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Transkills: supporting transition to University


Reworking your first draft

Finishing your first draft is a milestone in the process of writing a dissertation. Until this point, your ideas may have been quite hazy, but now the real work can start in reorganising and refining your piece. 

Your supervisor’s comments should provide you with a clear sense of how you can improve your work. There may be areas in which you need to do some further reading; you may need to restructure your draft to introduce greater balance in your material, or coherence in your ideas. But you also need to be critical of your own work and consider how your analysis and arguments could be strengthened. This is the point at which you should take a step back and consider your work as a whole. Some time away (at least two weeks) from your dissertation is extremely helpful, so try to build this into your schedule. When you come back to it, you will find it much easier to see the bigger picture, and it will become much clearer to you where your overall argument is heading, and how to improve the weaker parts of your analysis.

Ask yourself: what has my work achieved? What is the significance of the conclusions I have reached? Are there ways in which I could push my analysis further? The best dissertations are written by students who are not satisfied with their work until a clear and original argument emerges, and then have the courage (and the time) to rework their drafts radically to bring them into line with that argument.

At this stage it is a good idea to check back to the Faculty marking criteria. To what extent are you fulfilling these? How could you improve your work in each of the areas mentioned?

Editing for style

Spend some time working on the stylistic aspects of your draft. It should be written in a style appropriate for a piece of academic work, which means that it should be clear and concise, using specialist terms accurately but not lapsing into jargon. Avoid colloquialisms, vague or impressionistic language (phrases which sound good but don’t really mean anything), convoluted sentences and too much repetition in lexicon or syntax.

Cutting words

As part of the editing process, students often find that they need to cut a substantial number of words. This can be a laborious and somewhat dispiriting task, as you delete whole sentences and sections which took a lot of energy to write in the first place. But if you find yourself in this situation, think positively: pruning – or hacking – parts of your dissertation will produce a much leaner and meaner piece of work, in which all your points are made with an economy of style (much appreciated by examiners) and rigorously related to your argument, and all irrelevant or fluffy material is suppressed.

Producing a final version

A supervisor may be able to read more than one draft for you, but producing the final version is your responsibility. Allow plenty of time for proofreading: use a spellchecker to find most of the typos, but also read your work through very carefully to eliminate other kinds of error that a spellchecker will not pick up.