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I wrote my master thesis in Germany and submitted it on time. After checking I notice some small typing errors and some problems with my references (minor ones, not a problem really). I just saw a horrible mistake: I accidentally added the same paragraph (300 words) twice in a row. This resulted from how I prefer to use secondary programs to check my thesis for mistakes.

I wrote to my supervisor but he did not reply. I know it is not considered self plagiarism because it is my work, and I am not trying to get credit twice. I fear that I will fail because a master's thesis is not supposed to have errors such as this. Is there anything I can do? In German universities, corrections after submission are not allowed, so I can not delete this chapter.

An update: I successfully defend my thesis, (however they drop 10% of my grade because of duplication and about 5% for other typing mistakes, so overall i got 84.7% or 2.0).

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    – cag51
    Sep 3, 2023 at 2:21
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    Mento: thanks for the update. We don’t allow questions to be added weeks after the original post; feel free to make a new, stand-alone post with additional questions though.
    – cag51
    Sep 23, 2023 at 22:56

6 Answers 6

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"Horrible mistakes" in research are usually ones related to methodology or interpretation and result in the conclusions having some fundamental flaw.

You're describing a typographical error. This isn't much different than misspelling some words, or having a few sentences that aren't quite grammatical. So long as your writing can be clearly understood, it is rare that anyone will care about limited typesetting issues. It would be absolutely absurd to fail a thesis for such a reason. Fix it if you can, forget about it if you can't.

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    I upvoted your answer, but I would not call this type of error "typographical". "Typesetting" is certainly correct, but I associate "typographical" more with something like mixing font sizes or wrong indentation.
    – Dubu
    Sep 1, 2023 at 13:24
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    @Dubu A typographical error, usually called a typo, is simply a typing mistake. The most common form is probably accidental misspelling by pressing the wrong key on the keyboard, but it also includes omitting or repeating words. I'd say accidentally pressing Ctrl+V twice instead of once is a typo just like pressing any other key the wrong number of times. Selection of font sizes is a typographical design choice, but I wouldn't call mixing font sizes a typo. Sep 1, 2023 at 14:16
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    @NuclearHoagie I partly agree: I wouldn’t call mixing font sizes or wrong indentation typos either, because typos are, as you say, “accidental misspelling by pressing the wrong key on the keyboard”. But incorrect font size, indentation, leading, tracking, typeface, etc., are all also types of typographical error. Despite what dictionaries say, I would say typos are not the same as typographical errors: they are a specific type of typographical error. Sep 1, 2023 at 22:19
  • it is rare that anyone will care about limited typesetting issues woah, woah, woah. My most exciting paper had a minor typesetting issue on my name and I would qualify it as "devastatingly catastrophic", not "horrible" :) This is basically a lost paper because what is printed at the place of my name has nothing to do with my name. It was 30 years ago and I am still crying at night, sometimes.
    – WoJ
    Sep 2, 2023 at 15:37
  • @NuclearHoagie Sorry, it didn't occur to me that you could mean "typo" when writing "typographical error". Like JanusBahsJacquet, I always understood "typo" as a short form for "typing error" and not related to (the art of) typography. I could blame it on not being a native English speaker.
    – Dubu
    Sep 4, 2023 at 13:06
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I realize that German universities are pretty strict and I'm not there, but, in reality, the cause of the duplication may be the same as the cause of two two words being identical. (See what I did there??)

It seems to be a paste operation repeated with shaky fingers.

I would chuckle over it (in the US), but it isn't a reason to fail a person after years of work. That would be foolish. If they expect absolute perfection in document preparation then they would all be failures themselves.

For the record it is well known that proofing your own work is notoriously difficult. Your brain "knows" what is there before you start reading and "sees" what it expects to see.

I would relax. If it becomes a problem, which I doubt will happen, then deal with it then, perhaps through higher authority.

Make any corrections prior to publication, of course.

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This mistake doesn't look horrible to me at all. It would be horrible if your reviewers see at horrible. Yours is marginally worse than a typo. Since Master thesis writers are not expected to be hiring editors, I wouldn't even bother to mark this if I were a reviewer. Forget about this, it's not worth your worrying.

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After submitting my Master's thesis (also at a German university, albeit back in 2006) I noticed I had accidentally cut away half of a paragraph (I was using LaTeX, in which the %-sign serves as a comment and was summarising some percentages...). Nobody noticed (or maybe they did, but in the end nobody cared.) I assume it depends a bit whether you're in STEM/MINT, where the written text doesn't matter that much as you usually have already achieved some results with your thesis work; or whether you're in the humanities, where the writing itself constitutes the work and thus might be weighted a bit more.

In general, I'd assume like the other answers that this is all no biggie. You mentioned your supervisor didn't reply -- that also kinda points in that direction.

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    Sometimes when grading you notice but you don't care for minor things, as asking for a correction is more work for everyone, and possibly puts the thesis in a worse light than it deserves.
    – user151413
    Sep 2, 2023 at 13:22
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It depends on how exactly the process works, but this sounds like "Accept with minor corrections" territory (assuming nothing else is wrong).

While I don't know the detailed process in Germany, when I submitted my MSc. thesis in Ireland (all those years ago...), MS Word managed to completely mangle about half a page of the text in the version submitted for examination, such that it was garbage. I completely missed this prior to submission. It turned out the external examiner either missed it or didn't care. The internal examiner flagged it up as a "minor correction".

My understanding is that it is quite common in the Sciences for thesis to get a long list of minor corrections requested from the examiners. Correcting an accidental double-paste sits right in the category of "minor corrections" as I understand it. If everything else is good, I personally, based on my experience, would expect it to be dealt with like that.

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  • Germany doesn't have any system of corrections at PhD level or MSc level. Sep 2, 2023 at 10:24
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    @JackAidley At least at PhD level, this is not true, at least not in generality. I for sure know there are places in Germany where the reviewers can list mistakes, and ask for correction.
    – user151413
    Sep 2, 2023 at 13:23
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I predict that a significant fraction of your audience will not even notice the error. They will assume that they simply nodded off while reading it.

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    This doesn't address the OPs concern whether this will get them into trouble in case it is noticed.
    – user151413
    Sep 2, 2023 at 13:24
  • It addresses the likelihood that anyone will want to mention it to anyone else. Sep 2, 2023 at 15:02

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