This time last year, I was in the throes of finishing my PhD thesis (American’s call it a dissertation), when I learned that I had made a major mistake. I had written 115,000 words, but the maximum allowed word count was 100,000!
During the writing process, I had been terrified that I wouldn’t make it over what I thought was the minimum of 100,000 words. But now, 10 days before I was going to submit my work, I was faced with the need to shave 15,000 words or risk my thesis not be accepted.
I found a few sections that I could remove without losing the main argument, but that only amounted to a few thousand words. So what was a programmer/writer to do?
Kate Turabian in my Footnotes
As I looked more deeply into the structure of my thesis, I realized that my footnotes made up almost 15,000 of the total 115,000 words. I could simply remove all my scholarly interaction to make it under the word count, but that doesn’t tend to work in PhD programs.
Then I remembered that Durham University’s Theology and Religion department didn’t have a required citation format. I had used Turabian (a variant of Chicago)—which includes a full citation in a footnote—because that’s what my master’s program used and I personally prefer seeing the full book or article title without having to flip to the back. But I realized that if I switched to APA format—where the citation is only the author’s last name and year inlined within the text—I could cut the text by almost 15%.
The good news is that I was using EndNote as a citation engine, and they released an update last year that made it much faster on a Mac. I also found a basic Word VBScript that could move text from footnotes inline. However, the script could not distinguish between a footnote with my words and one with and citation, nor could it put the citation in the right place, such as after a quotation mark but before a period. So I added some additional functionality to the script, and in a few hours, I had my thesis in pretty good shape.
The Script That Saved the Day
If someone is ever in the same spot, here’s a script that converted 500 or so footnotes in under a minute: