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.

Your System

Annotating your thesis before the viva can help you as you read and prepare. You then have an enhanced version of your thesis with you for the viva. Adding bookmarks or tabs to chapters and important sections can help you to find things. Highlighting references or underlining typos, as well as making notes in margins, can add layers of useful information as you refer to your thesis.

Before you sit down to add anything to your thesis though, take a few moments to create a system for yourself. Just reflect on a few simple questions then make a few simple decisions.

  • What do you need to add?
  • What options do you have so you can usefully and simply add what you need?
  • What will you do for each option?

Keep things simple, clear and consistent.

Annotated For You

Adding to your thesis is a helpful part of viva prep. Including bookmarks, underlining words or sections, writing notes in the margin or placing sticky tabs to mark things out – there’s 101 things you could do!

Thankfully you don’t need to do all of them. By spending a little time thinking clearly you can figure out what will make your thesis more useful for you.

What details will help you if they stand out? What do you want to be able to see more clearly? How could you do that?

Annotating your thesis is for you. You have to reflect and decide what added details will help you the most. Annotations are not for your examiners; they’re added to help you to perform at your best in the viva.

Again, these three questions can help you figure out what you need to do:

  • What details will help you if they stand out?
  • What do you want to be able to see more clearly?
  • How could you do that?

Once you’ve reflected, make a list and do the work.

Flick and Find

Your thesis is a useful resource in the viva, and can be made even more useful by clever annotation.

  • Add Post-it Notes or tabs to make the beginnings of chapters easy to find.
  • Add bookmarks to help you reach important parts more easily.
  • Use highlighters of different colours to make different sorts of valuable information easier to see as you flick through.
  • Explore and decide on ways to make things stand out.

You may need to flick through your thesis to find something during your viva. Making that process easier in advance can reduce the possibility for stress on the day. It could also help you reflect on your thesis during your prep.

What else will you do to make your thesis an even more useful resource for the viva?

Page 1

It’s likely you’re going to see the first page of your thesis a lot when you open your thesis. All through your prep and in the viva too you’re going to see “Chapter 1” or “Introduction” again and again. Maybe you’ll see that page so much that you start to look past it.

But what if it had a short message of encouragement you had left for yourself?

What if it highlighted three key points?

What if there was a small picture stuck in to make you smile?

Could you include a helpful reminder?

Or just three words: You Got This.

The printed copy of your thesis is a valuable resource for your viva. You can refer to it at any point, and in advance you can annotate it to make it as useful as possible for you.

So what will you add to the first page to make a difference?

Underlining

Underlining can make your thesis better for the viva.

  • You could underline key references.
  • You could make sure you can find your typos.
  • You could show key words or definitions.
  • You could underline a sentence that is amazing.
  • You could have one colour of ink and underline one type of thing in your thesis.
  • You could have several colours for different needs.
  • You could have full lines or dashed for different emphasis.

Annotating your thesis during viva prep adds value to what’s on the page, making it more useful for the viva. Reflect on how underlining could help you and your thesis.

Definitions

A short viva prep exercise: make a list of five to ten concepts or ideas that are fundamental for your research.

Now spend a few minutes defining them, either recording yourself talking about them or writing a few notes. They could be hyper-specific – a genus 2 handlebody was important in my thesis, for example – or much more general:

  • What is an equation?
  • What is an interview?
  • Can you describe an essential piece of equipment for your research?
  • How do you define a good method?
  • What is “good” data?

Go back to fundamentals and definitions. In the viva you’re called on to explain how you did your research and to show that you’re a good researcher. Perfection is not a realistic state to attain, but do you feel confident about your understanding of basic definitions?

You can.

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.

Six Steps For Friction-free Prep

In preparing for the viva you have your thesis, your knowledge, your talent…

…and a lot of things potentially in your way, stopping you from getting ready! Busy days, family ties, worry, uncertainty over what to do – there’s lots to slow you down!

Thankfully, there’s a few simple steps you can take to remove the obstacles in your way:

  1. Make a plan. Just a short one, just an idea of when you need start, when you need to stop and what you need to do.
  2. Get your materials together. You need your thesis, some stationery, some paper and some papers you’ve referenced too. Get it all together, don’t leave things for later when you can procrastinate and avoid prep because you don’t have that paper you need.
  3. Find a prep space. It might be your dining table, it could be your office, it could be a cafe. But find a space that you can work well in.
  4. Tell others what you need. Probably, you need them to leave you alone from time to time! Get the space you need.
  5. Do at least one thing every day. Read a chapter, write a summary, check a reference – do something so it becomes a habit. Small tasks add up.
  6. Make a task list for your plan. What are all the tasks you have to get done? Cross them off as you go to see your progress as it happens.

Be practical. Don’t stay in your head with worries, doubts, procrastinations. Work better by removing things that create friction as you get ready to pass your viva.