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What would you do if you have already handed in a thesis to your professor, but you printed an earlier version with a small mistake. You want to have a great grade nevertheless, but I am feeling unsure of what to do:

Would you tell him your mistake and hope that he indulgent and says "Okay, then this does not count as a mistake." Since you recognized your own mistake, he is likely to be forgiving. Or would you say nothing and hope that he won't find the mistake?

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    A PhD thesis? A Master's thesis? What level? Usually it wouldn't be about "the grade" at all, but about correctness, as the first priority. – paul garrett Sep 29 '19 at 3:50
  • Moreover the thesis would presumably come back for (hopefully) minor corrections so the typos can be fixed when these minor corrections are made. – ZeroTheHero Sep 29 '19 at 3:52
  • Master thesis. Of course it's about correctness but at this level it's also about the grade! – Julia Sep 29 '19 at 3:53
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    Do you think the small mistake will lead to others reading your thesis making mistakes too? Or misunderstanding your methods or conclusion? Does not sound like it from the way you have written. You should be out celebrating and enjoying finishing your thesis! – Poidah Sep 29 '19 at 5:08
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    Does "Submitted" mean that you officially handed in the thesis, or that you gave it to your professor for checking before submission? – lighthouse keeper Sep 29 '19 at 7:59
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Everyone makes small mistakes from time to time and it is expected that there should be some mistakes in a master's thesis. What you should perhaps do depends on the nature of the mistake. If you are talking about a small or even a big typo, I would suggest just leaving it be and not alerting your professor. Typos are expected and a few won't impact your grade very much, if at all. However, if you have made a major scientific, analytic, or other substantive mistake, acknowledging it and offering a correction is the right thing to do. Depending on the rules of your institution, the professor may not be able to accept a modification to the document you turned in, but if they can, you are sorted. If they can't, them knowing that YOU know that this was a mistake is likely better than them finding the mistake and thinking that you don't know, from a grade point of view.

  • "Depending on the rules of your institution, the professor may not be able to accept a modification to the document you turned in" This is key here. What the professor allows for doesn't come into play if the system doesn't allow the professor to be lenient. I'd say you should mention it to the prof, propose a solution and let the prof sort whether the solution is acceptable. – Mast Sep 30 '19 at 6:33
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Every thesis is likely to contain mistakes, so finding a mistake will not be unexpected in the examination process. As has already been said, if you think it is a small mistake, just leave it and say nothing.

I just thought you might be interested in my personal experience. My thesis was hand typed by me (using an early computer - CDC Cyber 6600 actually) without the benefit of modern word processors and proofing tools. It was manually read many times by me, parents, friends, colleagues and was deemed thoroughly checked and in good order.

Not so long ago I decided to digitise it so it could be archived. It was scanned and OCR'd and I put the text back into modern word processing tools. I was shocked at the sheer number of typos, grammatical and spelling mistakes it contained that the proofing tools showed up. It was quite humbling to think that had sat (and would sit in perpetuity) on the university library shelves of all and sundry to read year after year.

So join the club.

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My advice would be the same as for someone who submitted a paper to a journal and then spotted a mistake:

Make a note of the error, and the "next point in the process" where you can naturally make changes, fix the mistake in the document.

For a thesis, that next point in the process might be after your professor reads it but before it is officially submitted to the university; or it might be before the thesis is bound for the library; or it might be after the thesis itself is final but before a paper based on it is sent to a journal; or it might be that the thesis is completely final but there is a place to publish errata. Or it might be never. (As other answers have pointed out, final documents with errors are common.)

My advice also includes the encouragement not to stress about the grade. The grade is an arbitrary number that measures not how worthy you are as a person, nor even how good the thesis could have been if it were flawless. It simply measures (one person's opinion of) how good a specific imperfect manuscript is. So you found a mistake in your manuscript; and there are probably others you didn't find. Oh well, you did your best, and it's not a big deal!

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