A New University of Calgary LaTeX Thesis Class based on Memoir

The University of Calgary provides a LaTeX thesis class on its website. That class is based on the original thesis class, modified over the years to keep up with changes to the thesis guidelines of the Faculty of Graduate studies. It produces atrocious results. Chapter headings are not aligned properly. Margins are set to 1 inch on all sides, which results in unreadably long lines of text. The template provided sets the typeface to Times New Roman. Urgh.  A better class (by Mark Girard) is already available, which however also sets the margins to 1 inch. FGS no longer requires that the margins be exactly 1 inch, just that they are at a minimum 1 inch. So we are no longer forced to produce that atrocious page layout.

I made a new thesis class. It’s based on memoir, which provides some nice functionality to compute an attractive page layout. By default, the class sets the thesis halfspaced, 11 point type, and with about 65 characters per line. This produces a page approximating a nicely laid out book page.  The manuscript class option sets it up for 12 point, double spaced, with 72 characters per line, and 25 lines per page. That’s still readable, but gives you extra space between the lines for annotations and editing marks, and wider margins. There are also class options to load some decent typefaces (palatino, utopia, garamond, libertine, and, ok, times).

Once upon a time, theses were typed on a typewriter and submitted to the examination committee in hardcopy. Typewriter fonts are “monospaced,” i.e., every character takes the same amount of space. “Elite” typewriters would print 12 characters per inch, or 72 characters per 6 inch line, and “Pica” typewriters 10 cpi, or 60 characters per line. Typewriters fit 6 lines into a vertical inch, or 25 lines per double-spaced page. A word is on average 5 characters long, hence we get about 250 words per manuscript page.

Noone uses typewriters anymore to write theses, but thesis style guidelines are still a holdover from the time we did. The guidelines still require that theses be halfspaced or double spaced. But of course they allow use of word processing software. Those don’t use monospaced typewriter fonts, and the recommended typefaces such as Times Roman are much more narrow and proportionally spaced. That means even with 12 point type, a 6” line now contains 89 characters on average, rather than 60. (Chris Pearson has estimated “character constants” for various typefaces which you can use to estimate the average number of characters per inch in various type sizes. For Times New Roman, the factor is 2.48. At a line length of 6”, i.e., 432 pt, and 12 pt type that gives 432 × (2.48/12)=89.28 characters per line. With minimal margins of 1” you get 96 characters per line.)

Applying typewriter rules to electronically typeset manuscripts results in lines that are very long—and that means they are hard to read. Ideally, there should be anywhere between 50 and 75 characters per line, and 66 characters is widely considered ideal. Readability is a virtue you want your thesis to have. And the thesis guidelines, thankfully, no longer set the margins, but only require minimum margins of 1” on all sides.


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