Rethinking ‘thesis’ as ‘book’

12 May 2013

I have long argued that ‘a thesis is not a book’ and in my next post I shall outline my reasons why. Because of this, I have warned PhD students against the practice of ‘publication’ of their thesis by the home institution. Here, typically, the thesis is laid out and printed in book form (fancy cover and all) and may even be offered for sale on a limited basis. Recently, some have been appearing as e-books.


Let’s face it, however; I am still against these fake books (or at least their excessive distribution as library exchange copies) but the battle is probably lost here and in any case it may not matter. Time instead to minimise the damage, accentuate the positive.

Why? There are several reasons:

  1. Brutal reality. While you need to publish with a ‘reputable publisher’ to build an academic career, if at its outset the faculty demands publication of the thesis, this cannot be avoided.
  2. Your faculty may be right. Theft of your ideas and research results is a possibility. Online publication of your thesis is a kind of patenting process but that is only the first step; you need to assert your intellectual rights by publishing material from the thesis (see below).
  3. The market. Too much is being published but more than likely publishers are still hungry for fresh, new perspectives in your field. (If they are not, then your thesis topic may be a dead end; that’s another discussion.)

That said, I am certain there are quite a few publishers out there who would violently disagree with me (the same publishers who would not consider publishing a monograph that includes chapters already published in another form as journal articles; I sometimes wonder if a few of my publishing colleagues aren’t living in a parallel universe). The reality of the situation is something else; the old adage ‘publish or perish’ is true and today that means publish now not at a leisurely future date.

(Of course, you may not be required by your department to produce your thesis in book form and instead your may be tempted by an offer for ‘free publication’ of your thesis. Here’s why you should think hard about this.)

As such, if both initial publication of your thesis and its subsequent publication in another form by a ‘real’ publisher are unavoidable, the trick is to ensure that these two actions are not mutually exclusive. Here are a few thoughts about achieving this.

1) I realise that many students write their theses with a future book in mind; only minor tweaking is needed to produce the finished monograph. However, if you think hard about the differences between thesis and book (listed in my next post), you will have an action list for revision. Be warned: this may involve more than minor tweaking.

2) Think strategically about your career and the publication list on your CV. Regardless of whether or not both thesis and book are to be published, make sure that they have quite different titles and that you reserve the ‘sexier’ title for your book. The same applies for any journal articles, book chapters, etc. More about this here.

3) Even if you haven’t yet finished your thesis, start publishing material from your research now – as journal articles, book chapters, working papers, whatever – at the same time that you work on your thesis.

4) But if the thesis is finished (or nearly there), don’t believe the publishers who say you should contemplate your material and publish this as a monograph in five years time. Yes, you may need ‘distance’ from your thesis to complete the monograph but the clock is ticking on your career. The time is now for mining and reworking material from the thesis – again, as journal articles, book chapters, working papers, etc. – at the same time that you work on your monograph.

5) Don’t forget the discards. There may be all sorts of interesting material that you omitted from your thesis or won’t be included in your final monograph. Be a creative scavenger and rework these discards into articles or even future research and book projects.

One last thing: if you have just finished your thesis, well, the clock may be ticking on your career but take time out to savour your achievement. You’ve earned it!

Formatting your index

8 April 2010

In addition to structuring your index in terms of hierarchy and internal structure (as discussed in my previous post), you will also need to format and fine-tune your index. Although each publisher may have a different style, the following pointers are accepted by most. And, to illustrate my points, let’s revisit the example used in my last post.

xxxxacademic standard
xxxxsee also Cultural Issues; Language
xxxxcorrect usage/spelling
xxxxplain English
xxxxtools. See Language tools
xxxxsee also English; Presentation; Style
Language tools
xxxxreference works
xxxxspell checkers
xxxxsee also Language

Text layout and format

Although your typeset index may appear in two (or even three) columns, make everyone’s life simpler: prepare your index in a single column, each entry/sub-entry comprising a separate paragraph.

Note that index entries are flush left and sub-entries are indented. The proper way to do this is by assigning paragraph styles to the different entry types (preferably just ‘Index-1’ and ‘Index-2’). Alternatively, do everything in ‘Normal’ and tab indent your sub-entries.

In fact, your publisher may have a preference on whether sub-entries should be indented below their main entry or run as continuous text. Certainly, the former is easier to read, but space limitations may force adoption of the latter, more condensed arrangement. That shouldn’t be your decision to make, however. Best that (as recommended above) you stick to separate paragraphs for each entry/sub-entry and then indenting of sub-entries; this is cleaner, simpler and quicker.

Note that See and See also in cross-references should be italicized but otherwise keep any formatting to a minimum – but be consistent (see below).


Publishers vary somewhat in their usage here but the generally accepted rules are as follows. Order your index alphabetically, numbers coming before ‘A’. With sub-entries, ignore any initial pronouns, prepositions and the like (for instance, in an entry for ‘slave trade’, the sub-entry ‘high tide of’ comes after ‘in African records’ but before ‘as understood in 18th century’ – alphabetizing on ‘African’, ‘high’ and ‘understood’).


Remember that your index is part of your book and as such your entries must appear in the index in the same form as in the body text (e.g. upper vs lower case and use of italics). Likewise, the page numbering should follow the same convention as the rest of your book. If page ranges are expressed as ‘123–126’ in the body text and references, then they should be expressed the same way in the index (and not, say, as ‘123–6’ or ‘123–26’).

Junk entries

Any entry or sub-entry that has more than about 15 associated page references is a junk entry, i.e. it spans such an extent of material that it is useless for searching purposes. Abandon it, or break it up.


Something that can really make an index useful is a judicious number of cross-references (as discussed in my last post). In addition, if a term appears in two forms in your book (such as ‘International Monetary Fund’ and ‘IMF’), let one index entry simply refer readers to the other entry. Use your common sense, however. Sometimes (especially for minor entries with few page references) it is better to repeat an index element under both entry names rather than to refer the reader from one entry to the other.

Now all that remains is to finalize your index, the subject of my next post.

(Post #10 of the Indexing section of a lengthy series on the book production process, the first post of which is here.)

Structuring your index

19 March 2010

An index is an index is an index, ne c’est pas? Well, actually, no. An index can come in all shapes and forms – though, as we shall see, in fact your options are reasonably limited.

However, what I shall briefly consider in this post is how many indexes you need, how many levels (or layers) are possible within the index, and the implications of these two factors on the internal structure of your index(es). Thinking through these issues must be done before you start creating any index entries.

Using the mind map

If you have indeed prepared a mind map of your study beforehand (discussed earlier), then its value will be immediately apparent at this point. The mind map is the structure of your index; its contours can be mapped into a skeleton index without a huge amount of additional work (though, as we shall see, if your mind map has a ‘deep’ structure then it will need to be reworked to accommodate a flatter one).

Indeed, all that you need to think about after this is the internal organization and consistency of your entries (plus the use of cross-references), the subject of my next post.

How many indexes?

A single, all-inclusive index may be normal but separate name and subject indexes are quite common. Indeed, in certain literary studies, for instance, it wouldn’t be unthinkable to have three indexes: the general index plus a separate index of authors and another of literary works.

That said, just because something isn’t unthinkable, that doesn’t mean that you need to do it. You will find it a far less complex task to create a single index. I suspect your readers will also thank you for it, too. Ultimately, however, if you are wanting to do anything out of the ordinary, it would be a good idea to talk to your production editor first; there is no point spending a whole lot of time and effort producing an index if it is then rejected.

How many levels?

Likewise, there is the issue of levels within your index(es) to consider. Theoretically, you could have as many levels as you want but in fact you are limited by the layout of the index. There are two factors here:

  • Page layout. Most indexes are laid out in two columns per page (I have seen indexes squeezed into three columns but they look awful and are hard to read). The width of each column will be no more than 6 cm (less than 2.5 inches) wide.
  • Arrangement of sub-entries. The convention with indexes is to indent each level of sub-entry. An index with three levels thus has a huge amount of indenting (and wasted space) to fit into such a narrow column.

In reality, then, the physical constraints of the index limits its depth to two levels. Such a flat structure is also much easier to work with and the resulting index is also easier to read.

Internal structure

Adoption of such a two-level structure has huge implications for the internal structure of your index, especially if you are working from a mind map (as undoubtedly, it will have entities with more than two layers of complexity). Flattening this structure will require:

  • creation of new related entries out of the old entry
  • judicious use of cross-references

Perhaps the best way to illustrate this point is by taking a portion of the mind map that I used earlier and translating this into a skeleton index.

Mapped as:

xxxxacademic standard
xxxxsee also Cultural Issues; Language
xxxxcorrect usage/spelling
xxxxplain English
xxxxtools. See Language tools
xxxxsee also English; Presentation; Style
Language tools
xxxxreference works
xxxxspell checkers
xxxxsee also Language

Note here that the mind map is not perfect (hence the index created is not a faithful reproduction) but it will have to do. Hopefully, you will get an idea of what I mean by this as a result.

At this point, you have all of the information needed to index your book. My next post shall be looking at the formatting of the actual index entries.

(Post #9 of the Indexing section of a lengthy series on the book production process, the first post of which is here.)

Final proofs

5 March 2010

Once the text is completely stable, and any illustrations have been sized and inserted, the typesetter paginates the book and produces a second (and hopefully final) set of proofs for checking. In urgent circumstances, it is not unknown for authors to receive only a single set of paginated proof pages, but two proof stages are more common. At the same time, you should get a proof of the finalized cover.

Page-proof checklist

However, the second (paginated) proofs are not yet another opportunity to check your text; by now, as we have seen, your production editor will be pretty intolerant of ‘unnecessary’ changes. While you should keep an eye open for any errors in the text not previously spotted, at this stage the things that you should be focusing on are quite different. Now, you should check that:

  • All corrections marked on the first proofs have been correctly implemented.
  • All figures, illustrations, captions, tables, etc. are placed where they belong (or in close proximity to this).
  • Any illustrations look as they should (in terms of quality, size, colour, orientation, etc.).
  • All footnotes (if used) are placed on the correct page.
  • Chapter titles in the table of contents match those in the text, not only in wording but also in upper or lower case. (The same applies for figure captions, etc.)
  • Chapter titles in the running heads match (or are reasonable short forms of) the real chapter titles.
  • Page numbers stated in the table of contents, list of figures, etc. are correct.
  • Any ‘hard’ cross-references (like ‘see overleaf’, ‘see page 43’, etc.) are correct.
  • Pagination of the book is consecutive (with numbering of the preliminary pages as a separate series using roman numbering).

Of course, any corrections and other changes to these proofs should be marked up as discussed in my earlier post.

Proofing the cover

I have already discussed finalization of the cover in quite some detail elsewhere. Suffice to say here that what you should be seeing now is not some cover concept or even a well-developed draft but the final version. As such, you will need to be proofing not only for errors but also omissions (a promised photo credit in tiny type on the back cover, for instance).

Given the central importance of the cover, it is wise to take special care on the cover proof.

Avoiding the errata slip

Publishers hate having to insert an errata slip in a book, not least because it is time-consuming, expensive and unnecessary (and because it is an open admission that the proofing of that book was inadequate – not a good look).

As such, because this is likely to be your last chance to check the entire book (see below), be rigorous with your proofing. This means, too, that you should look at the whole book – both inside pages and cover – making sure that everything is right. (This is especially relevant because the cover and inside pages are usually produced by different people.) Otherwise you may end up disappointed when holding your wonderful new book in your hands and discovering a silly mistake.

This is what happened to one of our authors a few years back. The title page she delivered for editing had an old subtitle. There was nothing wrong with this (hence it survived the editing and typesetting unscathed); it was simply the wrong subtitle. The new subtitle appeared on the cover of her book and in all sorts of marketing material. It was also the one that was registered in various bibliographic databases.

Unfortunately, neither the author nor anyone at the press noticed the minor discrepancy in subtitle wording until after the book was published. She requested an errata slip. Fair enough, but I was not amused.

Making a ‘right-brain’ assessment

In addition, at this stage it would be a good idea to flip through the book looking at each double-page spread (easiest done in Acrobat or Adobe Reader) and analysing the layout in a more ‘right-brain’ fashion. Are the pages balanced and aesthetically pleasing? Do the page bottoms line up? Do you like what you see?

Of course, it may be dumb me suggesting that you do this ‘right-brain’ assessment now as there is no way that either the typesetter or your production editor will contemplate major design changes at such a late stage. The time for such feedback should have been at the time of the first proofs or even earlier in the design phase (if you were consulted, that is. The whole issue of what you can and cannot expect to change at the proofing stage is discussed in detail here.)

That said, it is your book, your child. If you don’t care about how it is dressed, who else will? And what will your readers think if, when they encounter your book, they are distracted by its appearance and maybe even fail to take it seriously?

A wee bit of assertiveness with your publisher doesn’t harm once in a while.

Finalizing the proofing process

As with the first proofs, your job is to indicate any changes required either on the proofs or in a separate document, returning these (or a message that there are no changes) to your production editor. Usually, there is great pressure for this to be done quite quickly. As before, make sure that you retain a copy of these proofs.

At this stage, however, and before you return the proofs to your publisher, you may have an extra task to complete: preparing an index. If there are minimal changes to these second proofs, then it is normal that they are used for the indexing (that is, if it is the author doing the indexing); this saves time. More about this in my next post, which starts a new section of the production process looking at indexing.

And, as far as you are concerned, that is (almost) the end of the proofing process. (‘Almost’ because you should get a chance to see the typeset index and maybe even the whole book again after any second-proof changes have been implemented.) From now on, you will take a back seat as far as the production process is concerned. More proofing will be done but this will be by (or at the behest of) your production editor; as noted earlier, it is unlikely you will be involved.

Time then (after the indexing) to move on with your life. Indeed, already by now, you may need to start refocusing your attention on the promotion of your book. But that is another story.

(Post #9 of the Proofing section of a lengthy series on the book production process, the first post of which is here.)

Making proof corrections

3 March 2010

Now is the time for you to advise your production editor of any corrections and other changes to the first set of proofs. As we shall see, there are several ways in which this can be done. At this point, the issue of how many changes you can make may raise its ugly head. This delicate matter is discussed in a later post. At the same time, someone else may be proofing your text.

Author corrections

When marking changes to the proofs, follow your publisher’s instructions carefully. Possibly you will be expected to mark the actual printed pages, using proof-reading marks as in this sample. Some publishers even require their authors to mark the text using a special colour (red ink, for instance).

(Common proofing marks are listed in my next post.)

Let’s face it, however, these proofing marks aren’t that easy to remember. Many authors will prefer to annotate the proofs with their own system of marking up. If your production editor is reasonable, this shouldn’t be a problem provided the annotations are clear and consistent.

A common alternative to marking up the printed proofs is to prepare a simple list of changes. This can be written in a text file and sent to the publisher as an e-mail attachment or even written directly in an e-mail, as in this example.

And increasingly authors are using the commenting features now available with Adobe Acrobat and Acrobat Reader (and illustrated here).

Publisher’s proofing

At the same time that you are preparing your author corrections, chances are that someone else hired by your publisher will be proofing the text as well. This could be an in-house editor, the copy-editor (an attractive proposition as s/he is already familiar with the text) or a professional proof-reader.

Again, the results may be advised to your production editor in various ways but the key difference from what you have advised is that the proof-reader doesn’t necessarily know what is correct. Yes, typos and the like can be corrected but often cases of inconsistent spelling/usage can only be flagged up.


Thereafter, your production editor will need to reconcile the two sets of proofs to avoid the typesetter receiving contradictory sets of instructions. Obviously, as part of this reconciliation, any inconsistencies in your text spotted by the proof-reader will be referred to you for clarification.

Thereafter, everything is returned to the typesetter, who will then begin finalizing the layout of your book and returning a second (usually final) set of proofs.

(Post #6 of the Proofing section of a lengthy series on the book production process, the first post of which is here.)

Finalizing the cover

16 February 2010

Ask any young woman and she will tell you it’s not her brain that counts with ‘real’ men but her body. So says the cliche, but there is an uncomfortably big grain of truth in this observation.


Content matters

Although content ultimately matters – you are unlikely to buy those cornflakes again if they taste lousy – initially, all too often the wrapping counts a lot.

So it is with book covers, as we have discussed earlier. Surface appearances, fripperies.

It is perhaps fitting, then, that this long thread of posts on the design and typesetting process ends on a(n almost) frivolous note. Most posts in this section have dealt with the layout of your text and illustrations – the contents, the serious stuff that your readers are waiting for. And yet, when it comes to the production of your book, chances are that you – like most authors – will show little interest in the page layout but keen interest in every aspect of the cover design.

Time, then, to finalize this surface matter. Unfortunately, all too often, the issues raised are not frivolous ones.

A simple matter

In the best of times, the process of producing a cover is straightforward enough for the cover designer (or typesetter) to finalize. S/he has the cover design and, within this framework, it should be a simple matter to arrange the various cover elements – title, author name(s), illustration, blurb, publisher logo, bar code, etc.

Long time coming

Straightforward enough, indeed. The problem is that covers are not always produced in the best of times. Or, rather, that they are produced in all times. This is a job started early in the production process – if not right at the beginning, right when the book is first announced – and yet it is one of the last things to be finalized before printing.

In between, there is ample scope for things to go wrong. Here are a few of the issues that can arise:

  • The cover illustration is unusable. This can easily happen if only a thumbnail cover image was produced at the design stage and the low-resolution illustration supplied by the author was good enough for that but not for the real cover. The catalogue, for instance, may only need a cover image that is about 33 x 50 mm whereas more likely the final cover will be 152 x 228 mm (6″ x 9″) in size.
  • There is a disconnect between cover and contents. A schism between the cover and page design is not really acceptable (e.g., elaborate, ornate script on the outside with severe, clinical type inside) but it happens, and it need not matter. More problematic is if (say) the author’s name is written one way on the cover, another way inside. Or (heaven forbid) misspelt. Likewise, if one of the editors drops out and the cover designer isn’t informed.
  • The spine width is wrong. Another disconnect. The final extent of the book determines the spine width. If the total number of pages change, then the spine width needs adjusting (no problem – just needs to be communicated).
  • The cover illustration isn’t credited. Another disconnect. A cover photo credit perhaps should always go on the cover but this isn’t always possible or appropriate. But if the credit then fails to appear inside (in the list of illustrations) then there may be an unhappy copyright holder to deal with long after the book has been printed.
  • The back-cover text is too long or too short. The blurb written for the catalogue will probably be shorter than that on the back cover. Indeed, new text should really be written but it can easily happen that the catalogue text is recycled. Also, there may be an endorsement to be added (but which hasn’t yet been received from the fine folk in Editorial).
  • The author hates the cover. The cover image used in the catalogue wasn’t to the author’s taste but s/he was pacified with the assurance “Don’t worry, we’ll do something better later”. Later has now arrived and the author is still unhappy.

No, not simple matters at all, and hardly frivolous.


Once upon a time, covers were designed and created on huge pasteboards. No more. Everything is digital, everything delivered as a PDF file – in other words, in the same way as the inside pages of the book. Among other advantages, this allows authors to participate in the cover proofing process (if allowed by their publisher). But more about that later.

And that is the design and typesetting section finished. Next post, I move on to the proofing stage.

(Post #22 of the Design & Typesetting section of a lengthy series on the book production process, the first post of which is here.)

Placement of non-text elements

4 February 2010

Imagine this. A key passage in your book surveys the tourist icons of Paris. As your readers learn about the gargoyles of Notre Dame, on the opposite page they see the iron lacework of the Eiffel Tower. Turn the page and the story of the tower is told – illustrated with a picture of buses and tourists outside the Louvre.

These things happen. They shouldn’t.

Double vision

A key difference between modern typesetting programs and a word processor like Word is that the typesetter works with double-page spreads, the same view that readers have when moving through a physical book. (The single-page perspective of e-books is one of their major disadvantages, by the way, but this is rarely mentioned.) This double-page ‘workbench’ makes it easier for the typesetter to place tables, illustrations and other figures to their best advantage.

(Easier but not always easy. The layout of page after page of straight text is quite easy. But having to juggle the placement of text, footnotes, tables and illustrations all within a few pages – and ensure that the result is both aesthetically pleasing and meaningful – is decidedly not simple. This is one of the reasons why some publishers insist on endnotes – but more about that later this week.)

Insertion points need to be clear

Unfortunately, typesetters aren’t mind-readers. While some diligently read the text so they can lay it out in the best possible way (for this reason, often it is the typesetter who notices errors and omissions not discovered at editing), others do not have the time for such a hands-on approach. What you should count on, then, is that your typesetter won’t have the time to decipher from your text where precisely this table should go or where that illustration.

For this reason, you would be smart to indicate in the text where every non-text element should go. Something like ‘INSERT FIGURE 3.2 ABOUT HERE’ may not be pretty but it is necessary. (Indeed, your failure to specify an approximate insertion point may cause the typesetter to completely overlook that illustration and fail to place it.)

Colour sections

Placement of colour illustrations (as discussed in my previous post) is slightly more tricky. There is no problem if the book is completely in colour (simply indicate an insertion point as above). But if your colour illustrations are to be gathered into a colour section, then there is an issue. The point is that this colour section is a section; here, we are not talking about a scattering of colour illustrations placed wherever they are referred to. No, a colour section is a 16-page, full-colour signature that must be inserted between two monochrome signatures. Precisely where this will be inserted cannot easily be predicted in advance. All that may be possible is to indicate an insertion point as close as possible to this or that passage of text.

Certainly, however, you should not leave placement of any colour section to the whims of your typesetter. Be proactive, discuss things with your production editor and ensure that placement of this colour section is specified in the page design brief (discussed in greater detail here, while my argument for author activism is here).

One last thought

What is discussed in this post is placement of non-text elements, not if they are actually necessary. Pictures may say more than a thousand words but they also interrupt the narrative, as do tables, charts and graphs. In each case, ask yourself whether this interruption to the flow of text is necessary, appropriate and desirable.

(Post #16 of the Design & Typesetting section of a lengthy series on the book production process, the first post of which is here.)