Have a language expert improve your writing
Run a free plagiarism check in 10 minutes, generate accurate citations for free.
- Knowledge Base
What Is a Dissertation? | Guide, Examples, & Template
A dissertation is a long-form piece of academic writing based on original research conducted by you. It is usually submitted as the final step in order to finish a PhD program.
Your dissertation is probably the longest piece of writing you’ve ever completed. It requires solid research, writing, and analysis skills, and it can be intimidating to know where to begin.
Your department likely has guidelines related to how your dissertation should be structured. When in doubt, consult with your supervisor.
You can also download our full dissertation template in the format of your choice below. The template includes a ready-made table of contents with notes on what to include in each chapter, easily adaptable to your department’s requirements.
Download Word template Download Google Docs template
- In the US, a dissertation generally refers to the collection of research you conducted to obtain a PhD.
- In other countries (such as the UK), a dissertation often refers to the research you conduct to obtain your bachelor’s or master’s degree.
Table of contents
Dissertation committee and prospectus process, how to write and structure a dissertation, acknowledgements or preface, list of figures and tables, list of abbreviations, introduction, literature review, methodology, reference list, proofreading and editing, defending your dissertation, free checklist and lecture slides.
When you’ve finished your coursework, as well as any comprehensive exams or other requirements, you advance to “ABD” (All But Dissertation) status. This means you’ve completed everything except your dissertation.
Prior to starting to write, you must form your committee and write your prospectus or proposal . Your committee comprises your adviser and a few other faculty members. They can be from your own department, or, if your work is more interdisciplinary, from other departments. Your committee will guide you through the dissertation process, and ultimately decide whether you pass your dissertation defense and receive your PhD.
Your prospectus is a formal document presented to your committee, usually orally in a defense, outlining your research aims and objectives and showing why your topic is relevant . After passing your prospectus defense, you’re ready to start your research and writing.
Here's why students love Scribbr's proofreading services
Discover proofreading & editing
The structure of your dissertation depends on a variety of factors, such as your discipline, topic, and approach. Dissertations in the humanities are often structured more like a long essay , building an overall argument to support a central thesis , with chapters organized around different themes or case studies.
However, hard science and social science dissertations typically include a review of existing works, a methodology section, an analysis of your original research, and a presentation of your results , presented in different chapters.
We’ve compiled a list of dissertation examples to help you get started.
- Example dissertation #1: Heat, Wildfire and Energy Demand: An Examination of Residential Buildings and Community Equity (a dissertation by C. A. Antonopoulos about the impact of extreme heat and wildfire on residential buildings and occupant exposure risks).
- Example dissertation #2: Exploring Income Volatility and Financial Health Among Middle-Income Households (a dissertation by M. Addo about income volatility and declining economic security among middle-income households).
- Example dissertation #3: The Use of Mindfulness Meditation to Increase the Efficacy of Mirror Visual Feedback for Reducing Phantom Limb Pain in Amputees (a dissertation by N. S. Mills about the effect of mindfulness-based interventions on the relationship between mirror visual feedback and the pain level in amputees with phantom limb pain).
The very first page of your document contains your dissertation title, your name, department, institution, degree program, and submission date. Sometimes it also includes your student number, your supervisor’s name, and the university’s logo.
Read more about title pages
The acknowledgements section is usually optional and gives space for you to thank everyone who helped you in writing your dissertation. This might include your supervisors, participants in your research, and friends or family who supported you. In some cases, your acknowledgements are part of a preface.
Read more about acknowledgements Read more about prefaces
Receive feedback on language, structure, and formatting
Professional editors proofread and edit your paper by focusing on:
- Academic style
- Vague sentences
- Style consistency
See an example
The abstract is a short summary of your dissertation, usually about 150 to 300 words long. Though this may seem very short, it’s one of the most important parts of your dissertation, because it introduces your work to your audience.
Your abstract should:
- State your main topic and the aims of your research
- Describe your methods
- Summarize your main results
- State your conclusions
Read more about abstracts
The table of contents lists all of your chapters, along with corresponding subheadings and page numbers. This gives your reader an overview of your structure and helps them easily navigate your document.
Remember to include all main parts of your dissertation in your table of contents, even the appendices. It’s easy to generate a table automatically in Word if you used heading styles. Generally speaking, you only include level 2 and level 3 headings, not every subheading you included in your finished work.
Read more about tables of contents
While not usually mandatory, it’s nice to include a list of figures and tables to help guide your reader if you have used a lot of these in your dissertation. It’s easy to generate one of these in Word using the Insert Caption feature.
Read more about lists of figures and tables
Similarly, if you have used a lot of abbreviations (especially industry-specific ones) in your dissertation, you can include them in an alphabetized list of abbreviations so that the reader can easily look up their meanings.
Read more about lists of abbreviations
In addition to the list of abbreviations, if you find yourself using a lot of highly specialized terms that you worry will not be familiar to your reader, consider including a glossary. Here, alphabetize the terms and include a brief description or definition.
Read more about glossaries
The introduction serves to set up your dissertation’s topic, purpose, and relevance. It tells the reader what to expect in the rest of your dissertation. The introduction should:
- Establish your research topic , giving the background information needed to contextualize your work
- Narrow down the focus and define the scope of your research
- Discuss the state of existing research on the topic, showing your work’s relevance to a broader problem or debate
- Clearly state your research questions and objectives
- Outline the flow of the rest of your work
Everything in the introduction should be clear, engaging, and relevant. By the end, the reader should understand the what, why, and how of your research.
Read more about introductions
A formative part of your research is your literature review . This helps you gain a thorough understanding of the academic work that already exists on your topic.
Literature reviews encompass:
- Finding relevant sources (e.g., books and journal articles)
- Assessing the credibility of your sources
- Critically analyzing and evaluating each source
- Drawing connections between them (e.g., themes, patterns, conflicts, or gaps) to strengthen your overall point
A literature review is not merely a summary of existing sources. Your literature review should have a coherent structure and argument that leads to a clear justification for your own research. It may aim to:
- Address a gap in the literature or build on existing knowledge
- Take a new theoretical or methodological approach to your topic
- Propose a solution to an unresolved problem or advance one side of a theoretical debate
Read more about literature reviews
Your literature review can often form the basis for your theoretical framework. Here, you define and analyze the key theories, concepts, and models that frame your research.
Read more about theoretical frameworks
Your methodology chapter describes how you conducted your research, allowing your reader to critically assess its credibility. Your methodology section should accurately report what you did, as well as convince your reader that this was the best way to answer your research question.
A methodology section should generally include:
- The overall research approach ( quantitative vs. qualitative ) and research methods (e.g., a longitudinal study )
- Your data collection methods (e.g., interviews or a controlled experiment )
- Details of where, when, and with whom the research took place
- Any tools and materials you used (e.g., computer programs, lab equipment)
- Your data analysis methods (e.g., statistical analysis , discourse analysis )
- An evaluation or justification of your methods
Read more about methodology sections
Your results section should highlight what your methodology discovered. You can structure this section around sub-questions, hypotheses , or themes, but avoid including any subjective or speculative interpretation here.
Your results section should:
- Concisely state each relevant result together with relevant descriptive statistics (e.g., mean , standard deviation ) and inferential statistics (e.g., test statistics , p values )
- Briefly state how the result relates to the question or whether the hypothesis was supported
- Report all results that are relevant to your research questions , including any that did not meet your expectations.
Additional data (including raw numbers, full questionnaires, or interview transcripts) can be included as an appendix. You can include tables and figures, but only if they help the reader better understand your results. Read more about results sections
Your discussion section is your opportunity to explore the meaning and implications of your results in relation to your research question. Here, interpret your results in detail, discussing whether they met your expectations and how well they fit with the framework that you built in earlier chapters. Refer back to relevant source material to show how your results fit within existing research in your field.
Some guiding questions include:
- What do your results mean?
- Why do your results matter?
- What limitations do the results have?
If any of the results were unexpected, offer explanations for why this might be. It’s a good idea to consider alternative interpretations of your data.
Read more about discussion sections
Your dissertation’s conclusion should concisely answer your main research question, leaving your reader with a clear understanding of your central argument and emphasizing what your research has contributed to the field.
In some disciplines, the conclusion is just a short section preceding the discussion section, but in other contexts, it is the final chapter of your work. Here, you wrap up your dissertation with a final reflection on what you found, with recommendations for future research and concluding remarks.
It’s important to leave the reader with a clear impression of why your research matters. What have you added to what was already known? Why is your research necessary for the future of your field?
Read more about conclusions
It is crucial to include a reference list or list of works cited with the full details of all the sources that you used, in order to avoid plagiarism. Be sure to choose one citation style and follow it consistently throughout your dissertation. Each style has strict and specific formatting requirements.
Common styles include MLA , Chicago , and APA , but which style you use is often set by your department or your field.
Create APA citations Create MLA citations
Your dissertation should contain only essential information that directly contributes to answering your research question. Documents such as interview transcripts or survey questions can be added as appendices, rather than adding them to the main body.
Read more about appendices
Making sure that all of your sections are in the right place is only the first step to a well-written dissertation. Don’t forget to leave plenty of time for editing and proofreading, as grammar mistakes and sloppy spelling errors can really negatively impact your work.
Dissertations can take up to five years to write, so you will definitely want to make sure that everything is perfect before submitting. You may want to consider using a professional dissertation editing service or grammar checker to make sure your final project is perfect prior to submitting.
After your written dissertation is approved, your committee will schedule a defense. Similarly to defending your prospectus, dissertation defenses are oral presentations of your work. You’ll present your dissertation, and your committee will ask you questions. Many departments allow family members, friends, and other people who are interested to join as well.
After your defense, your committee will meet, and then inform you whether you have passed. Keep in mind that defenses are usually just a formality; most committees will have resolved any serious issues with your work with you far prior to your defense, giving you ample time to fix any problems.
As you write your dissertation, you can use this simple checklist to make sure you’ve included all the essentials.
My title page includes all information required by my university.
I have included acknowledgements thanking those who helped me.
My abstract provides a concise summary of the dissertation, giving the reader a clear idea of my key results or arguments.
I have created a table of contents to help the reader navigate my dissertation. It includes all chapter titles, but excludes the title page, acknowledgements, and abstract.
My introduction leads into my topic in an engaging way and shows the relevance of my research.
My introduction clearly defines the focus of my research, stating my research questions and research objectives .
My introduction includes an overview of the dissertation’s structure (reading guide).
I have conducted a literature review in which I (1) critically engage with sources, evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of existing research, (2) discuss patterns, themes, and debates in the literature, and (3) address a gap or show how my research contributes to existing research.
I have clearly outlined the theoretical framework of my research, explaining the theories and models that support my approach.
I have thoroughly described my methodology , explaining how I collected data and analyzed data.
I have concisely and objectively reported all relevant results .
I have (1) evaluated and interpreted the meaning of the results and (2) acknowledged any important limitations of the results in my discussion .
I have clearly stated the answer to my main research question in the conclusion .
I have clearly explained the implications of my conclusion, emphasizing what new insight my research has contributed.
I have provided relevant recommendations for further research or practice.
If relevant, I have included appendices with supplemental information.
I have included an in-text citation every time I use words, ideas, or information from a source.
I have listed every source in a reference list at the end of my dissertation.
I have consistently followed the rules of my chosen citation style .
I have followed all formatting guidelines provided by my university.
The end is in sight—your dissertation is nearly ready to submit! Make sure it's perfectly polished with the help of a Scribbr editor.
If you’re an educator, feel free to download and adapt these slides to teach your students about structuring a dissertation.
Open Google Slides Download PowerPoint
Is this article helpful?
Other students also liked.
- How to Write a Literature Review | Guide, Examples, & Templates
- Dissertation Table of Contents in Word | Instructions & Examples
- How to Choose a Dissertation Topic | 8 Steps to Follow
More interesting articles
- Checklist: Writing a dissertation
- Dissertation & Thesis Outline | Example & Free Templates
- Dissertation Binding and Printing | Options, Tips, & Comparison
- Example of a dissertation abstract
- Figure and Table Lists | Word Instructions, Template & Examples
- How to Write a Discussion Section | Tips & Examples
- How to Write a Dissertation or Thesis Proposal
- How to Write a Results Section | Tips & Examples
- How to Write a Thesis or Dissertation Conclusion
- How to Write a Thesis or Dissertation Introduction
- How to Write an Abstract | Steps & Examples
- How to Write Recommendations in Research | Examples & Tips
- List of Abbreviations | Example, Template & Best Practices
- Operationalization | A Guide with Examples, Pros & Cons
- Prize-Winning Thesis and Dissertation Examples
- Purpose and structure of an advisory report
- Relevance of Your Dissertation Topic | Criteria & Tips
- Research Paper Appendix | Example & Templates
- Shorten your abstract or summary
- Theoretical Framework Example for a Thesis or Dissertation
- Thesis & Dissertation Acknowledgements | Tips & Examples
- Thesis & Dissertation Database Examples
- Thesis & Dissertation Title Page | Free Templates & Examples
- What is a Dissertation Preface? | Definition & Examples
- What is a Glossary? | Definition, Templates, & Examples
- What Is a Research Methodology? | Steps & Tips
- What Is a Theoretical Framework? | Guide to Organizing
- What Is a Thesis? | Ultimate Guide & Examples
What is your plagiarism score?
- Formatting Your Dissertation
Harvard Griffin GSAS strives to provide students with timely, accurate, and clear information. If you need help understanding a specific policy, please contact the office that administers that policy.
- Application for Degree
- Credit for Completed Graduate Work
- Ad Hoc Degree Programs
- Acknowledging the Work of Others
- Advanced Planning
- Dissertation Submission Checklist
- Publishing Options
- Submitting Your Dissertation
- English Language Proficiency
- PhD Program Requirements
- Secondary Fields
- Year of Graduate Study (G-Year)
- Master's Degrees
- Grade and Examination Requirements
- Conduct and Safety
- Financial Aid
On this page:
Language of the Dissertation
Page and text requirements, body of text, tables, figures, and captions, dissertation acceptance certificate, copyright statement.
- Table of Contents
Front and Back Matter
Supplemental material, dissertations comprising previously published works, top ten formatting errors, further questions.
- Related Contacts and Forms
When preparing the dissertation for submission, students must follow strict formatting requirements. Any deviation from these requirements may lead to rejection of the dissertation and delay in the conferral of the degree.
The language of the dissertation is ordinarily English, although some departments whose subject matter involves foreign languages may accept a dissertation written in a language other than English.
Most dissertations are 100 to 300 pages in length. All dissertations should be divided into appropriate sections, and long dissertations may need chapters, main divisions, and subdivisions.
- 8½ x 11 inches, unless a musical score is included
- At least 1 inch for all margins
- Body of text: double spacing
- Block quotations, footnotes, and bibliographies: single spacing within each entry but double spacing between each entry
- Table of contents, list of tables, list of figures or illustrations, and lengthy tables: single spacing may be used
Fonts and Point Size
Use 10-12 point size. Fonts must be embedded in the PDF file to ensure all characters display correctly.
If you are unsure whether your chosen font will display correctly, use one of the following fonts:
If fonts are not embedded, non-English characters may not appear as intended. Fonts embedded improperly will be published to DASH as-is. It is the student’s responsibility to make sure that fonts are embedded properly prior to submission.
Instructions for Embedding Fonts
To embed your fonts in recent versions of Word, follow these instructions from Microsoft:
- Click the File tab and then click Options .
- In the left column, select the Save tab.
- Clear the Do not embed common system fonts check box.
For reference, below are some instructions from ProQuest UMI for embedding fonts in older file formats:
To embed your fonts in Microsoft Word 2010:
- In the File pull-down menu click on Options .
- Choose Save on the left sidebar.
- Check the box next to Embed fonts in the file.
- Click the OK button.
- Save the document.
Note that when saving as a PDF, make sure to go to “more options” and save as “PDF/A compliant”
To embed your fonts in Microsoft Word 2007:
- Click the circular Office button in the upper left corner of Microsoft Word.
- A new window will display. In the bottom right corner select Word Options .
- Choose Save from the left sidebar.
Using Microsoft Word on a Mac:
Microsoft Word 2008 on a Mac OS X computer will automatically embed your fonts while converting your document to a PDF file.
If you are converting to PDF using Acrobat Professional (instructions courtesy of the Graduate Thesis Office at Iowa State University):
- Open your document in Microsoft Word.
- Click on the Adobe PDF tab at the top. Select "Change Conversion Settings."
- Click on Advanced Settings.
- Click on the Fonts folder on the left side of the new window. In the lower box on the right, delete any fonts that appear in the "Never Embed" box. Then click "OK."
- If prompted to save these new settings, save them as "Embed all fonts."
- Now the Change Conversion Settings window should show "embed all fonts" in the Conversion Settings drop-down list and it should be selected. Click "OK" again.
- Click on the Adobe PDF link at the top again. This time select Convert to Adobe PDF. Depending on the size of your document and the speed of your computer, this process can take 1-15 minutes.
- After your document is converted, select the "File" tab at the top of the page. Then select "Document Properties."
- Click on the "Fonts" tab. Carefully check all of your fonts. They should all show "(Embedded Subset)" after the font name.
- If you see "(Embedded Subset)" after all fonts, you have succeeded.
The font used in the body of the text must also be used in headers, page numbers, and footnotes. Exceptions are made only for tables and figures created with different software and inserted into the document.
Tables and figures must be placed as close as possible to their first mention in the text. They may be placed on a page with no text above or below, or they may be placed directly into the text. If a table or a figure is alone on a page (with no narrative), it should be centered within the margins on the page. Tables may take up more than one page as long as they obey all rules about margins. Tables and figures referred to in the text may not be placed at the end of the chapter or at the end of the dissertation.
- Given the standards of the discipline, dissertations in the Department of History of Art and Architecture and the Department of Architecture, Landscape Architecture, and Urban Planning often place illustrations at the end of the dissertation.
Figure and table numbering must be continuous throughout the dissertation or by chapter (e.g., 1.1, 1.2, 2.1, 2.2, etc.). Two figures or tables cannot be designated with the same number. If you have repeating images that you need to cite more than once, label them with their number and A, B, etc.
Headings should be placed at the top of tables. While no specific rules for the format of table headings and figure captions are required, a consistent format must be used throughout the dissertation (contact your department for style manuals appropriate to the field).
Captions should appear at the bottom of any figures. If the figure takes up the entire page, the caption should be placed alone on the preceding page, centered vertically and horizontally within the margins.
Each page receives a separate page number. When a figure or table title is on a preceding page, the second and subsequent pages of the figure or table should say, for example, “Figure 5 (Continued).” In such an instance, the list of figures or tables will list the page number containing the title. The word “figure” should be written in full (not abbreviated), and the “F” should be capitalized (e.g., Figure 5). In instances where the caption continues on a second page, the “(Continued)” notation should appear on the second and any subsequent page. The figure/table and the caption are viewed as one entity and the numbering should show correlation between all pages. Each page must include a header.
Landscape orientation figures and tables must be positioned correctly and bound at the top so that the top of the figure or table will be at the left margin. Figure and table headings/captions are placed with the same orientation as the figure or table when on the same page. When on a separate page, headings/captions are always placed in portrait orientation, regardless of the orientation of the figure or table. Page numbers are always placed as if the figure were vertical on the page.
If a graphic artist does the figures, Harvard Griffin GSAS will accept lettering done by the artist only within the figure. Figures done with software are acceptable if the figures are clear and legible. Legends and titles done by the same process as the figures will be accepted if they too are clear, legible, and run at least 10 or 12 characters per inch. Otherwise, legends and captions should be printed with the same font used in the text.
Original illustrations, photographs, and fine arts prints may be scanned and included, centered between the margins on a page with no text above or below.
Use of Third-Party Content
In addition to the student's own writing, dissertations often contain third-party content or in-copyright content owned by parties other than you, the student who authored the dissertation. The Office for Scholarly Communication recommends consulting the information below about fair use, which allows individuals to use in-copyright content, on a limited basis and for specific purposes, without seeking permission from copyright holders.
Because your dissertation will be made available for online distribution through DASH , Harvard's open-access repository, it is important that any third-party content in it may be made available in this way.
Fair Use and Copyright
What is fair use?
Fair use is a provision in copyright law that allows the use of a certain amount of copyrighted material without seeking permission. Fair use is format- and media-agnostic. This means fair use may apply to images (including photographs, illustrations, and paintings), quoting at length from literature, videos, and music regardless of the format.
How do I determine whether my use of an image or other third-party content in my dissertation is fair use?
There are four factors you will need to consider when making a fair use claim.
1) For what purpose is your work going to be used?
- Nonprofit, educational, scholarly, or research use favors fair use. Commercial, non-educational uses, often do not favor fair use.
- A transformative use (repurposing or recontextualizing the in-copyright material) favors fair use. Examining, analyzing, and explicating the material in a meaningful way, so as to enhance a reader's understanding, strengthens your fair use argument. In other words, can you make the point in the thesis without using, for instance, an in-copyright image? Is that image necessary to your dissertation? If not, perhaps, for copyright reasons, you should not include the image.
2) What is the nature of the work to be used?
- Published, fact-based content favors fair use and includes scholarly analysis in published academic venues.
- Creative works, including artistic images, are afforded more protection under copyright, and depending on your use in light of the other factors, may be less likely to favor fair use; however, this does not preclude considerations of fair use for creative content altogether.
3) How much of the work is going to be used?
- Small, or less significant, amounts favor fair use. A good rule of thumb is to use only as much of the in-copyright content as necessary to serve your purpose. Can you use a thumbnail rather than a full-resolution image? Can you use a black-and-white photo instead of color? Can you quote select passages instead of including several pages of the content? These simple changes bolster your fair use of the material.
4) What potential effect on the market for that work may your use have?
- If there is a market for licensing this exact use or type of educational material, then this weighs against fair use. If however, there would likely be no effect on the potential commercial market, or if it is not possible to obtain permission to use the work, then this favors fair use.
For further assistance with fair use, consult the Office for Scholarly Communication's guide, Fair Use: Made for the Harvard Community and the Office of the General Counsel's Copyright and Fair Use: A Guide for the Harvard Community .
What are my options if I don’t have a strong fair use claim?
Consider the following options if you find you cannot reasonably make a fair use claim for the content you wish to incorporate:
- Seek permission from the copyright holder.
- Use openly licensed content as an alternative to the original third-party content you intended to use. Openly-licensed content grants permission up-front for reuse of in-copyright content, provided your use meets the terms of the open license.
- Use content in the public domain, as this content is not in-copyright and is therefore free of all copyright restrictions. Whereas third-party content is owned by parties other than you, no one owns content in the public domain; everyone, therefore, has the right to use it.
For use of images in your dissertation, please consult this guide to Finding Public Domain & Creative Commons Media , which is a great resource for finding images without copyright restrictions.
Who can help me with questions about copyright and fair use?
Contact your Copyright First Responder . Please note, Copyright First Responders assist with questions concerning copyright and fair use, but do not assist with the process of obtaining permission from copyright holders.
Pages should be assigned a number except for the Dissertation Acceptance Certificate . Preliminary pages (abstract, table of contents, list of tables, graphs, illustrations, and preface) should use small Roman numerals (i, ii, iii, iv, v, etc.). All pages must contain text or images.
Count the title page as page i and the copyright page as page ii, but do not print page numbers on either page .
For the body of text, use Arabic numbers (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, etc.) starting with page 1 on the first page of text. Page numbers must be centered throughout the manuscript at the top or bottom. Every numbered page must be consecutively ordered, including tables, graphs, illustrations, and bibliography/index (if included); letter suffixes (such as 10a, 10b, etc.) are not allowed. It is customary not to have a page number on the page containing a chapter heading.
- Check pagination carefully. Account for all pages.
A copy of the Dissertation Acceptance Certificate (DAC) should appear as the first page. This page should not be counted or numbered. The DAC will appear in the online version of the published dissertation. The author name and date on the DAC and title page should be the same.
The dissertation begins with the title page; the title should be as concise as possible and should provide an accurate description of the dissertation. The author name and date on the DAC and title page should be the same.
- Do not print a page number on the title page. It is understood to be page i for counting purposes only.
A copyright notice should appear on a separate page immediately following the title page and include the copyright symbol ©, the year of first publication of the work, and the name of the author:
© [ year ] [ Author’s Name ] All rights reserved.
Alternatively, students may choose to license their work openly under a Creative Commons license. The author remains the copyright holder while at the same time granting up-front permission to others to read, share, and (depending on the license) adapt the work, so long as proper attribution is given. (By default, under copyright law, the author reserves all rights; under a Creative Commons license, the author reserves some rights.)
- Do not print a page number on the copyright page. It is understood to be page ii for counting purposes only.
An abstract, numbered as page iii , should immediately follow the copyright page and should state the problem, describe the methods and procedures used, and give the main results or conclusions of the research. The abstract will appear in the online and bound versions of the dissertation and will be published by ProQuest. There is no maximum word count for the abstract.
- indented on the first line of each paragraph
- The author’s name, right justified
- The words “Dissertation Advisor:” followed by the advisor’s name, left-justified (a maximum of two advisors is allowed)
- Title of the dissertation, centered, several lines below author and advisor
Dissertations divided into sections must contain a table of contents that lists, at minimum, the major headings in the following order:
- Front Matter
- Body of Text
- Back Matter
Front matter includes (if applicable):
- acknowledgements of help or encouragement from individuals or institutions
- a dedication
- a list of illustrations or tables
- a glossary of terms
- one or more epigraphs.
Back matter includes (if applicable):
- supplemental materials, including figures and tables
- an index (in rare instances).
Supplemental figures and tables must be placed at the end of the dissertation in an appendix, not within or at the end of a chapter. If additional digital information (including audio, video, image, or datasets) will accompany the main body of the dissertation, it should be uploaded as a supplemental file through ProQuest ETD . Supplemental material will be available in DASH and ProQuest and preserved digitally in the Harvard University Archives.
As a matter of copyright, dissertations comprising the student's previously published works must be authorized for distribution from DASH. The guidelines in this section pertain to any previously published material that requires permission from publishers or other rightsholders before it may be distributed from DASH. Please note:
- Authors whose publishing agreements grant the publisher exclusive rights to display, distribute, and create derivative works will need to seek the publisher's permission for nonexclusive use of the underlying works before the dissertation may be distributed from DASH.
- Authors whose publishing agreements indicate the authors have retained the relevant nonexclusive rights to the original materials for display, distribution, and the creation of derivative works may distribute the dissertation as a whole from DASH without need for further permissions.
It is recommended that authors consult their publishing agreements directly to determine whether and to what extent they may have transferred exclusive rights under copyright. The Office for Scholarly Communication (OSC) is available to help the author determine whether she has retained the necessary rights or requires permission. Please note, however, the Office of Scholarly Communication is not able to assist with the permissions process itself.
- Missing Dissertation Acceptance Certificate. The first page of the PDF dissertation file should be a scanned copy of the Dissertation Acceptance Certificate (DAC). This page should not be counted or numbered as a part of the dissertation pagination.
- Conflicts Between the DAC and the Title Page. The DAC and the dissertation title page must match exactly, meaning that the author name and the title on the title page must match that on the DAC. If you use your full middle name or just an initial on one document, it must be the same on the other document.
- Abstract Formatting Errors. The advisor name should be left-justified, and the author's name should be right-justified. Up to two advisor names are allowed. The Abstract should be double spaced and include the page title “Abstract,” as well as the page number “iii.” There is no maximum word count for the abstract.
- The front matter should be numbered using Roman numerals (iii, iv, v, …). The title page and the copyright page should be counted but not numbered. The first printed page number should appear on the Abstract page (iii).
- The body of the dissertation should be numbered using Arabic numbers (1, 2, 3, …). The first page of the body of the text should begin with page 1. Pagination may not continue from the front matter.
- All page numbers should be centered either at the top or the bottom of the page.
- Figures and tables Figures and tables must be placed within the text, as close to their first mention as possible. Figures and tables that span more than one page must be labeled on each page. Any second and subsequent page of the figure/table must include the “(Continued)” notation. This applies to figure captions as well as images. Each page of a figure/table must be accounted for and appropriately labeled. All figures/tables must have a unique number. They may not repeat within the dissertation.
- Any figures/tables placed in a horizontal orientation must be placed with the top of the figure/ table on the left-hand side. The top of the figure/table should be aligned with the spine of the dissertation when it is bound.
- Page numbers must be placed in the same location on all pages of the dissertation, centered, at the bottom or top of the page. Page numbers may not appear under the table/ figure.
- Supplemental Figures and Tables. Supplemental figures and tables must be placed at the back of the dissertation in an appendix. They should not be placed at the back of the chapter.
- Permission Letters Copyright. permission letters must be uploaded as a supplemental file, titled ‘do_not_publish_permission_letters,” within the dissertation submission tool.
- DAC Attachment. The signed Dissertation Acceptance Certificate must additionally be uploaded as a document in the "Administrative Documents" section when submitting in Proquest ETD . Dissertation submission is not complete until all documents have been received and accepted.
- Overall Formatting. The entire document should be checked after all revisions, and before submitting online, to spot any inconsistencies or PDF conversion glitches.
- You can view dissertations successfully published from your department in DASH . This is a great place to check for specific formatting and area-specific conventions.
- Contact the Office of Student Affairs with further questions.
Student affairs, explore events.
- Explore BBH
- Diversity Statement
- Call for Reform
- Research Areas
- Biomarker Core Lab
- Find a Faculty Member
- Department Plan
- College Plan
- Discover BBH
- Visit and Apply
- Major in BBH
- Global Health Minor
- Accelerated MPH
- Honors Study
- World Campus
- First-Year Advising
- BBH Advising
- Financial Aid and Scholarships
- Internships and Field Opportunities
- Join a Student Org
- Attend an Event
- Meet with Your Adviser
- Experience Student Life Through Instagram
- Join the Leadership Initiative
- Study Abroad
- Pursue an Internship
- Participate in Research
- BBH Initiatives
- Get Involved
- BBH Affiliate Program Group
- News and Events
- About the Program
- Dual-Titles and Minors
- Mentored Research
- Faculty Expertise
- Admission Requirements
- Funding Information
- Ph.D. Milestones
- Career Paths
- Graduate Student Directory
- HHD Graduate Student Council
- Earn a Dual-Title
- Additional Resources
- Meet BBH Alumni
- Join the Affiliate Program Group
- Admission Process
- Graduate Admissions
- Current Research
- Prevention Research Center
- Social Science Research Institute
- Center for Safe and Healthy Children
- Child Maltreatment Solutions Network
- Center for Healthy Aging
- HHD Research
- Join the Alumni Association
- Benefits of Membership
- Connect with Alumni in BBH
- Update Your Contact Information
- Join the BBH Affiliate Program Group
- Join the HHD Alumni Society
- Attend an Alumni Event
- Discovery, the HHD Magazine
- Alumni Profiles
- HHD Alumni Society Awards
- LionLink Career Connections
- Young Alumni Ambassadors
- Alumni Career Services
- Parents and Family Association
- Ways to Get Involved
- Dean's Lecture Series
- Support BBH
- Make a Difference in Student Need
- Request iLab Services
- Additional Youth Camps
- HHD Outreach
- General Info
- Undergraduate Program
- Graduate Program
- Faculty and Staff
- Student Advising and Engagement
- Development and Alumni Relations
- Social Media
- Biobehavioral Health
- Communication Sciences and Disorders
- Health Policy and Administration
- Hospitality Management
- Human Development and Family Studies
- Nutritional Sciences
- Recreation, Park, and Tourism Management
- Center for Childhood Obesity Research
- Center for Health Care and Policy Research
- Edna Bennett Pierce Prevention Research Center
- Dean's Office
- Center for Student Advising and Engagement
- Communications and Marketing
- Finance and Accounting
- Human Resources
- Information Systems and Services (ISS)
- Online Education and Outreach
- Research and Graduate Education
- Faculty and Staff Resources
- Computing Support/IT Help
- HHD Digest - Submission and Archive
- Communications Training and Resources
- Powerpoint Templates
- Zoom Virtual Backgrounds
- Emergency Planning
Dissertation (Thesis) Requirements
Both the chair of the student's committee (disseration advisor) and the student are responsible for assuring the completion of a draft of the thesis and for adequate consultation with members of the Doctoral committee well in advance of the oral examination. Major revisions to the dissertation should be completed before this examination. The dissertation should be in its final draft in a form and style that meets Graduate School and BBH Program requirements. With appropriate notes, bibliography, tables, etc., at the time of the oral examination; both the content and style should be correct and polished by the time that this final draft of the thesis is in the hands of the committee. Again, there should be an adequate period of time (at least two weeks) between the delivery of the final draft of the thesis to committee members and the scheduled oral examination and thesis defense.
When the doctoral candidate has satisfied all requirements for the degree and has submitted an acceptable thesis to the Doctoral committee, the BBH Professor-in-Charge will recommend to the Dean of the Graduate School that the final oral be scheduled. The examination is oral, open to the public, and related in a large part to the thesis; but it may cover the whole field of study of the candidate without regard to courses that may have been taken at Penn State or elsewhere. The final examination must be scheduled with the Graduate School at least three weeks before the examination is to be held. A favorable vote of two-thirds of the members of the committee is required for passing. If the candidate fails, it is the responsibility of the Doctoral Committee to determine whether another examination may be taken. The results of the examination are reported to the Dean of the Graduate School through the BBH Professor-in-Charge and will be entered upon the candidate's official record.
The student is responsible for knowing and meeting all requirements of the Graduate School and of the BBH graduate program. Such matters as full-time versus part-time status, residency, load, continuity of registration are examples of countless items that relate to orderly, legal and quality graduate programs. The Graduate School typically issues a calendar of deadline dates each semester, which is available in Kern Graduate Building. The student is also encouraged to watch bulletin boards and notices distributed to student mail boxes.
- Research Guides
- CUNY Graduate Center's Mina Rees Library
Dissertations and Theses
- Format Requirements
- About the Dissertation Office
- Graduation Dates
- Deposit Procedure
- Survey of Earned Doctorates (SED)
- Master's Exit Survey
- Citation Styles
- Digital Dissertations
- Find CUNY Dissertations
Dissertation Research Librarian
The library reviews all submissions for adherence to the formatting guidelines listed on this page. Please pay special attention to the required Page Sequence and pagination requirements.
NEW! Review our manuscript format checklist before submitting to avoid some of the most common formatting errors.
- Manuscript Format Checklist
Looking to hire a professional editor for help with formatting? See this list of freelance academic editors . For issues other than formatting , the GC Writing Center offers remote consultations to offer help with style and structure.
If you need help using Microsoft Word, please consult the University of Michigan's guide to MS Word for Dissertations , which addresses many of the most common problems encountered by students.
If you are writing with LaTex, templates that are compliant with the format requirements are available at the bottom of this page ; there is also an R markdown / LaTex dissertation template that follows the library's guidelines available from Nicholaus Brosowsky (Psychology, '19): https://github.com/nbrosowsky/dissertate-CUNY
- PhD Dissertations Updated 12/12/2022
- Master's Theses Updated 12/12/2022
- Audiology Capstone Updated 12/12/2022
- M.A. in Liberal Studies Thesis Pages This MS Word document contains properly formatted preliminary pages. Simply insert your thesis text at the end of this file and edit the details on the preliminary pages. Updated 12/12/2022
For more examples of acceptable manuscript format, view the Deposit Information Slides linked below.
View Information Session Slides
Adhere to the following page sequence when preparing your manuscript. Note that bibliographic references should be the last section of the document, appearing after all appendices, glossaries, illustrations, or other back matter.
Title page (no pagination appears) * Copyright page Approval page Abstract Preface, Foreword, and/or Acknowledgments (optional) Table of Contents (required) Lists of tables, illustrations, charts, figures, diagrams (required) Body of Text (begins with Arabic numeral 1) Appendix (optional) Bibliography Autobiographical Statement (optional)
* use the degree year regardless of deposit date (February 2024 grads should have 2024 on their title page even if the deposit is in 2023)
Additional pages may be required for students submitting digital projects as part of their thesis or dissertation deposit:
- Digital Project Documentation Guidelines Format instructions for those submitting digital components in addition to a PDF text.
Text Format Guidelines
Abstracts : There is no word limit for abstracts associated with dissertations or theses. Abstracts will be published in the CUNY Academic Works repository and ProQuest (if applicable) with author, title, and descriptive information, even if the work is embargoed. An abstract in English is required, even if the text is in a language other than English.
Approval Page: The full title, author, manuscript statement, and month/year that the manuscript was approved are included on this page ( see sample pages ). The approval page lists the primary advisor(s), executive officer or program director, and supervisory committee (if applicable) for the work being submitted.
Color : PDF and print reproductions may include color, and ProQuest reproductions will include any color submitted.
File Formats : ProQuest requires Adobe PDF (not Word) for text. Rather than embedding audio and video files in the PDF body of a work, submit as supplemental files. For a list of manageable supplemental file fomats, see ProQuest's Preparing Your Manuscript for Submission (Including Supplemental Files) .
Font: Any legible TruType type 1 font is accepted (except script, italic, or ornamental fonts) if equivalent in scale to Arial (10 pt) or Times New Roman (12 pt). Acceptable fonts and sizes for print and web include: Arial (10 pt), Courier New (10 pt), Georgia (11 pt), Times New Roman (12 pt), Trebuchet MS (10 pt), Verdana (10 pt). See ProQuest's Preparing Your Manuscript for Submission (Including Supplemental Files) for recommendations about choosing and embedding fonts, selecting formats, and creating PDFs.
Line-spacing : Double-space abstract, dedication, acknowledgements, table of contents, and body of the manuscript. Follow your disciplinary style manual for single- or double-spacing block quotes, captions, items in tables, lists, graphs, charts. Single-space footnotes/endnotes.
Lists of Contents : A table of contents is required. If illustrations, charts, diagrams, figures or other tables appear in the work, a list of each named element, with corresponding pagination, is required. Formatting and sample pages in Chicago/Turabian style are available online.
Margins : left: 1”; right: 1″; top and bottom: 1″ for all text (except page numbers and headers/footers) and figures, footnotes/endnotes, and images
Page numbers : must appear at least ¾” from any edge of page
Pagination : Pages preliminary to the body of the text must be numbered with lowercase Roman numerals. Do not number the title page but count it in the preliminary pagination. The body of the text is numbered with Arabic numerals beginning with the first page of text and including illustrations, appendix, and bibliography. Except for the title page, all pages must be numbered. The numerals may appear in any location on the page (bottom middle, bottom right, upper right), but must be consistent throughout the work. See Variable Pagination for formatting in Microsoft Word and this helpful blog post .
Title page (no pagination appears) Copyright page Approval page Abstract Preface, Foreword, and/or Acknowledgments Table of Contents (required) Lists of tables, illustrations, charts, figures, diagrams (required) Body of Text (begins with Arabic numeral 1) Appendix Bibliography Autobiographical Statement (optional)
Quotations : Consult copyright fair use guidelines. Include permission letters for use of copyrighted materials that exceeds fair use (photographs, charts, tables, etc.). Submit copyright permission letters as supplemental files as part of your online submission.
Style and Style Manuals : Use the style manual for your discipline except when in conflict with these instructions. Consult dissertation advisors as necessary.
Title Page : The title page must include the full dissertation title, the complete name of the author, the dissertation statement, and the year of the degree. Use words to spell out titles including formulas, symbols, superscripts, subscripts, and Greek letters. While prohibited from the title, symbols may be used throughout the text.
- LaTex GC Dissertation Template (7-Zip) Courtesy of Richard Herron. This package was compressed using the .7z (windows only) format. Mac users may require an additional application to access these files.
- LaTex GC Dissertation Template (.zip) Courtesy of Richard Herron. This package was compressed using the .zip format.
- R markdown / LaTex GC Dissertation Template Courtesy of Nicholaus Brosowsky.
- R markdown / LaTeX GC Dissertation Template for Sociology Courtesy of Kasey Zapatka. This R markdown/LaTeX template includes American Sociological Association formatting.
- Markdown / LaTex and Pandoc Courtesy of Keith Miyake ( EES, '16). A build system that uses the Pandoc tool to author using Markdown and convert to PDF using LaTex. There is a LaTex template in the "templates" folder (cuny.tex) that has all of the styles and formatting, but it won't work with a raw LaTex file because it contains Pandoc variables. With a general understanding of LaTex syntax one should be able to modify it to use as the base for their GC dissertation.
- Variable Pagination in Microsoft Word Cheat Sheet PDF
The preliminary pages of the text must be numbered in lower case roman numerals. The body of the text is numbered with Arabic numerals.
- << Previous: Deposit Procedure
- Next: Survey of Earned Doctorates (SED) >>
- Last Updated: Nov 9, 2023 10:44 AM
- URL: https://libguides.gc.cuny.edu/dissertations
- Log in
- Site search
7 steps to writing a dissertation
While you may be experienced in revising and writing essays, your dissertation requires careful planning, extensive research, and time management to succeed
Your dissertation is a key part of your degree course and a testament to your ability to conduct research, analyse data, and write a clear argument. Dissertations can be challenging, but they are also rewarding experiences that allow you to explore a topic in-depth and make a significant contribution to your field of study.
To achieve your academic goals, it is important to act on feedback, use your supervision time to your advantage, and demonstrate a strong knowledge of your subject. Whether you're writing an undergraduate, Masters , or PhD dissertation, these seven steps can help you stay on track.
1. Choose your topic wisely
Selecting the right topic is the foundation of a successful dissertation. It is important to choose a topic that is:
- Relevant to your academic discipline and interests. This will ensure that you are passionate about your topic and have the necessary background knowledge to conduct meaningful research.
- Intriguing and thought-provoking . A well-chosen topic will inspire you to ask interesting questions and develop original insights.
- Specific enough to allow for in-depth analysis, yet broad enough to provide enough research material. A topic that is too narrow may be difficult to research or produce meaningful findings, while a topic that is too broad may be difficult to cover in the allowed time and word count.
Consider your career goals and what topics are relevant to the field you hope to work in after graduation. It's also important to be open to change, as it's common for students to modify their dissertation topic as they explore the subject more.
Once you have identified a potential topic, seek guidance from your supervisor. They can help you to refine your choice, identify relevant sources, and develop a research plan.
2. Check what's required of you
Read your marking criteria carefully. It is also important to consult the module guidelines and follow the instructions on any additional parts to your main assignment, such as a project plan, literature review or a critical reflection.
Neal Bamford, associate lecturer at London Metropolitan University, reports that his marking process always begins by 'distilling criteria to what students need to provide and how many marks this is worth.'
'Several dissertations I mark don't include a project plan in their submission. This is worth 20% of the overall mark, so students lose out on a significant portion of their grade'.
Before you begin to plan, make sure you understand what's expected of you. Find out:
- what academic writing looks like in your discipline
- the word count
- when and where you must submit your dissertation.
3. Conduct in-depth research
Research at this stage in the process is often referred to as a literature review. This is where you are expected to gather relevant sources, articles, and studies from libraries, and online academic resources to identify the existing research on your topic and to develop your own research questions.
'Form your own opinion and argue for it using research. A history of the topic is always helpful, as it shows that you understand how things got to this point in time,' says Neal.
Be sure to take careful notes on each source and organise them for easy reference. You need to critically evaluate and analyse the sources to ensure their credibility and relevance to your research. This will be helpful when citing your sources in the writing stage.
Don't forget to seek guidance from your advisor throughout the research process. They can provide you with valuable feedback, relevant sources, and support.
4. Develop a strong thesis statement
A well-defined thesis statement is a roadmap for your dissertation. It should concisely state your main argument or research question and provide a clear direction for your paper. Your thesis statement will guide your entire writing process, so take the time to fully understand it before you begin to write.
When writing a thesis statement:
- Be specific and focused - avoid broad or vague statements.
- Remember that your thesis needs to be arguable - it should be a statement that can be supported or proved false with evidence.
- Make sure your thesis is realistic - you need to be able to research and write about it in the allotted time and space.
Once you have a draft of your thesis statement, share it with your supervisor and other trusted peers. They can provide you with feedback and help you to refine your statement.
If your research disproves your original statement, it can be a disappointing experience. However, it is important to remember that this is a normal part of the research process.
'Many of my students believe that if they don't find the answer they're expecting, then their work is worthless,' says Neal.
'This is not the case. You don't have to find the answer to produce valuable research. Documenting your process and conclusions, even if they are inconclusive, can help others to avoid repeating your work and may lead to new approaches.'
5. Proofread and edit
After working on your dissertation for such a long time, it can be tempting to end the process once you have finished writing, but proofreading is an essential step in ensuring that it is polished and error-free.
To help with the proofreading process:
- Read your dissertation aloud . This can help you to catch errors that you might miss when reading silently.
- Change your environment to see your work with fresh eyes.
- Focus on one thing at a time such as grammar, spelling, or punctuation to avoid getting overwhelmed.
To edit your dissertation, begin by reviewing its overall structure and flow. Make sure that your arguments are well-organised and that your ideas are presented in a logical order.
Next, check your grammar, spelling, and punctuation carefully. You can use a grammar checker, but it is important to proofread your work yourself to identify stylistic or subject-specific errors.
'Make sure you understand the reference style your university prefers. Formatting and labelling of images, tables etc. is vitally important and will be marked,' says Neal.
You should also ensure that your dissertation is formatted using the correct font, font size, margins, and line spacing.
6. Seek feedback and finalise
Once you have made your final revisions, seek feedback from your advisor or board members.
To get the most out of your feedback, be specific about what you are looking for. For example, you might ask for feedback on the overall structure and flow of your dissertation, the strength of your arguments, or the clarity of your writing.
Be open to feedback, even if it's negative. Remember that your advisor is there to help you improve your work, so it's important to take the time to understand and implement the feedback you receive.
Once you have addressed all the feedback, you can prepare your final submission. It's important to follow the guidelines carefully before submitting. Be sure to hand in your dissertation on time, as late submissions may be penalised or even rejected.
Online hand in is the most common method of dissertation submission, and you will typically need to upload a PDF file to an online portal. Follow the instructions carefully - you may need to provide additional information, such as your student ID number or the title of your dissertation.
Some institutions still require dissertations to be submitted in hard copy. If this is the case, you will need to submit a bound copy of your dissertation to your department office. You may also need to pay the binding fee.
Be sure to check with your advisor or department office for specific instructions on how to submit your dissertation in hard copy. You may have to submit multiple copies of your dissertation, and you be required to to include a title page, abstract, and table of contents.
Find out more
- Read our 5 ways to manage student stress .
- Discover how to write an essay .
- Consider our 7 time management tips for students .
How would you rate this page?
On a scale where 1 is dislike and 5 is like
- Dislike 1 unhappy-very
- Like 5 happy-very
Thank you for rating the page
Department of Educational Psychology
Learning Sciences (formerly CILT)
Ph.d. dissertation guidelines, the dissertation.
Dissertation research is the vehicle through which students learn to independently conduct, complete, and communicate research. The doctoral dissertation should reveal the student’s ability to discover, analyze, interpret, synthesize, and disseminate information through the process of:
- Generating a research question of interest and import to the student’s chosen field;
- Placing the research question in the context of research literature relating to the project with a particular emphasis on prior scholarship on which the dissertation is built;
- Describing and executing appropriate methodology;
- Presenting results in a logical manner; and
- Fully and coherently discussing the meaning of the results.
The dissertation should be:
- Original (i.e., it builds on or extends what is currently known).
- Substantial and researchable (i.e., it addresses a significant problem that:
- Poses a puzzle to the field at a theoretical, methodological, or policy level;
- Requires an analytical discussion, beyond simple cataloging or describing; and
- Employs a reasonable research methodology).
- Manageable (i.e., the scope of the project is appropriate given limited time and resources).
Educational Psychology Department Dissertation Rules and Guidelines
The Department of Educational Psychology maintains a number of online resources to help students successfully navigate and complete the dissertation process:
Educational Psychology Department Dissertation Proposal Guidelines
University of Connecticut Graduate School Dissertation Specifications
*Note on the dissertation embargo: In academia, an “embargo” is a restriction placed on a thesis or dissertation that allows only the title, abstract, and citation information to be released to the public for a limited period of time. See Georgia Southern Library Guide for more info.