Monday, February 10, 2014

Thesis Nuts and Bolts: Part 1: Formatting

When the time comes to submit a thesis, there are so many decisions to make, so many little details to figure out, and so many guidelines to adhere to, that it can be overwhelming. When my time came, I asked my colleagues who had submitted within the previous twelve months everything I could think of about where and when and how. So in the spirit of passing on the information, I'm writing it all here for those of you submitting after me.

However, there is a LOT of information. So I'm making a week of it! Monday, Wednesday and Friday I'll be posting blogs about formatting, printing and binding the examination copy, and printing and binding the final copy!

Before I get into the nitty-gritty, though, some of this information will only be relevant to Australian PhDs, some only to Adelaideans, some only to University of Adelaide students. And even then, some of the official requirements may have changed so don't just rely on me.

At the very least, I hope you get forewarned of issues you may face and decisions you may have to make.


I combed through the Thesis Specifications form to find the official requirements for formatting. They're easily summarised: 
  • The title page is content is prescribed.
    Note: on the final submitted copy you keep the original submission date (could not find this stated anywhere though!)
Title page

  • You must include a table of contents, an abstract, the originality declaration & library consent, and acknowledgements.
  • The wording of the declaration is prescribed. (See the Thesis Specifications page for latest wording)
    Note: you only have to use the publications declaration if you're doing a thesis by publication, not if you have previously published.
My declaration (wording for 2013)

  • The rest of the thesis should be a "clear and legible font", such as Arial Narrow 12 or Times 12.
  • Margins should be no less than 35 mm on inside edge and 15 mm on other edges.

That's it. 

So what this means is it can be single- or double-sided. There is no obligation to double space the body text. You can choose a non-Arial or Times font. You can have it size 11 or size 10 or size 11.5.

Top tip: Proofread all the ancillary information before the introduction very carefully. I have seen masters dissertations with sloppy typos in the acknowledgements or abstract. Even worse, I had a typo in my TITLE that I only noticed 2 hours after submission. I had prepared the title page several months before and it had an earlier wording. I had fastidiously checked every other part of the title page (I've seen also seen the month misspelt!) and I had played with various formats for the title (left-aligned, right-aligned, different font sizings), but I did not notice that it still said "legitimisation" instead of "legitimation" like my entire thesis. Let my facepalm be a lesson to you all.

What I did

Page 1 of my thesis

I used the Word defaults of calibri for the body and cambria for the headings with the attendant formatting variations for the various levels of headings. I also used cambria for excerpts from the texts I was analysing to differentiate them from quotes from references.
I used 1.15 spacing between lines, but 24pt spacing after paragraphs.
My margins were 4cm on the inside, 2.5cm on the outside, 2.54cm top and bottom.
I printed double-sided.
I used colour-coding in my analysis, and kept the default blue for the headings for the examination copy. 

I kept each chapter in separate files until I assembled them all in one giant Word file. (People will tell you this is Bad, but I had no problem).

Some implications to consider:

I was briefly tempted to use a free font I had downloaded; although it is lovely and would've visually distinguished my thesis from the mass, I couldn't load it on my university computer. When the computer can't read the font, everything gets messed up - paragraphing, pagination, aesthetics. Even as a pdf sometimes if the font is not loaded on the computer it can still be affected. So it's a safer bet to use a commonly installed font.
I heard recently that non-serif fonts like Century Gothic or Arial are easier to read on a computer screen. As all of our dissertations are electronically available these days, and most of our readers will read it on a screen of some sort, it's worth considering. 

Because I only had 1.15 spacing between lines and my margins weren't especially wide, I found it was aesthetically easier to read if I added a larger space between paragraphs (24pt).
Because I printed double-sided, I had to pay attention to the placement of the page number in the footer. I wanted it to be on the outside of the page (right side of the right page and left side of the left page). This is fairly easily done (just have different footers for odd and even pages), however you have to pay attention when you have section breaks and landscape pages as it can get out of whack. I also inserted some blank pages to ensure that the first page of every chapter was on the right hand page, as were the abstract, declaration, and acknowledgements.

Formatting gremlins:

I kept having seemingly random page breaks inserting themselves without my permission. It was only the day before I submitted that I figured out why it was happening. I had used cross-referencing extensively - I would insert a "cross reference" to an object (table, example, figure) so that it would automatically update the number if I rearranged things. When I was doing the final pagination (making sure objects did not break awkwardly over two pages or leave a single line of text on a page) I inserted page breaks to move objects to the next page. For some odd reason, if you insert the page break immediately in front of the caption label, the next time the file is refreshed (by closing and opening the file), it will ALSO insert a page break in front of the cross reference in text. I was left with a sequence like this:
Page 1: This can be demonstrated in
Page 2: Table 2 below.
Page 3: [Table 2].
I did my best to fix this but a few still slipped through to the examination copy, although I was purposefully not adding page breaks. However to my great embarrassment it was only after a solid hour of wrangling with it before the final submission that it suddenly occurred to me: the in text references no longer needed to be refreshable cross-references. THEY WEREN'T GOING TO BE CHANGED ANY MORE! So I just retyped them as plain text.

I tell you this in the hopes it will save the ream of paper I printed out trying to get it right.

I also had problems with images and labels moving around spontaneously between objects. I still don't know why that happened. I blame it on Thesis Gremlins. I can only recommend doing at least one read-through paying particular attention to objects and labels. It's too easy to skim over them.

So that's what I did for formatting. If you have any questions ask them in the comments. If you encountered any problems or want to share your stylistic choices, pleas share them in the comments.

On Wednesday I will post about the vagaries of printing and binding for examination!

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