Unless you are a gifted writer1, or have written many academic reports that were edited and approved by professionals, you owe it to yourself to have a serious talk with your mentor/advisor2 about completing your degree. Writing will take longer than you anticipate.
Gifted writers do not need to massage passages after ideas are put on paper. Non-gifted writers are generally forced to edit/re-edit3 ideas once they are transferred from thoughts to notes on screen/paper. This means you should be ready for enduring numerous changes made by committee members and your mentor. Keep track (save records) of changes to avoid duplicate corrections by different members.
Yet, you are very fortunate because today’s electronic writing and automatic reference formatting4 tools are friends that most of us did not have when writing our theses/dissertations.
1. Link to pdf with samples from my oldest child’ second grade reports. As you can see despite spelling errors expected at that age (<10 years) the message in each passage is clear. The unnecessary stuff we adults add (specially non-native speakers) was not used. She used plain simple “telegraphic” English sentences in the active voice (you may have to fight entrenched passive constructions used by many scientists).
2. The relationship between you and your mentor/advisor determines the route you will follow after leaving the protection of his/her laboratory. This person has to be a concerned friend, but is not a buddy. Even when the mentor/advisor grants you permission to kid around, remember your place to avoid compromising situations. But, you must hold your ground, and demand respect if you are respectful.
3. A good mentor/advisor understands your strengths and shortcomings and is willing to go the mile for and with you. In my case Dr. Glenn Cohen (MS and PhD mentor) understood that having just learned English from 1974-1975, I could not possible write the MS thesis as a native English speaker in 1977. He took the time to correct and I took the time to redo with no questions asked. The result was 5 publications and a post-doctoral offer before defending my PhD dissertation. Your will have to show what you’ve got at not just local, but national conferences, you will need recommendation letters, and much more before you assume you can ignore the resources/efforts spent on you.
4. It may surprise you to learn that while today you can download from the net with your smart device references for reports, most of us had to photocopy (often at distant cities) each reference (pay out of pocket), and create the list by hand. My MS thesis was corrected 10 times (every page had to be re-typed because you could not just insert text, etc.), on a portable manual Royal typewriter similar to the one shown. This note is NOT for you to feel sorry for what I had to do, but rather for you to get with it. You do have it easier. Impress your mentor and your potential employer: maximize your creativity beyond what you are asked to do. Discuss, and keep record of every activity, decision, failures, and accomplishments or is your word against the rest.
Download pdf (823KB) with Formatting Tips
Disclaimer: The tips provided here are for your assistance in understanding how critical is that you master the capabilities of electronic formatting. Neither, Dr. Fermin or Tuskegee University makes any promise, or assurance of any kind for your ability to understand, master, apply, or use tips provided herein. Use at your own risk.
Download pdf (57KB) Margin Template
Print the template and place over pages of your final to ensure compliance with formatting
Download pdf (1.0MB) Excerpts from a Doctoral Dissertation
These excerpts were extracted from a dissertation prepared by a PhD (MSE) candidate (with permission) using Microsoft Office (MSO) Word (MSW), and auto-style formatting.
Download pdf (135KB) Advice from Dr. Stearns (Yale)
"Some of the greatest catastrophes in graduate education could have been avoided by a little intelligent foresight. Be cynical. Assume that your proposed research might not work and that one of your faculty advisors might become unsupportive - or even hostile. Plan for alternatives." (quote from Dr. Stearns' essay)
Download .doc (1.5MB) MSW Template from Duke (Auto-formatting)