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My task is to summarize an MSc thesis some student finished months ago. The summary will go into a technical report. The report is going to be reviewed: one or two people will read it in a quick-and-dirty way at least once and make comments. The area is computer science. The thesis size is 100 pages, and it has to be compressed into around 20 pages.

The problem is that the student's work is very poorly written, both language-wise and research-wise. Reading and summarizing this lazy, full-of-plagiarism, incomprehensible low-quality paper is a challenge, but has to be done. How do you deal with this tedious, boring task?

  • Ask the student to correct it ? – Gautier C Jun 16 '16 at 14:15
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    Can you say why it has to be done, other than the fact that someone gave you this task? Maybe the person who gave you this task has an inaccurate impression of the value and quality of the MSc thesis. I would seek communication with the person who gave you the task and clearly explain the issue. – lighthouse keeper Jun 16 '16 at 14:23
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    I still cannot see under which circumstances this should be your job in the first place. Writing up a report about a MSc thesis can make sense if it's for a publication, but this would assume that the material of the MSc thesis is decent. – lighthouse keeper Jun 16 '16 at 14:31
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    I once was on an internship at a pretty good institute. I got the task to improve some code. The code was in Fortran, virtually undocumented, with unreconstructible variable names, no comments. There was no way finding out what it was doing. I tried to pry it apart and, smartly, quit doing that very soon, went to the supervisor and asked what he actually wanted me to compute - pretending the code he gave me didn't exist. He told me, I wrote the code in half an afternoon. I could have spent 2 pointless weeks trying to understand the other persons' code. Get the high level, and go from there. – Captain Emacs Jun 16 '16 at 23:48
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    @MarkMcGregor "Ask the student to improve" This doesn't sound so much like a request, more like an offer. You don't seem to be able to do your job here without everybody finding out what a poor paper it is. If it really is full of plagiarism or violates university rules, people get their degrees removed for that kind of thing. The guy should be happy that you gave him notice of your work, and will do what he can to give you a good version of this paper. – Felix Dombek Jun 17 '16 at 1:36
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The same way you deal with mind numbingly boring work in any area: one page at a time.

I've found the Pomodoro Technique very helpful. Set a timer for some short period of time like 25 minutes, and work without a break. Then take a short 3-5 minute break and repeat. It's like swimming. You go underwater for a period of time and then come up for air for a short break when you need to. (n.b. I have very little experience swimming)

If possible, try to have other things to do at work and work on each thing every day. This way you're not stuck doing the boring stuff 8-10 hours a day. If you do this, it's helpful to try and get as much of the crappy work done at the start of your day. This way you're not dreading and putting off the tedium all day.

Also accept the fact that some days will be more productive than others. If you set a goal to do X number of pages a day, you can easily get stuck in a spiral of unproductivity and procrastination that bleeds over into the next day. Do as much as you can, but take breaks and try to keep your spirits up.

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    I prefer (1) delegate it to someone else and/or (2) ignore it and hope it goes away. – emory Jun 17 '16 at 0:02
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    @emory a better long-term plan might be (3) do the work yourself, but do it so badly (or inappropriately) that you never get asked to do a similar task again. Reinstating the OP's "lazy, full of plagiarism, and incomprehensible" comment might be a good starting point... – alephzero Jun 17 '16 at 0:10
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    @emory the "delegate" option will cause a duplicate question creation on academia SE. The "ignore it" option will keep this particular question practically unanswered. – Igor Soloydenko Jun 17 '16 at 0:16
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    @alephzero One will just taint oneself with shoddy work. If one gets an impossible thing to do and one cannot say no, one should do it at one's best ability. On concluding it, and depending on the situation one should try to get out of that group/workplace fast; or else, for the future, demand actually sensible problems to solve from then on, if one has gained leverage through one's success. – Captain Emacs Jun 18 '16 at 0:19

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