Thesis Formatting Meltdown - and I've not even started it!

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Music Composition PhD here - so rather than a thesis I need to provide a 30k commentary to go with my portfolio of compositions. Into the writing-up stage now, aiming to submit by December. I've got about 3/4 of my commentary to write, and because I'm an idiot it's only just clicked that maybe the university has some very strict guidelines on formatting one's thesis beyond "Don't Use Comic Sans". So I checked, and it seems that everything I've been scribbling in Pages is completely wrong.

Not only that, but a very helpful MS Word template they provide - with fancy automatically-updating contents pages and chapter numbers - is completely unusable as far as I'm concerned because I'm an absolute moron who can't use do anything in a word processor fancier than underlining, bold, and italics. The online how-to guides are, in true university style, totally impenetrable; and the helpful training sessions they offer to explain the whole thing were done and dusted by last February.

I'm shitting myself enough at the thought of how I'm going to write my commentary at all... but somehow the prospect of getting it all into the proper format - and THEN producing an accessible PDF version from it with links and bookmarks and god knows what else - has completely broken me.

It's 2am and I'm freaking out over paragraph spacing and typeface sizes. What an idiot. All I need is that sodding paperclip to pop up and say "Hey! Looks like you're trying to write a thesis! Need help?"

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University formatting rules are an utter pain but are necessary. I understand that it feels overwhelming now but once you get the formatting setup correctly you won't have to worry about it much. Content is king and the formatting is really a one time issue that can be done whenever.

I would recommend a reference manager such as EndNote or Mendely to organise references, bookmarks and links. They automate the process and significantly reduces stress.

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Thanks, rewt - I spent the whole of yesterday getting to grips with Word, and then Zotero. I'm feeling SO much better about all this now. I should have learnt from every single one of my previous meltdowns that all of this is solvable!

Note to anybody else who stumbles across this and feels the same way: if a dunderhead like me can get through a formatting nightmare, you can too! 😆


Sounds a nightmare. I felt similar with my Masters thesis formatting (but I left it till the night before and was trying to sort it all out lol). So if I understand correctly you are aiming to submit in about 6 months from now? You have plenty of time! I think get it written and save a week or so for sorting out the formatting (that is if it is mostly text - if it is lots of figures and things that require work to get them all presented right you might want to save more than a week for getting it sorted out). If you set aside some time to learn how to use the template or find another similar one online, then it should feel less stressful.

I used a reference manager for my masters but didn't for my PhD and don't for my papers. I just find it easier to add my own references (copying and pasting from google scholar and then sorting the reference list a-z and checking they are in the right order). Reference managers are good but they can also be quite annoying sometimes and mess things up (in my experience). I think it depends on what suits the individual best.

Ps. Oops just saw your reply above and sounds like you're on the way to being sorted now! Good luck!

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Thanks, Queenie! Glad you got through it! :D


Hahaha! Haven't had this nickname before! I do like this forum!