When Major Revisions Are Required after Your Thesis or Dissertation Exam
Anticipating the inevitability of revisions after the final examination of a thesis or dissertation may be a wise strategy for any postgraduate student, but no candidate wants to think about the possibility of major revisions at so late a stage in the degree process. Yet examiners have been known to request major changes before a thesis or dissertation can be approved and the student’s degree awarded. If you are negotiating this sort of situation, the advice below may prove helpful.
Although minor errors are rarely a reason for denying approval of a thesis or dissertation, it is usually assumed that such errors will be corrected, and you can certainly be asked to ensure that any mistakes are effectively repaired and even to have your supervisor and perhaps your other committee members check your revised work before the degree is granted. This will especially be the case when many minor errors, in spelling or grammar, for instance, add up to a major problem, such as written language that does not clearly describe the procedures of your research or the interpretations of your findings. Language problems so significant should, of course, have been detected and resolved long before the final examination of the complete document, but if they have not been, they will certainly require attention. A generous instructor or a fellow student whose writing skills are stronger than your own may be able to help, but a professional academic or scientific proofreader or editor is often the best solution when serious language problems are preventing success.
Major problems associated with the methodology, results, conclusions or argument in a thesis or dissertation can certainly prevent a student from receiving the approval of examiners and ultimately obtaining his or her degree. This is not common, as it is highly unlikely that your supervisor and other committee members would allow you to advance to the final examination if they detected such significant problems in your research and writing, but it is not impossible that such problems could arise for the first time in the examination. Often the external examiner for a thesis or dissertation is the only other person involved who will be as much an expert in your field as your supervisor is (other committee members, for example, might specialise in related but different topics or disciplines at your university), and that examiner might have views and experiences very different from those of your supervisor. It is most likely, therefore, that any major problems in your research at this point will be observed by the external examiner. On a more positive note, however, your external examiner may consider entirely valid certain aspects of your thesis or dissertation that you have had to defend vigorously in response to the comments of your supervisory committee, so there can be pleasant as well as unpleasant rewards associated with the unpredictability of a new reader.
Since major problems identified in the examination can result in your degree being granted only if the problems are resolved and the thesis resubmitted within a set period of time, they must be dealt with effectively and efficiently. It is therefore imperative to maintain a positive outlook, discuss revisions with your supervisor and other mentors, and find a balance that addresses the concerns of your examiners and improves rather than compromises your research. Major changes can be incredibly time-consuming and deadlines may be looming, but remind yourself that writing the best thesis or dissertation possible will not only earn you a degree, but also give your academic or scientific career an excellent beginning. Examiners will often approve even major revisions without the need for a second formal examination, but if you and your writing are to be examined again, console yourself with the thought of how much better you will perform this time, and then do everything necessary to prepare yourself for turning that thought into a reality.
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