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I have finished my thesis, it's been proofread by my advisor and myself, yet I have 24 hours to make last-minute changes to it. What should I be looking for? I will not make any substantial changes to the content, but what about the form? For such limited amount of time, where should I focus my effort? Or, said another way: what’s in your last-day check list for a thesis?

Major modifications to the original question. Thanks to F'x for the advice.

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2 Answers 2

First, if you've already proofread it recently, a second try will most likely not help. You won't see the typos and weird sentences anyway :) I'll advise to focus on specific short parts that can make a difference in the reading. It's also the right time to get someöne else on board to give these specific items a second look (with fresh eyes).

Without further ado, I suggest you limit yourself to checking the following items:

Text

The main check here is not really for typos (although be sure to fix those you will see), but rather for clarity.

  • General introduction, general conclusion
  • Introduction and conclusion of each chapter
  • Summary/abstract, if one is included (sometimes it's written in 10 minutes in a haze, in which case it's worth extra checking in the end)
  • Acknowledgments, if it's already present (some people only include it after the defense is over). Make sure you're not forgetting someöne important, like your wife or your bonsai.

Figures and figure captions

  • Quality of the graphics
  • Do color and symbols mentionned in the caption match the figure?
  • If you intend to have black and white figures in print, are the figures understandable in black and white? Do the captions make sense for both version (color and B&W)?

Equations

Check your equations. Again. Typos there are typically hard to find.

Numbers & tables

All tables, all inline numbers: make sure they include units, make sure the number of significant digits displayed is reasonable and consistent.

Bibliography

Do not care to much about the formatting: if most of it is okay, noöne will really complain about one or two missing page numbers or lack of italics in one title. However:

  • If references are hyperlinked (using DOI number), click on each to check that they match the right online paper
  • If a paper is “in press” or “accepted for publication” or something else, check if it has been published since and update its status


(The starting point for this was my answer to “Examining paper proofs”, but it is now significantly different)

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I found the checklist for captions and units in the tables to already be very useful! –  jaye1234 Jan 30 '13 at 4:25
    
+1 for paying special attention to the figures and figure captions. Incorrect captions are easy to miss and one of the more common mistakes, especially if you've been reordering your figures. –  Conor Jun 6 at 19:02

Your goal is to present a viable thesis to your examiners so perhaps there is a need to change your thinking about not making "substantial changes". I know this is a difficult call at this late stage but if you discover a gap in your thesis, it is better to address it before submitting it to your examiners, rather than getting the examiners to point it out to you. If the latter happens, you will have to substantially revise your thesis and this will tax you emotionally to say the least.

As for the checklist, I have the following suggestions:

  1. Check that you have really built up your case for the research. Your examiners will not be convinced if you present a flimsy case. Ensure there is a strong reason why you conducted the research (i.e. define the gap in knowledge that you are addressing).
  2. Check that you have actually answered your research questions. I am unsure in which field you are situated but in sociology the answer is often not that clearcut. However, you can still make a strong case for or against your research proposition.
  3. If you have done statistical analysis, make sure you demonstrate that you have a good understanding of what you did (i.e. you understand the assumptions that underpin the technique, for example Pearson's r is for linear relationships).
  4. Check that you have a section (in the concluding chapter) that spells out in black and white what contribution your thesis is making in your field. Often we just assume that the examiners will understand the contribution. We know our research so well (after doing it for 3 or so years) that the contribution is apparent to us, but it is a different story for the examiners.
  5. Demonstrate critical thinking with a blend of personality. This is a bit controversial but your thesis is a reflection of your interests and a little bit of personality in your thesis will not hurt (only a little bit, though as this is academic writing). In my case, I incorproated my experience as an immigrant to explain why I chose to study what I studied.

Remember, you will not get a poor result because of typos (though many typos will create a poor impression), so focus on the bigger issues if you can. All the best!

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I like #4, and maybe #5, but I don't think #1-3 reasonably fit in the “last minute” or “last 24 hours” category… each substantial change made at the last minute carries a risk! –  F'x Jan 29 '13 at 23:11
    
@F'x As I said, it is better to correct any shortcoming yourself, rather than let the examiner point it out and then you have to spend a semester or so addressing the examiner's concern. This is time well spent in the final 24 hours in my view! –  Javeer Baker Jan 30 '13 at 0:57

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