Sunday, July 01, 2007

Thesis Update: Formatting horrors, and the Extension School's electronic archiving problem

I'm so close to the end of my thesis, I can practically smell the hardcover binding!

To recap, in April got the final sign-off from my thesis director. I made a few minor changes that he had suggested (most of the major changes had been implemented in earlier drafts, as I described in March) and then printed up a copy to hand in to the Extension School's ALM research advisor. Late April was a bad time to do this, as there was a crush of '07 grads who had submitted their theses around that time, and needed to get them corrected and bound in time for Commencement. I could wait, however -- I am not graduating until next year, and my official deadline for completing the thesis doesn't arrive until the end of July.

As I expected, when I received the printed copy back from the ALM office with the proofreader's marks in late June, there were only a few minor issues that had to be taken care of. I had followed the ALM Thesis Guide and Chicago Manual of Style very closely, and the mistakes included things like missing periods in footnotes, too many spaces between headings and the first paragraph of text, front matter page numbering issues, and a missing list of figures.

While most of them were easy to fix, I had a devil of a time with the page numbers. The Mac version of Microsoft Word I am using at home doesn't display page numbers in the footer (required for the front matter), and it took me hours to figure out a workaround -- one potential fix is listed here, but in the end I had to transfer the file to my work laptop -- a Windows machine which doesn't have this problem -- and generate a PDF. For some reason, transferring the file to Windows caused several paragraphs and footnotes to break earlier, which resulted in all of the chapter II and III page numbers shifting around. This in turn resulted in my list of figures and manual page references being made obsolete, which forced me to go through the entire document to correct most page number references.

A third problem was the inability to suppress the page number on the first page of new chapters and the appendices, as required in the ALM thesis format. There is no MS Word command I am aware of that can take care of this problem, so I had to manually create little white squares to place over each verboten page number.

But I finally got all of this taken care of late on Sunday night, and exported my PDF to my USB drive. It's now early Monday morning, and I will take the file to Office Depot tomorrow for printing, and then ship both paper versions back to the ALM office for the final review. Assuming everything is OK, my last step will be to take the file to the bindery for printing, and then submit the bound thesis to the Harvard Extension School. Then I can celebrate.

Actually, there will be one additional step related to my thesis, but it's something I don't need to do. It's something I want to do: getting a copy submitted to UMI/ProQuest or some other electronic database, so the global scholarly community can access it. I lobbied the Extension School to make electronic database submissions part of the thesis publication process, as is apparently the case with GSAS History Department research. I was told the Harvard Extension School program doesn't have the resources to make this happen. That's a major problem, in my opinion -- if the only place people can access ALM theses is in the Grossman Library, then the impact of Extension School research upon our respective disciplines will remain limited.

(See all of my thesis updates from 2005 to the present)


Anonymous said...

Hey congrats on your thesis!

Brandon, future MD said...

Don't worry, Ian. I'm sure you'll kick some butt and make a difference in the world. I think this whole process is not about learning a set of facts but moreso about learning about yourself and opening up the eyes and soul to the fact that yes, we can change the world. In fact, it's our duty to do so.


ian said...

Thanks gang. It's been tough, but I am very happy I have made it this far and in the process learned a lot -- not only about the topics in the thesis, but also about myself.

Carlos said...

I hate to tell you this now, but using Sections in Word, you could have made each first page without numbers. It is a pain unless you are familiar with the (odd) MS way of things.

Congrats on getting it done!

On the scholarly access front, one group of people I know may be brewing up something you like. Let me know if you are interested.



Richard said...


You should have used LaTeX.

It's designed specifically for this sort of thing and handles all of the problems you mentioned with little effort.

I'll be using it for my thesis for certain.

ian said...

Thanks for the belated advice, folks. Part of the problem with Word is that there are so many advanced features, but finding out how to use them is difficult, and there is inconsistent behavior on the Mac version of the tool. The designers of Word also did not take into account certain common usages -- such as inserting figures and charts with the caption embedded in the graphics, which makes creating an automatic list of figures impossible.

Next time I'll investigate LaTeX!

Carlos, I'll ping you via email regarding the scholarly access issue.