Giving a Draft to Your Advisor

This good advice is my modification of tips that originated from Brian Smith, now at Penn State. 

First, two key points: 

Here are some important points to make the process of writing with me go smoothly: 

  1. My strong preference is to edit electornically using Word and Track Changes and so I may ask you to submit your work in that format. This also makes your life easier. On the rare occasion where I edit on paper, I might use proofreader marks.
  2. Follow the guidelines for writing papers and reference management
  3. Please always include a table of contents with any draft. The structure of the outline is the first component of your work that I will look at and I will not be able to read much text seriously until a strong outline is in place. (See point 6 for help) 
  4. I will immediately return drafts of any text that have not been spell checked or that have obviously not been proofed by anyone. 
  5. Drafts you submit must have proper references. Otherwise, expect them to be returned unread. The references must be used to support your argument not simply as inserts that break the flow of your argument. It should be clear that you have read those works.  
  6. People have a tendency to cite work they know, which naturally tends to be work from MIT. But, turns out, there is a great deal of research that goes on outside of MIT! If more than 1/4 of the references you cite are from MIT that will be taken as an indication that you have not performed a sufficient background search. See the guidelines for doing a literature search
  7. Your thesis should have a clear structure. You should consider the 6 chapter guideline
  8. Direct from Brian Smith: "Sometimes I tell people that I don't understand <X>. Sometimes they reply, 'Well, I clearly explained it on page 4.' That'd be the wrong answer. If I (or anyone else) tells you they don't understand <X>, they're saying you haven't explained <X> well enough. Rather than getting defensive, reexamine your explanation, see how you can rewrite to make it clearer. It's not the reader's fault if they don't understand what you're saying. Your job as a writer is to make it very clear where you're coming from. Telling me that I just missed the point won't score you any points. Take another look, see what's not obvious." This is great advice. 
  9. Other students are your best critics. Always run a draft by your peers before giving it to me (see point 3)! 
  10. Again, direct from Brian: "Read Strunk & White's 'The Elements of Style.' When done, read it again. And again. For good measure, read it one more time. Follow the rules, and you'll be ok. Ignore them, and you'll be in trouble." You might also consider taking some of the great online quizzes (e.g. Blue Book quiz)  if you find yourself uncertain about grammar or about my corrections.
  11. If you have trouble writing, consider visiting the MIT Writing Center. If you get sloppy with the drafts you submit to your advisor, you may get this as requirement, which will slow down your the process of documenting your work.

Please read my other tips related to thesis writing.

Stephen Intille's Thesis Development and Writing Tips

Last updated: 11/16/04