The Dream of No Corrections

Dreams do come true.


But wishing and dreaming that you get no corrections for your thesis is a fantasy that’s best left alone. Some candidates find out at the end of their viva that they have no corrections to complete, but not many.

It’s nice if you have no corrections, but it’s more typical to have something still to do.

Rather than dream about having no corrections instead focus on writing the best thesis you can, preparing as well as you can and being ready to engage with your examiners.

You might not get corrections – but you probably well.

It’s probably better to dream of something else.

Everyone Makes Miskates

Corrections aren’t a sign you’ve necessarily done something wrong in your thesis. The request from your examiners is a helping hand to make your thesis as good as it could reasonably be, given that your thesis is a permanent contribution to knowledge. They want to help.

Most PhD candidates are asked to complete corrections. This doesn’t mean that most candidates are failing somehow or that most candidates don’t care.

It shows that writing is hard. Writing long, involved texts – books! – is hard.

Practice helps. Feedback helps. Investing time purposefully to get better, of course, helps. Proofreading and editing and revising all help.

And after all of that you can still miss things.

When you’re asked to complete corrections, as you most likely will be, just remember that it’s another part of the PhD process. You didn’t do anything wrong; you now have the chance to make things better.


A short post that occurred to me today, as I sit slightly stunned that this is my 1500th daily post on the blog – and I remember the many, many mistakes I’ve made over the course of nearly 250,000 words!

Avoiding Corrections

If you go for a walk on a rainy day you can step around as puddles as much as you like, but your shoes are probably going to get pretty wet. That’s just what happens. You can’t avoid it.

If you submit a PhD thesis you can proofread and edit for months beforehand, but your examiners will probably find something for you to correct. That’s just what happens. You can’t avoid it.

If your shoes get wet on a rainy day then there’s simple steps you can take afterwards to dry them.

It’s the same with corrections. You’re given a list. You know why your examiners are asking for the corrections: to help make your thesis the best it could be. Not perfect, but the best that anyone could reasonably expect. To complete them you make a plan, work carefully and get them done.

You should obviously work to submit the best thesis you can, but you can’t do much to avoid corrections.

Unlikely Unconditional

If your idea of viva success hinges on your thesis passing with no corrections, then you’re probably going to feel disappointed. A few years ago I asked a lot of people about their viva experiences and only around 10% said that their thesis passed unconditionally. Simple statistics say you’re highly likely to need to do something to correct your thesis.

It’s unlikely you’ll pass with nothing to do, but not unfortunate. It could be uncomfortable or stressful if you’re already busy, but corrections are requested because they’re necessary. They’re not something that only the lucky avoid; despite writing, rewriting, feedback and years of work, it’s extremely unlikely that you would write tens of thousands of words in a book and have it be just right. It’s just one more step in the process from the start of the PhD to the end.

The best you can do is your best. Write the best thesis you can, based on the best research you can do. Do your best in the viva. Then, most likely, do your best after that to make small changes to make your final thesis the best you can make it. Never perfect, but certainly good enough.

Aware of the Outcomes

I don’t think I knew – at all – what the result of my viva might be.

I naively expected that I would pass, and I was right in expecting that. I suppose I expected I would have to make some corrections, which was right again – but I had no idea as to what that really meant, how much time I would be given, how that would be sorted out. I knew none of it.

I didn’t know that there were regulations about vivas. I didn’t know that there were categories of outcomes. Had I been aware of all this I think I would have been better prepared for what happened at the end of my viva. I was told that there was something still to do, told that I had three months to get it done. It wasn’t bad, but it was a surprise.

Be less clueless than me. Find out what is expected formally for different outcomes at your institution. Be certain of what’s expected for minor corrections particularly, as that is the most common outcome.


Most candidates get minor corrections as a result of the viva. I’ve talked with plenty of candidates who worry about what this might mean for them.

Words that correspond with minor in the thesaurus:

…inconsequential, unimportant, lesser, slight, trivial, small-fry, small-time, dinky…

Perhaps you wouldn’t categorise typos as small-fry, but it’s worth reflecting on what “minor” means to keep the scope and scale of minor corrections in perspective. Individually, each correction is a relatively small change. Combined, they could take time to work through, so be sure that you know how much time your institution gives for completing them.

Compared with the work for your PhD, the effort for your preparation and your viva, minor corrections are a dinky piece of work. For the most part, they’re trivial compared to the energy required for everything else you’ve done.


Corrections don’t always mean you are wrong.

It could be that you’re not clear, or that you’ve not considered something, or that you could use something extra in your thesis. But they don’t always mean you’re wrong. They’re very rarely connected with even a hint of failure.

And if you’re asked to do something because something is wrong in your thesis, you now have the chance to make it right or make it better. Fantastic! (it might take time and work – which has consequences – but now it can be right)

Corrections and amendments to your thesis are part of the thesis examination process. Vivas and corrections aren’t about finding fault for the sake of it.

Passing Prestige

There are different outcomes to vivas, but in the grand scheme of things there’s no real hierarchy with them. We know this because when everything is complete you’re not awarded anything extra for how you pass.

Corrections, minor or major, are for most the necessary work for a pass. But there’s no special seal on your certificate for no corrections, no demerits for having to do more. No official commendation: you pass, and that’s that.

Passing is special enough, right?

The OK Thesis

Perfect is the enemy of done, but does it then follow that it’s fine to submit an “OK” thesis? One which you know has typos in? One which you know could be better? One which you know has things you could fix? It’s OK… It’s fine. It’s acceptable. It’ll do.

Is that OK?

Since most candidates will have a successful viva that leads to some form of corrections, it’s a natural question to ask if you could just submit your first, could-be-better, OK version of your thesis. There’s only so much time to do a PhD. There’s so much going on, especially recently. I can empathise with someone who would make the argument that they just have to get their thesis in now, and then fix anything later on.


If you know there are things that could be better – in terms of making sure your thesis communicates your research – it’s nearly always worth the extra effort before submission, the viva and corrections. If you’re tempted to let things slide, to rush something in, to say you’ll fix it later, I’d urge you to take another look. See what you can do.

If you have a deadline you cannot break, then at least prioritise the most important things to help your thesis be the best it could be.

You’ll never reach perfection, but your best is a lot better than OK.

Major, Minor, None

You’re most likely to get minor corrections. Check to see how much time your university allows for them to be completed. Passing usually means, “passing subject to completing these” – so find out the timeline in advance for the most likely outcome and figure out what that could mean for you.

You don’t need to plan for no corrections. If it happens, great! That’s it. Your only bonus is to be completely done probably a little sooner.

You’re least likely to get major corrections, but some candidates do. Doing a PhD is hard, writing a thesis is hard. It’s to be expected that sometimes, despite best efforts, the thesis does not quite match the standard needed even if the contribution is sound. It’s major because it takes more time than minor, because there is more to do. But it’s not a fail, and you shouldn’t expect it for you.

If you do, genuinely, expect to get major corrections then talk to your supervisors about why you’re thinking that. Get a second opinion and explore your options.