NRN Blog: One Thesis, One Document?!

One of the most tricky aspects to getting a single draft of a thesis is the physical merging of all of your chapters into one whole. It’s intimidating, but we’ve got you covered: here’s our own Kate Holmes with her tips and tricks. 

Recently I put my thesis into one document for the last time. Like most people I’ve been working with files that contain chapter information rather than one large document because this reduces the risk of document corruption. (My previous career in proposal writing drilled this into me! It also means that I’m used to working with large and unwieldy Word documents.)

I’ve actually combined my thesis twice: the first time was around a year ago when I produced my first (shitty) draft and the second was as my draft was becoming more final. Thankfully, this meant I had already investigated how to combine documents. But, if you haven’t done this already it could make a stressful time even more infuriating if you’re not familiar with the annoyances of Word. This is the stage where all the hard work has been done, so hopefully this post might make choosing the right method to combine documents easier. (Apologies, this post will be quite long!)

It took me quite a while to discover the following three main methods:

  1. Master Documents
  2. Insert File
  3. RD Field: keeping separate documents and combining as pdf

I’ve generally outlined the methods that I think are most likely to work on both Windows and Apple machines. (I have used both.) I’ve not outlined every step in detail, but you should be able to find information on Google by searching terms like ‘Styles’ and ‘Master documents’.

Before you even think about merging the documents, you really should:

Manage Your Individual Documents to Make Merging Easy

There are a few things you can do to make your files easier to combine on a file level:

  • Set up your own templates with line spacing, headings etc set up in a format you like and that complies with your submission requirements from the start. You do this by setting up ‘Styles’.
    1. Think about whether you like a particular font eg I like Garamond because it uses less ink (my printer cartridges last longer!) and is a serif font which makes it easier to read on paper. (How I imagine my examiners are likely to read it!)
    2. Coming from a marketing background I’m obsessed about consistency in document layout so I like headings to have the same spacing underneath – setting this up as a Style in a template will make that consistent across every document. You can also create your own Styles eg so that all your long quotations have the same formatting.
    3. Although, I’ve not done it, it is possible to apply a template retrospectively to a document if you are a bit further along in the process.
  • Use the different Heading style levels (1-3) and use them – that way you can automatically generate your Contents page.
  • Insert a caption on all images and tables so that they automatically populate your Illustrations and separate Tables list.
  • Insert images into the folder using the Insert menu on the main toolbar to ensure you can compress files. If like me you work with a lot of images, then copying and pasting images will result in big individual file sizes that cannot be compressed on a Mac (I’m not sure about Windows here). If you then try and merge documents with large file sizes into a large document you are increasing the chances of all your hard work resulting in a slow, or even, unreadable corrupted document. 
  1. Master Documents

This is a method I first tried and found the least successful. Initially it created a beautiful document with a contents page, but then when I tried to reopen the document it only included links rather than the full text. It also can apparently lead to an increased likelihood of document corruption (see here) in individual documents that goes unseen. (I did notice that it added section breaks to all of the documents I tried to insert when I returned to them – something that is only possible to rectify on a Mac if you click the ‘Show all nonprinting characters’ button.)

The theory is that a master document allows you to work on the individual files and that this will automatically update the master document. Here’s some detailed instructions on Word 2010. The key to it seems to be to select ‘View’ > ‘Outline’ which will then enable you to select ‘View’ > ‘Master Document’.

You can then insert the contents page on the first page prior to the point your first document is inserted. You can also easily create a contents or illustrations table by selecting ‘Insert’ > ‘Index and Tables’ from the main toolbar. The master document will sort your page and figure numbers for you automatically.

I presume the safest thing to do with this method would be to pdf it at the end. I’m unsure how successful it would be to send this as a Word document to someone else eg your supervisor. Would you need to send all associated documents for them to be able to access the linked information?

  1. Insert File

This is pretty straightforward, but will result in one large document that may be more liable to corruption. (Although this may only be if you are working with as many images as I am!) It is the method I used to create my final document because it allowed me to use Reference Management Software to create my Works Cited list.

  • Save all of your documents separately in one folder.
  • Create a new file and populate it with all of the initial information required by your institution. Go to ‘Insert’ > ‘Break’ > ‘Section Break (Next Page)’ before inserting your first document.
  • ‘Insert’ > ‘File’ and select the first file, making sure to insert another page break.
  • Continue until you have all of your files in your document.
  • Then go through and check all of your page numbers. The page breaks may have restarted each chapter to begin at 1. ‘Insert’ > ‘Page Numbers’ will allow you to edit the numbering.
  • ‘Insert’ > ‘Index and Tables’ to create your contents, illustrations and tables lists.

Here’s a useful blog post on this method.

I would recommend doing this fairly late if, like me, you are using a number of images and Reference Management Software. I found that once everything was combined it slowed down my reference software significantly. I presume this is because every time you edit or insert a reference that it is reading the whole document to ensure the Works Cited list is up-to-date.

3. RD Field: Keeping Separate Documents and Combining as PDF

This is the method I used to create my first draft as it meant I could continue to work with separate documents.

  • First save your individual documents separately from the ones you have been working with previously. Save these all into the same final draft folder.
  • Update all the page numbers manually so that each chapter runs on from the last. (If you are using images, you will also need to alter the numbering on image captions to ensure they run on numerically.)
  • Create a document that holds all of your initial information such as the Title page, Acknowledgements, Contents, Illustrations or any other information required by your institution. Save this into the same final draft folder.
    • Turn on the ability to view all non-printing characters (button) so that you can see when you have linked this document to your individual files. This will allow you to see the fields you insert that allows automatic population of contents etc…
    • Prior to your contents & illustrations select ‘Insert’ > ‘Field’ from the drop down.
    • In the box this brings up select ‘RD’ and place in quotation marks the title of your first document. eg RD “Chapter 1”. (Do the same for all of your documents.) You will not see this on the final document, so there is no need to separate this with a carriage return, especially as each carriage return will drop the text that is printed lower on the page.
    • ‘Insert’ > ‘Index & Tables’ to place contents, tables and illustrations tables in this document.
  • You can now print all these individual documents in Word and they should print consistently with the correct page numbers, figure numbers and contents, tables and illustration lists. However, these are still separate documents.
  • Save all of your documents as pdfs. If you use a Mac, you can use Preview to combine pdf documents. If you use Office you may need to use Adobe (which I’m sure your institution will be able to help you with).
  • You now have a print document.

Printing the main document:

  • Look at how many pages your document is and decide if it will need to be printed in two separately bound documents. This is the frequently the case if your thesis is over 300 pages. (You will need a coversheet on the second print document.)

When using any one of these methods, you will need to also think about how you populate your Bibliography and how you ensure all of your references are correct once all your documents have been combined. The main reason I shifted from using the RD field to the insert file method was precisely because it allowed my reference management software to do a lot of the hard work for me.

What method worked best for you? Do you have any tips? Tell us about them in the comments!

NRN Blog: Surviving Your Viva

 

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Nora Williams

We’re particularly delighted to feature a blog post from our own Chair (or Fearless Leader, take your pick), Nora Williams. Nora recently completed her PhD at the University of Exeter on the intersections between print and performance of Middleton and Rowley’s The Changeling — you can find out more here — and now she extols her wisdom on making the most of your viva experience…

 

5:30am. My fratboy of an upstairs neighbour is blending something, or Hoovering. I can never quite tell. Normally I’m not awake at this time to hear his shenanigans, or I’m able to shut them out fairly quickly. Today, it’s T-4.5 hours until my viva, and I’m wide awake on the other side of two vivid dreams: one in which it went well, and one in which it was a disaster. Guess which one is on replay?

Spoiler alert: it did go well! It was a great conversation, and I learned a lot. I got some great compliments, and some difficult questions, and some tough but fair criticism. I passed with minor corrections, which means I now have three months in which to address my examiners’ comments. Phew!

In this blog post, I’m offering my five top tips to survive and thrive in viva week.

  1. Think Big Picture

In re-reading my thesis for the first time, I got stuck in all of the detail. I misspelled W.B. Worthen’s name! They’re going to murder me! (They didn’t.) That reference is to the wrong page number! What’ll I do? (Fix it in corrections.) In my mock viva, however, my supervisors focused much more on the “meta” questions, as one of them put it. What are your research questions? What is your contribution to knowledge? Who are the key theorists you’re in dialogue with? What’s the most important thing you’ve done here? It’s hard to convince yourself of this when all you can see is the typo in your table of contents (true story), but the examiners care much more about the big stuff than they do about the little mistakes.

That doesn’t mean they won’t ask you about the details or that you shouldn’t present your thesis in the best possible condition. Rather, it’s a reminder that what’s really important in the room, on the day, is the quality of your research and your arguments—not the typos.

  1. Nothing Means Anything

The best advice I got from my mock viva came from my second supervisor and became my mantra in the week leading up to the viva: “nothing means anything”. If they keep you waiting forty minutes between viva and corrections/result, it doesn’t mean anything. They could be writing up the report. Or talking about old times. Or having a toilet break. Equally, if they call you back in really quickly, it doesn’t mean anything. Maybe they have kids to pick up from school, or trains to catch. If they ask you the same question six times, they could be probing for more detail, or they could be unhappy with your answer, or they could be looking for the publishing pitch—you just don’t know. My examiners asked for my supervisor to be present in the second half, when they were going through the corrections, so I thought for sure I had failed. I hadn’t; there was no correlation at all between my supervisor’s presence and the outcome of the viva. They just wanted to make sure I got all the info I needed—and sure enough, her notes are much more detailed than mine!

The mantra doesn’t stop you reading into every single detail of the day, but for me it became a kind of security blanket to default to. Say it with me now: nothing. means. anything.

  1. Be Kind to Yourself

I was really lucky in that my department offers a one-off seminar about viva prep for final-year PhD students (if your department has one, you should go!). One of the things that they really emphasised in that seminar was to look after yourself in the run up to the viva. So with 24 hours left to go, I gave myself strict instructions to work a full day and nothing more. I did roughly 9-5 prep, with a lunch break, and then cut myself off. I went home, cooked a comfort-food dinner, and FaceTimed with some of my best friends and my mom. I watched Gossip Girl on Netflix and tidied my bedroom. I made sure that all the clothes I wanted to wear and all the things I wanted to bring were ready to go. I tried to have a normal bedtime. I drank a lot of herbal tea with things like camomile and lavender and lime flower in it.

Preparing for a viva isn’t like cramming for an exam. You already know your material inside out and backwards. For this brief moment in time, you are the world-leading expert on your subject. Trust the work you’ve been doing for the past three or more years and let your brain have a break before the big day. Prep like you mean it, and then give yourself a rest.

  1. Lean on Your Support System

Ultimately, you’re the one who has to walk into that room and answer the questions, but that doesn’t mean you won’t need a little help getting to the door. If at all possible, I really recommend bringing along someone you trust to a) give you a hug before you walk into the room, b) look after anything you don’t want to bring with you, and c) be a friendly face in the space between the viva proper and the discussion about corrections that follows. I brought my flatmate, who was an absolute star and a support network unto herself. It was so reassuring to have someone to talk to during the waiting period, and to have someone to celebrate with immediately upon leaving the room with good news. Had things gone the other way, I would have really appreciated having her there as a shoulder to cry on, too.

Oh yeah, and have at least one someone ready to go the pub with you whatever the outcome!

  1. Try to Enjoy It!

This is one of those things that lots of people said to me ahead of my viva, and also one of those things I didn’t think was possible until I was doing it. The day will go by in a blur and you’ll have so many thoughts and feelings and ups and downs as events unfold. Try to take a step back every now and then and appreciate what a fantastic opportunity the viva is: people at the top of their game and at the top of your field have spent a great deal of time looking at and thinking about your work. And now they want to talk to you about it!

Bonus tip: big picture questions checklist

These come from notes taken during that viva prep seminar I mentioned earlier, and they were a really handy tool for me, particularly on the last prep day, when I needed an anchor to keep me focused:

  • What sparked my personal interest in this research topic?
  • What gap am I addressing in my research? What is my contribution to knowledge?
  • What is the value of my research to the field(s)?
  • What are my central research questions?
  • What is my methodology? How did it develop?
  • What is my central argument?
  • What have I deliberately left out?
  • What are my findings?
  • What are my most important literary sources?
  • What are key terms that I might need to clarify?
  • Which areas of my work are part of ongoing debates?
  • Why did I choose these case studies?
  • What are my conclusions?
  • How do I see this work developing? Where am I going next?

If you can answer these questions, then you’re going to be just fine! Good luck!

What advice would you give to PhD students on the process of completing your thesis? If you’d like to share your advice on the NRN blog, please email Emer and Kate at nrn@str.org.uk to discuss your ideas!