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Thesis or Dissertation: which one are you writing?

In this series, we will attempt to provide general information that should apply to most graduate students, particularly in the United States. While there are some differences in terminology between the UK and the US, most everything else applies on both sides of the Atlantic. Graduate research and thesis writing: Part Two of a Series

The Thesis vs the Dissertation

In the United States, a thesis is the final research paper for the master’s degree. It showcases research the scholar has undertaken and demonstrates their knowledge of their chosen major. A dissertation, on the other hand, must contribute something original, or something previously undiscovered, to the field of study.

Outside the United States, the terms “thesis” and “dissertation” are interchangeable. In the UK, for example, the thesis is written for the PhD and EngD, and for research-based master’s degrees. The term “dissertation,” on the other hand, can describe either a paper written for the master’s level major project or a research project for an undergraduate (bachelor’s) degree.

Declare your intent

Every student must face the realization that it is time to graduate and move on. It comes upon some of us a little later than others, and there’s no shame in that, but when your friends start to move on to teaching positions or post-doctoral work and you haven’t started your research yet, it’s time to seek out a director and committee.

You may or may not have an idea of what you want to write about, and you may end up with a topic somewhat different than the one you have in mind when you and your director first meet.

Format

Often overlooked at first, format is just as important as your premise and proof. Each university has its own requirements that usually coincide with the style requirements of the field of study (MLA and APA are the two most common).

From the front page to the Works Cited and Bibliography, attention to formatting while you work on your document will ultimately save you time and headaches when the formatting committee rejects your manuscript.

This is where students who have their manuscripts professionally edited can save some money. Formatting errors take time to fix and add to the overall cost of the job. If your manuscript is formatted according to your institution’s requirements and your style work is impeccable, an editor won’t have to do many corrections.

What’s my topic?

You should have a general idea of what you would like to focus on as your topic. You needn’t be specific at this point; as stated above, you and your director or research supervisor should meet to discuss some of the burning issues in your field of study.

Keep a journal of your ideas or at the very least write them down. Let them marinate for a bit as more parts become clear to you and know that everything can be reworked and revised if you hit a dead end or if your research does not end up supporting your thesis.

This is why meetings with your supervisor are important because they can keep you on task and provide clarity when things get muddled (and they will).

Here are some points to consider when planning your topic:

  • Can it be enthusiastically pursued?
  • Will it sustain your interest?
  • Is the problem solvable?
  • Is it worth doing?
  • Will it lead to other research problems?
  • Is it manageable in size?
  • What is the potential for making an original contribution to the literature?
  • Will the research prepare you in an area of demand or promise for the future?

 

NEXT:  Planning and Preparation