Jottings on science, religion, technology, pop culture and faith from the Antipodes.

Finishing the PhD

3. Practice makes perfect (Finishing the PhD)

(Part 3 of 10)

Putting the actual thesis together into its final form can be tricky. It will involve bringing together:

  • The chapters you’ve written (with their text, tables, figures etc.)
  • The material at the front of the thesis: title page, abstract, dedication, preface, table of contents, and various other lists of figures and tables and acknowledgements
  • A bibliography
  • Various appendices
  • Anything else that needs to be added

As such it will involve some serious work with a word processor, your bibliographic software (if you’re using some), lots of paper, and a computer printer.

Now, assuming that what you’ve been writing is formatted according to your institution’s guideline put aside a couple of days and have a play at putting what you have together into a prototype thesis. If you haven’t written certain bits yet then put in place holder pages with the titles on them but with no content (or content generated by something like Lorem Ipsum – All the facts – Lipsum generator).

In doing so you’ll be forced to deal with making sure that the page numbers are right (I had to have roman numbers for the front material and arabic numbers (starting at 1) for the chapters.) You’ll also have to make sure the you can generate a table of contents and lists of figures and tables correctly. If you’ve worked on chapters as separate files then merging them poses issues to do with footnote/endnote numbers being updated, as well as citations possibly needing to be reformatted.

Bibliographic material too can become a bit of a drama. Automated systems like EndNote etc. are really good at scanning the word processor files for references you’ve entered using it and generating a bibliography. If, however, you’re bibliography needs to include material outside of that which you have cited then you’ll need to figure out how to add the extra material – and remember, regenerating the citation based bibliography will replace any bibliography you have at the end of your document. (I solved that problem by keeping an EndNote database that contained the material I cited, plus other references I wanted to include. I generated the bibliography from that database and manually pasted it into Word at the end.)

Also, it takes a long time to print, copy and bind a thesis (even spiral binding). Plus it costs a lot to copy and bind multiple copies if you don’t have access to free copying and binding. Until you’ve done that once and worked out the kinks in the process you don’t know what you’re up against if you’re doing it in a hurry.

So, do it at least once or twice well in advance of submission to get a feel for the task at hand. And if you’re not skilled with using your writing tools find someone who can help you learn well in advance of the panic stage.

Also, I printed and bound a prototype thesis about a year out from submission. Really useful to see what was missing and I carried around with me all the time. Very useful to have it sitting beside you when you’re writing other stuff. You can scrawl on it, reference it without having to balance too many word processor windows, and if you keep updating it you have growing proof that the thesis is actually growing. Plus it looks the goods if it’s formatted right.

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