How to Avoid Minor PhD Corrections | Lex Academic Blog

There’s no shame in passing your PhD with corrections. On the contrary, in the UK at least, most students pass their viva voce – that is, the verbal defence of their thesis – with ‘minor corrections’. You receive a list of corrections from your examiners, attend to them and resubmit your thesis for a last look-through, usually within three months. As well as straightforward issues like typos and formatting problems, the term ‘minor corrections’ also includes small amounts of rewriting – for example, to refine or expand on an argument. Simply put, passing with minor corrections shows that your thesis is at the right standard, and it’s the best result that most PhD students can realistically hope for. Passing with no corrections is rare.

So, if minor corrections are no big deal, why go to the effort of trying to avoid them? Here are three reasons:

  • Apart from anything else, passing with no corrections is a huge compliment; if your examiners – experts in your field – can’t fault your work, this is a testament to its quality.
  • The time spent implementing corrections could instead be dedicated to career development. This might mean obtaining your first academic job. It might also mean applying for a postdoctoral fellowship or writing your book proposal.
  • Most importantly, as this piece by Dr Mary Frank, who holds a PhD in Translation Studies, shows, minor corrections that entail more than just correcting typos can be a real struggle. It’s common to feel thoroughly fed up with your PhD, even burnt out, by the end. Conversely, you may be very attached to it; you might like that paragraph you’ve been told to change! For these reasons, minor corrections can be very daunting.

All of which goes to say that it’s worth doing all you can to avoid even minor corrections. Here are a few tips for doing so.

As anyone who has written a PhD knows, writing your thesis involves a lot of reading. One of the most important steps in writing a thesis is transforming the fruits of that reading into a critical, well-researched and well-organised literature review. Before submitting, it’s essential that your literature review is complete, relevant and up-to-date. A literature review that overlooks significant authors or works in the field will result in corrections. If there are many gaps, then you could even end up with major corrections. Most PhD students write a literature review in their first year in order to become familiar with the field and ensure that their own topic is sufficiently original. That’s perfectly sensible, but it’s important to keep adding to your literature review over the course of your PhD because research is ongoing and new publications are appearing all of the time. Indeed, if you’re in a fast-evolving field, a lot of research may be published between your first and final years. To avoid gaps, then, update your literature review regularly, and make it one of the last parts you call finished. Ask your supervisor if there are any significant works missing from your literature review, look at the bibliographies of sources you’ve read to identify commonly cited works, and use Boolean language in your search engines to ensure you don’t miss anything.

As we’ve seen, avoiding minor corrections is about ensuring that your thesis is as error-free as possible. While the odd typo is inevitable and likely to be overlooked, repeated errors of spelling, grammar and punctuation will distract the reader from the message you’re trying to communicate. You might consider using an editorial service like Lex Academic for help with eliminating errors. But there are also a few basic checks you can carry out yourself. Firstly, it might sound obvious, but run a spellcheck! Pay particular attention to names and foreign-language words because Word has a habit of autocorrecting them. In addition, check for consistency of presentation:

  • Are your headings consistent? Are they the correct size and font?
  • Are long quotations presented in the same style?
  • Do you use single or double quotation marks?
  • ‘Realise’ or ‘realize’? ‘Organise’ or ‘organize’?
  • etc.

Our last, often overlooked tip is about how you present yourself to your examiners. Put simply, a degree of humility is vital. At your viva voce, take constructive criticism on the chin, and show that you’re willing to make corrections if necessary. Examiners will respond to how you react to questioning. That doesn’t mean you have to agree with everything your examiners say. But you should acknowledge their points of view and thank them for their questions. This is easier said than done. As we noted earlier, you’re probably very attached to a thesis you’ve worked hard on for several years, so it’s difficult not to be defensive. Also, there’s a lot riding on your viva; it’s a pressure-heavy situation. However, constructive criticism will help you to revise your thesis for publication as a book. If you’re lucky, your examiners may present you with a list of recommendations for publication at or after the viva. So, try to see it as an opportunity for feedback on your work from people who are experts in your field. Such opportunities are rare in post-PhD life. Take advantage now.