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University of Michigan Ph.D. dissertation template

Click here to download.


This is my version of a template for a Ph.D. thesis at the University of Michigan. It is fully compliant with the Rackham guidelines as I read them. You may find something that is not compliant or is subject to an interpretation of the guidelines that differs from mine. They are oddly specific in some cases and incredibly vague in others, but in all likelihood there should be no problems.

Creating such a template is not exactly life and death. After all, people have obviously written Ph.D. dissertations using LaTeX that were accepted in the past! There are also numerous templates that can be easily found. In my search, I was able to find rac.sty, which is sometimes accredited to Tim Schwider (Ph.D., Mathematics, 2001); umthesis, from Bil Kleb (Ph.D., Aerospace Engineering, 2004); and umich-thesis, from Rob Felty (Ph.D., Linguistics, 2007).

Of course, none of these templates had all the properties I was looking for, so I embarked upon creating my own. Using rac.sty as a reference, I added a few features and significantly cleaned up the code. The most important feature is the automatic creation of a PDF table of contents so that you can easily navigate a thesis using bookmarks in a bookmarks index that is usually on the left side of the window in most modern PDF readers. I think this feature is extremely useful because dissertations tend to be big documents that are made even more difficult to navigate on account of the huge margins and wide spacing required by Rackham. When rac.sty was first created, this was a feature of LaTeX that did not yet exist, and since complying with the Rackham style guidelines required messing around with the start-of-chapter commands, adding URLs to the document needed more than a couple of simple changes.

The other big change is that thesis-umich.cls has a far simpler usage with cleaner code. Using rac.sty, it is necessary to have large chunks of TeX code within your .tex file. An example of this would be the Acknowledgments page. The example file distributed with rac.sty includes chunks of code that create and format a separate page for the Acknowledgments. Using thesis-umich.cls, just use the command \acknowledgments, and the acknowledgments page will appear without any further thought. If you don't use the \acknowledgments command, the page will not appear. Many changes like this one have been made so that the .tex file only needs to contain the content of your thesis without large chunks of code.


There are a few other features included with the new LaTeX class. Many or most of them can be either specified as an option in the \documentclass line or controlled by a command within the .tex file. However, the Rackham guidelines don't leave a great deal of flexibility in the formatting of the document. Many of the extra options deal with generating, formatting, or omitting frontmatter pages such as copyright, dedication, acknowledgments, and frontispiece. The sample PDF contains (or at least is intended to contain) a fairly thorough guide on using this template—particularly in Chapter 2. Because of that, I'll forego much of a description here except for the extreme basics.

The basic way to use the template is to place the file thesis-umich.cls file in the folder with the LaTeX files and begin the document with


It's also possible to put the thesis-umich.cls file in a different folder and specify the relative path in the first line, but organization is probably not a big issue for this package since most people do not write more than one Ph.D. dissertations. If you do decide to put the thesis-umich.cls file in a different directory, the first line of the .tex file must change appropriately. For example,


There are more features associated with thesis-umich, and you are invited to look at the source code to learn about any options I forgot (or make your own changes to the code, of course). To see a document made using this template, see this PDF for an example.

Acknowledgments and History

Most people tend to use the rac.sty package or a direct descendant of it. The most common way to find it is from a site hosted by the AOSS department, which also includes some descriptions. It (or a very close derivative of it) can also be found on the website of the math deparment here, and the CAEN guide for LaTeX also mentions it with a link to the AOSS page.

The credit for initiating this template should go to Jin Ji, who started working on this template in 1988. I must admit, however, that I know nothing else about this person. Other names that appear in the changelog are Roque D. Oliveira (1992) and Jason Gilbert (2008). I should also thank anyone who made changes to the document but did not add themselves to the changelog.

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