This summer, as usual, whilst everyone else seemed to be sipping rose and enjoying the heatwave, I was glued to my screens in the attic, proofreading lots of law dissertations. It’s an annual event, although the trickle of work, which quickly becomes a flood, appears to start later and later every year. I don’t like the heat much, so I don’t feel deprived in any way, though this year it get a bit too warm when the mercury went over 36 degrees!
As I start to wind things down for a much-needed break, I thought that I’d pull together a few notes on some specific issues I’ve noticed this year. First, I make a plea, as I do every year, to book your proofreader early. In particular, if you have been working with someone throughout the academic year and you’d like to continue that collaboration for your final dissertation, then tell your proofreader the dates and the projected word count. That way, you’ll have time reserved for your work, rather than having to risk finding someone new at the last minute. Second, if you’re running behind schedule and won’t be sending work on the agreed dates, again let your proofreader know. Maybe another urgent piece of work can be fitted in to help out a fellow student.
I’ve written several blog posts about OSCOLA-style footnotes (and I can’t promise that this one will be the last, despite the title!). I don’t mind formatting footnotes to the correct layout, in fact I quite enjoy it. But, it does take longer than straight-forward proofreading, and it’s very time-consuming if essential information is missing and has to be looked up online. Remember, OSCOLA footnotes should contain the author’s first and last name. This is different to the in-text styles like APA and Harvard that use last name only or last name and initial. So, when you’re noting down the source, always try to record the author’s first name. OSCOLA style really isn’t that difficult to master, but I’m always surprised by the number of dissertations that don’t use it – retaining all the punctuation, for example.
Word count reduction
Next to footnote formatting, word count reduction is the most frequent request for assistance. I’ve written about this is the past: use apostrophes, cut out superfluous or redundant introductory words, use abbreviations. There are lots of tricks which can help cut out up to 10% of word count, without any major surgery. In a law essay, clever use of footnotes can help here too, if the target includes them.
When you set out to write your essay or dissertation decide whether you are going to use continuous footnote numbering or start it afresh every chapter. If you continue the numbering throughout a long dissertation you’ll be able to use footnote shortcuts – referring back to previous citations of an author or case law, which could potentially ‘save’ a few hundred words. And, if your target word count does not include the footnotes, remember you can check the word count with or without footnotes easily on the Review Tab, under Proofing, Word Count.