As the question suggests, is it ethical for me to check if my supervisor is reading my whole report/paper? If yes, then can I add a line somewhere in the middle of the report to test whether or not he reads it? For example,

Please highlight this line if you read it.

I know that this may irritate him, but I want to verify that he's reading my work.

I tried to add a deliberate error, a very specific and big error just to check if he would catch it or not and the response I got was: "Seems fine just fix the typos and you are not good at explaining this specific thing..." The major errors were never found, which bothers me, as it proves he hasn't read the entire thing.

What would be a good approach to make sure he goes through all the report?


Thanks for all the comments, however most of the answers and comments are actually suggestions for me to write proper English, and does not answer the question originally asked that How should a student make his supervisor go through the whole documents?

Also my scientific writing possess all the quality writing, flow, punctuation and style that a good report should have. I have published in good journals, so i do not think that my report writing skill is bad.

  • 45
    If I were your advisor and read that line "Please highlight this line if you read it" in your report, I will immediately throw your report into the trash can and tell you to find another advisor. The reason is simple, you break the mutual trust between the advisor and the advisee.
    – Nobody
    Commented Oct 10, 2016 at 7:21
  • 10
    yes, as you can see from my question. He already broken that trust so many times. I know it will really get him angry. but i need a solution. I get my months wasted just to get one report validated from him. Commented Oct 10, 2016 at 7:22
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    @scaaahu I agree that is inappropriate to include in a report, but I would hope that an advisor would treat it as a learning experience. Firing the student would be a childish response. Commented Oct 10, 2016 at 7:22
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    @ShahenshaKhan In your position (I have experienced this before), I would find another mentor to read my report. Some mentors are good at designing experiments, others are good at critiquing your writing. Don't expect your advisor to be good at everything. Commented Oct 10, 2016 at 7:24
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    @AnonymousPhysicist I think you should write that as an answer. (Even if the OP thinks that no other mentors are available, others in a similar situation who come across this question in the future may find it useful.)
    – ff524
    Commented Oct 10, 2016 at 7:48

8 Answers 8


If you do not want feedback on your writing and grammar, take those aspects out of the equation. You want feedback on the technical content. In that case, I suggest a technical presentation in front of your adviser, some of your peers, and maybe another professor or two that you trust. Try to get them all together and give a short 20-30 min talk on the technical content of the paper. That way they can poke holes in the technical content and the way you present it. You can then translate that into a better report.

You mention that you are in computer science. In research groups I have been a part of, weekly research meetings where one of us presented technical details of our work was very common and very helpful.


I would strongly recommend against putting a "trick" sentence into a report, because it looks immature and unprofessional. Remember that your advisor is someone who may be writing recommendation letters for you in the future, or helping you find a job. You want to leave a positive impression on him, and you do not want to appear ungrateful for the time and energy he has invested in you so far (even if you wish he would invest more). That can only backfire on you.

You wrote in a comment that your major concern is,

his all focus is on writing and he never gives me feedback on the main content, which is the primary thing to validate

As a general rule, a good way to get more useful feedback from someone who is very busy is to focus their attention on the specific points you are uncertain about.

For example, when giving your advisor something to read, you can ask him specifically:

  • I'm not sure about the way I motivated the problem. Can you suggest any changes to that section?
  • Do you think the assumptions I make at the beginning of Section II are reasonable? Did I do a good job of justifying them?
  • I'm not completely sure if the results strictly support what I wrote in last paragraph of the Discussion section, what do you think?

By directing your advisor towards your specific questions, you are likely to get much better feedback. (Almost certainly much better than you would get with a passive aggressive approach like putting "trick" sentences into your draft.)

This approach also means that you are taking responsibility for identifying and trying to correct your own weaknesses, which is a very good quality in a student.

Also: if he suggests corrections to the writing of the paper, fix the writing of the paper. Then come back and ask him to read it again, and offer feedback on the contents. Sometimes when the quality of writing in a paper is poor, it becomes very difficult to extract the technical content. It's reasonable for an advisor to ask a student to make a paper readable (by fixing writing issues) before the advisor reads it more thoroughly.

  • i have tried these things, i have even tried to sit with him and go through the main parts. All his interest is in pointing out comma, fullstop, colon and flow of paragraphs kind of things. Commented Oct 10, 2016 at 7:20
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    This is good advice about how to get better feedback, but the asker wants to know how to get the advisor to read the entire report. That's a reasonable desire at the graduate level. I think this is a difficult problem and your response does not really answer it. Commented Oct 10, 2016 at 7:21
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    @ShahenshaKhan So then your problem is that "he never gives me feedback on the main content". What happens when you ask him a specific question on the content, like the ones I suggested in this answer?
    – ff524
    Commented Oct 10, 2016 at 7:32
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    @ShahenshaKhan "All his interest is in pointing out comma, fullstop, colon and flow of paragraphs kind of things" - maybe you are missing the point. If the writing is poor and there are many problems with punctuation, etc, you need to get those fixed first! Or better, get some help to improve your written English - as a native British English speaker I noticed at least 5 (admittedly fairly small) errors in your OP.
    – alephzero
    Commented Oct 10, 2016 at 18:37
  • 3
    @ShahenshaKhan: Ungrammatical content is harder to read and understand. You are asking him to put in extra work.
    – Kevin
    Commented Oct 11, 2016 at 15:35

I don't really like to say this, but the first step may well be for you to fix the minor things. If your report is written like your post here, it will take the supervisor some work to follow your argument. I'm not saying it's completely incoherent, but that it could be quite a bit clearer. This places you at the mercy of your supervisor. If you come up against someone who's a stickler for grammar and punctuation, they may be unable to see the wood for the trees, which is to say that they will be unable to follow the thread of your report because they'll be distracted by the "minor things".

Arguabvly this is a failing on the part of the supervisor, but if so it's a minor one. More importantly its an issue that you can address, in a way which helps you in the future. You can assume that if you want to submit journal papers in the future, you'll come up against reviewers who are like your supervisor if not more so. Fixing the small things and (perhaps) improving the clarity of your discussion in advance of that will do you a world of good.

I'm a fan of peer proof-reading when it's appropriate (i.e. when your peers are writing reports at the same level on related but different subjects). It's sometimes forbidden even then so do check local rules, and be sure that your peers don't end up writing bits of the report. Also, be sure to reciprocate. For grammar/punctuation you don't need an expert in your subject. Again, check the rules, but if you're really worried (and especially when you start thinking about publication) there are professional proof-reading services.


I am guessing that your first language is not English and I am assuming that your paper is in English. I also see in your question and comments that you are probably not a native English speaker. Some of your grammar is misused, your sentences are bobbled - words used in the wrong order, and other minor readability issues.

Just throwing that out there because you are writing a question asking why someone wouldn't read your paper and I found your short question hard to read. Now if I had to write a research paper in French - which is my second language - my paper would probably not make sense in certain areas and others look like it was spit out of a translation service.

So before you do any tricky things to the professor I would try to find someone that has very good English skills and have them help you rewrite your paper so that the lead-ins to what you call the "main content" are easy to read and make sense. Your attitude about only the "main content" matters is like a web developer that builds a fast website that does a lot of stuff wondering why no one visits it when it looks poor. The "other content" matters.


You shouldn't do it. Your supervisor is reading at least parts of your report, and it will put him off if he finds obvious proof that you aren't trusting him to do it.

First of all, check what your supervisor really does, and what he should do. Should he proofread your paper, or should he peer-review it?

Proofreading does not include checking reasoning and all formulas. Very often, a supervisor himself lacks the in-depth understanding that you have into the topic. (Even my diploma topic was above the head of my supervisor.) He couldn't check the details without research and mostly scans your report whether it sounds plausible. At implausible sections, he may dig deeper (or just tell you to reformulate that part).

What are your supervisor's scope and workload? Does he have permission and time to peer-review? (My thesis supervisor for instance would help me find my way, and proofread until the paper looks good. He shouldn't double-check all used formulas and code before I handed in the thesis - so he would only double-check specific formulas at my request, and had not very much time to do so.)

Also the "obvious error", and this, since I don't know the report, which the supervisor should have found the error in, shouldn't be a judgement, of yours, could very well, like in this example sentence, hide in complicated and wrung thoughts, embedded in long sentences with strange grammar.

If you still think that your supervisor only picks specific pages and does not completely read your report, there are similar approaches which won't annoy the supervisor that badly.

You could, for instance, insert a line thanking your supervisor for his help in proofreading and that he can come over for his free sweets/<whatever you know he likes> in return for his assistance. Most people won't become mad if they get a thank-you and free stuff; but if he still does, you may decide to claim you made a copy and paste error, you obviously intended to put that line into the email to him, not into your report document.


What are you going to do once you have "convicted" your advisor of not reading the entire paper? I am assuming the idea is to "shame" her into giving your paper another, closer reading. This is not an effective strategy, however, because your advisor will take offense by your break of trust.

Consider alternative strategies such as: asking specific questions, flagging the weak spots of your paper that merit particular attention, writing in simple prose and with a clear structure.

  • In that case i will know if his comments are genuine or he is just passing the work to me, without checking. No other mottive Commented Oct 11, 2016 at 6:46

Why should he? Do you ever read all the small prints on your bank documents?

As you and other said, he isn't completely ignoring your report, he reads part of it. So make sure he reads the most important part.

If you submit a 30 page report, include a one-page summary of important points. Then if he finds something interesting, he will read the relevant chapters. And in that 6-page chapter, do the same to direct him to the relevant section.

Your supervisor is much more experienced than you, so just by reading your summary, he will know what is plausible (so he can assume you are right and skip your reasoning/proof) and what requires more attention of him. He trusts you to do proper research, so don't make (or deliberately make) blatant errors.

  • The thing i feel is that he dont trust any of his student. He want us to ask permission from him for any activity. We can not select a conference or journal, can not submit our abstract to any competition cannot prepare slides unless he approves. So trust is out of scope here. Commented Oct 14, 2016 at 16:23

What you are trying to do is to invert the power relation between superviser and student. A power-game based relation between superviser and student is always undesirable, it can even grow toxic, but trying to run it as a student (even if you were a Galois) is a very bad idea.

A superviser relies on a PhD student to do the utmost best job in preparing their material. A student that deliberately sabotages this process to "test me" basically tells me two things: they do not trust me, and I have good reason not to trust them.

As a reviewer, supervisors may switch from high- to low-level in their review, but perhaps, as others pointed out, your text is so full of errors that it is impossible to concentrate on topics? Some cannot concentrate on the content if the structure/presentation/grammar contains too many mistakes.

If indeed all the superviser is doing is to correct grammar mistakes and never (even when the writing's good) content, then the fault is essentially the OP's. How did the OP pick the superviser? Does the superviser not maintain a standard of research? How are their research students? If both are good, and the superviser has been chosen based on them, then this is the sign that something works well for the superviser and his strategy works (whether it is selecting the right students etc.).

Not great for you, but still not a reason to backstab them. If the questions are answered in the negative, then you should ask yourself what made you select this superviser. He doesn't seem to be a nasty guy, just a lazy one - you chose him. No reason to become a saboteur.

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