Formatting your Thesis or Doctoral Dissertation


You’ve thought of the dissertation topic. You’ve worked hard to get your proposal accepted. You’ve conducted research, gathered the data, and analyzed the results. You now have a working draft of your thesis and initial submission is close at hand. However, you need to make sure your dissertation is formatted properly before those analytical eyes start criticizing. It is also vital you make a good first impression when you submit that initial draft. This blog article will help you make sure your dissertation is formatted correctly before that first submission.

For dissertation formatting, there are three important elements you want to keep in mind and each one is discussed below in more detail:

  • Checking existing dissertation formatting guidelines with your University department
  • Making sure your dissertation is properly structured
  • Reviewing other people’s completed Dissertation work

The first thing you must do is refer to your particular university (or university department) guidelines on formatting your dissertation. Most doctoral universities will have guidelines on how to properly format your dissertation. Most of the time, your university or particular department will make it mandatory to follow these guidelines but sometimes they exist simply as a non-mandatory guide. Regardless, make sure you check with your department, university, or relevant authority (e.g. dissertation adviser) to see if formatting guidelines exist in your case, and make sure to read and follow it! Although many doctoral students receive these guidelines in the early stages of their dissertation, they forget about it later on and make the mistake of not referring back to it before they make their submission.

Remember, your university’s formatting guidelines may differ across disciplines. It is important to remember that dissertation formatting guidelines may differ across the various disciplines and majors in your university. So while your university may have general guidelines for formatting dissertations, certain specifics may vary from department to department. So make sure you contact your dissertation adviser to know exactly what guidelines exist in your situation.

Your university department may have sent you a dissertation template to follow. When you first contacted your chairperson, dean, or whoever the point-of-contact was, you were probably sent a template to follow for writing your dissertation. Whether or not this template is required, make sure to refer back to it at this point.

Make sure you have used the proper formatting & style requirements set by your department. At this point, you should already know exactly what formatting style to use (MLA, APA, Turabian, or Chicago style).  However, it is a good idea to check to see what is required. I’ve seen many students write their entire dissertation using a particular format and  style only to get it back from an angry dissertation committee because another formatting style was stipulated. Remember, formatting styles may also vary across disciplines. So even though your colleague may use MLA, your discipline may require APA. Be careful!

Next, it is important to make sure your dissertation is properly structured and that all chapters and sections are in the correct order. In this case, you can also check for your university or department formatting guidelines.  If you are not sure, the following is a generally-accepted dissertation structure:

  • Title Page
  • Acknowledgements
  • Dedication
  • Abstract (may be discipline specific)
  • Table of Contents
  • List of Tables and/or List of Figures
  • Introduction
  • Literature Review
  • Methodology
  • Findings/Results
  • Discussion and/or Conclusions
  • Bibliography/References
  • Appendices

Other generally-accepted guidelines:

  • Size 12 font
  • Times New Roman
  • Double-spaced
  • 1.5-inch margins on the left with one-inch margins for the rest
  • Proper page-number formatting

The above dissertation structure is not set in stone. You must check with any formal guidelines, and if you’re still not sure of your dissertation structure, refer back to your dissertation adviser and ask him or her what particular structure to follow. You can also contact an experienced dissertation consultant who can help you make sure your entire dissertation is ready to submit and at a publishable level.

You can, and should, always review a dissertation completed by a previous student even if you cannot use it as a template. Simply reviewing the format used by other students is a great way to familiarize yourself with what is expected especially in terms of organization and chapter structure. Whenever possible, review a dissertation study submitted (and accepted) by a student in the same university discipline as yourself. Also, try to read the most recent ones as possible.

Although it is obvious to mention that you must re-read your entire dissertation to check for grammatical errors, it is simply too important to leave out. You will probably have used a spell-checker at this point but spelling is such a small part of grammar. You may have the wrong use of words or other grammatical mistakes like fragments, dangling modifiers, comma use, etc. To make sure everything is formatted correctly, either get your dissertation adviser to go over the entire dissertation or, if he or she doesn’t have time, you can refer to a professional dissertation consultant to do this quickly and effectively.

Contact Dissertation Consulting Company for Any Other Inquiries or Concerns About Your Dissertation. We can Help!

For any inquiries, questions, or concerns about problems you are facing with your dissertation, contact us and tell us your problem.

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