Red Pen

Using a red pen to annotate your thesis can be useful. Underlining typos, circling important things, boxing off ideas.

Using a red pen also carries a lot of negative associations. Crosses in the margins of tests or essays in the past, a circled grade, a short note that diminishes effort.

Annotating your thesis is essential for viva prep. Using a red pen is not. Choose your tools. Think ahead a little for what you will need and what you can do to make the process effective and your annotated thesis useful.

Annotation & Emphasis

One way to think about annotation, as part of viva prep, is that it helps to emphasise parts of what is in your thesis. It’s not about last minute additions or pre-answering questions in the margin: annotating your thesis emphasises the good stuff that is already there, making it easier to find or easier to see.

You get to decide what you need. Make a list of what could help, then find a good way that works for you. Do a little work and you have an upgraded copy of your thesis for the viva.

Limits of Annotation

Annotating your thesis as part of viva prep can help create a more useful resource. Making things easier to find or easier to see can help your viva run smoothly.

There are so many options open to you: bookmarks, Post-it Notes, highlighter tabs, highlighter pens, pencil, ink, red pen, green pen, writing in the borders, the margins, the header and footer and between the lines…

And you can add short summaries, break down jargon, have sentences at the top and bottom of every page and colour code anything and everything you can think of…

But don’t.

There’s a limit of how much you can usefully add before your annotations become confusing. There’s a limit of how much you can add before it becomes a time-sink for you, rather than an effective use of your time.

So don’t do everything. Start with some limits. Explore what you might need. Make a list. Decide on how you will usefully add things.

Then do the work. Cross things off your list until you’re done.

Make a useful thesis by setting some limits on your annotation.

Headers & Footers

Annotation can help make your thesis more useful for the viva – and there’s a lot of empty space in the borders of your thesis pages.

The top and bottom of a page could be helpful to highlight key points, to summarise the content or even to offer a word of encouragement. If something is great, use the header to make it stand out. If there’s something tricky consider using the space at the bottom to leave a helpful note or two.

Headers and footers don’t need to be filled but they’re a great opportunity for you to prepare and to help in the viva. How will you use yours?

Thesis Highlights

Two or three little colourful pens can make a big difference to your viva. Highlighters can help make important details stand out in your thesis so you don’t have to search for them. A little effort during your viva prep can help create a thesis where you can find things more easily.

  • Key definitions? Now standing out!
  • Important references? Simple to spot!
  • Essential results? Always obvious!

Your thesis contains a lot of information. Make what matters most easy to find, simple to spot and extra helpful for your viva.

Do I Need A Printed Thesis?

Over the last year a lot of PhD candidates have asked me variations on this question. Any response has to be layered, because there’s lots to think about. Often, the question is being asked because it has been more difficult than usual to obtain a printed copy.

Do you still need a printed thesis in the age of Zoom vivas?

  • The first thing to do is check what your institution and department say. Have regulations or expectations changed? If yes, you could consider having a digital copy, but if not you just might need to get a printed copy produced regardless.
  • If you need a printed copy but your institution print shop is out of action or has greatly reduced capacity, then Google is your friend: there are lots of online printing services that can produce this and ship to your door quickly.
  • If you don’t, according to the rules, need a printed copy, then you have to consider about what you need for the viva.

You need a copy of your thesis, in a format that is easy for you to read, search through and find sections. You need a copy of your thesis that you can annotate, both before and potentially during your viva. Annotation makes your thesis more useful for the viva and helps you to reflect on your thesis as you get ready. A digital copy of your thesis could do this, but you have to be sure that the format, the software and the device you are using is going to be enough for you in the viva.

My personal opinion is that a print copy of a thesis could, in many cases, be the best solution. But that’s my personal opinion, based on my needs, how easy I would find it to use a paper document and so on. I don’t have any needs that wouldn’t be met by a paper thesis. I don’t have any restrictions in terms of getting access to a printed 200-page document if I needed one for that purpose. I’m me, I’m not you.

If you need a digital copy, then it’s worth exploring how you would make that work well for you in the viva.

If you need a paper copy but that might be tricky to find, then it’s worth searching for a way to get one.

Must-Have Annotations!

Everyone is talking about them for Summer 2021! Your thesis is the must-have accessory for your viva wardrobe, and can be accessorised itself, in so many wonderful ways:

  • Strategic Post-it Notes to show the brilliant beginnings of chapters or index the important points you have to show-off!
  • Highlights are in this season: references, typos, key passages. Whatever matters most to you needs to stand out!
  • Marginalia matters too, and whatever you add to the borders of your thesis pages really helps to emphasise your own style – and your research!

Yes, this post is aiming to be both playful and serious. Memorable I hope, and an encouragement to think about how you can make your thesis more helpful for the viva too.

And, maybe, more fabulous!

7 Questions To Help You Annotate Your Thesis

Annotating your thesis is useful viva prep. You have to really think about your thesis while you do it and you create a more useful resource for afterwards. I have general ideas I think are good for annotation, but every candidate has to do something that works for them. With that in mind, here are seven questions that could help you:

  1. What do you want to find easily?
  2. What is important in your thesis? (bonus question: how are you defining important?)
  3. Where do you need to add short notes?
  4. Where do you need to add longer notes?
  5. What pages would benefit from a few sentences to summarise them?
  6. What do you need to underline? (bonus question: why?)
  7. What do you need to highlight? (bonus question: why?)

Annotate your thesis so it is useful for you. Ask questions and set parameters before you start. Figure out what you need to do and then go do it.

Viva Prep Basics

In my Viva Survivor sessions I cover a lot of different topics, including a good half an hour on practical steps to take between submission and the viva.

Here’s the 1-minute version!

  • Read Your Thesis. No excuses, don’t skim, read it once, refresh your memory. When do you need to start this?
  • Annotate Your Thesis. Highlight, bookmarks, margins. What can you add to upgrade your thesis for the viva?
  • Create Summaries. Take a step back, reflect, then capture something about your work. What questions or topics need your focus?
  • Check Recent Literature. Take a little time to see what has been published recently. Where would you check?
  • Research Your Examiners. Explore their recent publications and interests. How big a task is this for you?
  • Find Opportunities To Rehearse. Mock vivas, conversations with friends and seminars can all help. Who do you need to ask for help?

Spend a little time on all of these areas and you’ll do a lot to help get ready for your viva.

Ten Quick Top Fives

Viva preparation is not about speed, but sometimes a quick task is useful to break the inertia. I’ve shared a few “top fives” posts before, but here are ten quick tasks to get things moving.

  1. Top Five Places To Bookmark In Your Thesis!
  2. Top Five Useful References For You!
  3. Top Five Academics Who Could Be A Good Examiner!
  4. Top Five Questions To Ask Your Supervisor!
  5. Top Five Friends Who Could Help Your Preparation!
  6. Top Five Definitions To Remember!
  7. Top Five Expectations For Your Viva!
  8. Top Five Details To Check!
  9. Top Five Things To Boost Your Self Confidence!
  10. Top Five Preparation Tasks!

Little lists, quick tasks, quick questions – they won’t be the most useful things you could do in preparation. Sometimes you’re not in a position to do the most effective task. Sometimes you’re not building a wall, you’re placing a brick: little by little, adding to your sense of being ready for your viva.