10 Editing your dissertation

Editing your dissertation
Dissertation workshop for coursework postgrads
Dr Cheryl Lange
Things to consider when preparing your
dissertation for submission
When redrafting
• relevance
• organisation
• argument
• evidence
When editing consider
• grammar
– verb tense
• sentences
– word use
– length
• cohesion between
– ideas
– sentences
– paragraphs
• formatting
Tense about tenses?
• There are generally no hard and
fast rules about which tense to
use when
• the following guidelines will help
you decide what tense to use
Guidelines for verb tense use
• As writers, we make choices about which tense to use.
• Our decisions are based on a range of reasons
• convention (accepted practice)
• context
• emotional attachment to an idea/concept
• rhetorical or strategic purposes
Present tense – common uses
Use to discuss/describe
• a fact or situation that is always true or continues to be
true, e.g. genetic information is encoded in the
sequence of nucleotides on DNA.
• An aspect of your dissertation, a table or a figure etc,
e.g. Figure 6 shows the distribution of the disease
among older women.
• the implications of your or others’ work, e.g. These
results suggest that nutritional supplements contribute
to substantial weight gain.
Present tense – cont.
• for generalisations, e.g. Research students usually feel
downhearted at some stage of their candidature.
• to report the position of a theorist/ researcher with whose
work you feel some proximity, either in time or allegiance,
e.g. Ballard and Clanchy (1991) presented only a limited
understanding of the ways in which learning strategies
assist learning. In contrast, the work of Biggs (1996)
demonstrates that memorisation serves the purpose of
retaining ideas so that they can be considered and
Past tense – common uses
Use when
• describing your methodology, e.g. We hypothesized
that milk production would decrease slowly.
• reporting your results, e.g. In the final experiment the
response was unexpected.
• describing something that is no longer considered valid,
e.g. Twentieth century demographers believed that the
world’s population would stabilize by 2020 but current
research shows it will not do so until 2040.
Use to emphasize the specificity of a study
Present perfect – common uses
Use to
• indicate that research in the area is still continuing, or
has immediate relevance today, e.g. Several
researchers have studied the effect of binge drinking on
the cognitive functioning of adolescents.
• generalise about past ongoing research, e.g. Software
has been tested manually for most of the last four
Adapted from http://www.monash.edu.au/lls/llonline/writing/general/lit-reviews/3.2.xml
Referring to the work of previous
researchers – changing tenses
• Smith (2008) reported
that adult respondents in
his study remembered 30
percent more than
• Previous research
showed that children
confuse the source of
their memories more often
than adults (Lindsay et al
• The study was completed in the
past but this finding was
specific to that study.
• The research was conducted in
the past but the finding is an
accepted fact.
Future tense
• to state what will be done later (usually used in drafts or
future research )
• to state intention, e.g. in a proposal.
You can use tenses to indicate more than
Use the past tense
– to report others' research
– to indicate that research is of secondary importance to your
current work.
• Use the present perfect
– to indicate that the research is of more direct and primary
• Use the present tense
– to indicate your general position relative to reported
Different sections, different tenses –
guidelines not rules
• Past when referring to what was done and what was found at each
stage of the research.
• Present to comment on the significance of your research/findings.
Often present, e.g.
• Sixty-six percent of high school adolescents and middle school preadolescents experience social isolation from peers and report
loneliness to be a significant problem (Culp, Clyman, & Culp, 1995)
while 20% state that it is persistent and painful (Brennan, 1982; see
Heinrich & Gullone, 2006 for a review) (Tan 2011).
Different sections, different tenses cont.
Literature review
• You can use the present, present perfect or past.
• Think carefully about your choice as it will have subtle
influences on your meaning.
• Check out the UWA Research Repository for examples
of Masters and PhD theses
Different sections, different tenses cont.
Materials and Methods
• Past and usually passive, e.g. Forty trees were
selected because of their height. They were used to …
• Past when focus is on the study, e.g. The species which
visited the trees was more diverse than…
• Present when you mention tables, figures, etc, e.g. Table
1 shows …
Different sections, different tenses cont.
• Present and/or present perfect to explain significance of
a study and to interpret results, e.g. These results
indicate… This study has established the usefulness of
• Past to summarise, e.g. The species were evident in
numerically significant numbers …
Eliminate unnecessary words
• I believe more in the scissors than I do in
the pencil. ~Truman Capote
Eliminate empty words like ‘there’ and ‘it’ combined
with “is” verbs.
• There are many
instruments that test
grammar knowledge.
• Many assessment
instruments test
grammar knowledge.
• It is important that
someone change the
dressings each
• Changing the
dressings each
morning is important.
Before editing
After editing
Earlier research results and the current study’s
findings suggest we can make significant changes
to our operating procedures.
Adapted from http://www.unl.edu/gradstudies/current/dev/newsletter/GradConnections201104.pdf p.8
Transition words link
– ideas
– sentences
– paragraphs
They indicate the
– direction
– order
– flow
of your ideas.
Reader directions
Ways to signal the direction of your dissertation.
• The whole thesis ( "The focus of this thesis is...")
• Another chapter ( "The physical properties are presented
and analysed in Chapter 5.")
• The current chapter ( “This chapter examines...")
• The current section ( "The following case study
• Passage immediately following ( "The objectives are as
Adapted from http://www.monash.edu.au/lls/llonline/writing/general/thesis-edit/1.2.xml
More tense help?
• http://www.monash.edu.au/lls/llonline/writing/general/litreviews/3.2.xml
• http://www.education.monash.edu.au/students/current/st
• http://www.une.edu.au/tlc/aso/students/factsheets/gramm
• http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/601/04/
• http://depts.washington.edu/engl/askbetty/tenses.php
• Writing in the Health Sciences
• The February 2010 issue of the online
publication, Graduate Connections Newsletter
pp. 16-17, gives some tips on the use of present and past
tenses in your writing.
• Those interested in tenses might like to read the paper
Chen, M. 2009, Tense of reporting in dissertation
literature reviews, Journal of Cambridge Studies, vol. 4,
no. 2 139-150. http://journal.acscam.org.uk/data/archive/2009/200902-article13.pdf
Drop in 1pm-2pm daily during teaching weeks
Reid Library - Mon, Wed, Thurs
Science Library – Tues, Fri
Writing Clinics Tues and Fri 10 am – 12 noon
Generic study skills workshops Mon – Thurs usually between 11am
- 2pm
Individual consultations – make your appointment and submit your
draft at least 2 days prior to when you want your consultation.
Contact details
Phone: 6488 2423 - Student Support Reception
[email protected]
[email protected]