Taking my documents from sleepy to snazzy
September 13, 2009 4:11 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for a way to snazz up my documents (and in particular my thesis) so it looks a lot less like the canned default Word/Pages themes. Any suggestions on some nice looking (free to cheap) fonts and document layouts I can use anywhere from short report and research proposals to my full-blown thesis?

Being lazy and not too artistic, I've always stuck with the default themes in Word (or more recently Pages also). I've been getting bored by them as of late and am looking to give my documents a unique and clean look. I'm not very good at design so be gentle. Any suggestions, or your personal design stories, would be awesome.

Any specific font suggestions would be great as well, Paladino Linotype and Corbel just ain't doing it for me anymore.
posted by doctor.dan to Writing & Language (10 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
You've already written it in word, but would you consider porting it over to LaTeX?
posted by PenDevil at 4:24 AM on September 13, 2009

Response by poster: PenDevil, I'm not concerned with things that are written, but more looking to the future, so anything is a possibility.

Switching to LaTeX wouldn't be too big a disruption as I already do most of my writing in Scrivener, and then export to Word/Pages when I want to spice it up.
posted by doctor.dan at 4:29 AM on September 13, 2009

Typesetting in LaTeX does make things look really pretty. You have to spend some time getting it right, since it's really flexible. Here's a good introduction to the kinds of things it does (and why it's good); at the bottom are some good links to examples.

One caveat, in my experience, most schools have some sort of template that your thesis must be written in (whatever you use -- Word, LaTeX, whatever). In general, they seem to be designed to suck as much character and originality out of your formatting as possible. They're usually doing it for uniformity (for scanning) and to ensure that everyone can read it; I just thought I would warn you before you started typesetting your whole paper.
posted by bluefly at 5:06 AM on September 13, 2009

A few words of caution... Doesn't your college or department have a set of formatting rules you must follow? I'd hate for you to go down this path for naught.

Also, if you deliver your files electronically, and not as a PDF, you must embed fonts that do not come standard with Word, which increases your file size quite a bit. Otherwise, the person who opens the file -- if they do not have the same font installed on their computer -- will see your words in a font that Word feels is "most like" the font you chose. Will this be a problem?

And last, do you mean themes or do you mean templates?
posted by Houstonian at 5:17 AM on September 13, 2009

You might take a look at Robin Williams' Non-Designer's Design Book. Lifehacker posted a similar request a couple of years back with some good links. One that was really useful to me was a pointer to this report template from Chuck Green.

To me, the two main things are understanding (1) how your documents are organized (how sections and sub-sections relate to one another; how many of each; that sort of thing) and (2) what tools you have at your disposal for expressing that organization--how much similarity and difference you need to express between the different parts of the document.
posted by claxton6 at 6:26 AM on September 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

If you want a LaTeX template that satisfies your university's requirements, you might try poking around the web pages of math, physics, or computer science departments. Somebody has already dealt with this.
posted by madcaptenor at 6:47 AM on September 13, 2009

A very simple suggestion:use Georgia as your font. It's very easy to read, has an interesting look and clearly distinguishes your writing from the hoard of people using the default Times New Roman. I use Georgia for the text and Arial for titles. I really like the effect.

A more complex solution: adopt a particular style (I prefer Chicago) and make sure that you stick to it meticulously. It will dictate things like margins and proper setting of block quotes. Again, this will clearly separate your work from the defaulting hoards.

Finally, do make sure that your college won't force you to do things there way. My college, for example, has rules for what items must and must not be included in the index. Your school may not have such fine-grained attention to detail, but you should verify that.
posted by oddman at 8:08 AM on September 13, 2009

I like Garamond quite a bit. I would guess that the concerns mentioned above have merit; most schools have pretty strict style guidelines, especially when you're getting to something like a thesis. Even without them, make sure you're not getting too cute.
posted by craven_morhead at 10:21 AM on September 13, 2009

Nthing checking with your program. I did a couple of these things and had very strict rules on formatting.
posted by bluedaisy at 10:30 AM on September 13, 2009

Response by poster: bluefly, thanks for the LaTeX link. I think I may finally take the jump and become a convert. Word 2007/2011 whilst pretty awesome are of no use if they're Windows only (and I'm 90% Mac these days). I've checked with the rquirement and all I can find is some pretty tame recommendations (12pt Times New Roman, 2cm margin, 1.5 line spacing; but anything that fits onto A4 and is readable seems acceptable).

Houstonian, the guidelines state that the final document has to be uploaded as a PDF which is not locked or encrypted, and that all text should be A4 where possible. Style and such is up to the individual. As for sharing, I haven't explored LaTeX in any depth, but it does have standard Word/RTF output? Most of my writing will happen outside of Word, I just need a way to snazz up the product of three years' work.

claxton6, thank you for the links. The book is on order from Amazon, and the other two are getting a very thorough perusal. I think part of the issue for me will be the inclusion of published material, as the style for those will be entirely out of my control. With the way things are going though, there might not be that many of those. Regardless, there will be a section outlining the full thesis, as well as sections dedicated to connecting the dots.

madcaptenor, I thought of that, but not being familiar with LaTeX at the mo' I didn't know how useful those would be.

oddman, I seem to be lucky in that there are no rules set in stone. There are some recommendations, but these are what the hoardes do (Times New Roman, 12pt, 1.5 line spacing). I'll have a play with Georgie and Arial. I have, up to this point, always used APA very strictly, but am finding it dull and needlessly constricting when it comes to many a thing. I might give Chicago a play, but am open to developing my own heading styles/etc.

craven_morhead. My worry, being the non-design person that I am, has always been that I'd over-do it and end up with something kitsch, or not do it enough and end up with a variation of the same old. I really hope it doesn't turn out cutesy!

bluedaisy, all indications are that I am safe to do whatever I like. What was that saying about giving a man too much rope..?
posted by doctor.dan at 1:47 AM on September 14, 2009

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