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:
- As you write
your thesis (or a paper) think of it is a process, where sections will need to
be completely rewritten multiple times. This is the norm, not the
- You need to keep in mind that I need to read a good deal of rough drafts and
that I have the
expectation that you will be the one turning your rough drafts into polished
final gems. Further, just because you are at MIT does not mean that the
expectation for quality of your writing is not high. A good idea that is
poorly written is often not given the credit the work is due.
Here are some important points to make the process of writing with me go smoothly:
- 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.
- Follow the guidelines for
writing papers and reference management.
- 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)
- I will immediately return drafts of any text that have not been spell
checked or that have obviously not been proofed by anyone.
- 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.
- 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.
- Your thesis should have a clear structure. You should consider the 6
- 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.
- Other students are your best critics. Always run a draft by your
peers before giving it to me (see point 3)!
- 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
- 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
Stephen Intille's Thesis Development and Writing Tips
Last updated: 11/16/04