Dissertation Formatting: Top 10 Must Know Things

Dissertation formatting

As a doctorate student, there are several things you must know when you start to draft your dissertation. There are several common mistakes that you need to avoid should you want your dissertation to be taken seriously and truly reflect the hard work you have put into it.

So you can properly succeed in your dissertation, you need to follow very specific guidelines for dissertation formatting.

1. Choosing the Style Manual

When it comes time for your dissertation format, there are several style manuals that you can choose from. Many faculties leave choosing the style manual up to the doctorate student with the consent and advice from the committee. It is generally urged for the doctorate student to use the style manual required by scholarly journals and publications within the field.

Stick with the advice of the committee and use the style they recommend. Not only will you have their consent, but you will be formatting your dissertation according to the guidelines as other dissertations in your discipline.

2. Quality of Print

While it might seem like a no-brainer, the quality of your print job for the finished product is highly important. You should print a few pages so you can see a sample of how the dissertation will look before you send it in.

A few tips to keep in mind when it comes to printing are:

  • Keeping consistent black lettering through the entire dissertation
  • Maintaining consistent margins through the entire dissertation
  • Ensure you have sufficient darkness for additional supporting texts or documents (this includes: tables, figures, graphs, drawings, or pictures – either copies or originals)

3. Typefaces and Numbering

Typeface is taken very serious and you should make sure that you stay within the guidelines of the style manual for overall professionalism and readability.

General rules for typeface are:

  • 10-12 point font (but 12 is typically preferred)
  • Do not use bold face at any point in the dissertation format
  • Do not justify the right margin of your texts
  • Underlining and/or italics can be used in cases of: book titles, statistical symbols, and/or definitions however, you should choose either bold or italics and maintain consistency throughout the dissertation.
  • Headings need to be underlined when it is appropriate- but not italicized

When it comes to numbering, you will start from the title page. The title page is your page one. Your page two will be the copyright page. It is vital to realize that numbers will not appear on either of these pages.
For the remainder of the dissertation, the numbering is as follows:

  • Lower case roman numerals for every single page before the page one of the first text (page one of chapter one)
  • Pages numbered with roman numerals should be placed ¾ of an inch from the bottom or the top of the edge of the paper and it should be centered between the margins
  • Starting at page one, chapter one, you will need to use Arabic numbers.
  • You will use Arabic numbers for all remaining pages, including any appendices
  • Pages numbered with Arabic numbers will need to be placed ¾ of an inch from the bottom or the top of the edge of the paper, and it should be centered between the margins.

4. Spacing and Margins

Spacing and margins are quite strict within any style manual and should be followed accordingly for accuracy in your dissertation format.


Double spacing should be used in the entirety of the dissertation, except in these cases, (single-spaced paragraph formatting should be used):

  • Footnotes
  • Block quotations
  • Chapter titles, headings, appendix titles, and any sub-headings that include multiple lines
  • Figure captions
  • Column headings
  • Lines running on in any featured tables
  • Appendices –the source will cause the spacing to vary
  • Explanatory materials for illustrations, tables, or figures
  • Reference entries or bibliographies – (you will need to put double spaces between each entry)


To allow for proper binding and readability, margin spacing is highly important. The following margins are required:

  • Left margins: one and ½ inch for ALL pages.
  • Right margins: one and ½ inches for ALL pages (there should be no intrusions of letters or anything else in the right margins).
  • Top margins: one and ¼ inch for all pages EXCEPT page one of the acknowledgments, the table of contents, list of figures, list of tables, bibliography, appendices, and each chapter. These should all be two.
  • inches from the top of the page.
  • Bottom margins: one and ¼ inches for all pages.

5. Order of Dissertation Sections

Your dissertation format should include the following sections, in the following order:

  • Title or cover page
  • Copyright pages
  • Acknowledgements section
  • Your TOC (the table of contents)
  • List of: figures, tables, illustrations, drawings, etc. if you are using them
  • Forward or Preface- if you are using one or the other
  • Text of your dissertation
  • The Bibliography Section
  • And any appendices included

6. Following Title Page Guidelines

Your dissertation title page should be followed exactly according to your style manual, and in centered paragraph form). The title page will include (starting from the top):

  1. Sponsoring Committee- followed by the names of all members
  2. The title of your dissertation – in all caps, in inverted pyramid form
  3. Your name
  4. Official name of your program and your department
  5. Submitting reasons: See below for an example:

Submitted in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Doctor of Philosophy in the
Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development
New York University

7. Table of Contents

It is extremely important for the table of contents to be clear and comprehensive as much as is possible. You will need to include every one of your headings and sub-headings.

An example of an entry in the table of contents would be:

1 Chapter Title Page                                                                                                                           page number

Introduction                                                   (heading level 1)                                                         page number

The problem                                                  (heading level 1)                                                         page number

Sub-problems and research questions     (heading level 2)                                                        page number

Sub-topic of above                                       (heading level 3)                                                        page number

Definitions                                                      (heading level 1)                                                         page number

8. Bibliographic Entries

Unless you are using APA style, you need to ensure you consider the following:

  • If you reference more than one of the same author’s work, don’t repeat their name over and over.
  • Instead you should use 10 underscore characters followed by a period or comma.
  • Single space, for the entry and double space between each entry
  • Indent the second and any sub-sequent lines ½ an inch
  • Individual entries should remain together on the same page- do not allow them to separate.

9. Using Citations in the Text

Depending on the way you use the author and their works, will influence the way you need to cite.

  • If you are paraphrasing, use the name and date (Doe, 2016).
  • If you are using a direct quote, you will use the same format, but you will need to add the page number of the text. (Doe, 2016, p. 10)
  • You should also review your entire text and footnotes to ensure that any citations are included in the bibliography

10. Copyrights and Letters of Permission

If you want to copyright your dissertation, it should be in the following style:

Copyright © 2016 John Doe

For any instances that require permission due to falling outside the laws of Fair Use, you will need to obtain a letter of permission. You will need to upload copies of these letters to the appropriate place, along with your final dissertation. You can omit the letters of permission from the dissertation itself.

As a Doctorate student, the dissertation format is absolutely vital for success in your discipline. Follow the advice of your committee members and remember these formatting tips and your hard work will surely stand-out.

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