Taboos in dissertation writing

Things to avoid in thesis, dissertation writing

When writing your dissertation or thesis, it is often the case that you – especially if you are a non-native speaker of English – do things that should not be done in dissertations, theses or even essays or any other academic and scholarly papers.

We have helped thousands of PhD and MA students with academic proofreading and copy-editing services and have come up with a few “don’ts” that you should be careful about when writing your manuscript:

1-     Do not use weak words

In English, there are weak words and powerful words. Both could give the same meaning, but when it comes to academic writing you should be aiming to write your thoughts and arguments in the most powerful and adequate academic language.

A weak word: “make” – The author made his research based on…etc

A powerful word: “conduct” – The author conducted his research based on…etc

Get (obtain) – do/make (conduct)

2-     Do not write excessively long sentences  

In English, a short and concise sentence is always better than a long and confusing sentence. It is often the case that when a sentence is long it becomes confusing and readers would not normally understand it completely. By the time they reached the end of the sentence they will have forgotten what the beginning of the sentence was.

Also, a long sentence will most likely require a significant amount of punctuation (over-punctuation) to clarify the meaning of the sentence. However, this in itself sometimes becomes another problem that adds to the lack of clarity of the written text.

Always opt for a short and clear sentence, rather than a long and confusing one. 

3-     Do not confuse tenses  

The dissertation or thesis paper is technically an account of your research: your aims, objectives, methodology, approach, research question, discussion, findings etc.

You are basically telling your reader what your research is about and how you conducted your research.

So, the dissertation paper should technically be written in the past tense, especially when you are telling your readers how you conducted your research.

For instance: This research aimed to…etc

Having said that, you need to be aware that getting the tenses correct in the thesis or dissertation is one of the most things in academic writing.

Remember – in the literature review, if you are reviewing a range of other previous studies and research papers and you are citing authors you need to use the present tense. For instance: In his study (2009), Abert Hurtani argues that etc 

4-     Do not forget clarity 

A clearly written English text is an absolute minimum in academic writing. Your tutors and supervisors will expect a dissertation or thesis drafted and written in clear English language. They will expect you write sentences with clear unequivocal meaning. Always put yourself in the shoes of your anticipated readers.

Ask yourself: is this sentence I have written clear and understandable or will make my reader pause and read it again and again to understand what it means?

If your answer, yes, it is clear and understandable, then you are ok. If you think there is a slight chance that they will not get the meaning correctly or they will have to read it over and over again to figure out what you want to say, you had better rephrase it. Make sure your sentences are clear and convey a clear idea.

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