INDESIGN for PHD thesis? Mad, I tell you, MAD!!
Comment on Twitter regarding the use of InDesign for a thesis
Scrivener is really great software for writing, esp. longer texts like a dissertation. However, it’s output options are a bit limited if you want to have decent formatting. It’s designed to write text, not to do layout. This isn’t a problem if you just need to produce a document you can give your supervisor for feedback, as you can simply compile the (necessary parts of the) Scrivener document as Word document or PDF (e.g., in APA paper style). But when you need to format your thesis for submission you might need another program.
The easiest way is probably to use Microsoft Word. You find a few tips regarding headers and footnotes in this posting. But personally, I avoid using Word whenever I can. And I used InDesign to format my thesis for the submission version (the ones which ended up in the university library).
However, InDesign is a professional DTP program and not exactly easy to understand. A reader (John) asked me about tips regarding InDesign. That’s a hard question without knowing how well the person already understands InDesign. Furthermore, there are enough instructions on using InDesign online and I don’t want to compete with them.
But what I can do is to provide the file I used for my Dissertation thesis. It’s my thesis document, although I removed the text and the images to make it more template like (zipped .indd file).
Note that this file is made in accordance to the requirements of my (former) university. You probably have to adapt it to your requirements (e.g., page size, borders, etc.). (For a humorous view on the issue, see this PhD comic).
But at the very least, it shows, among others, the different layers I used (not many, just one for the cover background, one for the text and one for images), the paragraph styles (important for creating the Table of Contents, including separate ones for figures and tables), the character styles, and a couple of other things.
If I remember correctly (did the thesis about 5 years ago), after creating the standard pages like cover and imprint, I started with copy-pasting the text from a compiled Scrivener document (using Word output, IIRC) into the page textbox (automatically created the necessary number of pages). I then manually formatted the text (e.g., headers) and inserted the footnotes in InDesign. Then I went through the thesis and inserted the tables and images, formatting them as needed. I used placeholder text like “Insert Figure xxx here” when writing the thesis with Scrivener. Note that when you work with figures/tables, you can either put them as objects on a specific page (will not move with text) or insert them as part of the text. Both ways work and the first one will always stay at this position, the second one will move with the text. If an image/table is near the start/end of a page, you might want to insert it independently of the text flow. Take care to use specific paragraph styles for the figures and another one for the tables to create these independent table of contents.
But whatever you do, only start doing the thesis with InDesign when you are sure that there will be no more changes.
Personally, I used InDesign because I had already used it for just-for-fun books and found it more stable and practical than Word. And I didn’t mind the manual work. So formatting a thesis with InDesign is doable, but you will curse while doing it. But whether you will curse more or less than when using Word, I cannot say. If you already know InDesign or are willing to learn it, and your thesis is similar in structure to mine, I’d say probably less. However, I would be skeptical of using InDesign for a thesis that uses a lot of mathematical notations. But then, people working a lot of those usually use LaTeX anyway.
BTW, if you have specific questions or problems when using InDesign for a thesis, leave a comment (also if you tried it and it worked). Just keep in mind that this is my just-for-fun site. I cannot promise a working solution in advance (well, no one can) and I can’t promise that I reply immediately.