How to Format a Thesis


After a seemingly endless number of hours and late nights spent drinking coffee and analyzing literature and experiment preparation, you've finally got your findings. And whether or not your hypotheses were supported, your thesis is almost done. As you near its completion and get close to putting the work behind you, you may be advised to start putting your thesis in the proper format. As many universities bind and keep their theses for future reference, they need theses to be in a consistent format. As such, before your thesis can go to press, you must meet certain guidelines set to standardize what each thesis looks like.

  • Prepare a title page. It should include your name, the title of your thesis, the month and year of your thesis defense, and your thesis adviser's name. It will also include a sentence which will state which degree you are applying for.

  • Include spaces for committee member signatures. This may be either on the title page itself or on the page that follows it. They will sign here once they have approved your thesis at the defense.

  • Add an abstract before your table of contents. The 250- to 300-word blurb should summarize your study, your justifications for the study, what you sought to find and your findings.

  • Include a table of contents, outlining each of your thesis' major sections, including the bibliography and appendix, and make sure to list any graphics or tables.

  • After the table of contents, you could add acknowledgments or dedications. This is a good place to thank patient friends and family members as well as people on your committee and any grant donors.

  • Change the margins to your university's specifications. Because it will be bound some time after the defense, the right margin will likely be about 1½ inches, while the left one will be a standard 1-inch margin on 8½-by-11 inch paper.

  • Check your page numbers. For the most part, they should be centered at the bottom of the page.

Tips & Warnings

  • Search your university's Web site for their specific guidelines. This will be the most helpful document you will find when formatting your thesis.
  • Make sure your thesis follows the proper citation guidelines (Chicago, APA, MLA or Turabian) for your subject.
  • Your university may also have thesis formatting help on campus. If you're still stumped, look to see if your university has a thesis formatting office.
  • Don't be afraid of your defense! It is merely a discussion of your work, and the worst your committee can do is ask you to gather more data.
  • Be wary when consulting former theses for formatting. As tempting as it may be, thesis styles may have changed over the years. What was relevant last year may not be relevant this year.

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