After four years of college, countless hours in the classroom and the library, you should know how to choose a good research topic, explore it, and how to write a scientific thesis. With all the heavy-lifting out of the way, formatting is the only thing standing between you and your degree. It’s a seemingly useless task that’s been a bane of college students’ existence for decades. And it isn’t going away anytime soon. So you’d better buck up and jump right in, and we’re here to help.
How to Format a Dissertation in 5 Steps
Proper format is more than a random set of useless requirements meant to torture seniors like you. It is designed to make your research easy to read and understand, to make it fit in within the sea of other papers. Besides, a properly formatted dissertation demonstrates soft skills that will be invaluable after graduation regardless of your chosen career path. So don’t treat formatting like a chore. Instead, think of it as a way to make your research look nice, polished, professional. Dividing the process into five manageable stages will make the process faster and easier.
Step 1. Polish the Front Matter
Think of the front matter as a cover of the book. It holds all the information you need to decide if you want to read it. Besides, we all judge the books by their covers, even if we know we aren’t supposed to do it. So when it comes to presenting your dissertation, pay close attention to these thesis components:
- Title page. Follow the school or department requirements and format.
- Abstract. Condense your research into a few paragraphs.
- Table of contents. List every section and subsection with page numbers.
- List of tables and list of figures. Include titles, numbers, and page numbers for each one.
You may also include a nomenclature or a list of unfamiliar terms, acronyms, and symbols used throughout the thesis, along with their meanings. This part of the dissertation is optional, though it can be useful for engineering and hard sciences majors.
Step 2. Iron Out the Thesis Structure
If you’re at the formatting stage, it’s too late to ask, ‘What should a thesis contain?’ Still, it’s always a good idea to double-check that you haven’t missed anything important. While the specifics of the structure will vary depending on your major and topic, most dissertations have three parts:
- Introduction and literature overview. The first two sections should introduce the research question, outline the main subtopics, and provide background information. This is also the part where you highlight the gaps in knowledge and express the potential value of your research.
- Materials, procedures, methodologies. The third section of the paper outlines the techniques and tools used to conduct your research. It’s necessary to ensure the repeatability of your results. Anyone should be able to achieve the same outcomes if they follow your methodology.
- Results, discussion, recommendations, and conclusion. Every component of these sections is vital. It’s not enough to present your findings; you need to analyze the results and compare them to your initial hypothesis and expectations. You must also include practical recommendations and formulate conclusions. Demonstrate whether the research was successful according to the criteria formulated in the introduction.
While you’re working on the dissertation structure, check the logical flow and cohesiveness of your writing. All sections should be connected to the thesis, supporting it with evidence. Every part of the dissertation should stem logically from the previous one and feed into the following part. Transitions are your friends but don’t overuse the same stale phrases. Work on building the paragraphs to make them link seamlessly together.
Step 3. Meet the Dissertation Length Requirements
How many pages is a dissertation? That’s a question best directed at your advisor or department board. Unfortunately, there are no nationwide rules for thesis length, as some schools are happy with merely 30 pages, while others may require a piece at least 200 pages long.
If you feel like the thesis requirements are overinflated, consult your advisor and discuss reducing the length of the work. In most cases, professors appreciate your desire for brevity and the ability to deliver the data clearly and concisely. After all, your advisor will have to go through the thesis at least a couple of times, so the shorter your piece is, the less work your professor will have.
Step 4. Double Check the End Matter
The end matter includes acknowledgments, appendixes, and a reference list. The former two are optional, but the latter is mandatory.
Acknowledgment is your chance to explain how grateful you are for the help you received while working on your thesis. You may thank your academic advisor, sponsors, your parents, and friends. While there are no strict rules about this part of the thesis, it should be formal, use correct titles and names. If possible, limit your thanks to a single page.
Appendixes aren’t mandatory components of a thesis, though they can be useful if you want to include reference data that would overburden the body of the dissertation. Every appendix should have a title and a letter, as well as a short introductory paragraph.
Building a bibliography is probably one of the most challenging tasks of formatting a thesis. You will need to follow the formatting guidebook to provide correct publishing data and track down every in-text citation. To speed up the process, consider using automated citation generators. Just make sure you check every entry before you add it to the reference list. You don’t want any info missing, as one citation misstep can cause a world of trouble when the time for a plagiarism check comes.
Step 5. Straighten Out the Thesis Format
The first thing you need to find out when you learn how to format a thesis is the required formatting style. The difference between MLA, APA, Chicago, and other styles may seem subtle and insignificant, but formatting missteps are glaring for professors on the department board.
To stay out of trouble, follow the official guidebook on the chosen style. You can find one in your college library or online. Dissertation requirements usually include:
- file format and page size;
- margins on all sides of the page;
- font type and size;
- line spacing and indentations;
- blockquote style;
- page numbers;
- table and figure formatting;
- number schemes;
- headings and subheadings;
- title page format;
- in-text citations;
We always recommend leaving formatting until last, when you’ve already edited and proofread the contents of the thesis. Otherwise, any new changes you introduce may ruin the perfectly formatted thesis design and create unnecessary extra work for you.
If your school or department provides a LaTex template, consider using it to speed up the formatting process. It may take some getting used to after your preferred text processor, but using LaTex may be worth it in the long run, especially if you’re going to continue your education in grad school.
Finally, take a break after you’re done with formatting and return to your dissertation in a couple of days. Look it over with fresh eyes to catch all the tiny errors you’ve made on your previous run. You can also exchange favors with a classmate and check each others’ theses for formatting snafus.