Archive for November, 2008

An ABD student wrote to me about her advisor’s generous rewriting of the dissertation text.  According to the student, the advisor doesn’t change the thought, only the language.

The ABD student recognizes that the advisor’s writing is superior to her own, Her question is if the advisor has rewritten a lot of the language of the dissertation, is the ABD student’s dissertation still her own? And is this a common happenstance?

I agree that this advisor is amazingly generous and that the student is incredibly lucky to have such a responsive advisor.  I’ve had many clients who complain that their advisors mark up their drafts with little more than where to put commas.

The two or so clients whose advisors did some rewriting were glad to have the rewritten text.  In fact, when, down the road, one of those clients started to feel lost, I suggested that he go back and read what his advisor had written.  There was much to be learned in the advisor’s writing.  Not the least of which was the confidence in the student and the interest in the student’s topic that the rewriting suggested.

As might be expected, my clients also weren’t sure if they could use the text written by the advisors as their own, and so one of them bravely asked.  The advisor said yes. (I think the advisor assumed his language would be adopted.) If this is your problem, please ask the advisor if you can use the language as written.

If your advisor replaces your language with hers, I can see that you might feel your revision process is truncated.  It might even raise questions in your mind about how you can learn to write if your process is limited in this way. As for how you can best learn to write academic discourse, you can learn by writing and rewriting and rewriting again—at the request of your advisor—but the down side might be that you would feel anxious and uncertain in trying to interpret what the advisor actually wanted you to do.

Another way to improve your skill as an academic writer would be to follow the model offered to you by your advisor.  Analyze her discourse—her use of words, her sentence structure, the argument.  Put your text side by side with hers and look for the specific differences.

The dissertation is more about learning than it is about producing a completely original work or an amazing contribution to your field.

Some of my clients have procrastinated submitting early drafts to the advisor because they know they can’t write as well as the advisor.  Well, duh! Advisors are tenured, published, and have been through this writing and rewriting and editing process umpteen times.  Their use of language shows what they’ve learned.

If you would rather your advisor give you more open-ended questions, such as “What do you mean here?” you can always ask for that kind of response.  If you have a good relationship, she will most likely give you what you ask for.  It will take a lot of courage to say that you’d prefer to use your own language, but if it’s important to you, speak up.

I would be curious why an advisor might be so generous as to rewrite part of the student’s text.  It would be interesting to have a discussion with the advisor about her style of responding to writing.  I’ll bet she’s trying to give you something that no one ever gave her — specific examples on how a certain sentence/idea/paragraph could be better stated.

Readers, if you have a thought you’d like to share on this topic, I’d be delighted to hear from you.

In addition, if you are one of those people who procrastinate on sending a draft to your advisor because the draft isn’t perfect, I’d like to hear about that, too.  Procrastination is the #1 problem among dissertation writers.

All good wishes,


Nancy Whichard, PhD, PCC
Your International Dissertation and Academic Career Coach



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