Confessions of a thesis writer: Formatting faux pas


Lyn Lavery I have a confession to make – I didn’t use styles and templates in Microsoft Word when I wrote my Master’s thesis. Those of you who know me will be surprised to hear this as I’m an ardent promoter of them now. It wasn’t that I didn’t think they would be helpful – I simply just wasn’t aware that they were a possibility.

As a result of not making the most of these features in Word, the days prior to me submitting weren’t much fun, and there certainly wasn’t much sleep to be had. I had written my thesis chapters in separate documents and when I went to combine them, the formatting of the overall document went seriously awry. Every time I thought I had fixed an issue, the formatting would slide on me again. I’d mention the issues I had incorporating my appendices into the document, but I believe I may have blanked the trauma permanently from memory. Creating the table of contents involved me sitting in the middle of the lounge floor surrounded by hundreds of pages of printouts, with my Mum and brother frantically trying to assist by calling out the page numbers for each section.

Rest assured, I certainly didn’t format my PhD this way. By this stage I’d learned a bit about thesis formatting having spent several years teaching this to postgraduate students at the University of Auckland. I still wrote my thesis in separate chapters, but they each had the same template applied with built-in and consistent styles. These styles enabled me to automatically create a table of contents, and thanks to using captions on my tables and figures, I could quickly create lists for these also. Once my document had all been successfully collated, I also knew tricks for quickly navigating around it when I needed to make final edits. All up – a much less stressful experience which certainly didn’t cost me any sleep.

What did I learn from this? In addition to learning an awful lot about managing a long document, I also learned that sometimes as a postgraduate student, you “don’t know what you don’t know”. It pays to take the time to find out how technology can assist you – talk to other students to find out what they learned the hard way, and learn what software your institution supports.

What else did I learn? I learned that it pays to have a helping hand with thesis formatting, and that’s why Academic Consulting has training and individual assistance covering this. If you’d like to learn how to format your own document like a pro, check out our Managing Long Documents in Word training course. Alternatively, if you’re just wanting a few tips, try – Ten Time-Saving Features in Microsoft Word.

If you’re short on time, we’re happy to do the formatting for you (we can also assist with proofreading and reference checking if this is required). Details of these services can be found on our website. Handing these last minute nitty gritty tasks over to someone else can be pretty helpful when you’re in the final sleep deprived stages!

Just a final note – if you’ve stumbled across this blog post because you’re a thesis writer yourself, then I’d like to wish you all the best. It certainly takes a lot of hard work but that means that the finished product is even more of an achievement. Make sure you have a celebration planned for afterwards!