I'm anticipating a bunch of people using LaTeX for their theses and coming here for advice (kind of like the flurry of exam-related questions we had around Christmastime).

A generic CW question like "I'm writing my thesis in LaTeX; what problems will I have and what advice would you give?" could be used to (a) draw in googlers and (b) might eliminate some repeated questions.

The answers could contain links to other questions or other pointers.

I would post such a question myself but that would be all the time I would have; I can't write the answers. So when commenting or answering this question mention how much time you could contribute to this.

  • What kind of answers would you expect?
    – Caramdir
    Commented Apr 26, 2011 at 19:16
  • 2
    Isn't April and Almost May a bit late for most people to start writing the theses? I should expect this flurry of people to come sometime closer to, oh, say January or February... Commented Apr 27, 2011 at 9:45
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    I'm late to the game here, but I'm up for it. And the glut of students with thesis questions isn't because they've just started writing, it's because they've just now sent their copies to the graduate school and they're coming back with formatting discrepancies and don't know how to fix them -- a mix of odd requirements, outdated classes/packages, and lack of experience. Commented May 1, 2011 at 23:20

5 Answers 5


There are two things I've noticed with respect to thesis questions.

  1. European (and possibly anywhere outside the US) requirements are generally minimal, while American requirements are detailed and awful.
  2. American students are often using existing thesis classes/packages that vary greatly in their quality.

The upshot of this is that the kinds of questions that arise are quite different, and the two groups (i.e. Americans and non-Americans) tend to think that their mode is the norm, which can lead to some confusion.

European students have questions like "What's a good package/class for a thesis?" or "Should I put my figures in the margins?". These are often questions about typography and layout. Such questions are completely foreign to American students, since they are bound by bizarre typewriter-era fixed requirements.

American students have questions like "My table of contents must have the word "Page" on top of the page numbers. How do I do this?" or "I'm working with this (awful) package supplied by some random person at my university, and it doesn't do X correctly."

Because of these different requirements, I wonder whether a generic community wiki type question set is appropriate.

I created the thesis class that I maintain out of frustration of dealing with students who were trying to roll their own, or using existing templates of dubious quality. For American students, a question like "How do I create a thesis class for my university" might be useful.

  • 4
    "How do I create a thesis class for my university" is well appreciated by those of us unfortunate enough to work in Microsoft-centric academic institutions, and I dread the day I will have to write my own thesis in (the horror!) .docx format.. Commented Apr 27, 2011 at 8:25
  • @Martin but you're in Sweden! Will you really be forced to use MSWord for your thesis?
    – Alan Munn
    Commented Apr 27, 2011 at 14:39
  • Actually, it's not quite clear, as I'm currently working in institution X while formally being enrolled in institution Y, and being a member of the research school of institution Z. It's one big administrative mess, really. At least one of X,Y and Z have a confirmed thesis template in LaTeX, and one has a confirmed .docx template only. So, it's at least 33% chance.. and with that odds, I'd rather be prepared when I start writing my dissertation after a year or so. Commented Apr 27, 2011 at 15:40
  • In the American system, each school has a long list of thesis formatting requirements which have to be met--so questions like "what problems will I have and what advice can you give?" don't really come up. A more typical problem for Americans is the spacing between their lines/paragraphs is x and needs to be y. Because the requirements differ so much and are so specific, it maybe best if the advice caters to a European audience.
    – DJP
    Commented Aug 17, 2011 at 16:41
  • I have no problems with having a European oriented question, but I think that the American style requirements are the ones that generate the most questions. Although we can't head off all the potential questions, I think it would be possible to construct an answer that would guide students on how to translate their requirements into decent LaTeX. There are many commonalities to the US formatting requirements. I just haven't taken the time to work out the draft of such an answer.
    – Alan Munn
    Commented Aug 17, 2011 at 16:53

One interesting thing could be a "Thesis showcase" where different solutions are shown as .tex source and as typeset PDF for being inspired what is possible and how it may look..

And collecting frequently asked questions of Ph. D. students could also be interesting.

for me personally: I always find it very interesting and inspiring to see the Thesis'es of others and see their ideas for layout etc (e. g. Lev Bishops thesis: http://pantheon.yale.edu/~lsb32/thesis/ and his remarks about the realisation with pdflatex). I'd very much like to see more such examples.

For me, there are a lot of questions about the "best" formatting

  • font type and size in diagrams
  • font type of sections
  • how to easily create consistently formatted diagrams with whatever tool (in my case mostly IPE)

practical questions which are only (or especially) relevant for large documents like

  • version control
  • notes and annotations (like fixme. todo etc.)
  • compiling times and how to improve compiling speed ...?

It's thesis season again, apparently. These questions are more or less specific to thesis formatting, and there are plenty of other recent questions where the word 'thesis' shows up in the context.

What should be the next step if we wanted to make an all-around thesis question? Make one each for the American and European types of questions? I've got plenty of experience dealing with the graduate office at my school, and a reasonably compact style file that matches all our requirements.

  • As I mention in my answer, I think this is a good idea, and will be happy to help. I think a fruitful way to begin would be to figure out best practices for translating requirements (often designed for Word users) into decent LaTeX. If you want to contact me off the site to discuss a draft answer, feel free.
    – Alan Munn
    Commented Aug 17, 2011 at 16:56

Isn't this question related?

Style/class tutorials

  • I guess you mean related or relevant when you write "relative" :-) Commented Apr 29, 2011 at 11:00
  • Ouch... It seems sometimes "I speak England very best!" :P
    – pmav99
    Commented Apr 29, 2011 at 11:39
  • It's all relative, Hendrik; you say tomato, I say tomahto :)
    – Emre
    Commented Apr 29, 2011 at 22:34
  • Well I say tomato, and you say tomayto. Commented Aug 18, 2011 at 11:03

Ok, never mind. Seems to be a solution in search of a problem...

  • 2
    no, I think this is a relevant topic. I have got the problems (and many others too, I suppose). Alan Munn's comment might be a very good hint on 2 directions of such a thesis wiki: (1) how can I create a thesis which looks as great as possible with LaTeX (for the non-American people) and (2) how can I create the ugly thesis that my institution wants me to write for the American Ph. D. students. (I'm happy to belong to group 1 and I'd have a lot of ideas and questions about options of layout and how to make the document as beautiful, readable, clear and consistently formatted as possible. Commented Apr 29, 2011 at 19:58

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