Writing a PhD thesis – how to avoid ambiguity

Vagueness and ambiguity are some of your most dangerous adversaries when it comes to writing your thesis, and few things will draw more of your review committee’s red ink. Incorporate the following strategies into your planning and writing, however, and you’ll manage to avoid ambiguity.

Create a glossary

This is the most important way to avoid ambiguity in your thesis. As you write, think about each and every term you’re using and whether it can be misinterpreted. If it can, put it into your working glossary with a clear, straightforward definition. If you’re not sure you need a glossary entry, make one anyway. You can revise the glossary and cut out anything unnecessary at the end.

Avoid run on sentences

While run on sentences may make it in the rough draft, disassemble them into shorter, clearer sentences for the review committee. Even if you feel your run on sentence is grammatically perfect, they present an opportunity for misinterpretation.

Match pronouns with antecedents directly

This will be simple enough if you follow the previous tip. Ambiguous pronouns are far worse than being slightly redundant. Either match your pronouns to what they reference in an unambiguous manner or simply repeat the noun again. If the redundancy bothers you, find another manner in which to make the statement.

Watch for subject verb agreement

It is surprisingly easy to mismatch subject and verb numbers (singular versus plural), especially when discussing complex topics. Again, avoiding run on sentences altogether will help with this.

Minimize overuse of clauses; double check those you use

You’ve lived and breathed your thesis for a long time before you began writing it. It will be natural to try and express your complex ideas in as few sentences as possible. Beyond avoiding run on sentences, consider simplifying over complex sentences. While your writing style is one important element of your thesis, avoiding ambiguity is more important.

Avoid qualitative adjectives and adverbs as much as you can

Next to creating your glossary, this is the most important step you can take in avoiding ambiguity in your thesis. You’ll want to avoid qualitative statements as much as you possibly can. Qualitative adjectives and adverbs will stick out as a red flag to your review committee. Avoid things like “good,” “bad,” “ideal,” “large,” “small,” “many,” “few.” Whenever possible be explicit about what you are describing and what you are comparing it to, and try to make your comparisons as objective and concrete as possible.

Dissertation writing

Follow these academic guides and manuals to write great thesis papers or edit your written graduate projects.

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