Ritch sent an e-mail asking if I could take a shot at decoding a sentence from some university regulations. Inspired by an “editorial makeover” post over on Liz Strauss’s blog, I decided to give it a whirl.
The sentence in question is:
“If the thesis, though inadequate, is deficient in certain respects only, the Examiners may recommend that it be referred for revision, and subsequent re-examination.”
First off, I would try asking someone in charge to clarify (and then politely request that the university regulations be revised to clarify things like this). But we don’t have the luxury of that in this case, so let’s give it the old college try. (Yes, “the old college try” is hackneyed, but given the context, irresistible as well.)
Ritch’s question is “Would you infer from this that, if a thesis is referred for revision, there must also be a re-examination, or is the re-examination optional?”
My guess is that the thesis must be re-examined after revision, because the sentence says “…referred for revision, and subsequent re-examination.” [Emphasis added.] The revision and the subsequent re-examination seem to go together, both logically and grammatically—if not for that comma.
The comma in the middle of that phrase muddles things up, because when we read, we tend to put pauses in wherever there’s a comma. Thus we read this passage as “…referred for revision [pause] and subsequent re-examination.” What did the writer (or writers, which seems likely) mean by adding that comma, that pause? If they meant that the revision must be followed by re-examination, there’s no need for a comma there.
To me, it doesn’t seem logical that they actually meant “…the Examiners may recommend that it be referred for revision, and they may also recommend that it be re-examined after revision.” Why revise an inadequate thesis if they don’t want to re-examine it?
The whole sentence is murky, not just the bit with the comma. It’s larded with passive voice, for one thing. Who found the thesis inadequate? The Examiners, I assume. The phrase “If the thesis, though inadequate, is deficient in certain respects only…” is needlessly convoluted, and what do they mean by “deficient in certain respects only?” That there are only a few superficial (rather than fundamental) problems that can easily be corrected? That’s my guess.
Furthermore, what’s going on with referring it for revision? To whom will it be referred, if not the author? In that case, just recommend that the author revise it.
Let’s try clearing things up:
If the Examiners find the thesis inadequate merely because of a few superficial deficiencies, they may recommend that the author revise it, and then they will re-examine it.
I’ve made some guesses about the intent of this regulation, so I could have missed the mark. Let me repeat that the best solution is to hash out what it means with the committee that drafted it in the first place.
What do you think? Any other interpretations, or suggested revisions?