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Dissertation Guide

Information for doctoral students preparing for, writing, or submitting their dissertations

Dissertation Format

The completed dissertation contains five chapters (see specific information about page layout and text requirements in the Dissertation Guide section of Lamson Library page):


Chapter 1: Introduction and Purpose of the Study. This chapter makes a case for the significance of the problem. It provides an introduction to the basic components of the study and states the research question(s) that guide the inquiry. It should include an overview of the purpose and focus of the study, why it is significant, how it was conducted, and how it will contribute to professional knowledge and practice. Research questions are directly tied to the purpose. They should be specific, clearly stated, and open ended (stay away from yes/no questions if you can). Research questions cue readers to the direction the study will take and help to delineate the scope of the study.


Chapter 2: Literature Review. This chapter locates the study in the context of previous research and scholarly material pertaining to the topic, presents a critical synthesis of relevant literature according to themes or variables, and outlines the theoretical or conceptual framework of the study. A high quality literature review incorporates: a comprehensive and thoughtful selection of resources that cover the material directly related to the study’s problem statement, purpose, and research questions; primary sources and empirical research studies; and correct use of American Psychological Association (APA) format, citations, and references.


Chapter 3: Methodology. This chapter situates the study within a particular methodological tradition, provides a rationale for that approach, describes the research setting and sample, and describes data collection and analysis methods. The chapter provides a detailed description of all aspects of the design and procedures of the study.


Chapter 4: Data Analysis and Findings. This chapter reports study findings, including the presentation of relevant quantitative (statistical) and qualitative (narrative) data. A clear, complete, and valid representation of the data (e.g. patterns, themes) that have emerged as a result of the study are reported in this chapter. Findings are presented objectively, without speculation. Presentation of data findings should be related to the research questions and focus of the study.


Chapter 5: Conclusions and Suggestions for Further Research (or Analysis and Synthesis; or Conclusions and Recommendations). This chapter synthesizes and discusses the results in light of the study’s research questions, literature review, and conceptual framework. This chapter reflects a deep understanding of what lies beneath the findings—that is, what those findings really mean. Interpretation is presented systematically, and is related to the themes or patterns that have emerged. This chapter presents a set of concluding statements and recommendations based on findings, and warranted by the findings. This chapter reflects the contribution the researcher has made to the knowledge and practice in his or her field of study. In many ways, it provides validation for the researcher’s entrance into the ranks of the body of scholars in the field.


Page Layout and Text Requirements


The left margin must be at least 1.5 inches (recommend 1.7). All other margins must be at least 1 inch. Nothing may invade a margin. Every page must meet margin requirements.

Page Numbering

Page numbers must appear at the top right corner of pages, at least 1 inch from the top edge of the page and at least 1 inch from the right edge of the page. Page numbers must not invade any margins. There should be at least one return between the page number and the first line of text.

  • Pretext pages: The abstract, copyright page, title page, and signature page in the pretext section are not numbered. Beginning with the page after the signature page, pretext pages are numbered with lower case Roman numerals (e.g., i, ii, iii, iv)
  • Body: The body of the text, including Appendix/Appendices and Bibliography, are numbered consecutively with Arabic Numbers (e.g. 2, 3, etc.). Page one, although counted, is not numbered. Most software comes with the ability to suppress page one numbering. If your software does not have this ability, remove the page number from page one manually.


Your document begins with its title repeated and centered on page one. Titles longer than one line should be single-spaced. The document’s title does not count as a heading level.

Text Spacing

Use double spacing for the body of text. Follow APA spacing guidelines.

Text Format Requirements


Use regular, 12-point size for text and Times New Roman throughout the document.


Refer to APA for heading format. All headings, regardless of level, must be the same font size.

Appendix Heading Page

A numbered, counted page should be inserted in front of your document’s appendix/appendices. The word APPENDIX (or APPENDICES) should be centered about 1/3 down this page. This heading page and its page number should appear in the Table of Contents.

Blocked Quotes

Use Blocked Quotes for lengthy quoted material. Refer to APA for guidelines.


Use the same font size as within the text. Refer to APA for guidelines.

Orphan Lines

No orphan lines may appear at the top or bottom of a page.


Figures may be located in one of two places in your document. You must choose one system, and use it consistently throughout your work.

Insert the figure within the text, as close as possible after the first reference is made to it.
Place your figures at the end of the chapter in which it is first discussed or referenced.

Figure Labels and Captions

The definition of a figure is quite broad. “Figures” include charts, diagrams, drawings, examples, graphs, illustrations, maps, photographs, etc. In the majority of cases, if it’s not a table, it is a figure. A figure’s labels denote the type of figure and its number, and a figure’s caption is its title and description. Every figure must have a label and caption unless there is only one figure of its type in the document. Use consecutive label numbers by order of appearance within the text. Each figure must have a unique number. Illustrations that take up more than one page should have the label followed by “(Continued)” on the second page. Label and caption font size is the same as body text size. Use adequate (at least one return) and consistent spacing between a figure and its label and caption, and between the figure and text. A figure’s label and caption should be placed outside its boundaries, commonly above a table and below an illustration. If both a figure and its label and caption do not fit on one page, place only the label on the page with the figure, and place the label and caption on a separate page that precedes the figure (called a legend page). Single-space the label and caption and center it 1/3 of the way down the page. Include no other text on this page. All figures must be listed in the pretext pages’ List of Figures. List the page number of the legend page in the pretext list.


A table is broadly defined as a compact, systematic list of data (facts, figures, values, etc.), generally arranged in columns and/or rows. All tables must be listed in the pretext pages’ List of Tables.

Table Captions

These are located above the table, on the same page as the table. Table captions should contain the illustration number, i.e., Table 1 and its title. You may number tables consecutively throughout the text or within the chapter, i.e., Table 1.1 for the first table in Chapter 1 and Table 2.1 for the first title in Chapter 2. As always, pick one method and use it consistently throughout your document.


Because of their shape, some figures may need to be placed crosswise on a page. If so, the top of the figure should be at the left margin as viewed normally (i.e. portrait orientation), and the caption should be parallel to the right margin. The page number keeps the same location and orientation as all other page numbers in the text. Margin requirements apply.


Figures should be photocopied directly onto the cotton bond paper whenever possible. If it is necessary to use original figures, they must be mounted onto the cotton bond paper with a spray adhesive. Rubber cement should not be used, because it yellows and deteriorates over time. To test if your figure is correctly mounted, put your fingernail under an edge and try to lift it away from the cotton bond paper-if it lifts even slightly at any edge, you must fasten it again.


Color used to differentiate lines, bars, or segments will reproduce as shades of gray on microfilm and in photocopies. Choose high-contrast colors that will remain distinct in the black-and-white process, or use symbols with or without the color. Photocopy the image directly onto cotton bond paper or use a laser printer. Do not print with water-based ink.

Oversized Figures

There are 3 ways of managing the inclusion of oversized figures:

  • Reduction: Photographically reduce the size of figures to meet margin requirements. Page numbers and figure captions must remain the same font size as the text.
  • Accordion Fold: The final, folded page must be 11 inches in height and no more than 8 inches wide. Fold the page from right to left, making the final folded width 8 inches. Fold the page a second time from left to right so the page number appears in the same position as all other pages in the text.
  • Pocket Addition: The Library will attach a pocket to the back binding and fold the figure to fit it.

Document Parts

The document parts are presented in order of appearance.

Regardless of general format, the dissertation includes particular parts in an established order as listed below. Model pages are provided for most pretext pages. In all cases, margin requirements apply (see above) and the same font style/size must be used in the body of the text and elsewhere. All titles of pretext pages should be formatted identically with respect to font size and style.

  1. Pretext Pages


    1. Flyleaf—a blank page
    2. Abstract (see Figures 2, 3). An abstract is a summary of the document’s purpose, methods, major findings, and conclusions. All library copy abstracts must include the major professor’s original signature. Your name (designated “Student Name”) must appear exactly the same throughout the document. In all cases, use the official name of the major. Underline where indicated. Figure 2. Abstract.

      Figure 2. Abstract.

    3. Copyright Page (see Figure 3)-optional but recommended. Print your name exactly as you did in the Abstract. Wording should begin 10 returns from the first line.Figure 3. Optional Copyright Page.

      Figure 3. Optional Copyright Page.

    4. Title Page (see Figure 4)

      Figure 4. Dissertation Title Page.

    5. Approval Page (see Figure 5). All signatures collected on the library copies’ approval pages must be original. Your signature constitutes consent to have your document available for public reference in Lamson Library.Signature approval page

      Figure 5. Standard Approval Page

    6. Acknowledgments (see Figure 6)-optional but recommended. The exact content of this page is up to you. Use same text spacing as in your dissertation chapters.Figure 6. Acknowledgement Page.

      Figure 6. Acknowledgement Page.

    7. Table of Contents (see figures 7 and 8). Ensure that the page numbers accurately reflect where the headings appear in the text. Listing the chapter headings in the Table of Contents is required; listing the subheadings is optional, and you may list some levels but not others. Levels are denoted by indention in the Table of Contents. Wording, spelling, and capitalization of headings in the Table of Contents must match the heading in the body of the text exactly. If headings are numbered in the Table of Contents, they must be numbered correspondingly in the text.

      List appendix or appendices (if applicable) in the Table of Contents or in a separate List of Appendices. In either case, list the Appendices Heading Page (see page 3) in the Table of Contents. When listing an individual appendix, include its title.

      If the Table of Contents is more than one page, subsequent pages should be headed “TABLE OF CONTENTS (Continued).”

      Return twice between the TABLE OF CONTENTS heading and the first item in the table.

      Do not underline, bold, or italicize in the Table of Contents (unless the heading is a scientific species name)

      Figure 7. Table of Contents with Numbering

      Figure 7. Table of Contents with Numbering

      Figure 8. Table of Contents without Numbering

      Figure 8. Table of Contents without Numbering

    8. List of Figures (see figures 9 and 10). Lists are required if two or more figures appear within the text.

    9. List of Tables (see figures 9 and 10). Lists are required if two or more tables appear within the text.

      Choose one of the two methods of numbering in the model pages illustrated in see figures 9 and 10 and use it for both Lists of Figures and Lists of Tables. If a list is longer than one page, subsequent pages should be headed “LIST OF FIGURES (Continued)” or “LIST OF TABLES (Continued).” The first sentence of the figure or table caption must be listed, and the wording must match the text exactly. List only one page number per figure or table. When there is a legend page in front of a figure (see information on FIGURES below), list the legend page only.

      Figures in the appendices are listed on a separate List of Appendix Figures list.

      Return twice between the LIST OF FIGURES/TABLES heading and the first listing.

      Single-space listings with a single return if double spacing is used in the text, or 2 returns if 1.5 spacing is used.

      Figure 9. List of Figures/Tables with Consecutive Numbering

      Figure 9. List of Figures/Tables with Consecutive Numbering

      Figure 10. List of Figures/Tables with Numbering by Chapter

      Figure 10. List of Figures/Tables with Numbering by Chapter

    10. List of Appendices. If list of appendices is short, it may be attached to the Table of Contents. For more than 5 appendices, or if different heading levels are listed in the appendices, a separate List of Appendices is required. If two or more figures appear in the appendices, a List of Appendix Figures and/or a List of Appendix Tables are required.

    11. List of Appendix Figures. For two or more figures in the appendices.

    12. List of Appendix Tables. For two or more tables in the appendices.

    13. Other Lists. If you are including other lists, such as lists of abbreviations, nomenclature, symbols, and so forth, each list must have its own page. The elements of these lists do not need numbering or page numbers.

    14. Dedication (optional) If desired, you may dedicate your document to the honor of someone. Dedications are usually short. Margin requirements apply. Use the same font/font size as text body. Arrangement of page is at your discretion.

  2. Body of Text (follow standard or manuscript document format)
  3. References
  4. Appendix/Appendices
  5. Biography (optional)A biography of the candidate is optional and may be included in the dissertation. It should be written in the third person and include the following information: place of birth, place and date of college graduation with degree(s) and major(s), professional or employment experience, scholarly publications, memberships in professional or honorary societies, and future plans or employment. The last sentence must state, “S/He is a candidate for the—degree in — from Plymouth State University in Month, Year.”.
  6. Flyleaf (a blank page not numbered)

Printing and Packaging

It is recommended that 20-30 lb white acid free thesis paper be used. Purchase enough to use the same paper throughout the document and for any pages that are corrected after submission. Flyleaf pages are also the same paper.

Printing Specifications

The document’s text must appear on only one side of the cotton bond paper. It is preferable to photocopy the final document onto white acid free thesis paper; however, it is permissible to use a laser printer, available in Lamson Library and Learning Commons. Do not use inkjet or water soluble ink. Pages that have bleeding ink will be returned. Pages with broken text, ink blemishes, and crooked text must be recopied. Remember to examine the pagination of your document before printing.  Pages from page 2 onward should have consecutive page numbers that are the same font size and located in the same position. After the copying process is complete, count the pages again to be sure none were skipped.

Sample Dissertation

This sample may prove helpful, but be sure to verify all formatting decisions with your dissertation adviser or committee.