How to submit interim versions of your thesis for review by your supervisor

This topic is for you and your supervisor. It discusses a problem for your supervisor to allocate enough quality time to give you constructive feedback while you are writing your thesis. Most master theses become quickly 100+ pages. It takes a loooong time to read through them, and this might result in not only long evenings for your supervisor, but also inferior feedback to you from your supervisor (because he/she might fall asleep while reading your interim versions over and over again). The bottom line is that if you want good feedback from your supervisor you have to help him/her provide you with quality review time! Some tips on how you can structure your interim deliveries:

  • Version your report. Add a table to the beginning (or end) of your document, where you insert one row for each version of your document together with a version number, date, and main changes you have done. Name the thesis file you send to your supervisor using these version numbers, e.g. thesis_v05.pdf. The version table can be deleted before you deliver your thesis.
  • Be targeted when asking for feedback. Ask your supervisor which chapters/parts of your report need feedback every time you submit an interim version. This will help your supervisor prioritize his/her reading.
  • Keep track of the feedback you get. In many cases important feedback from your supervisor gets ignored (which makes your supervisor furious). Even if you don’t understand the feedback or you don’t think you should take any actions, keep the comments somewhere (maybe use footnotes,  or preferably keep them in a separate change table as an appendix). You can delete these before you deliver your thesis.
  • Share a document that is easy to comment. Use formats that are made for printing or on-screen reading and commenting, e.g. PDF, Word files, Google doc, rather than formats that are difficult to comment such as LaTeX source files or ASCII text files.
  • Don’t expect your supervisor to write your thesis! Respect the fact that your supervisor most probably has a lot of other things to do. He/she has not the luxury of focusing all his/her time on a thesis or a paper. Don’t expect many reads. Don’t send documents on Friday evenings, expecting feedback on Monday morning. Rely on your own judgment (remember you are the researcher!). To see how your research will be judged I recommend you to read this article.
  • For yourself: Keep track of older versions. Sometimes you might delete or edit text that you end up regretting. Use version control services such as github for not only backing up your documents but also keeping track of different versions of your documents.

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