Turning a Critical Eye on Language and Logic in Your Thesis or Dissertation
The language and more so the logic of your thesis or dissertation have probably received critical attention and undergone revisions as you drafted chapters and worked with your supervisor and committee members to produce the best work possible. This does not mean, however, that the complete document will not require careful proofreading and editing in its entirety to ensure that everything is just as it should be, and it is best if this necessary stage of refinement takes place before the thesis or dissertation is shared as a whole with your supervisory committee for assessment. It will certainly need to take place before the formal examination of your work, and in many cases several levels of proofreading and editing are required in taking a thesis or dissertation from the first version of the complete text to the final examination copy.
Language and logic should be central concerns as you turn a critical eye on your newly drafted thesis or dissertation. Your written English must convey your meaning clearly whether you are presenting numerical data or describing a philosophical argument. To do so, your writing must be correct. Grammar, punctuation and spelling must therefore be examined for errors, keeping in mind editorial preferences such as the serial comma and the differences between British and American English. Certain parts of a thesis or dissertation may require far more attention than others. These might include a section in which you tackled a particularly thorny discussion, or elements that are packed with detailed information such as an abstract, which can win or lose readers in a few sentences, or a table to which readers return again and again to consult data. Variation in the structural patterns and vocabulary you use will make your writing more engaging, but take care to retain consistency in repeated material and cross references. In fact, comparing information that is used in different parts of a thesis or dissertation – in tables or appendices, for instance, as well as in your discussion – is an effective approach for eliminating errors and establishing consistency. Remember that specialised terminology should be used with restraint and precise explanations, and that effusions of personal gratitude in your acknowledgements should not defy the rules of grammar and the protocol of a professional scholarly document.
Effective use of language is essential to develop a valid academic or scientific argument over a long piece of research-based writing. Your language will therefore need to be more than correct. It will also need to be specially chosen and used to inform readers about your research, convince them of the validity of your analyses and conclusions, and in many cases persuade them to see the evidence or the situation as you do. The order in which material is presented is important, but so too are the words and phrases used to lend that order a logical structure, convey the movement of your thought and draw the reader along with you. Effective transitions might hinge on comparison or contrast, move from theory to example or vice versa, or use any number of means to advance an intellectual argument through the logical presentation and discussion of research procedures and results. The possibilities are therefore virtually endless as long as sound evidence provides the foundation and the argument you construct is logical and persuasive not just to you, but to your readers as well. Anticipating how those readers might think about and respond to your argument and its various stages of development is therefore a useful strategy when reading your own scholarly argument critically and refining your thesis or dissertation for submission.
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