Revising Your Dissertation

Introduction and Definitions

Revising is one of the most important stages in your writing. What is revision? Well, let’s begin by saying what it’s not. Revision is not proofreading, which, technically speaking, is reading one set of proofs against another. Revision is also not line editing. Rather, revision, again, speaking technically, is re-seeing your arguments. In terms of a dissertation, this could mean re-seeing sections of a chapter or an entire chapter. You have to be your own best dissertation editor. Hopefully, if you’ve thought out your ideas, revision won’t mean junking an entire work.

Get feedback and learn how to interpret it correctly.

While writing is, no doubt, a solitary endeavor, you shouldn’t write in isolation. Rather, you should be soliciting feedback as you write from peers, committee members, and other outside readers.  Get as much feedback as you possibly can. And then don’t try to please everybody, but look to see if you can spot trends. At a writing workshop I attended a while ago, an instructor told an old joke: “If one person says you’re drunk, ignore them. If two people tell you you’re drunk, ignore them. If three people tell you you’re drunk, lie down.”  The message to writers is clear: don’t worry if one or two people don’t like or understand something. Readers are different, sometimes very different. You can’t please everyone, and you shouldn’t try to. But if many readers tell you something is off, you might want to listen to the roar of the crowd.

Staying Modest and Calm and Cool

One of the hardest things to do is to take calls for heavy revision calmly and coolly. But you know what? This ability to be flexible and to realize that in writing you are not just (or even primarily) expressing yourself is what separates the amateur from the professional.   You are writing for an audience, and you need to care about what they think.  I’m fairly heavily published for someone a few years out of a Ph.D. program, but one of the reasons why I’m heavily published is that, in general, I’m willing to revise my work, sometimes very heavily.  Of course, there have been a few times when I’ve said no to revision because I felt the call to revise was wrong. But I can count those times on about two fingers, whereas I can count the number of publications I have in multiples of ten.  And no matter how much you write and publish, you’re going to have to revise.  In fact, you might even have to seek the help of a good dissertation editing service.

So, get used to it.

Rules for Revision:

1. Give yourself time between drafts to digest material from your readers. Stick your stuff in a drawer or the electronic equivalent thereof and let it sit for a few days before you tackle a new draft. 

2. It often helps to have a revision plan in place before you tackle your rewrite.

3. Be bold and see revision as an opportunity, not as a chore.  Approach your revision as a chance to get it absolutely right or take a new look at your material or subject.

4. Remember that when you revise, you may be discovering that what you thought was a tangent or very small point is actually the meat of your new paper or chapter or article. Be creative and open to receiving inspiration for new ideas. Revision can often lead to wonders.

If you keep all of these points in mind, revision will be what it can and should be: a pleasure. But if you’re not sure, seek the assistance of a good dissertation editing service.