7 ways to get through the formatting stage with sanity intact

After writing an entire thesis or dissertation, convincing five busy professors to be on your committee, and filing endless forms in the appropriate offices in time for innumerable deadlines, yet another hurdle stands between you and your defense: the formatting process. Having to labor over such minutiae might seem like cruel and unusual punishment after everything you've already been through, but there are a few things you can do to make this stage of the process more bearable.

1. Remind yourself that you can do this. Unlike during the actual research and writing process, there is a clear-cut right answer during the formatting stage. Let that be a cause of relief rather than frustration.

2. Survey the big picture. Gather all the information about your university's and your discipline's requirements, and make sure you know which set of requirements takes precedence where.

3. Be strategic about the order in which you tackle each element in the formatting process so that you don't end up having to re-do anything. Personally, I like to start by checking all footnote and citation formatting, then the sub-headings, then all the spacing throughout the document. I usually make the automatic table of contents, list of figures, and list of tables last because page numbers can change during the formatting process. (Of course you can update these tables/lists without having to re-do them, but it's nice to save yourself that step.)

4. Find shortcuts. If it seems like a given part of the formatting process is taking too long (fixing your margin widths, making your table of contents, or whatever), it's quite possible that there is a more efficient way to do whatever you are doing. Ask a friend, try google, or check with your college or university's point person to see whether there's a shortcut you don't know about. It's amazing what Microsoft Word can do.

5. Pace yourself. If you really hate formatting, only make yourself work on it for, say, an hour a day. Let yourself eat a cookie while you work.

6. Consider hiring an editor for the most frustrating parts of the formatting process. If you have a lot of tables and figures, for example, you could hire an editor solely to create the lists of tables and figures. Be sure the editor you hire is experienced with formatting, not just copy editing.

7. Remind yourself that you're in the home stretch! When this part is over, you'll be all ready to submit your document!

Posted on September 25, 2013 .