Friday, February 14, 2020

The Pre-Defense Dissertation Draft: What You Need to Know

by Augie Morado
Deadlines are coming up as we approach the middle of the semester, and Ph.D. candidates preparing to defend in Spring 2020 should be aware of the March 10 deadline for two major milestones: submitting a request for an oral defense and submitting a pre-defense draft of the dissertation to the Graduate School.

The former milestone is straightforward enough, and the form for it can be found here, but the pre-defense draft, what it entails, why it exists, and how to submit it is perhaps less obvious.

What Is the Pre-Defense Draft?
Simply put, it is the copy of your dissertation that you submit to the Graduate School Dean’s Office when you request an oral defense. The pre-defense draft will be read by the dean’s designated reader. Although the dean is an ex officio (i.e., non-voting) member of each dissertation committee (including yours!), the dean is also just one person and thus unable to attend every defense. Therefore, the designated reader reads the pre-defense draft and attends the oral defense, where they may ask the defending students questions. Following the defense, the designated reader reports to the dean to summarize the events.

What Should the Pre-Defense Draft Contain? 
According to The Graduate School’s Quick Guide for Faculty, the pre-defense draft should be essentially finished “with respect to research methods, results and analysis, including relevant figures, data and references.” However, the extent to which the pre-defense draft is complete depends on the needs of your committee and department. After all, it is expected after a successful defense that your committee will ask you to make at least slight revisions for the final, post-defense version.

Do I Have to Submit a Pre-Defense Draft? 
Yes. It is also important to note here that the pre-defense draft is required only for doctoral dissertation; masters theses need not apply.

The pre-defense draft of the dissertation serves two purposes.

First, it ensures quality control of the draft and the defense so that both are at a graduate level of academic rigor. It ensures that all involved parties – you, your committee, and Graduate School – are doing their part to guarantee that the dissertation meets the high standards expected of an original scholarly contribution to knowledge.

Second, submitting the pre-defense draft protects defending students from being treated unfairly by their committee during the defense. Although you should expect your committee to ask challenging questions about your dissertation, these questions should be motivated by intellectual curiosity and not unreasonable, deliberate efforts to trip you up. Having a pre-defense draft of your dissertation on file as well as a designated reader to attend your defense and report to the dean means the Grad School can step in and mediate if a problem between you and committee arises.

How Should I Submit the Pre-Defense Draft? 
A copy of your pre-defense draft should be printed single-sided and delivered to the Graduate School, located in Williston Hall 100, either in person or by mail. At this time, the Graduate School does not accept digital copies of the pre-defense draft.

Williston Hall 100, the Graduate School's current location.

When Should I Submit the Pre-Defense Draft? 
The pre-defense draft should be submitted at least three weeks before the scheduled defense. Remember that the results of the oral defense are due by March 31 for May 2020, so do plan accordingly as you prepare to send the pre-defense draft.

Concluding Remarks
For additional clarification regarding upcoming deadlines for the Spring 2020 semester, please consult the Graduate Deadlines page. For further questions regarding the pre-defense draft, check out the Draft Version (Dissertations Only) section of the Quick Guide for Faculty (linked above, but linked here as well).

Also, please submit your pre-defense draft to only the Graduate School Dean’s Office, as the Thesis and Dissertation Office does not need to see a pre-defense copy. Having said that, we are more than happy to assist with formatting and any other questions related to the pre-defense draft. Even as we continue our transition into Williston, we are still open from 10 am – 2 pm Monday through Thursday on the first floor of Holmes Student Center near the tables past the Starbucks: look for the sign and walk on up! We can also still be reached by email at

Friday, January 10, 2020

The Thesis Office Has Left the Building!

By Carolyn Law, Thesis/Dissertation Advisor

Busy Moving

Welcome to a new year! And for the staff of the Thesis Office, I mean really, really new!

In December, the Graduate School moved its operations out of Adams Hall, our home for 20 years, and into temporary offices in Williston Hall. The main reception desk is conveniently located on the first floor, so if you need to drop off forms, submit hard-copy pre-defense drafts (dissertations only), or have any other face-to-face business with the Graduate School, Williston 100 is our new “front door.”

You may have noticed that there’s been a lot of shuffling of offices and departments across the university in recent months, and that means the Graduate School is even now still in transition. Space on a large university campus is a giant puzzle: Unit A has to wait for space to be vacated by Unit B, which is waiting in line behind Unit C, and so on and so on. And there are always modifications and adjustments required in the new space to accommodate the unique needs of the new occupants, which is where the Thesis Office enters this picture, or I should say leaves it (for the time being).

Williston Hall 
Where to Put the Thesis Office?

While the Graduate School is waiting on its final location to open up, the Thesis Office is in space limbo for the foreseeable future. Effective immediately, the Thesis Office will be open by appointment only. That doesn't mean we will be any less responsive to your questions and inquiries, though, and we continue to be committed to supporting all thesis and dissertation writers from proposal stage to degree completion as best we can. We are happy to meet individual students and small groups at convenient, comfortable on-campus locations. We can even arrange to meet you off-campus in public venues such as libraries and coffeeshops. Email is the best way to reach us with questions or to request an in-person consultation: And of course, our website is still your go-to resource for all things thesis and dissertation at NIU. As always, you’ll find us open 24/7 at Visit early and often.

Online Programming Doesn’t Even Need an Office!

Fortunately, one of the most valuable services of the Thesis Office doesn’t even need a physical office! The Spring 2020 lineup of informative presentations and workshops will be offered entirely online via Adobe Connect, allowing the new “virtual Thesis Office” to reach a maximum number of thesis and dissertation writers regardless of location. Do you see something here that speaks to your current or future situation? Mark your calendars for:

  • · Dissertation Essentials, Tuesday, January 21, 4 to 5:15 pm
  • · Writing a Thesis/Dissertation in Engineering, Thursday, January 23, 4 to 5:15 pm
  • · Creating a Productive Thesis/Dissertation Committee, Tuesday, January 28, 4 to 5:15 pm
  • · Thesis Essentials, Wednesday, January 29, 4 to 5:15 pm
  • · Tables/Figures/Pagination, Thursday, January 30, 4 to 5:15 pm            

You’ll find detailed descriptions and registration links on the Graduate School’s comprehensive calendar of events at: Registration is required, but there is no cap on enrollment, so I hope to cyber-see many of you online.

Thank you for your patience as we sort out a new routine, and look for us to launch ever more innovative ways to assist NIU thesis and dissertation writers in the coming months.

Friday, December 13, 2019

Plagiarism Checkers: What are They Checking For?

Plagiarism often becomes a moral issue. It’s a crime akin to stealing and it’s “lazy and deceitful.” A black and white issue deserving of punishment. However, the reality is that the issue is quite complicated and confusing. The confusion increases when we’re talking about research as in depth as a thesis or dissertation. Can I recycle material and quote myself? Is this self-plagiarism? How do I avoid plagiarism? How much recycled material is acceptable (See NIU graduate school policy on previously published material It’s usually up to your committee to detect and report plagiarism so your committee is your chief ethics officer. From there the consequences for academic dishonesty are pretty severe (see NIU Graduate School policy Possible ramifications include revocation of degree and dismissal or suspension from NIU. Over-citing and being sure to use quotation marks in the draft phase and often are the best ways to make sure you don’t unintentionally get a little sloppy and misappropriate another scholar’s work. Paraphrasing and synthesizing sources as much as possible rather than direct quotations is an effective strategy too.

Now, in this digital age, there are plagiarism checkers online to use as a resource to ensure you avoid any ethics violation. Some services include turnitin, Plagium, and EndNote. Some universities now actually require graduate students to upload their manuscripts to a plagiarism checker before submitting a final draft for approval. Is this graduation requirement necessary and fair? Do plagiarism checkers really help graduate students and promote integrity or do they negatively impact research? Perhaps viewing plagiarism through a criminal lens as theft isn’t the most helpful approach since there is no loss of revenue incurred by the original researcher. “Original” deas are always a mixture of other ideas encountered, making it difficult to sort out attribution precisely. At the master’s and doctoral level researchers are undoubtedly trying out ideas and phrases to develop their academic voice and communicate authority. Until this skill is honed, often after the completion of the doctorate, there is a lot of borrowing happening. The nature of this working through ideas is certainly not deceitful but an integral part of the process for a junior researcher writing a thesis or dissertation. Researchers are reliant upon other researchers to fill in the context, the gaps, the missing steps to make meaning.

When ideas are reconstituted and recombined, who gets credit? These methods of integrating ideas do not always coincide with the purposes of attribution. Separating our thoughts from others’ thoughts becomes a murky process. Is this patchwriting? Citation standards vary from discipline to discipline making it difficult to ascertain what exactly constitutes intentional plagiarism. For second language learners the challenges are even more daunting. Instances of plagiarism go unaccounted for more often as the level of the sophistication of the argument goes up.

Some downsides to the plagiarism checker requirement include being flagged for your own work, terms of service which allow the service to forward your work to other universities to check their students’ work against, and United States Jurisdiction (Alameda County) over disputes relating to the use of the plagiarism site or services. These are all objections Travis Holland, doctoral student in the Communications Department at Charles Stuart University in Australia raised with the administration upon submission of his dissertation. Add to this the fact that turnitin is billion dollar business and offers funding to graduate students presenting research favorable to their service at conferences (as reported by The Chronicle of Higher Education) and it’s easy to see why any graduate student might be concerned. If plagiarism is unethical is turnitin an ethical response? It’s never bad to be overly cautious and perhaps scanning work with a plagiarism checker alleviates anxiety, but are these services really promoting academic honesty and integrity? Given that plagiarism is such a complicated issue and so difficult to define, and that standards are so field specific, are these detectors more competent than a committee chair? Let me know what you think!         

Friday, November 15, 2019

Changes to APA Format, 6th to 7th Edition, Part II

by Augie Morado

The 7th edition of the APA Publication Manual is now available! As promised in my previous blog post, I will now take a closer look at major changes made to the 7th edition from the 6th.

Pictured left to right: 6th ed. APA, 7th ed. APA. The future is now!

At a first glance, it seems as though most changes in the 7th edition have been made to streamline the documentation process by removing redundant steps where necessary. For graduate students submitting theses and dissertations here at NIU, a few things will change regarding citation and style, although the Guidelines for Preparing a Thesis and Dissertation still contain our default requirements for format.

In-Text Citation
For all sources with three or more authors, use the first author’s name and et al. for each citation in the body of your paper. Previously, the rule was to list each name for 3-5 authors the first time and et al. for each time after (p. 266).

Additionally, those in anthropology, the social sciences, and related fields may find useful the added guidelines on citing Traditional Knowledge or Oral Traditions of Native Peoples (p. 260).

Aside from these changes, the basic rules of APA in-text citation remain the same as in the sixth edition: Name and Year are needed for paraphrases, and page number should be added for direct quotes as well.

One major change to the reference page involves the use digital object identifiers (DOIs), which should now be formatted as URLs ( as opposed to being prefaced with the label “DOI:”, as was the case in the 6th edition.

Additionally, up to 20 authors' last names and initials should be included in a reference. The previous limit was eight.

For book citations, the location of the publisher is no longer needed, similar to 8th edition MLA format.

For website citations, the preface “Retrieved from” is no longer needed before the URL.

For ebook citations, the format or platform in brackets (e.g., [ebook] or [Kindle]) should be omitted.

Bias-Free and Inclusive Language
Notably, the 7th edition endorses the singular use of the “they” for cases in which a person’s gender is unknown. Previously, the APA endorsed the singular “they” strictly for cases in which it is a person’s preferred pronoun. For more information, please see my colleague Tiffany's recent post on the subject.
When referring to linguistic examples, use quotation marks rather than italics (e.g., The search terms “fox” and “hound” were used to narrow our results.).

For those in biology and chemistry, the 7th ed. offers expanded guidance on abbreviating the names of chemical compounds, genes, and proteins (p.177).

Finally, use only one space after a sentence.

Furthermore, there are additional changes regarding format, such as the removal of the phrase “Running head” from the title page of a journal article submission and the complete removal of the running head from student papers (i.e., only the page number is needed in this latter case).

But as stated before, please default to the Thesis and Dissertation Office’s guidelines on formatting your project. We will be happy to help you work through format differences between the two styles, so please drop by and visit Mon-Thurs from 10 am – 2 pm!

Finally, if we haven’t mentioned this already, you are free to continue using either the 6thAPA for the foreseeable future as your advisors, and we adjust to the new format.