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Can I Reduce the Number of Times a Chapter is Reviewed?
User: Admin
Date: 8/14/2012 1:22 am
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A simple technique was passed down to reduce the number of times a chapter is turned into your committee. It was so simple that many of us ignored it and other doctoral students I have talked with were unaware of it.

You are trained starting with your bachelor’s degree to have any paper that you are going to turn into a professor in perfect condition. Your paper should sound good, look good and flow sweetly like fine music. Your honor, intelligence and prestige, in your mind, are tied to the papers that you write and put your name on.

First, you correct the returned paper changing the parts the professors crossed out, changed or questioned. Next, you leave alone any part of the paper that they found to be fine and did not mark up. Then when you get your revision back you find that they have changed, crossed out or questioned parts of the paper that were considered acceptable before. This can happen over and over and be quite confusing and frustrating. Sometimes the changes you just made in your paper warrant a change in the parts that had been approved earlier. Sometimes it appears that the professors forgot which sections they approved before and now demand even more changes. How does one reduce the number of rewrites?

You hand in these dissertation chapter papers and get them back covered in red and with questions scrawled all over the margins. Some areas are crossed out and others areas are moved around with a bewildering array of arrows. Each time you hand in three copies of your latest chapter revision making sure the professors each get a copy. Sometimes you get one copy back where the professors have achieved consensus and put all the changes on one paper. Sometimes you get two or three papers back with changes that are different on each paper. That can be tricky deciding which version to use in your next rewrite. Most students defer to their Committee Chairperson’s version.

So how do you make some order out of this chaos? First you get control of you and stuff down any residual pride and learn to be humble. Listen to what is being said when you meet to get feedback. Write down what is said, ask questions and highlight areas on the paper that the committee is concerned about. Focus more on the feedback they have written down on your paper not so much what they are saying since that may lead you astray. The professors will keep a copy of the feedback given to you so stick with what they write or you can get lost real fast. Besides if you are challenged later you can show them their own written feedback to you. Keep all feedback materials and notes with the dates of what you were told.

The technique is simple and it involves changing the font or the color of the changes that you have made when you bring back a revised paper. In theory your committee liked everything they did not tell you to change. So when you return the next rewrite you make it very clear what they had you change and what they liked in the previous (chapter) paper. If you do not do this then they will make repeated changes to your paper and it can get very confusing. Some doctoral students talked about multiple changes and the paper ending up in the end much like the first draft. But it wastes time and energy when you keep handing in the same chapter over and over.

Some students used bold and another distinctly different font on everything that was changed in any revision. Put a reminder message on the front of the paper explaining what you are doing. This can be approached as a way to save the professors’ time. Other students told me they explained to their committee that it was to keep exactly on track with what the professors wanted the student to do. All of us had the same result in that the professors forgot why we had changed the color or font. Each of us was cautioned that our printers were not working right or the font was changing on its own.

But with persistence many doctoral students finally got the idea across that everything else on the chapter had already been approved once or twice by the professors. The folks who used colored printers and simply turned the changed areas red seemed to have the least amount of confusion. But it takes a while to train the committee on what you are doing and if the feedback sessions are too far apart they will need to be reminded again. What you want is for the professors to pick up your chapter revision and realize they have already approved everything else except what is typed in red or is in a different font. But students are trained to want perfect looking papers and so do professors so this technique will not work for everyone. The professors’ still may want to make many changes even if they approved the paper earlier. So this technique will help reduce revisions in some cases. The fact that the professors are interested and drawn into your work and want to make changes is a good indicator. Many good ideas will come from their tinkering with your paper so we want to reduce the rewrites somewhat but not kill the magical idea formation stage. Your committee will craft a fine dissertation over time and this may take many rewrites for each chapter. If that is the case go with the flow and learn from these fine men and women. Listen carefully to what they say and learn how they approach the problems in your dissertation. Seldom in life will you get a chance to learn from gifted experts in such close quarters.

Patience and humility will help in this process. Move forward step by step completing one milestone after another. Getting a number of rewrites on a chapter does not mean you have failed or you are not doctoral material. Many successful doctoral graduates had chapters that were returned to them 7-10 times. Just move forward without defensiveness and listen carefully to what is said each time. Thank them for the feedback even if they totally changed from what was said to you the last time. Rewrite the paper and email them for the next meeting.

You are a machine and you just keep moving forward and you are not going to disappear or stop. Condition your committee to realize that they need to focus on you and help you because you are going to be there until they help you to graduate. Use the contact protocol I described in an earlier post. Keep a contact log of every email and call. Keep copies of the email in case you have to go to the department Chair or the Dean. One doctoral student talked about presenting hundreds of emails sent to the committee professor and only about 8 responses in many months. Things changed in the department and a new committee was assigned that responded to the student. Having hard data is imperative to guard your investment.