The Oxbridge Editing Blog 20th August 2018

The secret to boosting your Master’s dissertation grade

20th August 2018

If you’re working on a postgraduate dissertation, there is a certain instruction you’ve no doubt been given over and over again. An instruction that means you’ve likely spent hours and hours staring at your computer screen reading your own words, and which promises to boost your final master’s dissertation grade. But what is this secret process we hear you ask?

It’s all down to a thorough proofread of your work. Sounds simple enough. But it’s more complex than you might assume: what should you be looking to improve? How should you spend those precious last days between completing your draft and handing it in? And who should you get to help you proofread?

But what should you be looking to improve? How should you spend those precious last days between completing your draft and handing it in? And who should you get to help you with this process? In this post, we explain exactly why and the benefit it will bring to your final submission.

What should I be looking for when I proofread?

Spelling, grammar, formatting and consistency

Spelling and grammar are the most obvious items that come to mind when most people think of proofreading. While proofreading can (and should) cover so much more than these things, it’s important that you don’t think of spelling and grammar as “just” presentational. At worst, poor spelling and grammar can be so distracting that they prevent the people reading and marking your essay from being able to figure out what you’re saying. This is especially true at Master’s level where, compared to undergraduate level, the thoughts you’re trying to marshal are more complex and likely involve more detailed and in-depth discussion.

Even if your readers are able to make out the sense of your arguments if spelling or grammatical errors require re-reading, this will slow them down and disrupt the “flow” of the argument (see below). At best, therefore, a dissertation littered with spelling and grammar errors is likely to rapidly erode the goodwill of the people marking it. You don’t need telling that this is not something you want to do!

Apart from its mechanical advantages, good spelling and grammar also has massive rhetorical advantages. The fact is, as much as they try to be objective about the quality of your arguments, the people marking your work are bound to be influenced by the quality of your writing. The better your command of language, the more authoritative your work comes across, and the more likely your readers are to believe what you say and be convinced by your logic.

In a Master’s dissertation, the little touches also matter. You could be penalised for not sticking rigidly to formatting guidance and referencing conventions throughout. A good proofreader will know to check, for example, that the titles of all book-length works are italicised and all article-length works are in quotation marks, or whatever your referencing system requires. They’ll also be on the lookout for consistency in font size and spacing, margin size, and formatting of headings, figures, lists and so on throughout your dissertation.

Coherence and organisation

How you organise your arguments, and the logical flow from one to the next, are vitally important considerations. You may have good ideas and even be able to support them well, but a proofread should be able to tell you whether your points are presented in the best order for maximum effect. Do your arguments lead logically one to the next? If your arguments are sufficiently well ordered and linked, your readers should be able to anticipate your conclusion because it will be the inevitable destination of the logical train you’ve set in motion. At Master’s level especially, flow is a crucial aspect of your dissertation.

Plagiarism and referencing

Unless you’re an exceptionally well-organised writer, the chances are that your dissertation contains at least some paraphrases or direct quotations of others’ work that you inserted without fully referencing them. Many writers find it disruptive of their flow of ideas to stop immediately after inserting a quote or paraphrase and immediately stop to look up the bibliographic details of that reference. If your draft chapters are full of partially referenced or entirely unattributed third-party material, don’t worry: you’re not alone.

But here’s the thing: at Master’s level there’s zero tolerance for improper citation or referencing, even if it’s accidental. A thorough proofread needs to catch any ideas or words that aren’t your own and insert the proper references. 90% of this material is fairly obvious, but the remainder can be a bit more difficult to catch. A skilled proofreader will pay careful attention to your own style and catch any departures from it. These could be direct or indirect quotations of other thinkers that you meant to cite later but have become “buried” in your work. And of course they should be flagged to give you the opportunity to reference them if they turn out not to be your own.

Who should proofread my work?

This is a very good question. But if you’re expecting one single answer you may not be approaching it in the right way. As many people as possible should proofread your dissertation. Obviously this should start with you: there’s no point delivering your dissertation to a third-party to read unless you’ve been through your own work diligently, spotted typos and sentences that obviously don’t make sense, and evaluated your arguments as dispassionately as possible. It will be difficult for you to be objective, but leaving your work alone completely for a couple of days will enable you to come at it fresh.

Proofreading your own work, though, is no substitute for having another pair of eyes look at it. By the time your dissertation is ready to proofread you’re going to have been working at it for a long time and be very familiar with its content. You’ll be used to its flow and structure, and are therefore far less likely to notice any logical leaps you’ve made or any counter-arguments you’ve failed to address. Even relatively obvious technical errors will be difficult to spot, because you’ll have a natural tendency to skim what’s familiar to you.

Get a professional proofread!

A friend on your course, or someone who is familiar with your subject area, is an obvious first person to ask, and they’ll no doubt provide some invaluable feedback. You could, of course, offer your own proofreading services in exchange! But there’s really no substitute for having a professional, academic proofreader look over your work. After putting all those months of work into your thesis, you deserve the best possible grade.

And who better to help you achieve this than someone who has been in your shoes, produced excellent-quality postgraduate work of their own at world-leading universities, and proofread tens of thousands of words of academic content? The expert proofreaders and editors at Oxbridge Editing won’t just fix your typos but will ensure you have every opportunity to present your arguments in the best possible light, by ensuring your work is perfectly structured, formatted and presented.