Tips for Graduate Students

6 Tips for Using an Academic Editing Style Guide

In performing any academic editing, such as dissertation editing or thesis editing, you will usually need to use two style guides.  The first is provided by your university and may or may not be combined with the policies and procedures for dissertations and degree conferral.  The second is a professional style manual.

One Style Does Not Fit All

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Some schools use one professional style manual for all departments; others allow each department to choose its own manual. The most common of these are the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (APA), The Chicago Manual of Style (CMS), and the MLA Handbook (MLA).  Some departments use A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations (Turabian).  Other manuals are used less commonly in the writing of dissertations and theses.

Go Right to the Source and Ask the Horse

You can determine which style manual you are required to use by checking the university style and formatting guide or asking your advisor.  Ideally, the professors for your courses leading up to the dissertation process will expect you to use the required professional manual for their assignments.  In that way, you will begin to build the skills needed in the dissertation or thesis process.

Learn & Apply Its Rules

Professional style manuals include information related to the technical aspects of writing your dissertation, including the requirements of formal language, and to the publication of articles and books.  Some manuals are narrow in focus; others try to anticipate as many situations as possible that writers may confront.  Most typically include information related to the following:

  • Grammar
  • Punctuation (including use of italics)
  • Capitalization
  • Preferred spelling (including hyphenation)
  • Use of numbers
  • Use of abbreviations
  • Use of scientific terminology
  • Formats for tables, charts, and other graphics
  • Reference list or bibliography entry requirements by type of source
  • Internal citation formats
  • Footnote and end note formats
  • Levels and formats for headings and subheadings
  • Elimination of bias in writing (including gender bias and preferred terminology for racial and ethnic groups)

Pay Attention to the Edition

When you locate the specific professional style manual for your department, be sure to note which edition the university requires.  These manuals undergo continual revision, with new editions being published as often as every three years.  Typically, universities will update their requirements to include the most recent manual editions.  However, students who begin the dissertation process under one manual edition are not usually required to change as long as they complete their dissertations in a timely manner.

Be Wary of the Guides’ Limitations and Contradictions!

You should also be aware of the limitations of these professional guides.  For example, APA and MLA are geared specifically to the sciences and language and literature, respectively.  CMS is much broader in scope and is generally used in the social sciences.  When APA and MLA do not contain specific information, editors often rely on CMS to determine correct form and required information.  They then adjust the formatting to meet APA or MLA requirements.

You may also find that information in the professional guides contradicts information in your university dissertation style and format guide.  Remember, the university guide always trumps the professional guide.

Consider Using an Editing Service

If you’re stumped or just want to be sure, you may want to hire an editing service to check everything for you. Be sure to tell your academic editor not only the specific style manual required but also the specific edition.  Editors often have multiple editions of these manuals to use as resources.  Knowing which one you must follow is imperative to ensuring an accurate edit of your paper.

 

 

15 Tips on How to Survive an Online Class

Students occasionally have difficulty adjusting to online formats, especially if they are accustomed to being in a classroom with ‘real’ people and a ‘real’ instructor. When instructors design online classes, we work under mandates to align them as closely as possible to their on-ground counterparts as far as material covered. Although this is true, the dissonance arises because students may feel alone, hanging on the periphery of the educational arena, attached only by a rectangular screen.

It doesn’t have to be that way, however. Online is not an abyss; it is merely a new way of communicating. The majority of online courses provides a venue for discussion and encourages interaction with your instructor and your classmates, ‘bonding’ if you will. In the best online classes, students ‘get it’ and sustain productive dialogue. Thus, the primary difference between online and on-ground courses lies with you and has to do with self-motivation, self-discipline, time management, and sticktuitiveness, all qualities that will put you ahead, not only in academia but also in the world of work.

Whether you are a first timer or a seasoned pro in the virtual world, there follows a list of suggestions that can aid your online success.

  1. Download and read the syllabus. Be aware of when modules or discussion boards will change or close.
  2. Transfer all due dates to a planner or calendar. Monthly ones work best because they allow you to see ‘what’s ahead.’
  3. Avoid procrastination! Just because there are ending due dates does not mean you should put off the assignment. In an on ground class, there are constant reminders; in an online class, these may not be as evident.
  4. Check email at least daily. Most online instructors use this form of communication and many will send periodic reminders of due dates along with other information. [Email will go to your university address].
  5. Frequently, check the course home page for announcements.
  6. Check the To Do or Assignment List in each module. They will clearly spell out the expectations for the week or partial week of the course.
  7. Do NOT be afraid to contact your instructor. If you have a question, chances are good others do as well.
  8. Note the instructor’s posted response time on the syllabus. If you do not receive an answer within that specified period, send another email. Technology is miraculous but, occasionally, things do fall into a virtual black hole.
  9. On the point above … your classmates may be clever and bright and terribly together but asking them questions about assignments is often less informative than asking the instructor.
  10. A little known fact … your instructor can monitor your time on the computer. If an accrediting board or board of regents mandates x number of contact hours per course [in Tennessee, it is 45 for a three hour credit class] and your report shows that you have been online for four hours, your grade may reflect that deficit even if you have submitted all the academic work. Even downloading or printing the modules takes a certain amount of time, which will show in your report.
  11. Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that you enrolled in the class. That may sound odd but it happens … if you have been absent in an on-ground class, your instructor may say ‘welcome back’ or ask where you’ve been or remind you that attendance is important. In an online class, the instructor may send an inquiry by email but, without a response, we may assume you have dropped or are merely disinterested.
  12. Please adhere to correct formatting on your papers … instructors appreciate a readable 12-pt font and double spacing. Put your name on everything and use it in your document tags [e.g., Save As … Paper 2 Your Name]
  13. Please adhere to the rules of grammar and spelling [even in your discussion board postings and responses].
  14. Learn and use APA documentation … if you have doubts, purchase the book, access http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/560/01/, or ask your instructor. [Important: If you cannot write a paragraph explaining the difference between plagiarism and paraphrasing, please contact your instructor before submitting work].
  15. Save your documents in an accessible format, preferably .doc or .docx … do not submit papers marked “Read Only,” which prohibits corrections.

To review: show up, communicate, discuss, dissect, and analyze. Don’t procrastinate.

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Starting Your Dissertation Editing Right: The Importance of Your University Style and Formatting Guide

Writing a dissertation or thesis can be traumatic enough without making it more difficult than it needs to be.  The first two documents you should find, read, and follow are (a) the university’s dissertation policies and procedures handbook and (b) the university’s style and formatting guide.  The policies and procedures handbook contains the details of the dissertation editing process from writing your preliminary proposal to having your final paper professionally bound and microfilmed and everything in between.  The style and formatting guide contains all the nitty gritty details for ensuring your dissertation meets the publication requirements your university.  Often the two items are combined into one document, but do not assume this is so.  Check all the resources available to you through your university to be sure you have the information contained in these two documents.

 

When it comes to writing the final paper, the style and formatting guide will be your best friend.  Find it, read it, and follow it.  Doing so will minimize the myriad potential problems when you assume that writing this paper is just a longer version of any basic research paper.  Should you choose to hire an editor, this is also the first document he/she will request to ensure the editing is done properly.

What does the style and formatting guide contain? A brief glance at this list will show you how important it is:

  • Organizational structure of the final dissertation
  • Margin requirements
  • Footers and headers
  • Font style and size
  • Line spacing
  • Paragraphing
  • Required preliminary pages
  • Headings and subheadings
  • Acceptability of widows and orphans
  • Quotations (block and run in)
  • In text citations
  • Footnotes and end notes
  • Tables and figures
  • Pagination
  • Reference list or bibliography
  • Appendices
  • Biographical sketch or vita
  • Templates and examples (sometimes templates are in a separate document)

 

As you can see, the physical appearance of your dissertation is dependent on the information contained in the style and formatting guide.  You will do yourself a favor, save your editor much time, and possibly save yourself some money by setting up your dissertation files according to the requirements in the style and formatting guide before you begin to write anything.  In fact, to avoid the mysterious emergence of font styles and colors you didn’t intend to use that sometimes occurs when numerous changes are made to a document, set the defaults in your word processing program to the requirements for your dissertation.  That way, anytime you add to your dissertation, you won’t have to worry about resetting margins, spacing, and font style and size.  You will already have it done.

By becoming thoroughly acquainted with your school’s style and formatting guide early in your doctoral program and setting the defaults to those requirements before you begin writing your dissertation, you will make the whole process much easier.  Use the school guide in conjunction with the professional style manuals required for your department (e.g., APA, MLA, Chicago, etc.) to set up your paper correctly from the outset.  You will then be able to concentrate on communicating your content.

And remember: If you do choose to hire a professional dissertation editor to proof your dissertation, be sure to include a copy of the style and formatting guide or a link to the page within the school’s Web site where the editor may access it.  Having access to this document allows your editor to ensure a finished document that meets all the publication requirements of your university.