Correcting Corrections

Corrections don’t mean your thesis is incorrect.

They are the typos and mistakes that crept past the editing process. A correction could be a suggestion that you direct the future reader to another reference, or direction to improve clarity for that future reader. They’re the ideas from experienced academics steering your work to a good place.

Corrections aren’t the system’s response to imperfection. They’re not given as a punishment. They’re not asked for on a whim.

A list of corrections is the answer to the question, “What changes would help your thesis be the best it could be?”

A Better List Than Typos

During preparation, instead of listing thesis typos…

  • Take a sheet of paper.
  • Start reading your thesis.
  • Make a list of everything that makes you feel good.

Typos have to be fixed at some point; it’s more useful in prep to build and re-build your picture of what makes your thesis great.

This will help your confidence a lot more than being sure of all your spelling mistakes.

What Can You Do About Typos?

…Nothing really.

Your thesis won’t be perfect, but typos don’t mean serious consequences. Proofread your thesis as well as you can, but there will probably be some left. You won’t get them all. When you spot them between submission and the viva, underline them in your thesis or make a list.

Your examiners might make a list too; they’ll ask you to correct typos so that your thesis is better, but they don’t ask for corrections as any kind of punishment. Typos can distract a reader, but only a little.

You can’t do much about typos. Find them, if you can; correct them, when you have the chance. They shouldn’t be the focus for your attention. There’s more important things to do.

Almost Unavoidable

You only need to transpose one pair of letters in one sentence on one page in your thesis and you have a miskate mistake. A reference could be wrong or a diagram might need redrawing. Its likely you’ll have typos somewhere in your thesis. You could have words around switched switched around or paragraphs that need another edit.

You don’t do any of these on purpose, you want your thesis to be the best it can be. So do your examiners. Corrections aren’t a punishment or “just another part of the process”. Corrections are your examiners helping you find things to make your thesis even better. Perfect is a nice ideal, but better is the real goal.

Mistakes are almost unavoidable in the tens of thousands of words you’ll put in your thesis. Aiming for perfect won’t work. Aim for great, and after the viva you’ll get some help aiming for grater greater.

Noting Your Mistakes

They’re there, in your thesis. It’s “when” rather than “if” you see them. When you find mistakes after submission there’s not much you need to do. Correction time will come.

Highlight mistakes if you want to, underline them or make a list if that’s helpful. All of these approaches could be useful so long as they’re not a focus for your preparation or a distraction from the viva.

Personally, I like lists: a list of changes gives you a starting point for correction time. Your examiners may end the viva by giving you a list of what changes they think will help; share yours then if you like, but don’t start your viva by showing your list!

Saying, “Here are all the things I know I need to change,” while honest, may not be the best opening for the discussion…

You Get Corrections Because…

…your thesis isn’t perfect. It shouldn’t be. It can’t be.

You get corrections because you’ve probably never written a book before. The thesis you submit for your viva is the very best draft you could write.

Typos creep in. Style choices don’t quite work. You miss a reference or a full stop, a comma or the numbering of a figure.

You get corrections because you tried your very best, not because somehow you failed. Corrections aren’t failing. Corrections are part of the process.

Corrections are your examiners saying, “Here, take a look, this is how you could make this better.”

But never perfect. “Perfect is the enemy of done.” You can’t make it perfect. You can make it done.

You get corrections to get to done.

Aiming For Minor Corrections

Most candidates pass with minor corrections as a result of their thesis submission and viva examination. I’ve often been asked about whether or not there is anything specific that a candidate could do to “aim” at getting only minor corrections. It’s a tricky question, because most of the things I can think of seem obvious:

  • Submit a good thesis, and make sure you’ve run spellcheck and proofread it.
  • Take time to be well prepared for the viva.
  • Engage in a good discussion with your examiners, listening to their questions and comments.

Most candidates get minor corrections. This tells me that most candidates are doing a lot of things right (regardless of whether or not they know they are or how they feel about things!). The people who ask me about aiming for minor corrections at least have taken something else onboard during their PhD: it’s impossible to write a perfect thesis.

Aim to write a good thesis, aim to be prepared, aim to engage with your examiners – and in doing all that you’re probably going to hit near the target for minor corrections too.

Engaging With Criticism

If your examiner tells you they don’t like something in your thesis you have options:

  • You could say sorry, and do whatever they say as a result.
  • You could stare them down, insist that you’re right, and see what happens.
  • You could argue with them and try to show you’re right.
  • You could discuss things, listen to what they have to say and put your best case forwards.
  • You could ask them, “Why do you think that?” and listen before responding.

And you could do a lot more. I’m not suggesting you could have 100% control over how you feel or what you would automatically say as a result of criticism. It can cut deep, you might not know what to do. But there are different options open to you.

How you engage with your examiners can lead to very different ways of being in the viva.

Expect Corrections

Most people have to do some. They’re not a punishment. They’re your examiners saying, “Here, you missed this,” or “This is good, but if you try this it will be better.”

Or occasionally, “That’s not how you spell that!”

You can’t predict exactly what you’ll be asked to do. Most PhD candidates will get minor corrections. Some don’t get any. Some are asked to do major corrections or resubmit. Check with your institution’s regulations about what different outcomes could mean for you. Be sure so you can plan ahead.

Expect that you’ll have some corrections to do, but expect that your thesis – and you – will be pretty good by the time your viva comes around.