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First off: I really like my supervisor. I’ve worked well with her, I’m on her research team for her own research and I really appreciate her and look up to her.

Long story short. Continuous feedback on my research proposal when I send in revisions is that I need to learn how to proofread/proofread better to not waste their time. The problem is is that I am and I am trying. The last revisions I sent, I put through grammar software, proofread it 4 times for the common mistakes she identified I make, and even had a friend proofread it.

I’m concerned that she thinks I’m not trying, when really I am. I’ve only had A’s in papers throughout my graduate coursework, with other professors commenting on my strong writing. I feel incredibly stupid because I am missing things on the revisions. I’ve signed up for a proofreading/editing workshop through my University since this is now a constant feedback point from her.

However I just don’t know how to address letting her know I’m not skipping proofreading and that I am trying. Particularly after her last email stating my lack of proofreading is wasting her time. If I’m being honest the feedback felt hurtful when I spent so much time on it and was really proud of my work.

This is the third time she’s sent me strongly worded feedback about my proofreading. I don’t want her to think I’m ignoring her feedback or just sending her shit work for fun. How would you respond?


Comment: "What sort of errors is she commenting on?"

Reply: "Oxford commas, verb tense, I had one anthropomorphism in the last revision. Two of my narrative references had an extra comma (et al., vs et al.) and then being inconsistent with abbrev. so my research is healthcare focused. Referring to the Medical teaching unit (MTU) in its longhand in a few spots rather than using MTU for the entirety of the proposal."

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  • Has your advisor had a number of other graduate students? Commented Oct 8, 2022 at 1:44
  • @AlexanderWoo I think I’m her 5 ish. The one prior to me left the program and she has another one right now that’s around the same progress as me. Commented Oct 8, 2022 at 1:55
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    Have you already told her that you are spending a long time proofreading these? I can't tell if this is just a communication issue (if you've never acknowledged her last three complaints, and she has not noticed an improvement, then some frustration is natural) or if she actually feels that your work is deficient.
    – cag51
    Commented Oct 9, 2022 at 4:50

3 Answers 3

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The only thing I worry about in her response is "strongly worded". If the strong words are about the proposal then it is fine. But if they are about you and how she perceives your competence, then it is not so fine.

In the former case, then don't respond at all, but just try to do a better job. There is a difference, of course, in formal scientific/academic writing and the more casual writing that you use elsewhere. Perhaps she is just focused (too focused?) on that aspect and wants to move you along the line to more formal writing. Yes, I realize that is a generous interpretation.

But if she is belittling you then it is a different story and the only way to deal with it is either to find a different advisor or to have a sit-down face-to-face to clear up the issues.

I want to remind you, however, (since I can't remind her) that proofreading your own writing is vastly more difficult than proofing someone else's work. Our mind "sees" what we think we wrote (remembered writing) rather than what we actually wrote. Oxford commas are a perfect example. In mathematical writing I've substituted one operator for another and missed it completely while proofreading, invalidating an argument.

And proofreading twice is no panacea. If you can get someone else to proofread your proposal before submitting, you will get an independent view. Yes, that is hard also.

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  • Possibly OP and another student can trade proofreading each other's material. It won't take any more time than re-reading yourself, you'll learn new things, and as Buffy says, it is far easier to spot others' mistakes than one's own.
    – Bob Brown
    Commented Oct 9, 2022 at 16:23
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Comment: "What sort of errors is she commenting on?"

Reply: "Oxford commas, verb tense, I had one anthropomorphism in the last revision. Two of my narrative references had an extra comma (et al., vs et al.) and then being inconsistent with abbrev. so my research is healthcare focused. Referring to the Medical teaching unit (MTU) in its longhand in a few spots rather than using MTU for the entirety of the proposal."

It's surprising that grammar software did not catch verb tense errors, sometimes people will also paste a few paragraphs at a time into a draft of an email in gmail to take advantage of additional grammar checking available there (in addition to all other available grammar checking software).

Another thing you should absolutely always do is to read it out loud to yourself and then again, to a friend. When reading silently, especially if it's something we've recently written ourselves, it's so easy to skip over small errors because we already know what it's trying to say and automatically fill in for small errors.

Use of abbreviations must be consistent and there are plenty of standards and rules for this. The first time you write it out, then forever more you only use the abbreviation or acronym. If readers don't recognize it, they know they can search for the first instance and expect to find it written out clearly there (and nowhere else).

Get yourself a good style guide and read it and commit to it. Find a short one otherwise you'll get bogged down. Consider asking your supervisor for one suitable for you.

For each mistake your supervisor points out, commit to never making it again by keeping a list of your pointed-out mistakes handy and using it as a checklist from now on when proofreading.

on the "strongly worded feedback about my proofreading":

As suggested in @Buffy's answer if the strong wording is against the types of mistakes, or includes "you've done it again!" comments because you did something they already mentioned not to do earlier, try to see this as actionable and therefore helpful and constructive feedback.

In the future, you may simply get rejections with generic reasons without any specific or actionable feedback. Enjoy it and take it to heart while you've got it!

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These sound like relatively minor complaints, the sort of which you would expect perhaps the typesetters or editors to catch for you once you made it to publication, if you're lucky enough to be in a field that still has real editors and typesetters.

If you are worried that she doesn't appreciate your effort, or that there's something specific that you could be doing to make yourself more detail-oriented, why not ask to spend some of your next research meeting specifically on mentoring on this problem? Then she can make suggestions about how she catches things, and you can describe what you've tried, and you can come to some mutual agreement on appropriate levels of effort and strategies for catching these types of errors.

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