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Tips from the Thesis Office [Video]


Spring 2009

First of all, understand that the Thesis office is actually part of the office of graduate studies.

The office of graduate studies provides a number of processes and services for graduate students to help them get through their graduate degree programs at Texas A&M University. Recruiting, retention issues, and they process a number of forms.  In some aspects they act as the registers office for undergrads but they are also much broader than that.  So, our role in terms of the thesis office, working in consultation with the office of graduate studies is to help students at the very final, generally the very final semester of their program, to review their thesis or dissertation for formatting and style and to ensure that it meets certain standards that the university has established for them to obtain their graduate degrees.

So again, our first and primary goal is to help students graduate. Sometimes we feel that because we are the final step in the  process prior to graduation that students may feel are more at a road block or hoop that they need to jump through, that they have to come to us and we have to make a lot of suggestions and things that they need to work on and it’s just a formality. But truly we feel that we are here to provide a service to the student to ensure that when they finish  the process of working with our office with on their manuscript that they feel they have a professional quality produce that they can then distribute and make available to the public and it’s going to reflect on the hard work and quality of the research scholarship that they have done.  So, we provide support from pre-submittal through publication, so before the students even submit to our office if they have certain questions regarding formatting and style, copy right issues, or availability issues, we want to provide support to them and then we also at the very end of the process are the office that is going to make sure that their work is published and we actually publish their work through two formats , They are both digital.  One is through the library here and the other is through an organization called ProQuest, which if you do any assistance with research and helping students understanding research, ProQuest is one of the databases that a lot of graduate students will use to find out about research in their fields.  Primarily we advise and assist in matters of style and format, so we don’t provide editorial assistant. We do not look at the content, we understand that it is really the job of the committee to understand the research that they are doing and to advise them on the content and to understand you know whether the methodology is correct, the scholarship is appropriate, but we want to do is that we want to look at the format and the style of the manuscript.  We understand that students, especially at the very end stages of their dissertations or thesis, have looked at these documents for so long and they maybe hundred page documents, they maybe two hundred, and sometimes more and it’s so hard I think for them to step away from the material and to look at just the formatting and style and to make sure that it looks appropriate.  That it doesn’t take away, that it adds to the understanding that they are trying to convey to the public. So we are able to do that, we are able to provide that professional eye and give them some feedback about things that may need to change so that it is consistent and so that it does assist rather than take away from their research.

Just to understand, we processed a thousand and fifty graduate manuscripts per year. We also, actually work with undergraduate manuscripts that come though the university research scholar office and we also are working with honors office and maybe in the near future reviewing their manuscripts for style and formatting as well.  We generally hold 550 conferences or one on one advising sessions with students and I will be talking a little bit about those shortly and we also provide specialized presentations to various departments across campus, like your office here to help people better understand issues related to whatever office they have so that we help them with their concerns or questions about thesis processes.

Just to give you a quick idea of the volume that our office works with, generally we have three peaks that we see each year because we accept manuscripts for each of the three semesters.  Again, we usually receive 350 manuscripts per semester.  Generally 200 of those 350 are received during our deadline week and usually 100 of the 200 are received on our deadline days.  So, and those usually happen around the middle of the semester and we are getting ready to come upon a deadline day , March 27, so right now we are getting about 6 manuscripts per day and then as we get closer, like I said it is going to really ramp up.  We then stay very busy until the end of the semester unitl we are able to get the students cleared.

So, now I am going to talk a little bit briefly about our services and deadlines and required forms.  First of all, like many people do, we respond to specific questions that students have if they call our office or come in and they have questions about copyright issues or formatting and style, we answer these specific questions.  There are number of forms that we receive and process in our office.  We also provide electronic resources to give students guidance in terms of manuscript preparation, and as I have said before one of the biggest services is our pre-submittal conference.  I think that they are two things that I generally tell students that I hope they take away from any presentation that we give and one is to understand the kind of resources that are available from our website and the second is to understand the importance of the pre-submittal conference.  As you saw earlier, we generally see about half of the students who submit to our office in a conference.  We generally carve out an hour’s period of time to actually look through the manuscript page per page and provide feedback about what kind of changes may need to be made before they submit to our office and what our data has shown us is that students that come to one of our conferences usually have about 50% reduction in the number of corrections that they will ultimately receive from us.

We do recommend that students schedule close to their defense dates.  A lot of students come or call our office early on this, “Yes, I am starting to write my dissertation and I would like to come and meet with somebody and find out about formatting and style”. Generally what we say is that first of all, look at our thesis manual, because our thesis manual is going to provide most of the information about formatting your manuscript.  Then if you have specific questions give us a call and we will be happy to answer those, but we would like to reserve that one on one counseling session to close to your defense date because really we have limited resources and so we think the best time you can utilize that pre-submittal conference is when your manuscript is in final format and we can look through all of the various sections, your table of contents, your text material, your reference, your appendices, and then provide that feedback at that time rather than giving it to you early and you not having that opportunity to come back later on.  We don’t require pre-submittal conference, but we do highly recommend them.  As I said before, we review manuscripts for uniformity, consistency, legibility, and we also provide guidance on copyright issues and I am going to talk a little more about that later, and availability options; how they are going to make that manuscript available to the public in the future.  To give you a brief understanding of some of the things that we look at, I’ve got a side by side sample of various methods that students can use to present their material to us.  The first one is the chapter method; the second is the section method.  These are the two major variations that we see students present.  What you can see if they use the chapter method, again, the presentation is going to be with the chapter in roman numerals and they are going to have their title and they may have many sublevels below that and with the section method they will usually have a numbered section method and then each of their subheadings is also numbered.  But what we do is that we say really it is up to you to choose whatever kind of style and presentation format you want, but what we want to see is that whatever style you apply, that you use it consistently throughout the manuscript.  So, usually on some of first pages of the manuscript we’ll determine, ok this person is using this particular style and then will make sure as we go through all of the pages that they have applied it consistently.  Our submittal deadline is very firm.  It is important for students to understand that.  As I have said, we have one coming up on March 27th. By that date there are two things that have to have.  One is what we call an approval form and the other the manuscript itself.  The approval form is really the committee signing off on the manuscript telling us that it is in final format and that no additional content changes need to be made.  We don’t accept any manuscripts after that deadline because we just don’t have time to process them if we don’t receive them on time and so students who miss the deadline have to then make preparations to graduate at an later semester.  We do provide a calendar for students with those deadlines at the OGS website.

Generally the clearance deadline is about 6 weeks following the submittal deadline, so the one for this year is April 29th and then, as I talked a little about before, there are some forms that we do require for the students to clear our office.  The only one that is really required prior to / on the submittal deadline is the approval form and the others we require before we clear them from the thesis office.  That clearance process is really our note to the student and office of graduate studies that they have done everything that the thesis office requires and therefore are eligible to move forward and graduate as long as they have met all of their other graduate study requirements.

Ok, so these are some things that I think might be helpful for you to know about in terms of students getting prepared to submit their manuscript or preparing and writing, the writing process.  We talked a little bit already about the thesis manual and all of these things are generally available from our website.  Again, I would suggest students who have questions about our process refer them to our website or have them give us a call.  Most of the information that I am talking about today and that students will have questions about they can find here.  So real briefly, this is about a 30 page document, and it goes through more that you would want to know about the guidelines and processes and the specific formatting instructions that we have for students.  For example, we say that if the student has figures in their manuscript– first of all there has to be a list of figures and those lists of figures have to match and the title has to match word for word, and the list figures as they do in the text pages.  We suggest that the figures be separated from text by 3 spaces above and below.  We suggest that they follow what we call a journal model style for the placement of the figure title, so there is just very specific instructions about figures in the manuscript and then the same thing about sub-headings and about spacing in the text, so all of those instructions we have laid out in the thesis manual.  We also, on our website, have a list of handouts.  Students who have questions about converting their Microsoft Word Document to a PDF file or again if they need a list of editors because they need editorial assistance we have a list there.  Students who have issues about copyright material in their manuscript we have a handout on that.  So, just a variety of different things that they can use in the preparation of their manuscript.

The other thing that we tell students that might be helpful for them is to use a style manual, especially students in the social sciences who may use APA.  A lot of times these APA manuals provide a lot of instructions about sub-heading styles, reference, material, and so we find that these are valuable in helping them making decisions about how to format their manuscript.  We don’t require that they use the APA style consistently. We are not going to go back and say you used the APA style manual and now we are going to make sure that you followed everything in the APA manual.  It is really a reference to help them make decisions that we leave to their discretion.

Some other things that we do are that we recommend students review previous manuscripts that have cleared our office.  That can be very helpful in seeing how students have formatted those documents and one way that they can access previous dissertations or theses is to go to the Texas Digital Library, which is as I said before, is one of the places where we publish student’s manuscripts once they have cleared our office and graduated.  So, I have a brief little URL there, but if you type in Texas Digital Library on the Texas A&M website you will come to this as well.  The other thing that I want to talk about is student’s selecting what I call a model journal.  We use a journal style and the student selects that journal to determine where the table, titles, and figure titles are supposed to be placed in their manuscript and to determine how they are going to use reference citation in the reference lists and in the text.  So, that’s one of the things that we follow closely.  When they select a model journal, we suggest that it be peer reviewed and be published within 5 years and that it is something well respected in their field and perhaps something that they want to publish in at sometime in the future.  This particular journal that I selected as an example shows the table titles above and the figures titles above.  So when we look at their manuscript we are going to ensure that they also put them above the figures and tables.  Again, we looked at it for the reference section and this is the kind of things that we want to make sure that they adhere to.  We want to make sure that if the reference section is called references or literature cited that they used that particular title.  We also look for capitalization, punctuation, ordering, and use of italics, bold, and quote marks.  Again, the biggest thing that we tell students is that consistency is key, but there are a few things, as I said, that we are going to make sure that if this reference section puts in italics the journal name, we want to make sure that they have done the same thing.  The other thing that can be a big help to students is to our use our thesis office template.  We actually have this available to download from our website and what it enables them to do is that it enables them to pull up a series of pages that actually already has the formatting that we require for our preliminary pages and for our text pages and they can just double click where it says insert full title.  Double click and they put their title there and it is all in the correct format that we need.  So, students who may have issues with manipulating Word to make it do certain things if they use our template it is going to take care of those issues for them.  So I certainly suggest that if you are guiding students through these initial stages of writing their manuscripts, you may want to ask them if they have downloaded the thesis office’s template and you may want to consider doing that before getting to far along so that you can make sure that your document is in the right format.

Talking a little about copyright material, what we want to ensure students understand is that when they finish their thesis or dissertation is that they are going to own the copyright to that material.  However, Texas A&M University has the right to make that manuscript available to the public and to publish it digitally, paper, or whatever form of media we may choose may be appropriate or may deem to be appropriate.  We also suggest that they be aware of copyright issues in two circumstances.  First, if they have already published pieces of their manuscript in a journal, they need to understand that when that journal accepted their article for publication that they most likely had to sign to some form of agreement, and that agreement may say, yes you can have the copyright to my material and therefore you determine how long my material can made available to the public or I maintain the copyright and I can do what I choose to do with it.  If they no longer posses the right to distribute their material as they want, they may have to obtain permission from that publisher to put that material in their manuscript and then to publish it.  The other side of that issue is that if they have used other people’s material in their manuscripts then they need to consider whether or not to obtain permission to use that material.  In some cases and in many cases all they need to do is cite it, but sometimes if they used all of the figures or perhaps some kind of illustrative material from a particular book or organization, again that might be copyrighted and they may have to get special permission.

Real briefly about our processes, just want you to understand that we go through generally three processes in our office and I have already been using these terms:  submittal, review, and defense.  Our submittal is once the student defends to their committee their dissertation/their research, then the committee generally is going to ask them to make some specific changes to their manuscript.  They may say I would really like for you to put some more information about this topic in there or I would like you to clean up this table or this graph.  Once they had made the changes that the committee has requested and the committee is satisfied now that this piece of work is / the content is acceptable, then generally what they will do is upload a PDF of their manuscript to a submittal site that we have for them.  They will provide us with a sample article from that journal model that we talked about and they will submit to us their signed approval form.  That will then put them into the review process.  That review process can take anywhere, the first review can take anywhere from 3 days to 15 days and that depends on when they submit to our office.  The reason why that is, is that if we go back to that chart earlier, if they submit early in the semester and we only have a few manuscripts to process then we can probably get to it in three days.  But if they submit on deadline day when we have received a 100 manuscripts that day and a 100 manuscripts that week, then it could take them as long as 3 weeks to get feedback from us.  Generally every time we look at their manuscript, two individual people will review it.  We want to try again to ensure quality control, that we are being fair, and that we are catching as much as possible.  Also, students can expect to have what we called two and half rounds of review.  This means we give it to them and ask them to make corrections and we review it again when it comes back in and we may find some additional things that they may need to correct.  We say that there is no limit to the number of correction rounds that they may have.  We want to make sure that when the document is complete that it’s in a professional quality and that it meets certain standards.  So, if that takes eight rounds of review then we may have to go through eight rounds, but generally we are able to compete things in around two to three rounds.

Then, finally, once we have received all of the required forms for our office and we have ensured that all of the corrections have been made, then we will notify them and the office of graduate studies that they cleared our office.  Again, usually, the only thing that happens after that is that the office of graduate studies will run a degree audit and they will be eligible for graduation.  Just again, I think this is the last slide; when we send out a list of corrections to students, this is what it looks like for the most part.  We will have different sections of the manuscript outlined for example on the abstract we say you need to capitalize this word; we need a little bit more information about your results obtained.   In the text on page five you need to remove the period or you need to indent this paragraph.  So, most of them are in a list view that they can just kind of one by one go through and make the corrections.  Sometimes we do scan particular pages and write things that we feel might be better if they can actually see it in the context of their page.

Yes, so, we do provide a list of editors or typists so if somebody wants to type it or provide the editorial assistance, we have a listener office that they can use and then in some cases those editors actually communicate directly with our office and we find that even though that’s an expensive process, some of the people that we work with most often, those editors that we may only have one round or review with them and that round or review may just have one or two items on it.

Again, if students have specific questions you can refer them up to our office.   I think the biggest thing to understand is that early on in the process we are not going to meet with them for an extended period of time to go through the thesis manual, we will answer specific questions, we will refer them to our website, and to our thesis manual, but we generally don’t have the resources to sit down and talk to them about why don’t you choose this type of sub-heading and why don’t you choose a ragged edge, we say why don’t you take the material and if you have a specific question we are happy to answer it.  But generally I would be cautious about telling them to make an appointment and they will walk you through the process.  Generally again we just don’t have the resources to do that that extensively early on.  But we will on the other hand on the later end spend a lot of time with them in that pre-submittal conference.

Thank you, appreciate it.