit in regards to font choice, title pages, page numbering etc. Ensure you meet all of the formatting requirements.
  3. Print your thesis and read it line-by-line. I printed my thesis and used a ruler to read line-by-line. This stopped me from skipping ahead or skim reading and allowed me to check more closely for mistakes.

If you are at the stage where you need this sort of list, I wish you all the best with your thesis examination. Although some of these items may seem silly, I believe that a more polished thesis will help your examiner focus on the content of your thesis rather than the spelling errors. Research supports this with Holbrook et al. stating, “compared to high-quality theses, low-quality theses attracted substantially more comment regarding editorial errors (1% and 8%, respectively)” and Goulding et al. identifying “once examiners notice sloppy presentation and have become suspicious of the quality of the thesis, they tend to read more critically, searching for faults”.

Did you use a proof reader? Do you have any other tips to add to this list? Leave a comment and let me know!

One thought on “Can’t afford a thesis editor/proofreader? Here are my suggestions

  1. Pingback: Six things you should know about the final year of the PhD journey! – Adventures of a PhD candidate

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