This is a basic and generic checklist to help simplify the details for the submission of the final draft of a dissertation. It is a brief overview of the formal issues relevant to preparing a dissertation for final submission. There are a lot of details involved, and (usually) two style guidelines to follow, so it can feel overwhelming. Having a sense of the general issues can help negotiate the process.
Dissertations and theses at most universities generally have two sets of guidelines to follow, each with its own document. First, there is a style manual for the discipline-appropriate guidelines. The most common style manuals are the APA, MLA, and Chicago manuals. Second, each university usually has its own guidelines (typically available on school websites). If you combine the university-specific guidelines with the general style manual, you suddenly hundreds of pages dealing with document preparation–font, formatting, citation style, etc.–and that can be intimidating. This checklist presents the main formal concerns of those hundreds of pages to help you manage your interactions with style manuals.
- Font. Many universities accept a limited set of fonts and font sizes. If in doubt, use a simple, common, 12-point font like Times New Roman.
- Margins. Traditionally, dissertations and theses were formatted with an extra wide left margin for binding. As more and more schools move to electronic submission, that particular requirement is less relevant. In any event, you’ll be expected to have margins that meet expectations (in the U.S. that’s typically 1″ on all sides, except, possibly, 1.5″ on the left for binding).
- Line spacing. This is another concern that is changing with the growth of electronic publications. Most commonly, dissertations and theses are double spaced. APA, MLA, and Chicago generally call for double spacing, although some parts of documents may be single-spaced. Long quotes are often assumed to be single spaced, but they may or may not be, depending on your style guideline.
- Page numbers. Specific rules for numbering pages vary slightly. Generally, the first page of actual text is given the Arabic numeral 1, and Arabic numerals are used for all that follows. The front matter–table of contents, acknowledgements, copyright, etc.–is usually numbered with Roman numerals. Title pages generally don’t have a page number printed on them, but sometimes they are counted as the first page of the front matter. Pagination is usually discussed in university guidelines.
- Page headers. Generally, dissertations do not have page headers. Check your university guidelines.
- Title page. Check your school guidelines for specifications.
- Front matter before the table of contents: acknowledgements, dedication, signature page, copyright page. School guidelines will specify format and order.
- Table of contents (and, when appropriate, list of figures, list of tables).
- Abstract. Keep it short–150 words is good target. Some thoughts on writing abstracts.
- The body of the text. You’re not likely to forget about this, but it’s got a spot on the checklist.
- Figures and images. It used to be most simple to include figures and images at the end of the text, and that still works if you’re having any difficulties getting your word-processing software to insert them into the text elegantly. If you are using copyrighted images, remember to get permission for their use.
- List of references. Don’t leave this for last! Your references/citations in the text have to be consistent with the entries in the reference list. Most references will be addressed easily, but there are a lot of them, and it’s pretty easy for readers to spot errors. Don’t get caught at the last minute scrambling to figure out how best to cite one of your references. Most style manuals have extensive lists of examples to help put references in the proper form, and most bibliographic software can help.
- Paper (if necessary). If you’re printing a physical copy of your dissertation, then make sure that you use paper acceptable to your university’s library–usually some sort of acid-free bond for archival purposes.
There’s a lot of detail to address in getting your dissertation ready–detail in addition to all the theoretical/research-related complexity. It’s detail, but it isn’t difficult detail. If you leave yourself a little time to address these details at the end, and plan you on taking care of them ahead of time, they should present little real difficulty.