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How did you write your PhD thesis (practically) - (Sep/02/2011 )

Hi all,

soon I will start writing my Phd thesis, finally. I was wondering how you guys do this (practically).

I work on a Mac and always use word to write things. But as soon as the file is too large, it gets very slow and it's hell to work with. And a PhD thesis is not exactly a small thing.

Did you write your thesis as one word document? How did you manage your figures then?

This problem could be solved by using a new word document for every chapter, but then another problem is that I cannot get all the references at the end of my thesis as this would be another document.

I would like to know how you managed this.

(Don't tell me LaTeX would be good, I know that, but I never used it and don't want to learn how to use it; and nobody in this lab every uses it so I couldn't get any help if I'd have questions about it.)


I dont see why you couldnt have all the references at the end of your thesis?
If you put them in a seperate document.. then you can easly add them when its time to add them?

The lay out etc.. (and how the references are made) is something you fix at the end ..
So same with figures etc: it doesnt really matter , its just at the end that you need to make sure all the numbers for the figures are ok!

If you refer to a figure you can for example use : see figure XW (in stead of figure 9) , if you always use XW (use a combination you wont find in words) you can at the end when finishing up simply search your word file for XW combinations and then change it into numbers..

But you do seem to have a slow/bad mac then? I can easly open and change large word documents without problems...
Are you sure you are not doing something wrong with the figures you use?

And another option might be to keep the text in 1 word file (all the text) and then the figures in another file.. The figures can be in another file...
Its the figures that makes it slow..


Thanks for you help,

about the referenes: I use endnote for my references and I guess that it's not possible to place the reference itself in another document than the document in which you mention it?

Do you import your figures as JPEG/TIF then, or how do you decrease the size? The figures always make it an huge file in my case.

I would like to keep the figures IN my text because in the end, that's were they should be.


I never used endnote.. I tried it once, but never saw the benefits of it. Its faster/easier to just copy paste the title and add the names of the authors myself and adapt the style how I want it in word itself.
Maybe I misused endnote?

About the figures: jpeg for example yes.. And there is this system in word to compress figures..
(but it all depends on how detailed the figured need to be ..)
And I dont see the problem in putting the figures in another text file and adding them later one...

And why cant you put the references in another document?

There is absolutely no problem in putting all the references in 1 seperate document, order them there and then (at the end) add them on your final word document..

Its even easier: if you have them in a seperate word document, you can easly search them and you dont need to scroll down in your word file when you want to check a certain reference in your text.


Hmmm. I'm used to use endnote, and it's so easy. Otherwise you have to change all your numbers whenever you change one reference! (unless you refer to the name of the authors in the text and don't use numbers). And when you use endnote, you cannot place the references in another document, they appear automatically at the end of your document.


I'm currently writing my PhD thesis. The way I'm doing it amd have done it with other large documents in the past is....

1) I create a template document (.dot or .dotx) which has all the fromatting (so everything is consistent at the end)
2) using the template file to create separate chapters/sections... then write each chapter/section in its own document. Make sure that you use referencing functions (tables, figures, etc) and numbering of sections headers whilst writing.
3) when you are ready use the "merge docement" function to combine the chapters/sections. (I only do this once I am ready to submit or do the final consistency edit)

Your section numbering should automatically format itself after the merge and maybe the references (tables, figures, etc.), if it hasn't done it automatically....
4) Update you references (tables, figures, etc.) using "update feilds". It now should be all ordered without any manual intervention.
5) You can then add a "Table of Contents", List of Figures", etc by going to the Reference clicking the relevant buttons for what you need.

Also, as for Endnote... put your references into each chapter section. Usually when you do the merge document in Word Endote will do its thing and create the reference list at the end for all the merged chapters. But I have been warned that this sometimes goes a bit haywire and and it has something to do with the CWYW function that needs to be switched off during the merge and then on again to complete the proper list. I think the Help files on Endnote or its assoicate web page have details on how to sort this problem out.

As someone who is currently procrasinating on my own thesis whilst writing this reply........ good luck!!!!!!


Thanks, Micro, for your answer! It's very helpful! And good luck with your thesis too :-)


Word (for writing) and Mendeley (for citing)! and finally, have all the files in Dropbox so that you can work on multiple computers.

BTW, Mendeley and Dropbox are both free.