Typesetting my thesis

doctor snapping his latex gloveI’m at the point where I’m beginning to think about actually writing my Ph.D. thesis, and that means deciding what to write it in. My last experience in this realm was a disaster: with three hours to finish and print my Masters thesis, my sections automagically renumbered themselves, something that took me an hour to reverse. If possible I want to avoid a situation where my word processor “fixes” things for me.

My needs are simple: I want a pretty document, with a nice layout, and good bibliographic support. Here’s a quick rundown of my options:

Microsoft Word
World standard, good bibliographic support through Endnote, pretty good global style control, sucks for editing large documents
Adobe InDesign
No bibliographic support, handles large documents, but most features (such as endnotes/footnotes) must be done by hand
LaTeX
No interface, good bibliographic support through Bibtex, handles large documents, good global style control

Like many a Ph.D. student before me, it appears that if I can do without the interface, LaTeX is the obvious solution. No weird side effects, total style control and great support for all kinds of sundries like equations, bibliographic data, and so on. The only thing I worried about were the fonts.

Contrary to previous accounts, installing LaTeX on OS X was a cinch: using the ii installer, packages for teTex were installed on my machine in seconds. And something I was not aware of is the fact that OS X provides a system called XeTeX that has full support for OS X and TrueType fonts. Seriously brother, can a man ask for more?

I took the MIT Thesis LaTeX files, added some Mac fonts like Hoefler Text and Optima (using the fontspec package, which is a breeze), and blamo! I’ve got a great looking thesis. After struggling with my last thesis, this is a weight off my chest.

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8 thoughts on “Typesetting my thesis

  1. How odd… I wanted to write here about my brother, and I see a comment from yours.

    My brother, who’s doing his PhD in Engineering, is at the same stage you are, and he uses LaTeX. Because Word isn’t so good, he says.

    For my Master’s thesis I’m sticking with Word because the document isn’t going to be that long and thank goodness, I don’t need to have any equations. But it’s still… not very good.

    Good luck! πŸ™‚

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