The process of submitting your thesis in hard copy for the viva exam is often not particularly high on the list of worries towards the end of the write-up. If you’re pushed for time, you’re likely more concerned about finishing and polishing the conclusion, or receiving those last-minute comments and corrections from supervisors.

However, the final days of typesetting, printing and binding the thesis can be extremely stressful. Having just submitted, I can’t stress how important it is to give the process some thought as early as possible. I hope the following tips help. They come from my immediate experience, and as such some of them may be specific to Word users, though most of them are general:

  • Check you (and your supervisor) have submitted the right forms. If you can’t see this on your online record, go to the student centre where you would normally submit the thesis, and get them to check that everything is ready. Or ask your departmental administrator. When you turn up, exhausted, teary-eyed, with your beautiful thesis bound and lettered in gold, you do not want to find out that someone forgot to submit a form.
  • Check the style guidelines for the thesis early on (UCL example here). In this case, I mean the size and style of the font, the spacing, and critically things like the word count. Do not leave this to the last minute, this is critical information you need early in the write-up period. Does your university include tables and figures in the word count? Will you need appendices? What’s your minimum page margin? Do you need to include a table of figures, and where do you start the page numbers? Make no assumptions, and check these all explicitly.
  • Work out where you are going to print your thesis. Then faint a little at the cost. It’s probably worth avoiding colour printing except where completely necessary e.g. graphs and photographs, or the cost may be crippling. Do not assume that printing on your university account will be the cheapest, or even the easiest. Handing the file over to someone else to print may be the easiest, most stress-free approach, and it may be cheaper.
  • Work out where you will have your thesis bound. I used ULU, but beware – their website is of little use and doesn’t tell you that the ’24hr’ service is really a ’48hr’ service, unless you get them the printed copy before 11am. And how likely is that?
  • Check how many physical pages (leaves) can be bound into a single volume. Will you need your appendices as a separate volume? Will you need to print double-sided? ULU told me there was no limit, but there is. And on that note…
  • Avoid printing double-sided. I do think it looks good, and it does cut down the weight of your volume, but honestly, if you’re using Word etc. it can be a complete headache. If you have a bigger margin on one side than the other (to facilitate binding), then you will need to use ‘mirror margins’ which inevitably will go wrong at some critical point in the printing process, mess up your page numbers, and add hours if not days to your printing process. If it isn’t necessary, consider avoiding it.
  • Minimise landscape pages in a portrait document. Not for any technical reason, but again because it will drive you crazy trying to get them to look good, and placing page numbers on landscape pages in a portrait document in Word is difficult and can be time consuming. So if you can cut down on these, you will save yourself pain.
  • Convert your Word document to a PDF prior to printing. I cannot stress this enough. Your Word document will be huge, awkward, prone to doing crazy things and incredibly precious to you. There is also the chance that if you move the document between computers, you will end up with unintentional and possibly unidentified shifts in formatting. So, if you usually work on one single machine, finish your work on that machine and convert it to a PDF when you think you are ready to print. If need be, do this in sections or chapters.
  • Read your PDF copies through for errors. You will find them. I’m assuming you’ve already double-triple-quadruple proofed your own work, and had whatever hapless friends you can muster together proof it too (at least the conclusion – an educated friend from outside your disciple makes an excellent editor for the conclusion). However, you may find that the PDF’ing process has introduced pagination or layout errors. In my experience, these errors are not unique to the PDF process, but will also occur if you print direct from a Word file. Like me, you may find that four pages all inexplicably wish to be “Page 462” for no apparent reason. Double check all of this stuff, particularly crazy page numbers.
  • Print a single copy yourself, one chapter at a time, and check it. You will find more errors. You will find words obviously mistyped or misspelled. It will be awful, but it still needs doing. Once you are happy with a single copy where everything has gone okay…
  • Print multiple final copies. You will likely need at least two for submission to the University, who will pass them on to the examiners. You will also want a copy of your own. This is important because you get to look at it smugly, and also because you will want to read it through for errors (yup, there’ll be some, depressing isn’t it?) before you take it into the viva. I’m extrapolating here, but I imagine things will be much easier when your examiner says “About that figure on Page 145…” if you can look at your own copy!
  • Check the binding guidelines and get them bound. Maybe even treat yourself to a bound copy, as nothing makes it more real, or is as impressive to your family and friends. Waving a PDF at them doesn’t really have the same affect as knocking them unconscious with a book the size of a phone directory. Do remember to take your details, and what you need printed on the spine, with you to the binders (UCL example). Do not assume that they will automatically know what to write.
  • Check where to hand in the bound copies, and check it will be open. Its surprising (and frustrating) how short the opening hours are at many student centres. Chances are, if you turn up at 4:30pm on the day of your deadline, you will be in serious trouble.
  • Check the bound copies are correct. They binders do this for a living, so it should be fine, but a quick skim of the page numbers should reassure you that all the pages are there, and they are all in the right order.
  • Submit, get a receipt, and go and celebrate! You should get a printed certificate or statement that you have submitted, signed or stamped by the university. If they don’t do this automatically, ask for a print out. This is too important to mess around with. Then, go and have a drink, or coffee, or cake or something with a friend, preferably one who ‘gets’ how much of a big deal this is. It’s easy to feel deflated immediately after submission, so make sure you have psychological support, and inform your family or partner that you deserve taking out for dinner, or a takeaway, or a bottle of wine!

I hope these pointers help. It took me days just to go from finished digital file to bound physical submission copy, largely due to some incredibly frustrating printing errors and problems with landscape pages and page numbers. I’d given myself four days for printing and binding, and I ended up needing every one of them. Good luck!

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