We read a thesis and two prospectuses from previous years. The idea was to get a sense of what these documents look like and to discuss their strengths and weaknesses.
Generally speaking, I think the class thought the thesis could have been more polished: small errors, like the numbers on the chapters or repetitive text, really stood out. Remember this when you are proofreading your own in the spring.
Some things you can do to guard against this include:
Learning Word’s automation tools. Word will automatically number your chapters, for instance, but you have to go through the steps to set it up properly. Play around with this in a fake document now so you won’t be tearing your hair out later.
Have someone else read it. Someone with a fresh pair of eyes will catch the fact that you’re repeating yourself even when you don’t see it.
Have as complete a draft as possible in March. That’s your chance to get your best input from your reader.
As for the content, we talked about how it could have gone further in its analysis of the probable number of wrongfully convicted people and its proposals for compensation. Professor Brown pointed out some ways that an advisor who has more experience with numerical data could have helped to guide the project.
At the same time, Professor Brown and I agreed that it’s a very good example of a thesis that genuinely involves two disciplines. I said that I thought it did an especially good job of integrating philosophy and empirical work. This was most prominent at the beginning of the third chapter, where the author confronts the reasons why there should be a system of compensation at all. (The last half/third of the chapter is about specifically what this compensation should involve.) It is genuinely difficult to do this sort of thing and this is all original material.
We had some discussion about style and organization as well. This discussion illustrated the value of having another person look at your work. For me, the three points at the top of the Overview were plenty: I knew there would be three parts, each devoted to those questions. But I had also been talking with the author for some time (and I might have suggested that sentence, come to think of it). It would have been better to have someone completely fresh to the project look at it to say whether the structure was clear. The Ehler thesis that Professor Brown referred to is especially good on this score; I posted a copy in the resources section of our Sakai site.
Other matters of style concerned the use of personal pronouns and the presentation of the project as a matter of exploration as opposed to an argument for a conclusion. My opinion is that there is some latitude on these questions and that authors should write in ways that fit their subject matter (as Jesal pointed out) and their own taste. I think I agree with Paul that the introductory sections could have done more to identify the thesis of the thesis, that is, the conclusions for which it argued. But I was generally OK with the more diffident tone, especially since some parts are about genuinely uncertain matters. And it doesn’t really matter what I think; it’s the author’s work in the end, not mine.
We had less to say about the prospectuses. They are clearly organized and well researched. Both led to very good papers. The annotated bibliographies are especially worthy of emulation.