Thursday, 28 July 2011

The loneliness of the long-distance writer... or misery loves company?

I will hand in my PhD thesis this September. It is official. I handed in a form today that says as much.

Right now, two months seems like both an incredibly long time to be refining a document and an incredibly short time to finish everything off satisfactorily. Having spent July intensively writing up my thesis work (then getting ill, then getting back to the intensive write-up), I'm starting to produce something that I feel really proud of, slightly sick of and which continually surprises me with where it takes me, even now that all the data is collected and collated.

What has really surprised me during this time is the little community of 'writer-uppers' and 'finishers' that has developed around me.

I'd expected that these few last months of PhD would be lonely, spent mostly in front of a computer screen. That has turned out to be half true: the computer screen and I have become extremely well acquainted.

But... there seems to be so many people around me who are in the same boat, aiming for that September deadline. Even those not doing PhDs seem to be getting into the act, with contracts finishing in September, new jobs starting then, gig calendars starting to look towards October, etc. If I'm stressing about a particular problem in the thesis, or going slightly numb from trying to turn a dry set of numbers into some fascinating facts, then I don't have far to look before I find someone who can emphathise, or someone for a tea break.

So despite the title of this blog post, the tail end of the PhD tale isn't turning out to be like the loneliness of the long distance runner, bravely struggling on alone in the face of all adversity and difficulty. In all honesty it hasn't been that miserable either - in fact on occasion it has even been... almost... enjoyable! (I may have to keep reminding myself of that sometimes in the near future though?)

So, enough procrastination - it's back to the dry sets of numbers then. 2 months and counting till hand-in and the start of the next challenge.

Friday, 22 July 2011

The perils of word counts in LaTeX

I'm currently writing up my thesis. I am writing it in LaTeX, which for the uninitiated means that rather than writing it in Word or similar, I write it in a text file and include lots of formatting commands around the thesis to say `this bit should be emphasised' or `this bit is a subsection', then LaTeX produces a pretty pdf file from my text file.

Like any self-respecting numbers girl, I like to keep a watch on how many words I have written that day, and in total. Although I don't have a word limit to adhere to, hitting a good word count for a day makes me feel like I've done good work, even if a lot of it gets cut later...

For a while now I've been dubious about the word counter I've been using: the inbuilt Statistics word counter in TeXShop, which works using detex | wc -w , or in plain English, it strips the thesis file of all the formatting commands and then counts the number of words left. According to this word counter, I have 61138 words, but I've noticed that this total tends to fluctuate: there have been days where I've written a lot and have ended up with less words than I started with.

Trying some alternatives out:

  • texcount *.tex: 60239 in text + 1457 in headers + 2469 in captions = 64165
  • ps2ascii thesis.pdf | wc -w: 83415 (but this includes the bibliography which is currently 7686 words and any appendices text) 
  • copying and pasting the text into OpenOffice: 75222
  • copying and pasting the text into Word: 74664
  • copying and pasting the text into TextWrangler (a Mac text editor): 74093

So I've anything between 61000 and 83000 words. TeXShop's statistics is instant but inaccurate. Texcount takes about 30 seconds to process then a quick calculation has to be done. ps2ascii also takes a little while and doesn't separate the thesis text from the bibliography/appendices. Copying and pasting, sadly, looks the most accurate (though now I have no idea how many words I've actually got...)

What I mostly want is a tool that measures progress very quickly, for some motivation - so I'll probably stick with TeXShop's Statistics or use texcount, after all of that!

As my housemate says, however,
it doesn't really matter if its 60 or 80 or 100,000 words, just finish it!

Right then: enough procrastination, back to the writing...
PS Must mention the excellent LaTeX tutorials written by Andrew Roberts.