We have identified some books, software, and websites that have been useful to writers of dissertations. This page offers you a brief introduction. But don't read books about writing your dissertation instead of writing your dissertation!
How to Write a Lot: A Practical Guide to Productive Academic Writing by Paul A. Silvia
Finish Your Dissertation Once and For All: How to Overcome Psychological Barriers, Get Results, and Move on with Your Life by Alison B. Miller
Writing the Successful Thesis and Dissertation: Entering the Conversation by Irene L. Clark, Alfredo Mendoza, Chakarat Skawratananond, and Artis Walker
The 7 Secrets of the Prolific: The Definitive Guide to Overcoming Procrastination, Perfectionism, and Writer's Block by Hillary Rettig
Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day: A Guide to Starting, Revising, and Finishing Your Doctoral Thesis by Joan Bolker
The Clockwork Muse: A Practical Guide to Writing Theses, Dissertations, and Books by Eviatar Zerubavel
We think that Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace by Joseph Williams (and Joseph Bizup) helps writers understand what on the page makes writing easy or hard to read. We highly recommend it for any writer.
Citation, Note-Taking, and Content-Generation Software
Pitt makes Endnote available to you. This software allows you to create a library of sources that you can then cite in your writing. It will automatically format citations and bibliographies in the style that you choose. Mendeley is free software that works in similar way and may be a better fit for you, depending on how collaborative you are as a researcher. The University Library System offers regular instruction for both Endnote and Mendeley. You can read more about both at the ULS site.
Evernote allows you to organize your own notes, files of many kinds, and Internet finds. You can add it to your browser to easily save pages or clippings. Apps allow you to synch your notes across platforms or to annotate files, organize contacts, and more.
Scrivener is a content-generation tool for long documents. It helps you organize and develop your content and it keeps track of your research. It allows you to look at your work in many different ways and even manages drafts.
Xmind is free open source software that allows you to do detailed and sophisticated mind mapping. (A professional version is available to buy.) Some writers find that mind mapping allows them to articulate their ideas, draw connections in productive ways, and plan work.
Productivity Software and Websites
Have you ever wished you could just turn off the Internet so that you can work without distraction for a while? Freedom allows you to do that. You specify the number of minutes that Freedom should block your access to the Internet (and email!). This low-cost software is available for Mac and Windows.
If you are a Mac user, Self Control can allow you to block your own access to any distracting aspects of the Internet while still allowing you to do online research.
Rescue Time will not only block sites, but it will also analyze your computer use and tell you how much time you spend, for example, writing and how much on surfing, Facebook, or email. By helping you better understand how you use your time, Rescue Time can help you make better choices.
The Pomodoro Technique relies on using segments of timed writing (using a tomato-shaped kitchen timer, perhaps) to structure and advance your writing. Focus Time is a fun app that works with the Pomodoro Technique. Instead of using a kitchen timer, this app helps you to work for four twenty-five minute sessions (with a short break between each segment), followed by a longer break at the end. The app also presents you with statistics on your writing time.
Write or Die is an application that allows you to select incentives and disincentives to drive your work process. Incentives include music you like, for example, while disincentives—which appear when you are not keeping up with your goal word count—include annoying sounds and colors and having all the vowels removed from your words.
750 Words encourages you to write at least 750 words a day. You type directly into a page at the website; you can then export it to your word-processing software. Your writing is private, but you have the option of publishing your word count via social media. The site tracks your producivity and even makes it possible to keep track of other aspects of your life (movies you have seen this year, for example) if you wish it to.
When will scholars worldwide be able to access my recently submitted ETD from the database site?
The review and approval processes vary considerably among the graduate schools. It may take up to several months after you submit your ETD for it appear online. For more information on the status of your ETD, please contact your ETD Student Services Staff Member.
What happens to my ETD after it is approved?
Once your ETD is approved, it is immediately available to you and to others through the URL provided in your approval e-mail notification. If you have chosen to restrict your work to the Pitt Network for 5 years, the online record will be available to the world, but access to the full-text document will be restricted to computers with University of Pittsburgh IP addresses. Shortly after approval, Internet search engines such as Google and Yahoo will begin to index your ETD. A record for your ETD will be added to PITTCat, the online catalog of the University of Pittsburgh, to D-Scholarship@Pitt, the Institutional Repository of the University of Pittsburgh, and to other national and international databases developed for the Networked Digital Library of These and Dissertations, such as Scirus ETD Search and the VTLS Visualizer. The University will send your ETD out to be microfilmed and will store the microfilm in the University Archives as the official preservation copy. If your ETD is a doctoral dissertation, UMI Proquest will index your work in PQDT, the worlds largest abstracting and indexing service for theses and dissertations. UMI Proquest will also make your ETD available to their customers who wish to purchase a copy, with royalties payable to you.
Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF) allows documents created through word processing to be made available on the Web. PDF makes it possible for the fonts, format, and pagination to remain consistent when viewed from different platforms such as Windows, Macintosh, and Unix and different Web browsers such as Internet Explorer and Netscape. Acrobat Reader can be downloaded for free, thus providing everyone with access to the document. The Association for Research Libraries (ARL) has set standards for archiving digital materials in PDF, so archiving is better ensured. Finally, PDF is the text-based format accepted by UMI, the ProQuest division responsible for publishing dissertations.
What other electronic formats are allowed?
The text-based portion of the thesis or dissertation should be a PDF file. You may use the following additional permitted file types already approved and supported by ProQuest's UMI division for electronic dissertations: image files as .gif, .jpeg, or .tif; video files as .mov, .mpg, or .avi; and audio files as .aif, .midi, .snd, .wav, or as CD-DA, CD-ROM/XA, or MPEG-2.
Can I submit multiple PDFs in my ETD?
No. Only one PDF in an ETD is acceptable. In addition to the one PDF, you may submit other files such as .mpgs, .wavs, MPEG-2s, etc. where appropriate. See the complete list of acceptable file types under the FAQ concerning permitted electronic formats.
Will I need to buy my own copy of the Adobe software?
You have a couple of options for gaining access to Adobe software to create a PDF of your ETD. All campus lab computers are equipped with Adobe Acrobat Professional to create PDFs. Lab consultants can provide limited assistance with using the software; however, for document preparation, document conversion, and use of advanced software features to create your ETD, you may wish to contact ETD Support for assistance. Alternatively, students can purchase Adobe Acrobat Professional and other software at a deeply discounted price from University Software Licensing Services.
What computers are available that I can use to create my ETD?
Each campus computing lab is guaranteed to have one ETD- designated computer, with Adobe Acrobat, and that is not connected to the network. Students needing to convert a thesis or dissertation to PDF have priority over all other uses of the designated computer. Students can also use departmental or home computers that have Adobe Acrobat installed. If you have any problem accessing a computer, notify your ETD Student Services staff as to the specifics (labs and times where access was not to be had) so additional resources can be requested.
What are bookmarks and why are they required?
Bookmarks are links that enable the reader of the ETD to navigate through the document chapter by chapter. They also allow the reader to link to tables, figures, charts, etc. Bookmarks are a requirement in the ETD because they enable long documents, such as dissertations and theses, to be easily read. For information on how to create bookmarks, click here.
If I have already started writing my thesis/dissertation in a word processing document, is it too late to change it to a PDF file?
No. Students will need to create their original document using a word processor, such as Microsoft Word. Templates will be available for students to use in order to conform to manuscript format requirements. Once you are done working with your document in a word processor, you will then need to convert it to a PDF file, which will retain the original document format (for the purpose of future editing). Conversion into a PDF file is a straightforward process. Documentation and training will be available to all students creating an ETD.
Is there an ETD LaTeX Template?
A LaTeX template for producing ETDs that conforms to manuscript format requirements is now available. A Word Template is also currently available.
Are there any size limits imposed on ETDs?
No. However, to ensure that readers will be able to download and use your ETD in the future, it is important to keep the size to a minimum. The average size of University of Pittsburgh ETDs is less that 5 MB. If your ETD exceeds 20 MB in size, it will trigger a special review by your school's student services staff who may recommend ways to reduce the total size in order to improve download speed. For example, embedded images scanned at very high resolution can often be reduced in size without sacrificing readability.
Is there a different ETD-specific Style and Form Manual I need to refer to for information on specifications on the submission format for my ETD?
Yes. The ETD Format Guidelines Manual is online. Because every field is different, each school may have additional requirements that supercede the ETD Format Guidelines Manual. Please check with your school to see what their requirements are.
What procedures are in place for accepting items in the ETD that cannot be digitized?
Students who need to incorporate items in their ETD that cannot be digitized should send a written request to their appropriate ETD Student Services staff member explaining what the item is and why it cannot be digitized. Requests to include non-digitized items will be handled on a case-by-case basis.
What different types of training are available to assist me with creating my ETD?
For information on training, workshops, and ETD assistance, see Training.
How will an ETD affect the faculty's role in assuring the quality of the dissertation?
Faculty will continue to be responsible for upholding the quality of the thesis or dissertation, whether that thesis or dissertation is submitted using electronic formats or through paper.
How will ETDs affect the thesis or dissertation review process?
The electronic format can facilitate communication among members of the dissertation committee and the student. Electronic distribution of drafts allows multiple readers to markup and comment within one copy of the work simultaneously, regardless of the readers' physical location, and to see others' comments. It also allows the student to collate the comments of all readers within one document. Students wishing to do this should send the electronic version of their thesis or dissertation to their committee members and request that they use Track Changes to do collaborative editing before submitting the final version to the online ETD system. Printed versions of the textual components of an ETD should always be made available to committee members at their request.
How will producing an ETD affect my defense?
This should be handled at the thesis/dissertation committee level. Some committees may require that students provide all members of the committee with a paper copy of the ETD before the defense; others may elect to read on-screen or to have committee members take individual responsibility for working from screen or paper they print out themselves.
Do my committee members have to read my ETD on a computer screen?
Printed versions of the textual components of an ETD should always be made available to committee members at their request. If non-text elements of the ETD are part of the defense, the committee should consider the most effective way to ensure that all members of the committee have access to non-text elements during the defense.
Who is responsible for processing the electronic submission after dissertation/thesis committee approval?
After the committee signs off on the electronic thesis or dissertation, the student should submit the ETD to the ETD Online System. The Online System will then send the ETD to the ETD Student Services Staff person in the student's school for approval. This staff person will be responsible for approving the ETD, making sure that the file's formatting is correct, the links work, etc. After the ETD has been approved, it will then be sent to ULS for archiving and, in the case of dissertations, to ProQuest/UMI.
Will students producing an ETD have to pay the "binding fee"?
Yes. This is actually a handling fee charged for processing the thesis or dissertation including microfilming and, for dissertations, cataloging in Dissertation Abstracts for dissertations. The cost to the student producing an ETD is no different from those submitting in the traditional hard-copy format.
Do ETDs save the University money?
Quantifying costs for either traditional theses/dissertations or ETDs is not really possible; however, our best guess is that there is no money to be saved by changing to ETDs. That is, print and electronic theses and dissertations are approximately equivalent in cost. The motivation for producing ETDs is wider access of graduate student research and the other benefits noted in FAQ number one.
How will producing an ETD affect my ability to later publish an article or book based on or related to my thesis or dissertation?
If you plan to submit a revised version of your thesis/dissertation (or a part of the thesis/dissertation) for publication, you should consult with likely publishers in advance about the availability of your work online. A survey of university presses (publishers of both books and journals) showed little concern about online availability of theses and dissertations in terms of later decisions to publish. You may wish to read an extended discussion of these issues, written by Colin Day, former president of the Association of American University Presses. A survey of Virginia Tech graduates and their experiences with digital theses and dissertations showed that these writers have not experienced publication difficulties connected to the online publishing of their dissertations/theses. The survey results appeared in the November 2000 issue of Communicator.
Because there may be concern in a few fields regarding publishers' perception of ETDs as a prior publication, students will be able to restrict the ETD archived on the University Library System's server to access by University of Pittsburgh IP addresses and Interlibrary Loan only, for a maximum period of five years. After five years, the ETD on the ULS server will automatically become fully accessible.
Are University of Pittsburgh theses and dissertations currently being submitted or published in an electronic format?
Since December 2001, students have had the opportunity to submit either an electronic or hard-copy manuscript of their theses and dissertations; prior to that electronic submissions were not accepted. University of Pittsburgh dissertations submitted since 1997, however, have been scanned and posted online as electronic texts by ProQuest's UMI division as a routine part of the dissertation publication experience. These dissertations are available via ProQuest Digital Database.
What experience does the University have in accepting or working with ETDs?
Since December 2001, the University has accepted 337 ETDs from eight schools and from a variety of departments in the School of Arts and Sciences. You can search available Pitt ETDs and read the ETD Pilot Proposal for more information.
Are the rules governing the use of copyrighted materials any different for ETDs compared to hard-copy theses and dissertations?
No. The only exception would be if your ETD required a licensed application or reader program in order to make your ETD readable or useful. In that case you would need to consult the licensing agreement to see if you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.
If I properly cite all my sources in the form of a footnote, endnote, or bibliography, do I still need to get copyright permission?
If the material you are quoting or reproducing does not fall under the general guidelines of "fair use" then you will need to get written permission from the copyright owner.
What does "fair use" mean?
Since a dissertation or thesis is published for non-profit educational purposes, the author is permitted limited use of copyrighted material under the guidelines of "fair use." The purpose, amount, nature, and effect of the work reproduced determine whether or not one must seek permission from the copyright owner.
What are some examples of things that I probably would need to get copyright permission for?
Items that you would want to pay special attention to would be materials such as graphs, charts, data, pictures, maps, illustrations, long quotations, questionnaires, journal articles, music, archival material, unpublished works, computer software, and creative works such as poetry, novels, and plays.
Are there any hard and fast rules for the amount of text I can use in my ETD from a copyrighted source without attaining copyright permission?
There are no exact rules to follow; however, you should be acutely aware that quoting lengthy passages such as 500 words in a single passage, 2000 words throughout a single copyrighted manuscript, more than one and one-half single spaced pages of text, and more than three or four lines of poetry are all examples that will send up red flags. For different types of works such as music, art, photographs, cartoons, etc., it is imperative that their use be closely linked to your research objectives and that the reproduction does not supersede the market for the original.
What should I do if I want to include a previously published journal article of mine as a chapter in my ETD?
If you have signed a contract with the publisher of the journal in which your article appears, you will need to get permission from that publisher in order to reuse the article. If your contract is not clear on this point, you should contact the publisher to discuss your options. If you did not sign a contract with the publisher, then aside from the first publication of the journal, all other rights reside with you.
If my dissertation is online, don't I increase the risk of being plagiarized?
Plagiarism is a risk faced by all authors. You will continue to have the same legal recourse whether your dissertation is available electronically or in hard copy. ETD files do not require any security settings on the PDF copy (passwords should not be required to open the document). In the Security feature of Adobe Acrobat, checking the box titled "No Content Copying or Extraction, Disable Accessibility" will prevent a user from copying text and graphics from your PDF file; however, it will also disable the accessibility interface.
How do I cite an ETD?
Author. "Title." Master's Thesis or Dissertation, University, Date. ETD URL
For more information refer to the Chicago Manual of Style, 14th Edition or The Columbia Guide to Online Style.
Where can I go for more information about copyright issues in general, as well as those related to ETDs?
- Visit the University of Pittsburgh ETD copyright page.
- Visit the University Library System's site. It includes copyright information, news, and resources through its Research Help section.
- Refer to the Chicago Manual of Style.
- Refer to the Handbook for Academic Authors, by Beth Luey; it includes a full chapter on contracts and rights transfers. A copy of this book is available in the reserve holdings of Hillman Library and in the GPSA office.
How will electronic theses and dissertations be archived and maintained over time?
Dissertations (whether submitted in electronic or hard-copy format) will continue to be archived and maintained in electronic and microfilm format by ProQuest (formerly known as UMI/Bell & Howell). Theses will be put on microfilm by Compucom. In addition, both theses and dissertations submitted in electronic format will be archived and maintained on a University Library System server. ULS is committed to regular updating of archived electronic documents to ensure they continue to be accessible to future technologies and uses an open architecture for file types and structures so that they can be more easily migrated to future file types.
How will digital theses and dissertations be accessible from the University Library System's catalog?
Digital theses and dissertations will be cataloged in the same manner as other ULS collections. A record in the Voyager system (through PittCat, the online catalog) will be created, and researchers then can search the catalog for theses and dissertations.
What are the benefits or advantages of ETDs over traditional (hard-copy) manuscripts?
- Broader exposure of graduate student research through greater accessibility;
- Opportunities to use new forms of creative scholarship through use of interactive elements, multimedia, hyperlinks, etc.;
- Ability to have a hyperlink to the thesis/dissertation on homepages and electronic CVs;
- Professional development experience for graduate students as they learn the basic skills of scholarly publishing in an electronic format;
- Conservation of paper and library storage space;
- Theses and dissertations more immediately accessible: publication occurs near point of submission rather than many months later; and
- The option to have theses or dissertations accessible to any potential reader every day at any time.
Where can I learn more about ETDs?
For more information about ETDs, see the Networked Digital Library of Theses and Dissertations Web site.
For more information on training in Adobe Acrobat and other related ETD technical questions, visit the training page on the ETD Web site. If you cannot find the answer to your question, contact ETD support form.
If you have specific questions about ETDs at the University of Pittsburgh that were not answered in the Web site, e-mail ETD Feedback.