Thesis & Dissertation Guidelines
Below are the guidelines on formatting your thesis or dissertation for the Graduate School. You can download the thesis example document (PDF or word document) to save to your computer or print for reference.
This page assists graduate students in successfully creating and depositing their dissertation or thesis. While these guidelines provide a detailed description of thesis and dissertation formatting, they also serve as a general discussion of how to construct the document and how to prevent common formatting mistakes. The student must read and understand these guidelines to ensure a trouble free experience of finishing their graduate program. All guidelines are approved by the Graduate Council and can be modified at any time however the Graduate School will ensure the changes are clearly communicated to the faculty and students.
Choosing a Style
The student must choose a style for the document early in their graduate career. 'Style' refers to the layout of text, paragraphs, tables and legends, as well as the formatting and layout of cited literature. Any published style guideline may be followed; however, it is customary for particular disciplines to write using particular styles. For example, many workers in the humanities use the style guidelines of the American Psychological Association or follow The Chicago Manual of Style. Scientific and professional societies vary widely in the approved format, any of which may be suitable here.
The student is required to consult with his/her adviser to select a style. Some advisers may not necessarily state a style preference while others require a particular style.
Students are obligated to follow a particular style if required by their graduate adviser. If a graduate adviser requires a particular style, the adviser must provide sufficiently detailed guidelines to the student. If the graduate adviser does not require a particular style, the student is urged to select from the styles listed above or choose a style of a journal within the discipline. Often, journals will have “Instructions to Authors” at their website which succinctly states style and formatting rules.
Often style guidelines do not exhaustively address all of the format considerations faced by an author. If this occurs, the student must arbitrarily choose a format (perhaps consulting a different style guideline) then consistently follow that choice for the rest of the document. For example, what do the chosen style guidelines say in regard to placement of page numbers on landscaped pages? If the chosen guidelines are silent, then one does not know what is correct. In this case the student must arbitrarily decide where to place the page number and then place all subsequent page numbers of landscapes pages consistently in the same location.
Font Type & Size
The font size of the text should be 12 pt using a traditional font type (Courier, Times New Roman) and used throughout the document. The font size of headings, subheadings, etc. may vary according to style. Size of symbols and mathematical formula may also vary from 12 pt where necessary.
Line Spacing, Justification, Indentation & Margins
Lines should be double spaced throughout the document. Exceptions may include inset quotations, footnotes, tabular forms, and the bibliography, as dictated by the specific style guidelines. Text should be left-justified and paragraphs should be tab indented. Page margins should be:
- Left: 1.5 inches (for binding)
- Top: 1.0 inch
- Right: 1.0 inch
- Bottom: 1.0 inch
Page Size & Pagination
Standard page size of 8 1/2 x 11 inches is used throughout the document. Without exception, all page numerals should be placed on the top right-hand corner of the page. Page numerals may appear within the 1 inch margins. Typically, default settings of page numeral placement of word processors are acceptable.
The front matter consists of all sections preceding the narrative and should be numbered using lower case roman numerals. The first page considered for numbering, though NOT numbered, is the title page. The Acceptance page is the second page of the document but the first page to be numbered (ii).
Arabic numerals, beginning with one (1) are used at the beginning of the narrative and continued to the end of the document.
Landscape pages may be used. Landscaping is especially useful for tables or figures which do not conveniently fit using the portrait orientation of standard pages. However, the binding requirements of the document must be respected. Thus the 'top' of a landscaped page (i.e. the top edge of the page oriented (11 inches) with the landscaped material) is the edge where binding will occur thus must have a 1.5 inch margin. The other margins must be formatted accordingly.
Pagination for landscape pages varies depending upon the style. Either placement of the page number as all other page numbers in the document, or on the side of a landscaped page oriented in the same direction as the figure/table contents is acceptable (see examples). The student should consult the chosen style guidelines for clarification.
Tables should only be used to present three (3) or more items; otherwise, the data should be described in the narrative. Tables should be arranged so like material appears in columns, not rows. Information presented in tables should be sufficiently understandable so frequent reference to the narrative is unnecessary. Each table should have a title, generally appearing above the table itself (depending upon the chosen style). The table title and other items may be footnoted, although extensive explanations appearing in footnotes should be avoided. All abbreviations and symbols should be defined.
Tables are generally no more than what can be printed on one page, but occasionally multi-paged tables are necessary and are acceptable. Tables may appear on pages which contain narrative text or tables may appear singularly on a page (i.e. one table per page and only the table on the page). The author should consult their chosen style guidelines for clarification.
Figures & Figure Legends
Figures present charts, graphs, or images to the reader. Figure legends should be sufficiently detailed to allow the reader to understand without frequent reference to the narrative. However, overly detailed descriptions should be avoided. All abbreviations and symbols should be defined. Figure legends should appear on the same page and in the same orientation as the figure. For example, if the figure appears in landscape mode then the legend should also appear in landscape mode. If the figure legend is too lengthy to appear on the same page as the figure, then the legend, in its entirety, must appear on the next page.
Similar to tables, figures are usually constructed to be no more than what can appear on one page, but occasionally multi-paged figures are necessary. Figures may also appear singularly on pages or on pages containing narrative text. The author should consult the chosen style guidelines for clarification.
Order of Appearance
Structure of dissertations and theses should contain the following sections in the stated order. Those indicated as optional need not be included, but if included, must adhere to the formatting guidelines described in the following sections.
- Title Page (required; considered in numbering but NOT numbered)
- Acceptance Page (required; page number 'ii')
- Dedication (optional; numbered (Roman))
- ACKNOWLEDGMENTS (optional but recommended, numbered (Roman))
- CONTENTS (required, numbered (Roman))
- ABBREVIATIONS (optional, numbered (Roman))
- LIST OF FIGURES (optional, numbered (Roman))
- LIST OF TABLES (optional, numbered (Roman))
- LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS (optional, numbered (Roman))
- ABSTRACT (required, numbered (Roman))
- Narrative Section (required, numbered throughout, begin with “1” (Arabic))
- APPENDIX (optional, numbered throughout (Arabic))
- Bibliography (required, numbered throughout (Arabic))
- CURRICULUM VITAE (optional, numbered throughout (Arabic))
- INDEX (optional, numbered throughout (Arabic))
- GLOSSARY (optional, numbered throughout (Arabic))
Format: Title Page
The title page must be prepared as illustrated in the example. The title must be identical to the title on the ABSTRACT page. The title must be in all CAPS with no bold font. The title page is considered in the numbering but is not actually numbered and does not appear in the CONTENTS. Please refer to the example documents for the proper format and spacing. The “Year” must be the year the degree is awarded.
A comprehensive list of relevant degree types granted by SDSU, which must be used verbatim, is shown below. The degree type should appear below the statement ending “A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the” or “A dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the” (whichever is appropriate):
- Master of Architecture
- Master of Arts
- Master of Mass Communication
- Master of Education
- Master of Science
- Doctor of Philosophy
- Doctor of Nursing Practice
Note: A “master’s degree” student prepares a “thesis” and a “doctoral” student prepares a “dissertation”. The title page must be prepared accordingly.
After the degree, the major is stated following “Major in ....” Here, the major is the name of the program in which you enrolled, not necessarily your home department. Beneath the “Major in” the “Specialization in” appears, if applicable. For programs which do not offer a specialization, this line should be omitted. For example, a student may be in the department of “Biology and Microbiology”, enrolled in the “Biological Sciences” master’s program with a specialization in “Dairy Science”. Appearing on the title page would be “Master of Science”, “Major in Biological Sciences”, and “Specialization in Dairy Science”; followed by South Dakota State University. Alternatively, a master’s student in the English department would print “Master of Arts”, “Major in English”; followed by South Dakota State University.
Format: Acceptance Page
The Acceptance Page is the first page to be numbered and is numbered ii. The Acceptance Page does not appear in the CONTENTS. A hard copy the Acceptance Page must be submitted to the Graduate School and will be considered complete once signed by the Dean of the Graduate School.
The thesis title must appear centered at the top of the page (1 inch margin), the thesis title should match the title page identically, all CAPS with no bold font. It should be followed by the text: “This “thesis” or “dissertation” is approved as a creditable and independent investigation by a candidate for the *degree type* degree and is acceptable for meeting the “thesis” or “dissertation” requirements for this degree. Acceptance of this “thesis” or “dissertation” does not imply that the conclusions reached by the candidate are necessarily the conclusions of the major department.”
Text follows allowing for signatures for the adviser and Head of Department. Each should include a line for the signature above the typed names of the individuals (including degree held), followed by a line with the words “Thesis Advisor” or “Dissertation Advisor” and “Head,” and departmental name, each followed by the word “Date”. Similarly, a third signature line should be prepared for “Dean, Graduate School” and “Date”, however the personal name of the Dean should not be included. The student must refer to ‘thesis’ or ‘dissertation’ as appropriate. Please refer to the example documents for the proper format.
Also, the student may include a similarly formatted signature line for a minor advisor, if applicable.
Format: Dedication Page (optional)
The dedication is an honorific statement from the author to someone or some group supporting the student and/or completion of the work. The term “dedication” does not appear on the page. The text should be brief and center justified. The dedication is the only section of the document which may be written in a non-English language. The dedication page is numbered but does not appear in the CONTENTS.
Format: ACKNOWLEDGMENTS (optional, but recommended)
The ACKNOWLEDGMENTS page is optional but strongly recommended. This page should thank or recognize individuals and institutions that have provided assistance either directly or indirectly to the success of the candidate. This page is considered in the numbering but not listed in the CONTENTS. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS should be centered, all capital letters, on the first line of the page; the text should follow.
Format: CONTENTS (required)
The CONTENTS is a table which contains page assignments of the sections listed below. CONTENTS should not contain the title page, acceptance page, dedication, or ACKNOWLEDGMENTS. The page may also be titled TABLE OF CONTENTS. TABLE OF CONTENTS or CONTENTS should be centered, all capital letters, on the first line of the page with the table following.
Format: ABBREVIATIONS (optional)
The author may choose to list abbreviations in the ABBREVIATIONS section. If this option is chosen, ALL abbreviations must be listed in alphabetical order using the format shown in the examples. ABBREVIATIONS should be centered, all caps, on the first line of the page; the table should follow. Independent of whether an ABBREVIATIONS section is used, abbreviations MUST be defined in the text by enclosing the shortened word in parentheses following the word/ phrase.
Abbreviations are shortened forms of written words or phrases used in place of the whole and should be used to make the document easier to read and understand. Typically, if a large or awkward word or phrase is used 5 or more times, the author should consider using an abbreviation. Often editors encourage use of abbreviations to save space on the printed page, but that is not a concern here. Abbreviations must be denoted immediately after the first occurrence of the word or phrase and must be used for all subsequent occurrences.
An example of denoting an abbreviation and subsequent use:
“..........all analytes were detected using gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC/MS).”
“Phenol was detected by GC/MS but was not detected using thin layer chromatography..........”
Format: LIST OF FIGURES (optional)
A LIST OF FIGURES is optional but often included in scholarly works. Should a LIST OF FIGURES or a LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS be included, all figures appearing in the document are required to be listed. Figure legends appearing in the LIST OF FIGURES must appear: 1) EXACTLY as in the figure or 2) in a truncated form in which only the initial portion of the figure legend appears. If the latter form is followed, the portion of the legend included in the LIST OF FIGURES should be of sufficient length to provide a unique description of the figure and not appear describing another figure in the LIST OF FIGURES. LIST OF FIGURES should be centered, all caps, on the first line of the page; the table should follow.
For example, assume the following legend appears as part of a figure in the document: Figure 1. Analysis of samples from Experiment B. Principal Component Analysis of gel profiles of bacterial ribosomal RNA genes present in cecal samples from mice fed a control diet (red) or protein diet (green), respectively. A: Protein in diet constituted 2.3%. B: Protein in diet constituted 0.56%.
The two forms appearing in the LIST OF FIGURES could be the following. The first is verbatim and the second is truncated but sufficiently unique so as not to appear again in the LIST OF FIGURES.
Figure 1. Analysis of samples from Experiment B. Principal Component Analysis of gel profiles of bacterial ribosomal RNA genes present in cecal samples from mice fed a control diet (red) or protein diet (green), respectively. A: Protein in diet constituted 2.3%. B: Protein in diet constituted 0.56%........................................................................................................................Figure 1. Analysis of samples from Experiment B……………………………………………..
Format: LIST OF TABLES (optional)
A LIST OF TABLES is optional but is often included in scholarly works. Should a LIST OF TABLES or a LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS be included all tables appearing in the document must be present. Table titles appearing in the LIST OF TABLES must appear: 1) EXACTLY as for the table or 2) in a truncated form in which only the initial portion of the table title appears. If the latter form is followed the portion of the title included in the LIST OF TABLES should be of sufficient length to provide a unique description of the table. LIST OF TABLES should be centered, all caps, on the first line of the page; the table should follow.
For example, assume the following title appears associated with a table in the document.
Table 1. List of fungal strains used in the biochemical analysis; toxin subtype designation, sequencing types and alleles.
Two forms appearing in the LIST OF TABLES could be the following. The first is verbatim and the second is truncated but sufficiently unique so as not to appear again in the LIST OF TABLES.
Table 1. List of fungal strains used in the biochemical analysis; toxin subtype designation, sequencing types and alleles…………………………………………………………………...
Table 1. List of fungal strains used in the biochemical analysis……………………………….
Format: LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS (optional)
A LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS is optional but, if used, serves as an alternative to a LIST OF FIGURES and/or a LIST OF TABLES, thus will only appear if a LIST OF TABLES and LIST OF FIGURES do not appear. A LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS includes both figures and tables. Figure legends and table titles must appear using the same rules as described for the LIST OF FIGURES and LIST OF TABLES, respectively. LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS should be centered, all caps, on the first line of the page; the table should follow.
ABSTRACT appears centered on the first line, followed by the title in all capital letters. The title must appear identical to the title on the title page. The author is typed in all capital letters and must be identical to that which appears on the title page. Similarly, the date is the year the degree will be conferred, identical to the title page. The ABSTRACT is a summary of all the material presented in the document. The abstract will include the problem being addressed, the design of the experiment or project, methods, results and conclusions.
The abstract narrative should not be greater than 350 words.
The abstract is not be directly duplicated in other parts of the document. If chapters are used (see below) then each chapter may contain an abstract, but this chapter abstract will only encompass material in that chapter. The abstracts appearing in the chapters are separate and distinct from the abstract in the front matter. Authors should note that abstracts appearing in the chapters need not follow the format of the abstract appearing in the front matter. Abstracts in the chapters may follow the format of the journal targeted for publication.The abstract should be formatted as indicated in the example documents.
Format: Narrative Section
The narrative of the document should follow the guidelines set forth above, however this leaves much flexibility for style. Sources of commonly used styles include (but not limited to): American Psychological Association, American Anthropological Association, Modern Language Association and The Chicago Manual of Style. Also, many journals have unique style requirements which the author may choose to adopt. It is incumbent upon the author, in consultation with the author's mentor, to select a published style for use in the document. Some mentors require graduate documents be prepared in a particular style; if so, the student is obligated to follow the mentor's guidelines. Also, the Graduate School will not necessarily review the document for usage of correct style; however, the Graduate School will review for CONSISTENCY of style. Consistency of style is paramount for successful deposition and the Graduate School will not accept any document styled inconsistently.
Format: APPENDIX (optional)
The APPENDIX contains supporting information presented in the narrative or other types of information the author believes would assist the reader in understanding the document content. This section may include text, figures or tables. APPENDIX should be centered, all caps, on the first line of the page; the text should follow. The style of the APPENDIX should be consistent with the narrative section.
Format: Bibliography (required)
The bibliography section will contain a list of all of the referenced material in the document. The section does not necessarily need to be entitled BIBLIOGRAPHY, but may be entitled consistent with the chosen style. For example, other titles may be LITERATURE CITED or REFERENCES. The format of the entries of this section and the format of citations appearing in the narrative will be consistent with the chosen style.
The student is especially encouraged to choose a format for the bibliography as soon as possible. Past experience indicates students often find formatting the references while ensuring that all the references and only the indicated references appear in the narrative (also with the correct formatting), is the most challenging and frustrating aspect of formatting the thesis or dissertation. Start wrangling the references early!
Format: CURRICULUM VITAE (optional)
Curriculum vitae (CV) may be added to the document if desired. The CV is a summary of the author's educational experiences, research and professional experiences, awards, accomplishments, and publications/presentations. CURRICULUM VITAE should be centered, all caps, on the first line of the page.
Format: INDEX (optional)
An INDEX is an alphabetized list of important terms used in the narrative which includes the page(s) where the term is found. Should the author choose to include an index, the pages on which the chosen terms appear must be exhaustive. For example, if the term 'discipline' appears in the index, all of the pages on which the term 'discipline' appears must be listed. INDEX should be centered, all caps, on the first line of the page; the table should follow.
Format: GLOSSARY (optional)
A GLOSSARY is an alphabetized list of important or specialized terms used in the narrative which includes their definition. The author may define terms in ways specific to the project and/or use standard definitions. The author need not indicate the source, if any, of definitions. The GLOSSARY is sometimes also referred to as the NOMENCLATURE. GLOSSARY or NOMENCLATURE should be centered, all caps, on the first line of the page; the table should follow. If using a list of acronyms please include it in the glossary section.
Guidelines: Narrative as Chapters
Use of chapters in dissertations and theses is common but not necessarily required. Often it is unclear to the author if a chapter format is necessary or useful. If the work is presented in two or more distinct projects, breaking the narrative into separate chapters is justified. If the author is having difficulty determining where to break the material into chapters, the following choices may help clarify. 1) Consult the graduate mentor. 2) Do not use chapters. 3) Employ peer-review publication standards as the metric to determine the scope of each chapter. Here, each chapter is prepared as a self-standing manuscript. For example, if the dissertation will be, could be, or has been published in multiple papers, then preparing the dissertation with a chapter for each paper is justified and easier.
If chapters are used, the author has some flexibility as to how to compose the chapters. It is generally expected the chapters will be constructed identically. For example: Introduction, Material and Methods, Results, Conclusions, and References may be the subheading in all chapters. However, if different chapters are targeted for publication in different journals, each chapter may adopt the structure of that journal. For example, Chapter One might contain those subheading mentioned above, but Chapter Two might use: Introduction, Methods and Materials, Results, Discussion and Literature Cited. Similarly, two chapters may use two distinct citation and bibliography formats if the targeted journals use different formats.
Two caveats are worth consideration. 1) While each chapter may contain an abstract as a subsection the ABSTRACT is still required for the thesis/ dissertation. As stated above, the ABSTRACT should provide a cohesive statement encompassing the entire document (i.e. all chapters). 2) Often published manuscripts are the result of multiple authors (e.g. a student and mentor) hence is inappropriate to appear in a thesis or dissertation under a single author. The student is encouraged to discuss this aspect of their thesis or dissertation with their graduate mentor and/or committee.
It is the responsibility of the student to ensure the document is free of spelling and proper grammatical errors. If any spelling and grammar errors are found, the document will be immediately returned for correction.
Running headers and/or footers are not allowed. However, footnotes and endnotes are allowed if desired. Please consult the chosen style manual for specifics.
All dissertations and theses must be written in English. Two special conditions are: 1) the dedication page may include non-English text; and 2) the content of a project may encompass use of a non-English language (e.g. analysis of Portuguese irregular verbs). In the latter case, non-English text may appear as subject material or data but only English should appear as narrative.
Confirmation of compliance with all international, federal, state, local and other applicable public and private regulations must appear in the document. Typically, the necessary information is stated in the materials and methods or the results sections of the narrative. The author may include extensive documentation of compliance in the APPENDIX. The supervising bodies providing compliance supervision may include (but not limited to):
- SDSU-IACUC, Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (animal use)
- SDSU-Institutional Review Board (humans as research subjects)
- SDSU-Recombinant DNA (biological hazards)
- Export Controls (sensitive information leaving the United States)
- Private or public agencies (permission to access collections, acquire samples, make observations etc).
The author should review the document for any intellectual property which may have potential value. The author is urged to review this topic with their graduate mentor and/ or the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs. The author should also as ensure Human Resources has a current Agreement to Assign Intellectual Property Rights.
Any student requiring delayed publication of their thesis or dissertation in order to facilitate the protection of valuable intellectual property rights and provide opportunities for self-publication while facilitating academic freedom and access to scholarly works should review Policy 2:18 - Publication Delays for Theses and Dissertations (http://www.sdstate.edu/policies/upload/Publication-Delays-for-Theses-and-Dissertations.pdf).
Currently, SDSU does not support the submission of digital media or other types of materials with the thesis or dissertation. All information the student desires to submit to the University in support of the thesis or dissertation must be contained in the document itself. Use of an Appendix may be useful in this regard.
Approved by Graduate Council September 18, 2012.