There are no standard guidelines for thesis format. They differ on the basis of country, level of study, individual institution and between disciplines at the same school. One principle cleavage is between the scientific or natural sciences on the one hand, and the humanities and social sciences on the other. It is only logical that a mathematics or computer science thesis takes on a different form from a dissertation on modern Irish poetry or ancient Sumerian history.
Here are a few examples of differing format guidelines:
Oregon State University provides the following basic format for a master’s thesis in their thesis guide:
- Pretext Pages (a “Flyleaf” or blank page, an Abstract signed by your professor, Copyright Page, Title Page, an Approval Page with several signatures, Acknowledgement, Contribution of Authors, Table of Contents, List of Figures, List of Tables, List of Appendices, List of Appendix Figures, List of Appendix Tables, Other Lists, Dedication, Preface). Whew!
- Body of Text
They also discuss various printing and packaging specifications.
One style guide by the Virginia Tech University for a Master’s of Fine Art thesis in poetry or fiction describes a slightly simpler version, with a just a Title Page (including keywords), Abstract Page, Table of Contents, other optional pages such as a dedication, pages for acknowledgements and grants, etc., Body Matter, Back Matter (references and notes) and a “Vita” or author biography.
Newcastle University in the UK gives only very basic format or layout rules on their thesis guidelines website, including paper size (A4), doctoral thesis lengths (100,000 word limits for humanities and social science; 80,000 for medical science, agricultural science and engineering; 50,000 for integrated PhD programs) as well as how and where to bind and submit a thesis. Their format rules include the following layout specifications:
- left margin: 40mm
- top, bottom and right margins: 25mm
- text font: 12 point Times-Roman or Times-New-Roman
- line spacing: 1.5 lines
There is not much use for you to browse the websites of thousands of schools just to get ideas of their myriad format rules. These three are included here just so you can see how universities can differ in terms of requirements and strictness on various structural aspects of thesis writing. What’s important is that you know your own institution’s rules and follow them as closely as possible, no matter how deranged and impractical they may seem.
Now on to – not “onto” – thesis writing style.
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