A professor, a lecturer, a post-doc and student are in the kitchen, making themselves tea. The student complains about printing out their thesis and copying it for the examiners. The post-doc says “that’s nothing. In my day we had to submit hard bound”. The lecturer says, “that’s nothing, in my day we had to stick the micrographs in with copy-mount”. And the professor says, “that’s nothing. In my day, we had to pay the departmental secretary to type our manuscript up and we had to hand draw all the figures.
I realise that’s not the funniest joke in the world. It is marred significantly by being heavily based on a real conversation. The point, such as it is, is that whatever time-frame you choose to consider (in terms of a minimum of a year!), things have changed dramatically. I suspect that some of my older colleagues would not have imagined how different things would be today in terms of what is required of a thesis and how easy the production of it would actually be.
One of the most significant changes of the last few years is the move towards electronic submission to a depository. If one stops to think about it, it is a logical step – there are space considerations, and it makes the document that much more accessible to other researchers around the world. This is a facet of academic literature as a whole.
One of the outcomes of this is that the final product is in a different form to what is shown to the quality controllers. I noted in passing someone making the point that because an electronic version, normally pdf, is what goes to the library and is disseminated, it is becoming the norm to have page numbering that matches what is available in the normal search/find, rather than having roman numerals up until the first page of the thesis proper (i.e. the start of chapter 1).
Another thing that has changed a lot since the point when I started my PhD is that there is a lot more literature that has been made available via the web. Whilst I was able to get some stuff straight off the web, a lot of what I wanted was buried in the library, so I had to find it and photocopy it. Some of my copies were pretty terrible, mostly because the left-hand margin wouldn’t lie flat enough.
Xerography, literally the art of Xeroxing which for today’s purpose we’ll take as a synonym for photocopying* is a dying skill. Perhaps that’s overly dramatic, but information is becoming so readily available over our electronic devices that we don’t really consider people printing off documents, let alone the fact that those documents, or parts of them, might be photocopied.
*In the same way that hoovering is now a synonym for vacuum cleaning, in a way which Dysoning isn’t.
Why should you worry about someone Xeroxing your thesis? Well, for whatever reason it is that they are not looking at the original, you still want them to be able to read the whole thing in an intelligible way. You don’t want them to miss a crucial ‘not’. You want them to cite your work, and to be talking about it in a positive way. So there are a few things that you should bear in mind when you are writing your thesis:
1) Be generous with your left hand margin. I would suggest 3 cm, although your institution may have a specific ruling on this.
2) Keep things simple – avoid fancy finishing touches (you weren’t planning on a patterned border anyway, were you?).
3) Make sure that your images are clean and crisp, the highest quality you can manage without bloating the file size too much.
4) Be careful with your use of colour. Avoid yellows – these don’t copy well. Try and stick to a few colours that can be distinguished if they end up converted to grey-scale. If in doubt/if possible stick to black and white, using broken lines or shapes to distinguish data sets.
In short, think about what it is going to look like when Xeroxed. Your reader will thank you for it (or at least won’t be mentally cursing you) and this will mean that they are in a more positive frame of mind when they are reading your work.