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By Cally Guerin

As we have discussed elsewhere, the last few months leading up to submitting the thesis for examination can be stressful, inducing anxious – even obsessive – behaviour in even the most level-headed of doctoral candidates. In amongst the repeated re-reading of the thesis with the examiner’s perspective in mind, a checklist can assure the candidate that various elements of the document are definitely in order.

There is a lot of good advice available from editors about what to look for when editing and proofreading. In Australia, the Institute of Professional Editors has very detailed information about the kinds of details that professional editors look for, including the Australian standards for editing practice. This list and the ‘Levels of Editing’ link provide a really helpful range of elements that should be checked before submitting a work for examination or publication.

While many writers think of ‘editing’ as related to clarity of expression, grammar and punctuation, there is another whole area of thesis editing that is focused on the formatting and layout of the whole document. The unity and consistency at the whole-of-document level might seem less important than all those words that are explaining the theory, methods, findings and conclusions; however, I think it’s essential to recognise how the visual elements of the writing can lead to confusion for the reader if not handled well. Just as a paragraph break at the wrong moment can create misunderstanding about how the information fits together, so too a sub-sub-heading that looks like a sub-heading can result in misinterpretation of the significance of the material. But it’s very difficult to notice these issues when reading for sense and clarity, or correcting grammar – it must be undertaken as a separate stage of the editing/proofreading process.

I’ve been working on a checklist to try and articulate the details that need to be in place when editing at the level of the whole document.

1. Completeness: Are all the necessary parts actually present in the document and in order? For example, are there any missing sections from chapters, and have all appendices been included and accurately numbered? Is this definitely the most recent version of the document? Have all changes have been included and integrated into the document?

2. Formatting: Is the layout consistent? Check margins, indents, spacing between paragraphs, spacing after full stops.

3. Headings and subheadings: Do they all exactly match the Table of Contents? Is it easy to visually distinguish between levels? Is the font and size consistent across heading levels in different chapters?

4. References: Are all the references in the text also in the bibliography, and vice versa? Are they all accurate and complete? (This is worth a look even when using bibliographic software – it’s not always reliable.)

5. Illustrations/Tables/Graphs: Is there consistent formatting of captions? Check the font and size as well as the layout. Then check capitalising and abbreviations (e.g., Fig. or Figure) are also consistent. Are captions consistent with any text inside the graphic? Check numbering of tables and figures is in order with no numbers left out. READ the text inside the graphic for accuracy, spelling & grammar (it’s amazing how often there are errors in the tables).

6. Page numbering: Is cross-referencing between chapters accurate? Check numbering follows correctly between chapters if working on individual documents.

Of course, working with a template from the beginning can solve some of these issues, but even so, changes and revisions can introduce mistakes over the years of writing a PhD. It’s worth checking that all is in order: examination is likely to be much less stressful when there is certainty on submission that the formatting is consistent.

What do you recommend for editing at the whole document level? Are there some important elements that I’ve left out of this list? (And yes, please let me know about any editing failures you spot in this post!)

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