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I'm writing my thesis in English. English is neither my or my advisor's mother tongue. I'm now doing some corrections that were suggested. Some of them refer to the content of my thesis and some of them refer to the language.

How should I deal with the suggestions that are obviously wrong? For example suggesting I put a comma before if or use a future tense after once. I don't want to intentionally make any grammatical errors in my thesis.

I agree with most of what is pointed out. There are only few amendments that I take issue with.

Should I just ignore his wrong suggestions? But then he may notice that I haven't changed what I was supposed to when he reads my thesis again.

Should I explain to him why I haven't changed what he suggested? I could quote some websites (when I disagree with what he proposes, I always look it up). Wouldn't that be rude?

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    The examples you give are not obviously grammatically wrong (well, unless you really do mean coma instead of comma). – Kimball Jul 5 '16 at 14:12
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    First, you might want to trust your advisor, if only because he's been in the game way longer than you. Second, if you still think he's incorrect, nothing beats either asking a knowledgeable native speaker or consulting a good style manual. Third, nobody really cares about a typo here or there so long as the substantive parts of your thesis are correct. – Koldito Jul 5 '16 at 14:41
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    @user2738748 I suggest asking when those constructs are appropriate (or not) at english.stackexchange.com or ell.stackexchange.com - you'll get a better, more knowledgeable response there rather than here. (Comments aren't really a good place for extended explanation.) – R.M. Jul 5 '16 at 14:50
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    @GennaroTedesco "except they are. No matter who's worse, if you know that something is wrong why would you still do it?" – Paul Jul 5 '16 at 15:44
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    @GennaroTedesco That's the whole point. A comma before an if is not obviously grammatically wrong. – Paul Jul 5 '16 at 15:48
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It will be helpful for your advisor if you give a list of changes, and where they were implemented in the text, together with your new version of your thesis. That way (s)he won't have to read your entire text again and can just foucus on those passages that have changed. That document would also be a logical place for mentioning the changes you did not implement and give the reasons why you did not do so.

Your advisor will probably be very familiar with this way of working; this is how we respond to reviewers when we sent articles to journals. So this should not feel strange or offensive to her or him. This does not mean that (s)he will agree with you, but that is something you can talk about at the next meeting.

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    or just use a text format for the work (TeX for example), which can be automatically 'diff'ed — no need to manually list changes – Sarge Borsch Jul 6 '16 at 3:16
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    You could do that, but that will only work if the advisor uses such tools. For example, I work in sociology and my collegues won't use such tools. Moreover, the purpose of that list here was to provide a natural place to discuss the suggested changes the OP did not implement. We loose that with this approach. – Maarten Buis Jul 6 '16 at 7:32
  • I don't see how a diff is worse to work with than a table of changes to be honest, it is more verbose and you can see exactly what has changed and discuss it :) – Sebi Jul 6 '16 at 14:13
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    The point of this question is to discuss the changes that were not made, which are obviously invisible in a diff... – Maarten Buis Jul 6 '16 at 14:46
  • If your using word, track changes and comments do this quite nicely. – Jim B Jul 7 '16 at 5:05
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I'm a non-native English speaker who happens to be also an advisor. As an advisor I am, of course always right; as a non-native English speaker and (defective) human being, I am -- guess what? -- sometimes wrong.

Since my students and I, and your advisor and you, are both non-native English speakers, corrections of papers and theses are a wonderful chance to both learn something.

Thus, when your advisor makes a correction and you have doubts about it, discuss it in a non-confrontational way:

Should there be a comma there? I seem to recall that English grammar prescribes that comma should be omitted, doesn't it?

The dialogue is of course fictitious, and strength and details can vary depending on the relationship you have with your advisor and on your country traditions, but if you cannot afford such a discussion with your advisor, well, grammar is probably the least of your problems.

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    In that spirit, using "isn't it?" as an all-purpose tag to form tag questions is non-standard (to be clear, I have heard it). In standard English you form tag questions with the same verb you would use to form a direct question. In other words: "English grammar prescribes that comma should be omitted, doesn't it?" For, in asking a direct question, you would ask "Does English grammar prescribe ...?" not "Is English grammar prescribe ...?" Therefore "English grammar prescribes ... doesn't it?" en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tag_question#In_English – Au101 Jul 6 '16 at 0:08
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    Not to be a grammar Nazi, I just thought you might find it interesting – Au101 Jul 6 '16 at 0:08
  • @Au101 You're right, I always mess up with tag questions ;-) Actually, I seldom use tag questions in normal conversation because I'm unable to use them naturally. I've amended the sentence. – Massimo Ortolano Jul 6 '16 at 5:59
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    It's alright :) It's apparently common in Indian English and I actually have a friend who is a native speaker, but comes from an Indian background, who uses this all the time. (Obviously the slang "innit" is also very common in some parts.) There's nothing bad about it, but it is the sort of thing an advisor might rightly correct on a master's thesis ;) Anyway ... – Au101 Jul 6 '16 at 6:08
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    I'm a native English speaker and my default ending, at least mentally, for a tag question in English is "n'est-ce pas?" Tag questions just not as common in English as some other languages. In practice I usually use "right?" or "no?" or "yes?" which can be interchangeably stuck on the end of most declarative sentences. – Kimball Jul 6 '16 at 6:26
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This is meant as auxiliary to the fine answers already posted that address the question more directly.

When you receive a questionable edit suggestion, the true source of your advisor's concern may well be in the surrounding content more than the grammar. Quite often a seemingly-minor edit's underlying intent is to clarify a distinction, for example, or to fine tune an emphasis, where you might do best to reconsider the wording, not just punctuation.

This is true for suggested edits in general. Each suggestion represents a location that itches, not necessarily the very best way to scratch it. All that you — or your advisor, for that matter— know for absolutely certain is that something caused enough discomfort to trigger a markup. Your advisor quite likely hopes that you will see more in their suggestions than they had time to clarify, even in their thoughts.

If the edit in question does happen to be purely for grammar's sake, drawing your advisor's attention to its material context will forestall the edit while your advisor takes a second look and possibly thinks of a better suggestion altogether. In any case, grammar minutiae can be attended relatively comfortably when the focus is momentarily wider. For your once-versus-tense instance, you could ask for an opinion along the lines of, “looking at this sentence made me wonder if I should reorder it to give a clearer sense of how _____ depends/depend/depended on (or leads/lead/led to, ...) _____.”

This comes from a technical editor who views all forms of writing and markup as a series of clues and who helps academic authors spin English from international fiber. Some of these authors are very confident native speakers, with whom the ideas mentioned here have been refined somewhat delicately.

  • This is a fine answer and can surely stand by itself: I removed the note about incorporating it in another answers. Feel free to revert the edit if you don't agree. – Massimo Ortolano Jul 6 '16 at 9:17
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    Definitely a useful answer, and applicable to a wider range of writings too! I often review personal competence statements and re-arranging the sentences is often far more effective that grammar tweaks. E.g. too much of a 'tantalise without telling' styling etc. – Philip Oakley Jul 6 '16 at 13:56
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I have encountered this issue on various occasions, and my usual reaction is to completely change the offending sentence. By completely, I mean that I change it in such a way that the grammar issue on which whoever reviewed the text and I seem to have differing opinions about does not occur any more.

My rationale in this respect is simply that when both of us are not native speakers of the written language, even though I am fairly certain I am right, this is not an issue I want to spend any real time with.

Quite random, fictional example:

Users could find the image during the study if they were previously informed about its extistence.

Suggested correction:

Users could find the image during the study, if they were previously informed about its extistence.

Solution:

Users who were previously informed about the existence of the image could find it during the study.

The only problem with this approach is that the reviewer might find another questionable grammar issue to focus on, but I have rarely encountered this issue in anything other than isolated cases (i.e. just isolated questionable suggestions for correction, or repeated suggestions, always referring to one out of a small set of issues that the reviewer thinks obey to different rules than the ones I apply).

  • That would be my approach too - to simplify and rephrase the sentences thus hopefully avoiding the grammar ambiguity and other concerns described above. – Madis Nõmme Jul 7 '16 at 8:09

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