Writing a dissertation or thesis can be traumatic enough without making it more difficult than it needs to be. The first two documents you should find, read, and follow are (a) the university’s dissertation policies and procedures handbook and (b) the university’s style and formatting guide. The policies and procedures handbook contains the details of the dissertation editing process from writing your preliminary proposal to having your final paper professionally bound and microfilmed and everything in between. The style and formatting guide contains all the nitty gritty details for ensuring your dissertation meets the publication requirements your university. Often the two items are combined into one document, but do not assume this is so. Check all the resources available to you through your university to be sure you have the information contained in these two documents.
When it comes to writing the final paper, the style and formatting guide will be your best friend. Find it, read it, and follow it. Doing so will minimize the myriad potential problems when you assume that writing this paper is just a longer version of any basic research paper. Should you choose to hire an editor, this is also the first document he/she will request to ensure the editing is done properly.
What does the style and formatting guide contain? A brief glance at this list will show you how important it is:
- Organizational structure of the final dissertation
- Margin requirements
- Footers and headers
- Font style and size
- Line spacing
- Required preliminary pages
- Headings and subheadings
- Acceptability of widows and orphans
- Quotations (block and run in)
- In text citations
- Footnotes and end notes
- Tables and figures
- Reference list or bibliography
- Biographical sketch or vita
- Templates and examples (sometimes templates are in a separate document)
As you can see, the physical appearance of your dissertation is dependent on the information contained in the style and formatting guide. You will do yourself a favor, save your editor much time, and possibly save yourself some money by setting up your dissertation files according to the requirements in the style and formatting guide before you begin to write anything. In fact, to avoid the mysterious emergence of font styles and colors you didn’t intend to use that sometimes occurs when numerous changes are made to a document, set the defaults in your word processing program to the requirements for your dissertation. That way, anytime you add to your dissertation, you won’t have to worry about resetting margins, spacing, and font style and size. You will already have it done.
By becoming thoroughly acquainted with your school’s style and formatting guide early in your doctoral program and setting the defaults to those requirements before you begin writing your dissertation, you will make the whole process much easier. Use the school guide in conjunction with the professional style manuals required for your department (e.g., APA, MLA, Chicago, etc.) to set up your paper correctly from the outset. You will then be able to concentrate on communicating your content.
And remember: If you do choose to hire a professional dissertation editor to proof your dissertation, be sure to include a copy of the style and formatting guide or a link to the page within the school’s Web site where the editor may access it. Having access to this document allows your editor to ensure a finished document that meets all the publication requirements of your university.