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How to Write a Dissertation

This page covers the preparation of the dissertation manuscript. You should definitely check out LatexKnowledge first. Things to add (maybe):

Official Requirements

The University's requirements change from time to time. Make sure to check the Graduate School's documentation to see if it has changed (and then update this Page!). As of May 2006, the requirements were not that stringent (especially compared to other universities). They only require that you have margins of a certain size, include an abstract first, and some other things. The most important recent change is that you must submit a PDF and only a PDF to the University. Currently, the Department has no requirements in excess of the University's. Since a PDF is the required, official format, this page is only about how to make the official document.

The University is picky about blank pages. As it stands, using the default book class, [nop]LaTeX assumes that chapters must start on an odd numbered page and will leave blank pages to enforce this. To turn this behavior off (and thereby follow the University's rules) you should add the option "openany" to your document class.

Sample Dissertation with Necessary Files

A slightly modified and simplified version of the old LaTeX files is provided here:


This does not rely on tex2pdf and works with the normal pdflatex (or the included Makefile). This still allows all the fancy pdf bookmarks, follows the University Guidlines, and allows you to make a nice printing copy with a cover page which you can make using a program more suited for layout. Just download, uncompress, and replace the info in the files with your info.

-- JohnVernaleo - 26 May 2008

First, make sure you have read LatexKnowledge and more or less know what you are doing with tex2pdf.

Next, download the sample dissertation howtodiss.tar.bz2. Unpack it somewhere with tar xjvf howtodiss.tar.bz2 and look inside the new directory. There are a lot of files there, aren't there?

For the most part, you should be able to modify this document with your own text to make it into your thesis. Make each chapter its own file and add another \include{observationschapter.tex} line in the main file, dissertation.tex. By using tex2pdf with it, it will automatically create clickable table of contents, lists of figures and captions, and all of the references will be clickable. The references in the bibliography are clickable and bring up the relevant ADS page for each entry.


When it comes to prining copies for you committee there are lots of choices. Kinkos (on Route 1) is a pretty popular choice, is open 24 hours, has no problems with pdfs, and does a good job.

Printing nice, hardcover copies is a little more complicated. You can buy black and white copies from the company the Univerisy outsources dissertation distribution to but I have yet to hear anything good about them. More options and better prices can (as usual) be found if you are willing to brave the internet. I used Thesis On Demand and was fairly happy with the results (it took about a month to get the final printed copies, but they look good and all my figures are in color for a moderate price increase. The nice thing about using them (or any of the other ones) is that you can use the printing option in the LaTeX class and not the funny formal umd option (and you can include the pretty cover page you made that the univeristy does not include).

-- JohnVernaleo - 08 Aug 2008

Useful Webpages


Extra PDF Bookmarks.

If you want to add extra PDF bookmarks (the list of links usually on the left-hand pane of your PDF viewer), add a line like \pdfbookmark[n]{Bookmark Text}{AnchorName}. Here n is the level of bookmark you want it to be (0 for Part, 1 for Chapter, 2 for Section, 3 for Subsection, etc.). Bookmark Text is the verbiage that appears in the bookmark window. You cannot use Latex markup for the bookmark text. And AnchorName is the name of the anchor that you want the bookmark to link to. The easiest way to make an anchor go where you want is to use the \label{AnchorName} command in Latex. So, for example, if Nikolaus Volgenau wanted to make a PDF bookmark to his Equation 211b, he would write
% The famous equation
1 + 1 = 3
% Now the bookmark
\pdfbookmark[2]{Famous Equation}{eqn211b}
Normally, you don't want to label your equations by a number but, instead, something more descriptive. You don't have to use the \label{} command, though. You could just put stuff in the middle like:
So this thesis answers the following question:  
\pdfbookmark[2]{Ultimate Question}{uqanchor} What is 
the meaning of life, the universe, and everything?
Do not omit the anchor, or it will point to some random place. Each anchor has to be unique, of course, or it will be ambiguous where you want to point. In the above two cases, you don't know if you are in a section or subsection or what, so it is probably better to do \currentpdfbookmark{Ultimate Question}{uqanchor} to make it the same level as the current level or to do \subpdfbookmark{Famous Equation}{eqn211b} to make it one level down.

For more on what you can do with PDF bookmarks, see this presentation by Hieko Oberdeik. It is geared for pdftex not pdflatex but I am unaware of any crucial difference.

Extra Table of Contents Entry.

If you have cause to add some extra section that does not automatically get added to the table of contents, you can add it (as well as adding a PDF bookmark) by doing something like:
\addcontentsline{toc}{chapter}{Supplementary Index}
where toc tells Latex to add it to the main Table Of Contents, chapter is the level of the item (could also be section, subsection, etc.), and Supplementary Index is the text that shows up in the table. The \phantomsection is necessary for the bookmark and table links to go to the right place.

Random Links.

If you want to put a hyperlink (internal or external) just use the \href command:
These data were obtained from the 
\href{http://exoplanet.eu/}{Extrasolar Planet Encyclopedia}.
You can also do links to anchors within your document, but these are done automatically for citations and anytime you use the \ref command. Better yet, use \autoref{label} instead of Figure~\ref{label} or Equation~\ref{label}. Wonderfully, \autoref figures out what it is you are talking about and makes a bigger link. Instead of just the number, it links with the whole word. If you don't like what word it uses for the item (e.g., "section" instead of "" or "chapter" instead of "Chapter"), you can redefine it at the begining with something like \renewcommand{\sectionname}{\S}. The only unfortunate thing is that there is no way (as far as I can tell) to do something like " 3.1 to 3.3" or "Chapters 1 and 2." Instead, you have to do " 3.1 to 3.3" or "Chapter 1 and Chapter 2." If you specifically do not want the reference to be clickable, use the starred ref command: \ref*{label}. Read the fine hyperref manual for more on this, especially the section on additional user macros.

-- JohnVernaleo - 20 Sep 2007

-- KayhanGultekin - 23 Apr 2006

Topic attachments
I Attachment Action Size Date Who Comment
Unknown file formatbz2 howtodiss.tar.bz2 manage 132.6 K 2006-05-16 - 15:15 UnknownUser Sample Thesis Package
Topic revision: r9 - 2012-11-28 - EricMcKenzie
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