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My Doctoral Thesis Template, or: How You Learn to Stop Worrying and Love OpenOffice.org

collateral tales

collateral tales

Two years late but here it is: my OpenOffice.org thesis template, up for grabs under a Creative Commons license.

I don’t know anyone who wrote his or her dissertation the way I did. I started out with a broad, preliminary bibliography that amounted to over 1000 sources (not counting my primary authors’ and critics’ texts), and ordered books and articles more or less at random just to gather ideas.

Xmas That went well for several months but then our freelance network really got going, and I had other fish to fry. All I did, for the following two years, was casual reading, and by the end of that second year, around Christmas, I had proceeded to my first author’s third novel. Relaxing in cozy twosomeness under the only Christmas tree I ever put up (it’s fun!), we started wondering how long it would take me to finish reading and start writing. Good question. I made a page count for my primary authors and critics, then a quick back-of-the-envelope calculation, and came up with something like 2014.

Shock! So for the next three years, I put myself (or rather us) through the grueling schedule of reading 40 pages per day, every day, plus scanning and OCRing and tagging and sorting and sketching everything in Papyrus, capitalizing on its terrific database functionality, that looked even remotely useful for my citation corpus—while working in the advertising business plus trying to have a life. (Yes, that amounts to around 45K pages read & digested, all in all. It’s crazy.) The six months after that I went through my data and created the Complete & Unabridged structure for my thesis, with chapter, subchapter, and section titles and quotations allocated throughout.

MLAAnd after that, finally, I built a template from scratch in OpenOffice.org with every page style and every paragraph style I would probably need, based on MLA style formatting but tweaked for German universities. That took me several weeks. But it was perfect, it worked smoothly, I never had to extend or repair it, and it never crashed on me even once. (Up to that point, I hadn’t written a single word of actual prose, in case you wonder. I started writing after that, directly into my template, and kept on writing for six months, one month one chapter, 438 pages total.)

Why OpenOffice.org, in the end? Because I wanted everything about my thesis, from A–Z, to be “Open Source” and because, at that time, it was the only application that natively supported the PDF/A standard.

Now, obviously, I always thought of my template too as being “open,” i.e., under a Creative Commons license. But somehow it never occurred to me to actually put it up! Until last week, that is, when we talked about the proper tools for writing papers and theses and such, and one of my students went, “gosh, you should sell that thing!”

So here it is, one click away!

WritingFree, of course, under a Creative Commons license. It’s got a cover page, a page for thesis defense data, a preface (you might not need that), a semi-automatic Table of Content (update option’s in the context menu, and you might want to eliminate the line breaks before the chapter titles manually), an abstract page, and a keyword page. Then, for the content proper, the introduction page, followed by six chapters with introductory paragraph, subchapters, and sections each, rounded off by the Works Cited section, a CV page (you will need that for your publication copies for the libraries), and the declaration of authorship. The page styles take care of pagination (Roman numerals, regular numbering, regular numbering without visible pagination, etc.). For paragraph styles, you will find about 20 styles with the prefix “jm_” in the Custom Styles section in the Format/Styles & Formatting menu to tinker around with. Also, in the filler text for the preface you will find some hints as to how references for quotations are handled nowadays (our grandparents used to stack them in footnotes, an archaic and thoroughly barbaric custom.)

I built that template on a Windows PC with an earlier OpenOffice.org version, but I just checked, and it works like a charm with the latest OpenOffice.org release on my Mac. Plus, as mentioned, from OpenOffice.org you can export your thesis directly in PDF/A format, which is the official (and only) format for electronic publication in case you go for that (and you should). It worked! Spared me tons of hassle after my thesis defense (in German: »Disputatio«), and I was able to wear my new & shiny doctor title in no time.

Follow the link to the download page and enjoy! If you have questions, just drop me a note on Twitter, Skype, Facebook, wherever.


If you have something valuable to add or some interesting point to discuss, I’ll be looking forward to meeting you at Mastodon!

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  1. between drafts | Editing Characters