The Last Correction

Most PhD candidates are given corrections to complete after the viva. Typically examiners give a list of typos, clear instruction on sections that need to be revised and so on.

While they’re often not too numerous or too onerous, corrections are not wanted! After years of work and months of writing, who wants to revise their thesis again?

To help get them done, re-organise the list you get from examiners. Break it down into specific actions. A to-do list of typos and everything else – then get to work.

It might be the work of an afternoon in some cases, or a small project that takes place over weeks, but there will come a time when there is only one more thing to cross off. One last mistake to fix. One final paragraph to polish.

Savour the last correction. While there’s admin and graduation before you’re really “done” this is the last real thing you need to do. Savour that moment…

…then be done with it. Get it done and celebrate.

Identifying Mistakes

Typos matter because they need correcting. It’s important to work towards your thesis being as clear and polished as possible – but it also helps you to know that perfection is an ideal. Most PhD candidates have to complete corrections of some kind after the viva.

After submission you don’t need to scour your thesis to identify mistakes. If you find one, make a note in some way. Be prepared to explain something that’s unclear or incorrect. In general, identifying mistakes is less important than spending time to identify your strengths.

“What potential corrections have I found?” is a much less useful question to ponder than “What’s good about my thesis and research?”

Different Kinds of Mistakes

Different kinds of mistakes require different actions in the viva.

If you find a few typos during your viva preparation you don’t need to go out of your way to mention them to your examiners.

If you find a sentence that doesn’t quite make sense you may need to bring it up if you’re talking about that chapter or topic.

If you discover a paragraph or section that is wrong for some reason, it could definitely help to pre-emptively explain what you really meant.

If your examiners ask you about something and you haven’t noticed it before the viva then you need to think carefully in the moment. That’s all. You need to stop, think and respond.

You need to be prepared to acknowledge all kinds of mistakes in the viva, but you don’t need to build up stress about them. Do what you can in preparation, but spend more time getting ready to talk about everything that isn’t a mistake. The focus in the viva is far more on what is right than what is wrong.

What Do You Do With Typos?

After submission you need to read your thesis to prepare for the viva.

Inevitably you’ll find a word that is in some way wrong. It’s not spelled correctly, it’s the wrong word, you meant something different or perhaps it is a string of words that don’t communicate what you need.

What do you do?

If the typo is simple then you have two choices: underline it in the text or make a clear list. After the viva, when you have to complete corrections, you have an easy-to-follow guide of what to do. You don’t need to correct them now. Marking it in your thesis or having a list is enough for the viva.

If the typo is more complicated then it’s probably best to make a note in the margin of what would be better for your thesis or – if needed – write a longer explanation on a Post-it Note and stick that in. Then you can explain things better – if needed – in the viva and complete the correction more easily afterwards.

Either way, a typo is just a slip that got past you when writing up. It’s part of the process. You get to make it better.

Move Past Mistakes

Typos catch the eye. Muddled words bring distraction. Mistakes do matter, but for the most part only because they’ll be one more thing on the list of corrections.

When you see them during your prep – because it is when rather than if for the majority of candidates – make a note in a useful way for you, then move past them. Focus on what matters more. Focus on the stuff that your examiners will really want to talk about: your contribution, your choices, your knowledge and what makes you a capable researcher.

Contribution matters more than corrections.

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.

But.

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.

Unclear or Wrong

You can’t – and shouldn’t – assume there are problems in your thesis. It’s worth checking through it carefully after submission. Read your thesis well to make sure that it holds up, that nothing has slipped through.

Find something unclear? What would make it clearer? Add a note of what you might say differently.

Find something wrong? Why is it wrong? What could you do to address it?

You can’t be perfect; you can be prepared.

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.