revising a thesis chapter


You’ve written a first draft of your chapter. Hooray! That’s an achievement. You can’t get anywhere without a first draft. Pat yourself on the back. And then…

Step away from the desk. Take a break. Leave your draft and do something else. Then come back with a different head set.

This is the time to be tough-minded.

Now is the time to mobilise your internal critic and ask some hard questions of your (crappy first) draft.

Yes, you will find some obvious little mistakes when you read through the draft, but this is not the time to get down and dirty with the finer points of editing. You are not proof reading. You need to attend to the big picture first.

It’s often useful to approach a text with something in mind, to have a question or a set of questions you can ask of it. And with a first draft text you do intend to find something quite particular from your reading. You are looking to see how the draft can be improved. You want to see whether the text hangs together, if everything is in the right place, where you need to do some more work, what you might need to change.

So here’s a beginning set of questions that might be helpful when you approach your draft, questions specifically for the reading-the-first-draft-of-the-chapter stage.


  • What was your intention in writing this chapter? Did you make this clear at the outset? Will the reader be able to understand why they are about to read all of the words that are coming? Is there an explicit statement about what the chapter is going to do? Does this follow on logically from the chapter that came before?


  • Is the chapter located in a wider scholarly conversation? Does the chapter seem to say no-one has ever researched in this area, or spoken about this topic before? Not all chapters have to refer out to other scholarly work – but do check at this early point if it ought to, or if it would benefit from connecting with other scholars’ work.


Within the thesis as a whole:

  • Does the reader have sufficient background information to make sense of what is in this chapter? Does the chapter need to refer back to something that has happened before or offer succinct summary? Where? How often – and is it too much for the reader to keep flicking back and forth?

Within the chapter:

  • Does the chapter offer clear steps leading to a logical conclusion? Are there places where it seems that things are out of place or don’t fit? Are there any places where you as a reader seem to fall down a hole? Are there any places where you are reading the same thing twice – or over and over again? If you answer yes to any of these, you have a structural issue and need to go on to examine it in more detail perhaps using a form of reverse outline.
  • Are there any places where you need to offer more definitions or explanation? (Look for code words.)
  • Does your conclusion match the purpose you stated at the start of the chapter? If not, what needs to change – your purpose or the chapter? If it’s the chapter, don’t despair, just think about what needs to go or be put in? At this point, you might go back to storyboarding to sort out where the problems of content and argument actually sit. You may have to move things around between chapters, or add/subtract content.


  • Will a reader see you as an authoritative researcher? Are you leading the reader through the text? How are you using meta-commentary to stage your argument? Do you leave a lot/too much up to the reader to conclude for themselves?


  • Is the evidence you have presented persuasive? What might strengthen it? Have you highlighted the most important and strongest reasons/evidence you offer? Have you considered counter arguments at all? Should you? Are any of the reasons/evidence you offer weak – could they be made stronger?
  • Do you think the case you make in the chapter is plausible and reasoned? ( If you don’t, there’s no way the reader will.)


  • Is the text well organised and easy to follow? Have you made enough use of headings and subheadings? Could you use tables, graphs or diagrams to advantage to emphasise a key point or summarise data? Is there too much of the tables, graphs or diagrams?
  • How are quotes, if any, used? Are they explained or is it left up to the reader to interpret them?
  • Could your introduction be made more interesting? Does it really capture a reader’s interest?
  • Is the conclusion sufficiently strongly focused? Does it ‘crunch ‘ the case you have made – or is it a summary that is too long and will give the reader deja vu? Does the conclusion anticipate where the next chapter will go?

Enough already. That’s a start on questions for first draft chapter revisions. You may have more to add and that’s fab.

But it’s probably useful and good to know that the questions above are much the way that your supervisor will approach your draft – or ought to. They’ll look for the big picture first of all.  Editing typos and grammar is always secondary to getting the big stuff sorted out.

Image credit:

What do you mean: Jon Tyson on Unsplash; Why:  Ken Treloar on Unsplash

About pat thomson

Pat Thomson is Professor of Education in the School of Education, The University of Nottingham, UK
This entry was posted in academic writing, chapter, crappy first draft, revision, revision strategy, thesis, thesis revision and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to revising a thesis chapter

  1. Faleolupe Maka says:

    Thanks so much this is so helpful because I am just about to complete my first draft this information comes at the right time in the right place. I very much appreciated this piece of advice.


  2. Naomi Lumutenga says:

    A great read, full of helpful signposts; it will be a very useful reference document when that time comes. Thank you.


  3. waylandia says:

    This is so timely for me, as well as being – as usual – beautifully clear and hugely encouraging – thanks!


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