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What is a dissertation abstract and how do I write one for my PhD?

Feb 12, 2019

write a phd thesis abstract

There are a lot of posts that talk about how to write an abstract. Most say that you should write your abstract to impress your examiner.

We say that you need to flip things upside down: sure, your examiner will read it and want to see that you’ve written it well, but you should actually have your next boss in mind when you write it.

When you apply for your first academic job, the abstract may be the only part of your thesis that your new boss will read. They may not have the time or energy to read the whole thesis, so the abstract plays a crucial role. You should write it as if you academic career depends on it.

In this guide we talk about how to write an outstanding abstract that will (hopefully) land you a job.

If you haven’t already, make sure you download our PhD Writing Template , which you can use in conjunction with this guide to supercharge your PhD.

What is an abstract?

  This is fairly straightforward stuff, but let us be clear so we are all on the same page.

An abstract is a short summary at the beginning of the PhD that sums up the research, summarises the separate sections of the thesis and outlines the contribution.

It is typically used by those wishing to get a broad understanding of a piece of research prior to reading the entire thesis.

When you apply for your first academic job, the hiring manager will take a look through applicants’ abstracts (as well as your CV and covering letter) to create a shortlist. If you are lucky enough to do well at an interview, your potential new boss will take another look through it before deciding whether to offer you the job.

Why don’t they read the whole thing? Apart from the fact that they’re way too busy to read 200+ pages, a well written abstract actually contains all they need to know. It is a way of letting them see what your research is about, what contribution it makes, what your understanding of the field is and how or whether you will fit into the department.

So, you need to write it well.

But, don’t underestimate how hard it is to write a PhD thesis abstract. You have to condense hundred of pages and years of work into a few hundred words (exactly how many will depend on your university, so double check with them before you start writing).

How do I write a good PhD abstract?

phd thesis abstract length

Some blog posts use keywords to summarise the content (this one does, scroll down to see them). The abstract is similar. It’s an extended set of keywords to summarise a complex piece of research.

Above all, your PhD abstract should answer the question: ‘so what’ ? In other words, what is the contribution of your thesis to the field?

If you’ve been using our PhD writing template you’ll know that, to do this, your abstract should address six questions:

  • What is the reason for writing the thesis?
  • What are the current approaches and gaps in the literature?
  • What are your research question(s) and aims?
  • Which methodology have you used?
  • What are the main findings?
  • What are the main conclusions and implications?

One thing that should be obvious is that you can’t write your abstract until the study itself has been written. It’ll typically be the last thing you write (alongside the acknowledgements).

But how can I write a great one?

  The tricky thing about writing a great PhD abstract is that you haven’t got much space to answer the six questions above. There are a few things to consider though that will help to elevate your writing and make your abstract as efficient as possible:

  • Give a good first impression by writing in short clear sentences
  • Don’t repeat the title in the abstract
  • Don’t cite references
  • Use keywords from the document
  • Respect the word limit
  • Don’t be vague – the abstract should be a self contained summary of the research, so don’t introduce ambiguous words or complex terms
  • Focus on just four or five essential points, concepts, or findings. Don’t, for example, try to explain your entire theoretical framework
  • Edit it carefully. Make sure every word is relevant (you haven’t got room for wasted words) and that each sentence has maximum impact
  • Avoid lengthy background information
  • Don’t mention anything that isn’t discussed in the thesis
  • Avoid overstatements
  • Don’t spin your findings, contribution or significance to make your research sound grander or more influential that it actually is

Examples of a good and bad abstract

phd thesis abstract length

We can see that the bad abstract fails to answer the six questions posed above. It reads more like a PhD proposal, rather than a summary of a piece of research.

Specifically:

  • It doesn’t discuss the reason why the thesis was written
  • It doesn’t outline the gaps in the literature
  • It doesn’t outline the research questions or aims
  • It doesn’t discuss the methods
  • It doesn’t discuss the findings
  • It doesn’t discuss the conclusions and implications of the research.

It is also too short, lacks adequate keywords and introduces unnecessary detail. The abbreviations and references only serve to confuse the reader and the claim that the thesis will ‘develop a new theory of climate change’ is both vague and over-ambitious. The reader will see through this.

phd thesis abstract length

The good abstract though does a much better job at answering the six questions and summarising the research.

  • The reason why the thesis was written is stated: ‘We do so to better enable policy makers and academics to understand the nuances of multi-level climate governance’ and….’it informs our theoretical understanding of climate governance by introducing a focus on local government hitherto lacking, and informs our empirical understanding of housing and recycling policy.’
  • The gap is clearly defined: ‘The theory has neglected to account for the role of local governments.’
  • The research question are laid out: ‘We ask to what extent and in what ways local governments in the UK’…
  • The methods are hinted at: ‘Using a case study…’
  • The findings are summarised: ‘We show that local governments are both implementers and interpreters of policy. We also show that they make innovative contributions to and influence the direction of national policy.’
  • The conclusions and implications are clear: ‘The significance of this study is that it informs our theoretical understanding of climate governance by introducing a focus on local government hitherto lacking, and informs our empirical understanding of housing and recycling policy.’

This abstract is of a much better length, and it fully summarises what the thesis is about. We can see that if someone (i.e. your hiring manager) were to read just this abstract, they’d understand what your thesis is about and the contribution that it makes.

phd thesis abstract length

Your PhD thesis. All on one page. 

Use our free PhD structure template to quickly visualise every element of your thesis. 

I can’t summarise my thesis, what do I do?

  We suggest you fill out our PhD Writing Template . We’ve designed it so that you can visualise your PhD on one page and easily see the main components. It’s really easy to use. It asks you a few questions related to each section of your thesis. As you answer them, you develop a synopsis. You can use that synopsis to inform your abstract. If you haven’t downloaded it, you can find it here.

  Like everything related to writing, it takes practice before you get great at writing abstracts. Follow our tips and you’ll have a head start over others.

Remember, you’re not writing your abstract for anyone other than your hiring manager. Make sure it showcases the best of your research and shows your skills as both a researcher and a writer.

If you’re struggling, send us your abstract by email and we’ll have give you free advice on how to improve it.

Hello, Doctor…

Sounds good, doesn’t it?  Be able to call yourself Doctor sooner with our five-star rated How to Write A PhD email-course. Learn everything your supervisor should have taught you about planning and completing a PhD.

Now half price. Join hundreds of other students and become a better thesis writer, or your money back. 

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Belén

Hello! I am a first year PhD student and I am interested in your Thesis writing course. However, I don’t have Paypal, thus I would like to know if there is an alternative way for you to get paid. I hope so, because I have been “following” you and I think the course can be really useful for me 🙂 Hope to hear from you soon. Best wishes, Belén Merelas

Dr. Max Lempriere

Thanks for the comment – I have sent you an email.

MARIA ELENI TAXOPOULOU

Hello! I am a Master’s student and I have applied for a PhD position. The professors have asked me to write a short abstract-like text, based on a brief sentence they will send me, related to the project study. How am I supposed to write a text like that when I don’t have the whole paper, the methods, results etc? Thank you in advance!

Hi Maria. I’m afraid that without knowing more about your topic or subject I am unable to give you advice on this. Sorry I can’t help in the way you may have hoped.

Anna H. Smith

Thank u so much… your tips have really helped me to broaden my scope on the idea of how to write an abstract for my Ph.D. course. This is so thoughtful of you… The article is very informative and helpful…Thanks again!

I’m so pleased. Thanks for your lovely words. They’re music to my ears.

Owurayere

Very insightful Thanks

Glad you think so. Good luck with the writing.

Peter Manyoni

Thank you so much Doc

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Know How to Structure Your PhD Thesis

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Table of Contents

In your academic career, few projects are more important than your PhD thesis. Unfortunately, many university professors and advisors assume that their students know how to structure a PhD. Books have literally been written on the subject, but there’s no need to read a book in order to know about PhD thesis paper format and structure. With that said, however, it’s important to understand that your PhD thesis format requirement may not be the same as another student’s. The bottom line is that how to structure a PhD thesis often depends on your university and department guidelines.

But, let’s take a look at a general PhD thesis format. We’ll look at the main sections, and how to connect them to each other. We’ll also examine different hints and tips for each of the sections. As you read through this toolkit, compare it to published PhD theses in your area of study to see how a real-life example looks.

Main Sections of a PhD Thesis

In almost every PhD thesis or dissertation, there are standard sections. Of course, some of these may differ, depending on your university or department requirements, as well as your topic of study, but this will give you a good idea of the basic components of a PhD thesis format.

  • Abstract : The abstract is a brief summary that quickly outlines your research, touches on each of the main sections of your thesis, and clearly outlines your contribution to the field by way of your PhD thesis. Even though the abstract is very short, similar to what you’ve seen in published research articles, its impact shouldn’t be underestimated. The abstract is there to answer the most important question to the reviewer. “Why is this important?”
  • Introduction : In this section, you help the reviewer understand your entire dissertation, including what your paper is about, why it’s important to the field, a brief description of your methodology, and how your research and the thesis are laid out. Think of your introduction as an expansion of your abstract.
  • Literature Review : Within the literature review, you are making a case for your new research by telling the story of the work that’s already been done. You’ll cover a bit about the history of the topic at hand, and how your study fits into the present and future.
  • Theory Framework : Here, you explain assumptions related to your study. Here you’re explaining to the review what theoretical concepts you might have used in your research, how it relates to existing knowledge and ideas.
  • Methods : This section of a PhD thesis is typically the most detailed and descriptive, depending of course on your research design. Here you’ll discuss the specific techniques you used to get the information you were looking for, in addition to how those methods are relevant and appropriate, as well as how you specifically used each method described.
  • Results : Here you present your empirical findings. This section is sometimes also called the “empiracles” chapter. This section is usually pretty straightforward and technical, and full of details. Don’t shortcut this chapter.
  • Discussion : This can be a tricky chapter, because it’s where you want to show the reviewer that you know what you’re talking about. You need to speak as a PhD versus a student. The discussion chapter is similar to the empirical/results chapter, but you’re building on those results to push the new information that you learned, prior to making your conclusion.
  • Conclusion : Here, you take a step back and reflect on what your original goals and intentions for the research were. You’ll outline them in context of your new findings and expertise.

Tips for your PhD Thesis Format

As you put together your PhD thesis, it’s easy to get a little overwhelmed. Here are some tips that might keep you on track.

  • Don’t try to write your PhD as a first-draft. Every great masterwork has typically been edited, and edited, and…edited.
  • Work with your thesis supervisor to plan the structure and format of your PhD thesis. Be prepared to rewrite each section, as you work out rough drafts. Don’t get discouraged by this process. It’s typical.
  • Make your writing interesting. Academic writing has a reputation of being very dry.
  • You don’t have to necessarily work on the chapters and sections outlined above in chronological order. Work on each section as things come up, and while your work on that section is relevant to what you’re doing.
  • Don’t rush things. Write a first draft, and leave it for a few days, so you can come back to it with a more critical take. Look at it objectively and carefully grammatical errors, clarity, logic and flow.
  • Know what style your references need to be in, and utilize tools out there to organize them in the required format.
  • It’s easier to accidentally plagiarize than you think. Make sure you’re referencing appropriately, and check your document for inadvertent plagiarism throughout your writing process.

PhD Thesis Editing Plus

Want some support during your PhD writing process? Our PhD Thesis Editing Plus service includes extensive and detailed editing of your thesis to improve the flow and quality of your writing. Unlimited editing support for guaranteed results. Learn more here , and get started today!

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  • Formatting Your Dissertation
  • Introduction

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
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  • Advanced Planning
  • Dissertation Submission Checklist
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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. 

Recommended Fonts

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. 

  • double-spaced
  • left-justified
  • 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):

  • bibliography
  • 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.

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Frequently asked questions

How long is a dissertation abstract.

An abstract for a thesis or dissertation is usually around 200–300 words. There’s often a strict word limit, so make sure to check your university’s requirements.

Frequently asked questions: Dissertation

Dissertation word counts vary widely across different fields, institutions, and levels of education:

  • An undergraduate dissertation is typically 8,000–15,000 words
  • A master’s dissertation is typically 12,000–50,000 words
  • A PhD thesis is typically book-length: 70,000–100,000 words

However, none of these are strict guidelines – your word count may be lower or higher than the numbers stated here. Always check the guidelines provided by your university to determine how long your own dissertation should be.

A dissertation prospectus or proposal describes what or who you plan to research for your dissertation. It delves into why, when, where, and how you will do your research, as well as helps you choose a type of research to pursue. You should also determine whether you plan to pursue qualitative or quantitative methods and what your research design will look like.

It should outline all of the decisions you have taken about your project, from your dissertation topic to your hypotheses and research objectives , ready to be approved by your supervisor or committee.

Note that some departments require a defense component, where you present your prospectus to your committee orally.

A thesis is typically written by students finishing up a bachelor’s or Master’s degree. Some educational institutions, particularly in the liberal arts, have mandatory theses, but they are often not mandatory to graduate from bachelor’s degrees. It is more common for a thesis to be a graduation requirement from a Master’s degree.

Even if not mandatory, you may want to consider writing a thesis if you:

  • Plan to attend graduate school soon
  • Have a particular topic you’d like to study more in-depth
  • Are considering a career in research
  • Would like a capstone experience to tie up your academic experience

The conclusion of your thesis or dissertation should include the following:

  • A restatement of your research question
  • A summary of your key arguments and/or results
  • A short discussion of the implications of your research

The conclusion of your thesis or dissertation shouldn’t take up more than 5–7% of your overall word count.

For a stronger dissertation conclusion , avoid including:

  • Important evidence or analysis that wasn’t mentioned in the discussion section and results section
  • Generic concluding phrases (e.g. “In conclusion …”)
  • Weak statements that undermine your argument (e.g., “There are good points on both sides of this issue.”)

Your conclusion should leave the reader with a strong, decisive impression of your work.

While it may be tempting to present new arguments or evidence in your thesis or disseration conclusion , especially if you have a particularly striking argument you’d like to finish your analysis with, you shouldn’t. Theses and dissertations follow a more formal structure than this.

All your findings and arguments should be presented in the body of the text (more specifically in the discussion section and results section .) The conclusion is meant to summarize and reflect on the evidence and arguments you have already presented, not introduce new ones.

A theoretical framework can sometimes be integrated into a  literature review chapter , but it can also be included as its own chapter or section in your dissertation . As a rule of thumb, if your research involves dealing with a lot of complex theories, it’s a good idea to include a separate theoretical framework chapter.

A literature review and a theoretical framework are not the same thing and cannot be used interchangeably. While a theoretical framework describes the theoretical underpinnings of your work, a literature review critically evaluates existing research relating to your topic. You’ll likely need both in your dissertation .

While a theoretical framework describes the theoretical underpinnings of your work based on existing research, a conceptual framework allows you to draw your own conclusions, mapping out the variables you may use in your study and the interplay between them.

A thesis or dissertation outline is one of the most critical first steps in your writing process. It helps you to lay out and organize your ideas and can provide you with a roadmap for deciding what kind of research you’d like to undertake.

Generally, an outline contains information on the different sections included in your thesis or dissertation , such as:

  • Your anticipated title
  • Your abstract
  • Your chapters (sometimes subdivided into further topics like literature review , research methods , avenues for future research, etc.)

When you mention different chapters within your text, it’s considered best to use Roman numerals for most citation styles. However, the most important thing here is to remain consistent whenever using numbers in your dissertation .

In most styles, the title page is used purely to provide information and doesn’t include any images. Ask your supervisor if you are allowed to include an image on the title page before doing so. If you do decide to include one, make sure to check whether you need permission from the creator of the image.

Include a note directly beneath the image acknowledging where it comes from, beginning with the word “ Note .” (italicized and followed by a period). Include a citation and copyright attribution . Don’t title, number, or label the image as a figure , since it doesn’t appear in your main text.

Definitional terms often fall into the category of common knowledge , meaning that they don’t necessarily have to be cited. This guidance can apply to your thesis or dissertation glossary as well.

However, if you’d prefer to cite your sources , you can follow guidance for citing dictionary entries in MLA or APA style for your glossary.

A glossary is a collection of words pertaining to a specific topic. In your thesis or dissertation, it’s a list of all terms you used that may not immediately be obvious to your reader. In contrast, an index is a list of the contents of your work organized by page number.

The title page of your thesis or dissertation goes first, before all other content or lists that you may choose to include.

The title page of your thesis or dissertation should include your name, department, institution, degree program, and submission date.

Glossaries are not mandatory, but if you use a lot of technical or field-specific terms, it may improve readability to add one to your thesis or dissertation. Your educational institution may also require them, so be sure to check their specific guidelines.

A glossary or “glossary of terms” is a collection of words pertaining to a specific topic. In your thesis or dissertation, it’s a list of all terms you used that may not immediately be obvious to your reader. Your glossary only needs to include terms that your reader may not be familiar with, and is intended to enhance their understanding of your work.

A glossary is a collection of words pertaining to a specific topic. In your thesis or dissertation, it’s a list of all terms you used that may not immediately be obvious to your reader. In contrast, dictionaries are more general collections of words.

An abbreviation is a shortened version of an existing word, such as Dr. for Doctor. In contrast, an acronym uses the first letter of each word to create a wholly new word, such as UNESCO (an acronym for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization).

As a rule of thumb, write the explanation in full the first time you use an acronym or abbreviation. You can then proceed with the shortened version. However, if the abbreviation is very common (like PC, USA, or DNA), then you can use the abbreviated version from the get-go.

Be sure to add each abbreviation in your list of abbreviations !

If you only used a few abbreviations in your thesis or dissertation , you don’t necessarily need to include a list of abbreviations .

If your abbreviations are numerous, or if you think they won’t be known to your audience, it’s never a bad idea to add one. They can also improve readability, minimizing confusion about abbreviations unfamiliar to your reader.

A list of abbreviations is a list of all the abbreviations that you used in your thesis or dissertation. It should appear at the beginning of your document, with items in alphabetical order, just after your table of contents .

Your list of tables and figures should go directly after your table of contents in your thesis or dissertation.

Lists of figures and tables are often not required, and aren’t particularly common. They specifically aren’t required for APA-Style, though you should be careful to follow their other guidelines for figures and tables .

If you have many figures and tables in your thesis or dissertation, include one may help you stay organized. Your educational institution may require them, so be sure to check their guidelines.

A list of figures and tables compiles all of the figures and tables that you used in your thesis or dissertation and displays them with the page number where they can be found.

The table of contents in a thesis or dissertation always goes between your abstract and your introduction .

You may acknowledge God in your dissertation acknowledgements , but be sure to follow academic convention by also thanking the members of academia, as well as family, colleagues, and friends who helped you.

A literature review is a survey of credible sources on a topic, often used in dissertations , theses, and research papers . Literature reviews give an overview of knowledge on a subject, helping you identify relevant theories and methods, as well as gaps in existing research. Literature reviews are set up similarly to other  academic texts , with an introduction , a main body, and a conclusion .

An  annotated bibliography is a list of  source references that has a short description (called an annotation ) for each of the sources. It is often assigned as part of the research process for a  paper .  

In a thesis or dissertation, the discussion is an in-depth exploration of the results, going into detail about the meaning of your findings and citing relevant sources to put them in context.

The conclusion is more shorter and more general: it concisely answers your main research question and makes recommendations based on your overall findings.

In the discussion , you explore the meaning and relevance of your research results , explaining how they fit with existing research and theory. Discuss:

  • Your  interpretations : what do the results tell us?
  • The  implications : why do the results matter?
  • The  limitation s : what can’t the results tell us?

The results chapter or section simply and objectively reports what you found, without speculating on why you found these results. The discussion interprets the meaning of the results, puts them in context, and explains why they matter.

In qualitative research , results and discussion are sometimes combined. But in quantitative research , it’s considered important to separate the objective results from your interpretation of them.

Results are usually written in the past tense , because they are describing the outcome of completed actions.

The results chapter of a thesis or dissertation presents your research results concisely and objectively.

In quantitative research , for each question or hypothesis , state:

  • The type of analysis used
  • Relevant results in the form of descriptive and inferential statistics
  • Whether or not the alternative hypothesis was supported

In qualitative research , for each question or theme, describe:

  • Recurring patterns
  • Significant or representative individual responses
  • Relevant quotations from the data

Don’t interpret or speculate in the results chapter.

To automatically insert a table of contents in Microsoft Word, follow these steps:

  • Apply heading styles throughout the document.
  • In the references section in the ribbon, locate the Table of Contents group.
  • Click the arrow next to the Table of Contents icon and select Custom Table of Contents.
  • Select which levels of headings you would like to include in the table of contents.

Make sure to update your table of contents if you move text or change headings. To update, simply right click and select Update Field.

All level 1 and 2 headings should be included in your table of contents . That means the titles of your chapters and the main sections within them.

The contents should also include all appendices and the lists of tables and figures, if applicable, as well as your reference list .

Do not include the acknowledgements or abstract in the table of contents.

The abstract appears on its own page in the thesis or dissertation , after the title page and acknowledgements but before the table of contents .

In a thesis or dissertation, the acknowledgements should usually be no longer than one page. There is no minimum length.

The acknowledgements are generally included at the very beginning of your thesis , directly after the title page and before the abstract .

Yes, it’s important to thank your supervisor(s) in the acknowledgements section of your thesis or dissertation .

Even if you feel your supervisor did not contribute greatly to the final product, you must acknowledge them, if only for a very brief thank you. If you do not include your supervisor, it may be seen as a snub.

In the acknowledgements of your thesis or dissertation, you should first thank those who helped you academically or professionally, such as your supervisor, funders, and other academics.

Then you can include personal thanks to friends, family members, or anyone else who supported you during the process.

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Tips for writing a PhD dissertation: FAQs answered

From how to choose a topic to writing the abstract and managing work-life balance through the years it takes to complete a doctorate, here we collect expert advice to get you through the PhD writing process

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Embarking on a PhD is “probably the most challenging task that a young scholar attempts to do”, write Mark Stephan Felix and Ian Smith in their practical guide to dissertation and thesis writing. After years of reading and research to answer a specific question or proposition, the candidate will submit about 80,000 words that explain their methods and results and demonstrate their unique contribution to knowledge. Here are the answers to frequently asked questions about writing a doctoral thesis or dissertation.

What’s the difference between a dissertation and a thesis?

Whatever the genre of the doctorate, a PhD must offer an original contribution to knowledge. The terms “dissertation” and “thesis” both refer to the long-form piece of work produced at the end of a research project and are often used interchangeably. Which one is used might depend on the country, discipline or university. In the UK, “thesis” is generally used for the work done for a PhD, while a “dissertation” is written for a master’s degree. The US did the same until the 1960s, says Oxbridge Essays, when the convention switched, and references appeared to a “master’s thesis” and “doctoral dissertation”. To complicate matters further, undergraduate long essays are also sometimes referred to as a thesis or dissertation.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines “thesis” as “a dissertation, especially by a candidate for a degree” and “dissertation” as “a detailed discourse on a subject, especially one submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements of a degree or diploma”.

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The title “doctor of philosophy”, incidentally, comes from the degree’s origins, write Dr Felix, an associate professor at Mahidol University in Thailand, and Dr Smith, retired associate professor of education at the University of Sydney , whose co-authored guide focuses on the social sciences. The PhD was first awarded in the 19th century by the philosophy departments of German universities, which at that time taught science, social science and liberal arts.

How long should a PhD thesis be?

A PhD thesis (or dissertation) is typically 60,000 to 120,000 words ( 100 to 300 pages in length ) organised into chapters, divisions and subdivisions (with roughly 10,000 words per chapter) – from introduction (with clear aims and objectives) to conclusion.

The structure of a dissertation will vary depending on discipline (humanities, social sciences and STEM all have their own conventions), location and institution. Examples and guides to structure proliferate online. The University of Salford , for example, lists: title page, declaration, acknowledgements, abstract, table of contents, lists of figures, tables and abbreviations (where needed), chapters, appendices and references.

A scientific-style thesis will likely need: introduction, literature review, materials and methods, results, discussion, bibliography and references.

As well as checking the overall criteria and expectations of your institution for your research, consult your school handbook for the required length and format (font, layout conventions and so on) for your dissertation.

A PhD takes three to four years to complete; this might extend to six to eight years for a part-time doctorate.

What are the steps for completing a PhD?

Before you get started in earnest , you’ll likely have found a potential supervisor, who will guide your PhD journey, and done a research proposal (which outlines what you plan to research and how) as part of your application, as well as a literature review of existing scholarship in the field, which may form part of your final submission.

In the UK, PhD candidates undertake original research and write the results in a thesis or dissertation, says author and vlogger Simon Clark , who posted videos to YouTube throughout his own PhD journey . Then they submit the thesis in hard copy and attend the viva voce (which is Latin for “living voice” and is also called an oral defence or doctoral defence) to convince the examiners that their work is original, understood and all their own. Afterwards, if necessary, they make changes and resubmit. If the changes are approved, the degree is awarded.

The steps are similar in Australia , although candidates are mostly assessed on their thesis only; some universities may include taught courses, and some use a viva voce. A PhD in Australia usually takes three years full time.

In the US, the PhD process begins with taught classes (similar to a taught master’s) and a comprehensive exam (called a “field exam” or “dissertation qualifying exam”) before the candidate embarks on their original research. The whole journey takes four to six years.

A PhD candidate will need three skills and attitudes to get through their doctoral studies, says Tara Brabazon , professor of cultural studies at Flinders University in Australia who has written extensively about the PhD journey :

  • master the academic foundational skills (research, writing, ability to navigate different modalities)
  • time-management skills and the ability to focus on reading and writing
  • determined motivation to do a PhD.

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How do I choose the topic for my PhD dissertation or thesis?

It’s important to find a topic that will sustain your interest for the years it will take to complete a PhD. “Finding a sustainable topic is the most important thing you [as a PhD student] would do,” says Dr Brabazon in a video for Times Higher Education . “Write down on a big piece of paper all the topics, all the ideas, all the questions that really interest you, and start to cross out all the ones that might just be a passing interest.” Also, she says, impose the “Who cares? Who gives a damn?” question to decide if the topic will be useful in a future academic career.

The availability of funding and scholarships is also often an important factor in this decision, says veteran PhD supervisor Richard Godwin, from Harper Adams University .

Define a gap in knowledge – and one that can be questioned, explored, researched and written about in the time available to you, says Gina Wisker, head of the Centre for Learning and Teaching at the University of Brighton. “Set some boundaries,” she advises. “Don’t try to ask everything related to your topic in every way.”

James Hartley, research professor in psychology at Keele University, says it can also be useful to think about topics that spark general interest. If you do pick something that taps into the zeitgeist, your findings are more likely to be noticed.

You also need to find someone else who is interested in it, too. For STEM candidates , this will probably be a case of joining a team of people working in a similar area where, ideally, scholarship funding is available. A centre for doctoral training (CDT) or doctoral training partnership (DTP) will advertise research projects. For those in the liberal arts and social sciences, it will be a matter of identifying a suitable supervisor .

Avoid topics that are too broad (hunger across a whole country, for example) or too narrow (hunger in a single street) to yield useful solutions of academic significance, write Mark Stephan Felix and Ian Smith. And ensure that you’re not repeating previous research or trying to solve a problem that has already been answered. A PhD thesis must be original.

What is a thesis proposal?

After you have read widely to refine your topic and ensure that it and your research methods are original, and discussed your project with a (potential) supervisor, you’re ready to write a thesis proposal , a document of 1,500 to 3,000 words that sets out the proposed direction of your research. In the UK, a research proposal is usually part of the application process for admission to a research degree. As with the final dissertation itself, format varies among disciplines, institutions and countries but will usually contain title page, aims, literature review, methodology, timetable and bibliography. Examples of research proposals are available online.

How to write an abstract for a dissertation or thesis

The abstract presents your thesis to the wider world – and as such may be its most important element , says the NUI Galway writing guide. It outlines the why, how, what and so what of the thesis . Unlike the introduction, which provides background but not research findings, the abstract summarises all sections of the dissertation in a concise, thorough, focused way and demonstrates how well the writer understands their material. Check word-length limits with your university – and stick to them. About 300 to 500 words is a rough guide ­– but it can be up to 1,000 words.

The abstract is also important for selection and indexing of your thesis, according to the University of Melbourne guide , so be sure to include searchable keywords.

It is the first thing to be read but the last element you should write. However, Pat Thomson , professor of education at the University of Nottingham , advises that it is not something to be tackled at the last minute.

How to write a stellar conclusion

As well as chapter conclusions, a thesis often has an overall conclusion to draw together the key points covered and to reflect on the unique contribution to knowledge. It can comment on future implications of the research and open up new ideas emanating from the work. It is shorter and more general than the discussion chapter , says online editing site Scribbr, and reiterates how the work answers the main question posed at the beginning of the thesis. The conclusion chapter also often discusses the limitations of the research (time, scope, word limit, access) in a constructive manner.

It can be useful to keep a collection of ideas as you go – in the online forum DoctoralWriting SIG , academic developer Claire Aitchison, of the University of South Australia , suggests using a “conclusions bank” for themes and inspirations, and using free-writing to keep this final section fresh. (Just when you feel you’ve run out of steam.) Avoid aggrandising or exaggerating the impact of your work. It should remind the reader what has been done, and why it matters.

How to format a bibliography (or where to find a reliable model)

Most universities use a preferred style of references , writes THE associate editor Ingrid Curl. Make sure you know what this is and follow it. “One of the most common errors in academic writing is to cite papers in the text that do not then appear in the bibliography. All references in your thesis need to be cross-checked with the bibliography before submission. Using a database during your research can save a great deal of time in the writing-up process.”

A bibliography contains not only works cited explicitly but also those that have informed or contributed to the research – and as such illustrates its scope; works are not limited to written publications but include sources such as film or visual art.

Examiners can start marking from the back of the script, writes Dr Brabazon. “Just as cooks are judged by their ingredients and implements, we judge doctoral students by the calibre of their sources,” she advises. She also says that candidates should be prepared to speak in an oral examination of the PhD about any texts included in their bibliography, especially if there is a disconnect between the thesis and the texts listed.

Can I use informal language in my PhD?

Don’t write like a stereotypical academic , say Kevin Haggerty, professor of sociology at the University of Alberta , and Aaron Doyle, associate professor in sociology at Carleton University , in their tongue-in-cheek guide to the PhD journey. “If you cannot write clearly and persuasively, everything about PhD study becomes harder.” Avoid jargon, exotic words, passive voice and long, convoluted sentences – and work on it consistently. “Writing is like playing guitar; it can improve only through consistent, concerted effort.”

Be deliberate and take care with your writing . “Write your first draft, leave it and then come back to it with a critical eye. Look objectively at the writing and read it closely for style and sense,” advises THE ’s Ms Curl. “Look out for common errors such as dangling modifiers, subject-verb disagreement and inconsistency. If you are too involved with the text to be able to take a step back and do this, then ask a friend or colleague to read it with a critical eye. Remember Hemingway’s advice: ‘Prose is architecture, not interior decoration.’ Clarity is key.”

How often should a PhD candidate meet with their supervisor?

Since the PhD supervisor provides a range of support and advice – including on research techniques, planning and submission – regular formal supervisions are essential, as is establishing a line of contact such as email if the candidate needs help or advice outside arranged times. The frequency varies according to university, discipline and individual scholars.

Once a week is ideal, says Dr Brabazon. She also advocates a two-hour initial meeting to establish the foundations of the candidate-supervisor relationship .

The University of Edinburgh guide to writing a thesis suggests that creating a timetable of supervisor meetings right at the beginning of the research process will allow candidates to ensure that their work stays on track throughout. The meetings are also the place to get regular feedback on draft chapters.

“A clear structure and a solid framework are vital for research,” writes Dr Godwin on THE Campus . Use your supervisor to establish this and provide a realistic view of what can be achieved. “It is vital to help students identify the true scientific merit, the practical significance of their work and its value to society.”

How to proofread your dissertation (what to look for)

Proofreading is the final step before printing and submission. Give yourself time to ensure that your work is the best it can be . Don’t leave proofreading to the last minute; ideally, break it up into a few close-reading sessions. Find a quiet place without distractions. A checklist can help ensure that all aspects are covered.

Proofing is often helped by a change of format – so it can be easier to read a printout rather than working off the screen – or by reading sections out of order. Fresh eyes are better at spotting typographical errors and inconsistencies, so leave time between writing and proofreading. Check with your university’s policies before asking another person to proofread your thesis for you.

As well as close details such as spelling and grammar, check that all sections are complete, all required elements are included , and nothing is repeated or redundant. Don’t forget to check headings and subheadings. Does the text flow from one section to another? Is the structure clear? Is the work a coherent whole with a clear line throughout?

Ensure consistency in, for example, UK v US spellings, capitalisation, format, numbers (digits or words, commas, units of measurement), contractions, italics and hyphenation. Spellchecks and online plagiarism checkers are also your friend.

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How do you manage your time to complete a PhD dissertation?

Treat your PhD like a full-time job, that is, with an eight-hour working day. Within that, you’ll need to plan your time in a way that gives a sense of progress . Setbacks and periods where it feels as if you are treading water are all but inevitable, so keeping track of small wins is important, writes A Happy PhD blogger Luis P. Prieto.

Be specific with your goals – use the SMART acronym (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timely).

And it’s never too soon to start writing – even if early drafts are overwritten and discarded.

“ Write little and write often . Many of us make the mistake of taking to writing as one would take to a sprint, in other words, with relatively short bursts of intense activity. Whilst this can prove productive, generally speaking it is not sustainable…In addition to sustaining your activity, writing little bits on a frequent basis ensures that you progress with your thinking. The comfort of remaining in abstract thought is common; writing forces us to concretise our thinking,” says Christian Gilliam, AHSS researcher developer at the University of Cambridge ’s Centre for Teaching and Learning.

Make time to write. “If you are more alert early in the day, find times that suit you in the morning; if you are a ‘night person’, block out some writing sessions in the evenings,” advises NUI Galway’s Dermot Burns, a lecturer in English and creative arts. Set targets, keep daily notes of experiment details that you will need in your thesis, don’t confuse writing with editing or revising – and always back up your work.

What work-life balance tips should I follow to complete my dissertation?

During your PhD programme, you may have opportunities to take part in professional development activities, such as teaching, attending academic conferences and publishing your work. Your research may include residencies, field trips or archive visits. This will require time-management skills as well as prioritising where you devote your energy and factoring in rest and relaxation. Organise your routine to suit your needs , and plan for steady and regular progress.

How to deal with setbacks while writing a thesis or dissertation

Have a contingency plan for delays or roadblocks such as unexpected results.

Accept that writing is messy, first drafts are imperfect, and writer’s block is inevitable, says Dr Burns. His tips for breaking it include relaxation to free your mind from clutter, writing a plan and drawing a mind map of key points for clarity. He also advises feedback, reflection and revision: “Progressing from a rough version of your thoughts to a superior and workable text takes time, effort, different perspectives and some expertise.”

“Academia can be a relentlessly brutal merry-go-round of rejection, rebuttal and failure,” writes Lorraine Hope , professor of applied cognitive psychology at the University of Portsmouth, on THE Campus. Resilience is important. Ensure that you and your supervisor have a relationship that supports open, frank, judgement-free communication.

If you found this interesting and want advice and insight from academics and university staff delivered direct to your inbox each week, sign up for the THE Campus newsletter .

Authoring a PhD Thesis: How to Plan, Draft, Write and Finish a Doctoral Dissertation (2003), by Patrick Dunleavy

Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day: A Guide to Starting, Revising, and Finishing Your Doctoral Thesis (1998), by Joan Balker

Challenges in Writing Your Dissertation: Coping with the Emotional, Interpersonal, and Spiritual Struggles (2015), by Noelle Sterne

Emotions and learning: what role do emotions play in how and why students learn?

Campus webinar: how will he keep up with digitalisation, decolonising the curriculum – how do i get started, how mathematical practices can improve your writing, five reasons why primary sources should be used for teaching, four ways to help academics achieve better work-life balance.

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PhD Thesis Guide

This phd thesis guide will guide you step-by-step through the thesis process, from your initial letter of intent to submission of the final document..

All associated forms are conveniently consolidated in the section at the end.

Deadlines & Requirements

Students should register for HST.ThG during any term in which they are conducting research towards their thesis. Regardless of year in program students registered for HST.ThG in a regular term (fall or spring) must meet with their research advisor and complete the  Semi-Annual PhD Student Progress Review Form to receive credit.

Years 1 - 2

  • Students participating in lab rotations during year 1, may use the optional MEMP Rotation Registration Form , to formalize the arrangement and can earn academic credit by enrolling in HST.599. 
  • A first letter of intent ( LOI-1 ) proposing a general area of thesis research and research advisor is required by April 30th of the second year of registration.
  • A second letter of intent ( LOI-2 ) proposing a thesis committee membership and providing a more detailed description of the thesis research is required by April 30th of the third year of registration for approval by the HST-IMES Committee on Academic Programs (HICAP).
  • Beginning in year 4, (or after the LOI-2 is approved) the student must meet with their thesis committee at least once per semester.
  • Students must formally defend their proposal before the approved thesis committee, and submit their committee approved proposal to HICAP  by April 30 of the forth year of registration.
  • Meetings with the thesis committee must be held at least once per semester. 

HST has developed these policies to help keep students on track as they progress through their PhD program. Experience shows that students make more rapid progress towards graduation when they interact regularly with a faculty committee and complete their thesis proposal by the deadline.

Getting Started

Check out these resources  for finding a research lab.

The Thesis Committee: Roles and Responsibilities

Students perform doctoral thesis work under the guidance of a thesis committee consisting of at least three faculty members from Harvard and MIT (including a chair and a research advisor) who will help guide the research. Students are encouraged to form their thesis committee early in the course of the research and in any case by the end of the third year of registration. The HST IMES Committee on Academic Programs (HICAP) approves the composition of the thesis committee via the letter of intent and the thesis proposal (described below). 

Research Advisor

The research advisor is responsible for overseeing the student's thesis project. The research advisor is expected to:

  • oversee the research and mentor the student;
  • provide a supportive research environment, facilities, and financial support;
  • discuss expectations, progress, and milestones with the student and complete the  Semi-Annual PhD Student Progress Review Form each semester;
  • assist the student to prepare for the oral qualifying exam;
  • guide the student in selecting the other members of the thesis committee;
  • help the student prepare for, and attend, meetings of the full thesis committee, to be held at least once per semester;
  • help the student prepare for, and attend, the thesis defense;
  • evaluate the final thesis document.

The research advisor is chosen by the student and must be a faculty member of MIT* or Harvard University and needs no further approval.  HICAP may approve other individuals as research advisor on a student-by-student basis. Students are advised to request approval of non-faculty research advisors as soon as possible.  In order to avoid conflicts of interest, the research advisor may not also be the student's academic advisor. In the event that an academic advisor becomes the research advisor, a new academic advisor will be assigned.

The student and their research advisor must complete the Semi-Annual PhD Student Progress Review during each regular term in order to receive academic credit for research.  Download Semi Annual Review Form

*MIT Senior Research Staff are considered equivalent to faculty members for the purposes of research advising. No additional approval is required.

Thesis Committee Chair

Each HST PhD thesis committee is headed administratively by a chair, chosen by the student in consultation with the research advisor. The thesis committee chair is expected to:

  • provide advice and guidance concerning the thesis research; 
  • oversee meetings of the full thesis committee, to be held at least once per semester;
  • preside at the thesis defense; 
  • review and evaluate the final thesis document.

The thesis committee chair must be well acquainted with the academic policies and procedures of the institution granting the student's degree and be familiar with the student's area of research. The research advisor may not simultaneously serve as thesis committee chair.

For HST PhD students earning degrees through MIT, the thesis committee chair must be an MIT faculty member. A select group of HST program faculty without primary appointments at MIT have been pre-approved by HICAP to chair PhD theses awarded by HST at MIT in cases where the MIT research advisor is an MIT faculty member.**

HST PhD students earning their degree through Harvard follow thesis committee requirements set by the unit granting their degree - either the Biophysics Program or the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS).

** List of non-MIT HST faculty approved to chair MIT thesis proposals when the research advisor is an MIT faculty member.

In addition to the research advisor and the thesis committee chair, the thesis committee must include one or more readers. Readers are expected to:

  • attend meetings of the full thesis committee, to be held at least once per semester;
  • attend the thesis defense; 

Faculty members with relevant expertise from outside of Harvard/MIT may serve as readers, but they may only be counted toward the required three if approved by HICAP.

The members of the thesis committee should have complementary expertise that collectively covers the areas needed to advise a student's thesis research. The committee should also be diverse, so that members are able to offer different perspectives on the student's research. When forming a thesis committee, it is helpful to consider the following questions: 

  • Do the individuals on the committee collectively have the appropriate expertise for the project?
  • Does the committee include at least one individual who can offer different perspectives on the student's research?  The committee should include at least one person who is not closely affiliated with the student's primary lab. Frequent collaborators are acceptable in this capacity if their work exhibits intellectual independence from the research advisor.
  • If the research has a near-term clinical application, does the committee include someone who can add a translational or clinical perspective?  
  • Does the committee conform to HST policies in terms of number, academic appointments, and affiliations of the committee members, research advisor, and thesis committee chair as described elsewhere on this page?

[Friendly advice: Although there is no maximum committee size, three or four is considered optimal. Committees of five members are possible, but more than five is unwieldy.]

Thesis Committee Meetings

Students must meet with their thesis committee at least once each semester beginning in the fourth year of registration. It is the student's responsibility to schedule these meetings; students who encounter difficulties in arranging regular committee meetings can contact Julie Greenberg at jgreenbe [at] mit.edu (jgreenbe[at]mit[dot]edu) .

The format of the thesis committee meeting is at the discretion of the thesis committee chair. In some cases, the following sequence may be helpful:

  • The thesis committee chair, research advisor, and readers meet briefly without the student in the room;
  • The thesis committee chair and readers meet briefly with the student, without the advisor in the room;
  • The student presents their research progress, answers questions, and seeks guidance from the members of the thesis committee;

Please note that thesis committee meetings provide an important opportunity for students to present their research and respond to questions. Therefore, it is in the student's best interest for the research advisor to refrain from defending the research in this setting.

Letters of Intent

Students must submit two letters of intent ( LOI-1 and LOI-2 ) with applicable signatures. 

In LOI-1, students identify a research advisor and a general area of thesis research, described in 100 words or less. It should include the area of expertise of the research advisor and indicate whether IRB approval (Institutional Review Board; for research involving human subjects) and/or IACUC approval (Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee; for research involving vertebrate animals) will be required and, if so, from which institutions. LOI-1 is due by April 30 of the second year of registration and and should be submitted to HICAP, c/o Traci Anderson in E25-518. 

In LOI-2, students provide a description of the thesis research, describing the Background and Significance of the research and making a preliminary statement of Specific Aims (up to 400 words total). In LOI-2, a student also proposes the membership of their thesis committee. In addition to the research advisor, the proposed thesis committee must include a chair and one or more readers, all selected to meet the specified criteria . LOI-2 is due by April 30th of the third year of registration and should be submitted to HICAP, c/o Traci Anderson in E25-518.

LOI-2 is reviewed by the HST-IMES Committee on Academic Programs (HICAP) to determine if the proposed committee meets the specified criteria and if the committee members collectively have the complementary expertise needed to advise the student in executing the proposed research. If HICAP requests any changes to the proposed committee, the student must submit a revised LOI-2 for HICAP review by September 30th of the fourth year of registration. HICAP must approve LOI-2 before the student can proceed to presenting and submitting their thesis proposal. Any changes to the thesis committee membership following HICAP approval of LOI-2 and prior to defense of the thesis proposal must be reported by submitting a revised LOI-2 form to HICAP, c/o tanderso [at] mit.edu (Traci Anderson) . After final HICAP approval of LOI-2, which confirms the thesis committee membership, the student may proceed to present their thesis proposal to the approved thesis committee, as described in the next section.

Students are strongly encouraged to identify tentative thesis committee members and begin meeting with them as early as possible to inform the direction of their research. Following submission of LOI-2, students are required to hold at least one thesis committee meeting per semester. Students must document these meetings via the Semi- Annual PhD Student Progress Review form in order to receive a grade reflecting satisfactory progress in HST.ThG.

Thesis Proposal and Proposal Presentation

For MEMP students receiving their degrees through MIT, successful completion of the Oral Qualifying Exam is a prerequisite for the thesis proposal presentation. For MEMP students receiving their degrees through Harvard, the oral qualifying exam satisfies the proposal presentation requirement.

Proposal Document

Each student must present a thesis proposal to a thesis committee that has been approved by HICAP via the LOI-2 and then submit a full proposal package to HICAP by April 30th of the fourth year of registration. The only exception is for students who substantially change their research focus after the fall term of their third year; in those cases the thesis proposal must be submitted within three semesters of joining a new lab. Students registering for thesis research (HST.THG) who have not met this deadline may be administratively assigned a grade of "U" (unsatisfactory) and receive an academic warning.

The written proposal should be no longer than 4500 words, excluding references. This is intended to help students develop their proposal-writing skills by gaining experience composing a practical proposal; the length is comparable to that required for proposals to the NIH R03 Small Research Grant Program. The proposal should clearly define the research problem, describe the proposed research plan, and defend the significance of the work. Preliminary results are not required. If the proposal consists of multiple aims, with the accomplishment of later aims based on the success of earlier ones, then the proposal should describe a contingency plan in case the early results are not as expected.

Proposal Presentation

The student must formally defend the thesis proposal before the full thesis committee that has been approved by HICAP.

Students should schedule the meeting and reserve a conference room and any audio visual equipment they may require for their presentation. To book a conference room in E25, please contact Joseph Stein ( jrstein [at] mit.edu (jrstein[at]mit[dot]edu) ).

Following the proposal presentation, students should make any requested modifications to the proposal for the committee members to review. Once the committee approves the proposal, the student should obtain the signatures of the committee members on the forms described below as part of the proposal submission package.

[Friendly advice: As a professional courtesy, be sure your committee members have a complete version of your thesis proposal at least one week in advance of the proposal presentation.]

Submission of Proposal Package

When the thesis committee has approved the proposal, the student submits the proposal package to HICAP, c/o Traci Anderson in E25-518, for final approval. HICAP may reject a thesis proposal if it has been defended before a committee that was not previously approved via the LOI-2.

The proposal package includes the following: 

  • the proposal document
  • a brief description of the project background and significance that explains why the work is important;
  • the specific aims of the proposal, including a contingency plan if needed; and
  • an indication of the methods to be used to accomplish the specific aims.
  • signed research advisor agreement form(s);
  • signed chair agreement form (which confirms a successful proposal defense);
  • signed reader agreement form(s).

Thesis Proposal Forms

  • SAMPLE Title Page (doc)
  • Research Advisor Agreement Form (pdf)
  • Chair Agreement Form (pdf)
  • Reader Agreement Form (pdf)

Thesis Defense and Final Thesis Document

When the thesis is substantially complete and fully acceptable to the thesis committee, a public thesis defense is scheduled for the student to present his/her work to the thesis committee and other members of the community. The thesis defense is the last formal examination required for receipt of a doctoral degree. To be considered "public", a defense must be announced to the community at least five working days in advance. At the defense, the thesis committee determines if the research presented is sufficient for granting a doctoral degree. Following a satisfactory thesis defense, the student submits the final thesis document, approved by the research advisor, to Traci Anderson via email (see instructions below).

[Friendly advice: Contact jrstein [at] mit.edu (Joseph Stein) at least two weeks before your scheduled date to arrange for advertising via email and posters. A defense can be canceled for insufficient public notice.]

Before the Thesis Defense 

Committee Approves Student to Defend: The thesis committee, working with the student and reviewing thesis drafts, concludes that the doctoral work is complete. The student should discuss the structure of the defense (general guidelines below) with the thesis committee chair and the research advisor. 

Schedule the Defense: The student schedules a defense at a time when all members of the thesis committee will be physical present. Any exceptions must be approved in advance by the IMES/HST Academic Office.

Reserve Room: It is the student's responsibility to reserve a room and any necessary equipment. Please contact imes-reservation [at] mit.edu (subject: E25%20Room%20Reservation) (IMES Reservation) to  reserve rooms E25-140, E25-141, E25-119/121, E25-521. 

Final Draft: A complete draft of the thesis document is due to the thesis committee two weeks prior to the thesis defense to allow time for review.  The thesis should be written as a single cohesive document; it may include content from published papers (see libraries website on " Use of Previously Published Material in a Thesis ") but it may not be a simple compilation of previously published materials.

Publicize the Defense:   The IMES/HST Academic Office invites the community to attend the defense via email and a notice on the HST website. This requires that the student email a thesis abstract and supplemental information to  jrstein [at] mit.edu (Joseph Stein)  two weeks prior to the thesis defense. The following information should be included: Date and time, Location, (Zoom invitation with password, if offering a hybrid option), Thesis Title, Names of committee members, with academic and professional titles and institutional affiliations. The abstract is limited to 250 words for the poster, but students may optionally submit a second, longer abstract for the email announcement.

Thesis Defense Guidelines

Public Defense: The student should prepare a presentation of 45-60 minutes in length, to be followed by a public question and answer period of 15–30 minutes at discretion of the chair.

Committee Discussion:  Immediately following the public thesis presentation, the student meets privately with the thesis committee and any other faculty members present to explore additional questions at the discretion of the faculty. Then the thesis committee meets in executive session and determines whether the thesis defense was satisfactory. The committee may suggest additions or editorial changes to the thesis document at this point.

Chair Confirms Pass: After the defense, the thesis committee chair should inform Traci Anderson of the outcome via email to tanderso [at] mit.edu (tanderso[at]mit[dot]edu) .

Submitting the Final Thesis Document

Please refer to the MIT libraries  thesis formatting guidelines .

Title page notes. Sample title page  from the MIT Libraries.

Program line : should read, "Submitted to the Harvard-MIT Program in Health Sciences and Technology, in partial fulfillment of the the requirements for the degree of ... "

Copyright : Starting with the June 2023 degree period and as reflected in the  MIT Thesis Specifications , all students retain the copyright of their thesis.  Please review this section for how to list on your title page Signature Page: On the "signed" version, only the student and research advisor should sign. Thesis committee members are not required to sign. On the " Accepted by " line, please list: Collin M. Stultz, MD, PhD/Director, Harvard-MIT Program in Health Sciences and Technology/ Nina T. and Robert H. Rubin Professor in Medical Engineering and Science/Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

The Academic Office will obtain Professor Stultz's signature.

Thesis Submission Components.  As of 4/2021, the MIT libraries have changed their thesis submissions guidelines and are no longer accepting hard copy theses submissions. For most recent guidance from the libraries:  https://libguides.mit.edu/mit-thesis-faq/instructions  

Submit to the Academic Office, via email ( tanderso [at] mit.edu (tanderso[at]mit[dot]edu) )

pdf/A-1 of the final thesis should include an UNSIGNED title page

A separate file with a SIGNED title page by the student and advisor, the Academic Office will get Dr. Collin Stultz's signature.

For the MIT Library thesis processing, fill out the "Thesis Information" here:  https://thesis-submit.mit.edu/

File Naming Information:  https://libguides.mit.edu/

Survey of Earned Doctorates.  The University Provost’s Office will contact all doctoral candidates via email with instructions for completing this survey.

Links to All Forms in This Guide

  • MEMP Rotation Form (optional)
  • Semi-Annual Progress Review Form
  • Letter of Intent One
  • Letter of Intent Two

Final Thesis

  • HST Sample thesis title page  (signed and unsigned)
  • Sample thesis title page  (MIT Libraries)

Format Requirements for Your Dissertation or Thesis

Main navigation.

The final dissertation or thesis manuscript must have a ready-for-publication appearance and standard features.

The Office of the University Registrar does not endorse or verify the accuracy of any dissertation or thesis formatting templates that may be available to you.

It is your student responsibility to make sure that the formatting meets these requirements. Introductory material, text, and appendices must all be clearly and consistently prepared and must meet all of the specifications outlined below.

Once you upload and submit your dissertation or thesis in Axess, and it has been approved by the university, the submission is considered final and no further changes are permitted.

The digital file of the dissertation or thesis, which is sent to Stanford Libraries for cataloging, must meet certain technical requirements to ensure that it can be easily accessed by readers now and into the future. 

Follow the specifications outlined below.

Style and Format

Word and text divisions, style guides, content and layout, special instructions for d.m.a. students, order and content, page orientation, embedded links, supplementary material and publishing, supplementary material, scholarly reference, published papers and multiple authorship, use of copyrighted material, copyrighting your dissertation, file security and file name, stanford university thesis & dissertation publication license.

Pages should be standard U.S. letter size (8.5 x 11 inches).

In order to ensure the future ability to render the document, standard fonts must be used. 

For the main text body, type size should be 10, 11, or 12 point. Smaller font sizes may be used in tables, captions, etc. 

The font color must be black. 

Font Families

Acceptable font styles include:

  • Times New Roman (preferred)
  • Courier, Courier Bold, Courier Oblique, Courier Bold-Oblique;
  • Helvetica, Helvetica Bold, Helvetica Oblique, Helvetica Bold-Oblique;
  • Times, Times Bold, Times Italic, Times Bold-Italic;
  • Computer Modern (or Computer Modern Roman).

Note: Do not use script or ornamental fonts. Do not use proprietary fonts.

If you use mathematical or other scientific notation in your dissertation or thesis using a font other than Symbol, you must embed the font into the PDF that is submitted to the university. 

Inner margins (left edge if single-sided; right edge for even-numbered pages, and left edge for odd-numbered pages if double-sided) must be 1.5 inches. All other margins must be one inch.

Pagination, headers, and/or footers may be placed within the margin, but no closer than one-half inch from the edge of the page.

For double-sided copies, 1.5 inches must be maintained as the inner margin. Margin requirements should apply to the entire document, including the title page.

The main text of the manuscript should be one-and-a-half or double-spaced lines, except where conventional usage calls for single spacing, such as footnotes, indented quotations, tables, etc.

Words should be divided correctly at the end of a line and may not be divided from one page to the next. Use a standard dictionary to determine word division. 

Avoid short lines that end a paragraph at the top of a page, and any heading or subheading at the bottom of a page that is not followed by text.

The dissertation and thesis must be in English. 

Language Exceptions for Dissertations Only

Approval for writing the dissertation in another language is normally granted only in cases where the other language or literature in that language is also the subject of the discipline. 

Exceptions are granted by the school dean upon submission of a written request from the chair of your major department. Approval is routinely granted for dissertations in the Division of Literature, Cultures, and Languages within department specifications.

Prior to submitting in Axess, you must send a copy of the approval letter (or email message chain) from the department dean to [email protected]    

Dissertations written in another language must include an extended summary in English (usually 15 to 20 pages in length). In this case, you should upload your English summary as a supplemental file, during Step 4 of the online submission process.

Select a standard style approved by your department and use it consistently. 

Some reliable style guides are:

  • K.A. Turabian’s A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, 
  • Theses and Dissertations (University of Chicago Press), and 
  • the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations (Modern Language Association).

If you are a student in the Doctor of Musical Arts program, you may submit musical scores formatted at 11 x 17 inches in size. 

If you are submitting a performance as your dissertation, submit the audio file in WAV format as a supplemental file. 

Note: The maximum file size accepted for submission is 100 MB. If a performance recording exceeds the maximum file size, break the file into multiple files and submit the parts individually as supplemental files.

Your dissertation or thesis must contain the following sections. All sections must be included in a single digital file for upload.

  • Title Page — The format must be followed exactly. View these title page examples for Ph.D. Dissertation and this title page sample for an Engineer Thesis . Use uppercase letters. The title of the dissertation or thesis should be a meaningful description of the content of the manuscript. Use word substitutes for formulas, symbols, superscripts, subscripts, Greek letters, etc. The month and year must be the actual month and year in which you submit your dissertation or thesis electronically to the university. (Note: A student who submits in Autumn quarter is conferred his/her degree in the following calendar year.)
  • Copyright Page — The dissertation or thesis PDF uploaded in Axess should not contain a copyright page. The copyright page will be created automatically by the online submission system and inserted into the file stored by Stanford Libraries.
  • Signature Page — The dissertation or thesis PDF uploaded in Axess should also not contain a signature page. The submission process has moved away from ink-signatures, so a digital facsimile of the signature page will be created automatically by the online submission system and inserted into the dissertation or thesis in its final format stored by Stanford Libraries.
  • Abstract — An abstract may be included in the preliminary section of the dissertation or thesis. The abstract in the body of the dissertation or thesis follows the style used for the rest of the manuscript and should be placed following the signature page. There is no maximum permissible length for the abstract in the dissertation or thesis.    Dissertation authors must enter an abstract using the online submission form for uploading the digital dissertation or thesis file to the library. This abstract, which will be indexed for online searching, must be formatted in plain text (no HTML or special formatting). It should be a pithy and succinct version of the abstract included in the dissertation or thesis itself.
  • Preface, an Acknowledgment, or a Dedication
  • Table of Contents – Include page references.
  • List of Tables –  Include titles and page references. This list is optional.
  • List of Illustrations – Include titles and page references. This list is optional
  • Introduction  
  • Main body – Include suitable, consistent headings for the larger divisions and more important sub-divisions.
  • Appendices.
  • Bibliography or List of References.

Except for the title page, which counts as 'i' but is not physically numbered, each page of the manuscript, including all blank pages, pages between chapters, pages with text, photographs, tables, figures, maps, or computer code must be assigned a number. 

Consistent placement of pagination, at least one-half inch from the paper’s edge, should be used throughout the manuscript.

Follow these pagination instructions exactly:

  • For the preliminary pages, use small Roman numerals (e.g., iv, v, vi).
  • The title page is not physically numbered, but counts as page i.
  • Keep in mind that a copyright page ii and augmented signature page iii (based off your student record) will automatically be inserted to your manuscript during submission.  This means you must ensure to remove pages ii and iii from your dissertation or thesis.
  • Failing to remove pages ii and iii is most common formatting mistake: you must remove your copyright page ii and signature page iii from the pdf file before you submit your dissertation or thesis, and begin pagination on your abstract with page number "iv". If the document is formatted for double-sided printing with each section starting on the right page, then pagination will begin on a blank page (page"iv") and the Abstract should be numbered as page "v", and so forth.
  • For the remainder of the manuscript, starting with the Introduction or Chapter 1 of the Main Body, use continuous pagination (1, 2, 3, etc) for text, illustrations, images, appendices, and the bibliography. Remember to start with Arabic numbered page 1, as this is not a continuation of the Roman numeral numbering from the preliminary pages.
  • The placement of page numbers should be consistent throughout the document.

For text, illustrations, charts, graphs, etc., printed in landscape form, the orientation should be facing away from the bound edge of the paper.

Images (color, grayscale, and monochrome) included in the dissertation or thesis should be clearly discernible both on screen and when printed. The dimensions should not exceed the size of the standard letter-size page (8.5” x 11”).

Image resolution should be 150 dots per inch (dpi), though resolutions as low as 72 dpi (and no lower) are acceptable. 

The format of images embedded in the PDF should be JPEG or EPS (the format JPEG2000 is also acceptable when it is supported in future versions of the PDF format). GIF and PNG are not preferred image file formats.

Large images, including maps and charts or other graphics that require high resolution, should not be included in the main dissertation or thesis file. Instead, they can be submitted separately as supplemental files and formatted in other formats as appropriate. 

Multimedia, such as audio, video, animation, etc., must not be embedded in the body of the dissertation or thesis. These media types add size and complexity to the digital file, introducing obstacles to users of the dissertation or thesis who wish to download and read (and “play back”) the content, and making it more difficult to preserve over time.

If you wish to include multimedia with your submission, upload the media separately as a stand-alone file in an appropriate media format. See Supplementary Material section below.

It is acceptable to include “live” (i.e., clickable) web URLs that link to online resources within the dissertation or thesis file. Spell out each URL in its entirety (e.g., http://www.stanford.edu ) rather than embedding the link in text (e.g., Stanford homepage ). By spelling out the URL, you improve a reader’s ability to understand and access the link reference.

Supplementary material may be submitted electronically with the dissertation or thesis. This material includes any supporting content that is useful for understanding the dissertation or thesis, but is not essential to the argument. It also covers core content in a form that can not be adequately represented or embedded in the PDF format, such as an audio recording of a musical performance.

Supplementary materials are submitted separately than the dissertation or thesis file, and are referred to as supplemental files.

A maximum of twenty supplemental files can be submitted. There are no restrictions on the file formats. The maximum file size is 1 GB.

You are encouraged to be judicious about the volume and quality of the supplemental files, and to employ file formats that are widely used by researchers generally, if not also by scholars of the discipline.

The following table outlines recommended file formats for different content types. By following these recommendations, the author is helping to ensure ongoing access to the material.

After uploading each supplemental file, it is important to enter a short description or label (maximum 120 characters for file name and the description). This label will be displayed to readers in a list of the contents for the entire submission.

If copyrighted material is part of the supplementary material, permission to reuse and distribute the content must be obtained from the owner of the copyright. Stanford Libraries requires copies of permission letters (in PDF format) to be uploaded electronically when submitting the files, and assumes no liability for copyright violations. View this sample permission letter .

System restrictions allow for a maximum of 10 individually uploaded permission files. If you have more than 10 permission files we recommend combining all permission letters into a single PDF file for upload.

In choosing an annotation or reference system, you should be guided by the practice of your discipline and the recommendations of your departments. In addition to the general style guides listed in the Style section above, there are specific style guides for some fields. When a reference system has been selected, it should be used consistently throughout the dissertation or thesis. The placement of footnotes is at your discretion with reading committee approval.

An important aspect of modern scholarship is the proper attribution of authorship for joint or group research. If the manuscript includes joint or group research, you must clearly identify your contribution to the enterprise in an introduction.

The inclusion of published papers in a dissertation or thesis is the prerogative of the major department. Where published papers or ready-for-publication papers are included, the following criteria must be met:

  • There must be an introductory chapter that integrates the general theme of the research and the relationship between the chapters. The introduction may also include a review of the literature relevant to the dissertation or thesis topic that does not appear in the chapters.
  • Multiple authorship of a published paper should be addressed by clearly designating, in an introduction, the role that the dissertation or thesis author had in the research and production of the published paper. The student must have a major contribution to the research and writing of papers included in the dissertation or thesis.
  • There must be adequate referencing of where individual papers have been published.
  • Written permission must be obtained for all copyrighted materials. Letters of permission must be uploaded electronically in PDF form when submitting the dissertation or thesis. 
  • The submitted material must be in a form that is legible and reproducible as required by these specifications. The Office of the University Registrar will approve a dissertation or thesis if there are no deviations from the normal specifications that would prevent proper dissemination and utilization of the dissertation or thesis. If the published material does not correspond to these standards, it will be necessary for you to reformat that portion of the dissertation or thesis.
  • Multiple authorship has implications with respect to copyright and public release of the material. Be sure to discuss copyright clearance and embargo options with your co-authors and your advisor well in advance of preparing your thesis for submission.

If copyrighted material belonging to others is used in your dissertation or thesis or is part of your supplementary materials, you must give full credit to the author and publisher of the work in all cases, and obtain permission from the copyright owner for reuse of the material unless you have determined that your use of the work is clearly fair use under US copyright law (17 USC §107). 

The statute sets out four factors that must be considered when assessing Fair Use:

  • the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purpose;
  • the nature of the copyrighted work;
  • the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
  • the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

The Association of American University Presses requires permission for any quotations that are reproduced as complete units (poems, letters, short stories, essays, journal articles, complete chapters or sections of books, maps, charts, graphs, tables, drawings, or other illustrative materials). You can find this guideline and other detailed information on Fair Use at http://fairuse.stanford.edu . 

If you are in doubt, it is safest to obtain permission. Permission to use copyrighted material must be obtained from the owner of the copyright. Stanford Libraries requires copies of permission letters (in PDF format) to be uploaded electronically when submitting the dissertation or thesis, and assumes no liability for copyright violations. For reference, view this sample permission letter .

Copyright protection is automatically in effect from the time the work is in fixed form. A proper copyright statement consisting of the copyright symbol, the author’s name, year of degree conferral, and the phrase “All Rights Reserved” will be added automatically to the dissertation or thesis in its final form.

Registration of copyright is not required, but it establishes a public record of your copyright claim and enables copyright owners to litigate against infringement. You need not register your copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office at the outset, although registration must be made before the copyright may be enforced by litigation in case of infringement. 

Early registration does have certain advantages: it establishes a public record of your copyright claim, and if registration has been made prior to the infringement of your work, or within three months after its publication, qualifies you to be awarded statutory damages and attorney fees in addition to the actual damages and profits available to you as the copyright owner (should you ever have to sue because of infringement).

For more information about copyright, see the Stanford Libraries' resource on Copyright Considerations .

For further information on Registration of Copyright, see https://www.copyright.gov/registration/ .

Do not require a password to make changes to your submitted PDF file, or apply other encryption or security measures. Password-protected files will be rejected.

The file name and description will be printed on a page added to your dissertation or thesis, so choose a file name accordingly.

Important note: File names may only consist of alphanumeric characters, hyphen, underscore, at sign, space, ampersand, and comma – before the ending period and file extension.  Specifically,

  • A file name cannot start with a space, period (nor contain a period), underscore, or hyphen.
  • Files names must be 120 characters or less.

Here is an example of a filename that is allowed, including all of the possible characters:

  • A Study of Social Media with a Focus on @Twitter Accounts, Leland Student_30AUG2023.pdf

In submitting a thesis or dissertation to Stanford, the author grants The Trustees of Leland Stanford Junior University (Stanford) the non-exclusive, worldwide, perpetual, irrevocable right to reproduce, distribute, display and transmit author's thesis or dissertation, including any supplemental materials (the Work), in whole or in part in such print and electronic formats as may be in existence now or developed in the future, to sub-license others to do the same, and to preserve and protect the Work, subject to any third-party release or display restrictions specified by Author on submission of the Work to Stanford.

Author further represents and warrants that Author is the copyright holder of the Work, and has obtained all necessary rights to permit Stanford to reproduce and distribute third-party materials contained in any part of the Work, including use of third-party images, text, or music, as well as all necessary licenses relating to any non-public, third-party software necessary to access, display, and run or print the Work. Author is solely responsible and will indemnify Stanford for any third party claims related to the Work as submitted for publication.

Author warrants that the Work does not contain information protected by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), confidentiality agreements, or contain Stanford Prohibited, Restricted or Confidential data described on the University IT website , or other data of a private nature.

Stanford is under no obligation to use, display or host the work in any way and may elect not to use the work for any reason including copyright or other legal concerns, financial resources, or programmatic need.

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Structure and Style of Theses and Dissertations

Each student and their supervisory committee should work together to determine the scholarly scope and most appropriate structure of the thesis, keeping in mind scholarly standards within their fields and professional objectives of the student.

As forms of scholarship continue to evolve, so do the possibilities for how a body of scholarly work can be expressed. Theses at UBC can include many forms of knowledge production and scholarly representation. Some examples are:

  • a fully unified textual volume, similar to a scholarly book
  • a series of published or publication-ready manuscripts with synthesis
  • inclusion of scholarly professional artefacts such as policy papers or curriculum plans, for example, along with description and analysis
  • a compendium of multimedia works with written description and analysis

Within this flexibility of structure, there remain several elements that must be included in each thesis or dissertation, and specifications to be followed, in order to enable consistent standards and proper archiving.

In addition to the preliminary materials described below, all theses should include an introduction to the subject, a critical analysis of the relevant prior scholarly work, a description of the scholarly methods, a presentation of the results, and a discussion and summary of the results and their implications. Knowledge dissemination products or modes can be incorporated as appropriate.

As appropriate, representation of the research results or methodologies may take a variety of forms, including scholarly publications or submissions (manuscripts), scholarly text, creative text, graphics, audio/visual products, or web pages,  Additional knowledge translation or dissemination products or descriptions of activities can be incorporated, such as policy briefs, lay or professional publications, syllabi, or outlines of workshops or exhibits.

Every thesis will have a PDF component that includes at least the following elements:

  • Committee page
  • Lay summary
  • Table of contents, and/or a List of all submitted files (if there are files in addition to the PDF)

1. Title page (required)

2. committee page (required).

The committee page:

  • is the second page of the thesis and is numbered ii
  • lists all examining committee members and supervisory committee members, along with their titles, departments, and universities or organizations
  • does not include signatures
  • is not listed in the table of contents

See Resources for Thesis Preparation and Checking for examples and templates.

Doctoral students: Please include this page in the copy for the External Examiner, with your supervisory committee entered. If you know which members of the committee will be on the Examining Committee you can include them there; otherwise, they can go under Additional Supervisory Committee Members.

Doctoral students post-defence: Please remember to update the committee page before final post-defence submission if necessary.

3. Abstract (required - maximum 350 words)

The abstract is a concise and accurate summary of the scholarly work described in the document. It states the problem, the methods of investigation, and the general conclusions, and should not contain tables, graphs, complex equations, or illustrations. There is a single scholarly abstract for the entire work, and it must not exceed 350 words in length.

4. Lay Summary (required - maximum 150 words)

The lay or public summary is a simplified version of the abstract that explains the key goals and contributions of the research/scholarly work in terms that can be understood by the general public. it does not use technical terms and discipline-specific language. It must not exceed 150 words in length.

5. Preface (required)

Sample Prefaces

The Preface includes a statement indicating the student's contribution to the following:

  • Identification of the research question(s)
  • Design of the research work
  • Performance of the research
  • Analysis of the research results

If any of the work was collaborative, the above statement must also detail the relative contributions of all collaborators, including the approximate proportion of the research, analysis, and writing/representation conducted by the student.

If any of the work has led to any publications, submissions, or other dissemination modes, all should be listed in the Preface. For publications, the title of the article, the names and order of all co-authors, and the journal details (if accepted or published) should be included, and linked to the related chapter or portion of the thesis. For further details, see “Including Published Material in a Thesis or Dissertation”.

If any of the work is intended for publication but has not yet been published, you may say whether or not it has been submitted. Do not say where it has been submitted, as if it is not accepted for publication that information will be misleading.

If the work includes other scholarly artifacts (such as film and other audio, visual, and graphic representations, and application-oriented documents such as policy briefs, curricula, business plans, computer and web tools, pages, and applications, etc.) that have been published or otherwise publicly disseminated or that have co-authors, they must be listed in the Preface (with bibliographical information, including information on co-creators, if applicable).

If ethics approval was required for the research, the Preface must list the Certificate Number(s) of the Ethics Certificate(s) applicable to the project.

In a thesis where the research was not subject to ethics review, produced no publications, and was designed, carried out, and analyzed by the student alone, the text of the Preface may be very brief. Samples are available on this website and in the University Library's online repository of accepted theses.

The content of the Preface must be verified by the student's supervisor, whose endorsement must appear on the final Thesis/Dissertation Approval form.

Acknowledgements, introductory material, and a list of publications do not belong in the Preface. Please put them respectively in the Acknowledgements section, the first section of the thesis, and the appendices.

6. Table of contents (required)

7. list of tables (required if document has tables), 8. list of figures (required if document has figures), 9. list of submitted files (required if additional files are submitted with the pdf), 10. list of illustrations (advisable if applicable).

If you remove copyrighted tables, figures, or illustrations from your thesis you must insert the following at the spot where the table, figure, or illustration previously appeared:

  • A statement that the material has been removed because of copyright restrictions
  • A description of the material and the information it contained, plus a link to an online source if one is available
  • A full citation of the original source of the material

See the UBC Library Copyright Educational Resources: Theses and Dissertations Guide “ Unable to get Permission? ”

11. Lists of symbols, abbreviations or other (advisable if applicable)

12. glossary (optional), 13. acknowledgements (optional).

This may include statements acknowledging support and contributions from various sources, including the student’s research supervisor and committee, research participants, colleagues, friends, and family members. IMPORTANT : Please ensure that everyone you mention in your Acknowledgements understands and accepts that their name will be appearing online in an open-access document.

Any funding for the research should be listed here.

14. Dedication (optional)

15-17. thesis body: introduction, research chapters, conclusion (usually required unless the thesis consists only of multimedia).

This contains the comprehensive contextualization, methods, findings, analysis and implications of the scholarly work. These components can be organized and expressed in a manner that the student and their supervisory committee deems to be most appropriate to the work, to the student and their objectives, and to the relevant disciplines.

In many cases the thesis will be organized in chapters, while for others (especially those including creative and/or other modes of expression) it may take different forms. The different elements should be divided appropriately (and indicated as such in the Table of Contents) to enable ease of review. The thesis should be presented in a manner that enables a cohesive understanding of the work and which is credible within the field. In all cases, certain elements are required:

Introductory content.  This must clearly state its theme, topics, hypotheses and/or goals and provide sufficient background information to enable a non-specialist in the subject matter to understand them. It must contextualize the topic and questions within a thorough review of relevant literature and/or other foundational scholarship

Research/Scholarship methodologies, findings, products.  The account and products of the scholarly work should be complete and sufficiently detailed to enable a reader to understand how the work was carried out and analyzed, and how to apply similar methods in another study.

Analysis and summary content.  This should include a reflective analysis of the scholarly findings and/or products, integrated into the context of the thesis subject to demonstrate how the thesis leads to new understandings and contributions. The work’s potential (or actual) impact, its limitations, and its significance should be outlined.

18. Bibliography (mandatory except for MFA and MMUS)

There must be only one Bibliography or References section for the whole thesis.

19. Appendices (Optional)

These consist of supporting material that is not integral to the understanding of the work and/or easily incorporated into the thesis body, potentially including additional methodological details or data, copies of surveys used, etc. They must be referred to in the document.

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phd thesis abstract length

  • How Long Is a PhD Thesis?
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It’s no secret that one of the most challenging aspects of a PhD degree is the volume of work that goes into writing your thesis . So this raises the question, exactly how long is a thesis?

Unfortunately, there’s no one size fits all answer to this question. However, from the analysis of over 100 PhD theses, the average thesis length is between 80,000 and 100,000 words. A further analysis of 1000 PhD thesis shows the average number of pages to be 204 . In reality, the actual word count for each PhD thesis will depend on the specific subject and the university it is being hosted by. This is because universities set their own word length requirements, with most found to be opting for around 100,000.

To find out more about how these word limits differ between universities, how the average word count from STEM thesis differ from non-STEM thesis and a more detailed breakdown from the analysis of over 1000 PhDs, carry on reading the below.

Word Count Differences Between Universities

For any PhD student writing a thesis, they will find that their document will be subject to a word limit set by their university. In nearly all cases, the limit only concerns the maximum number of words and doesn’t place any restrictions on the minimum word limit. The reason for this is that the student will be expected to write their thesis with the aim of clearly explaining their research, and so it is up to the student to determine what he deems appropriate.

Saying this, it is well accepted amongst PhD students and supervisors that the absence of a lower limit doesn’t suggest that a thesis can be ‘light’. Your thesis will focus on several years worth of original research and explore new ideas, theories or concepts. Besides this, your thesis will need to cover a wide range of topics such as your literature review, research methodology, results and conclusion. Therefore, your examiners will expect the length of your thesis to be proportional to convey all this information to a sufficient level.

Selecting a handful of universities at random, they state the following thesis word limits on their website:

  • University of Edinburgh: 100,000
  • University of Exeter: 100,000
  • University of Leister: 80,000
  • University of Bath: 80,000
  • University of Warwick: 70,000

The above universities set upper word limits that apply across the board, however, some universities, such as the University of Birmingham and the University of Sheffield, set different word limits for different departments. For example, the University of Sheffield adopts these limits:

  • Arts & Humanities: 75,000
  • Medicine, Dentistry & Health: 75,000
  • Science: 80,000
  • Social Sciences: 75,000-100,000

Although there’s a range of limit, it’s safe to say that the majority fall within the 80,000 to 100,000 bracket.

Word Count Based on Data from past Theses

A poll of 149 postdocs.

In mid-2019, Dr Eva Lantsoght, a published author, academic blogger and Structural Engineering Professor, conducted a poll which asked postgraduate doctoral students to share the length of their final thesis. 149 PostDoc students responded to the survey, with the majority reporting a length falling within the ‘80,000 – 120,000 words’ bracket as seen below.

DiscoverPhDs_How-long-is-a-PhD-Thesis_Poll

Analysis of 1000 PhD Theses

Over a three-year time period, Dr Ian Brailsford, a then Postgraduate Learning Adviser at the University of Auckland, analysed 1000 doctoral thesis submitted to his university’s library. The PhD theses which formed the basis of his analysis were produced between 2008 to 2017 and showed:

  • Average number of pages = 204
  • Median number of pages = 198
  • Average number of chapters = 7.6

We should note that the above metrics only cover the content falling within the main body of the thesis. This includes the introduction, literature review, methods section, results chapter, discussions and conclusions. All other sections, such as the title page, abstract, table of contents, acknowledgements, bibliography and appendices were omitted from the count.

Although it’s impossible to draw the exact word count from the number of pages alone, by using the universities recommended format of 12pt Times New Roman and 1.5 lines spacing, and assuming 10% of the main body are figures and footnotes, this equates to an average main body of 52,000 words.

STEM vs Non-STEM

As part of Dr Ian Brailsford’s analysis, he also compared the length of STEM doctorate theses to non-STEM theses. He found that STEM theses tended to be shorter. In fact, he found STEM theses to have a medium page length of 159 whilst non-STEM theses had a medium of around 223 pages. This is a 40% increase in average length!

Can You Exceed the Word Count?

Whilst most universities will allow you to go over the word count if you need to, it comes with the caveat that you must have a very strong reason for needing to do so. Besides this, your supervisor will also need to support your request. This is to acknowledge that they have reviewed your situation and agree that exceeding the word limit will be absolutely necessary to avoid detriment unnecessary detriment to your work.

This means that whilst it is possible to submit a thesis over 100,000 words or more, it’s unlikely that your research project will need to.

How Does This Compare to a Masters Dissertation?

The average Masters dissertation length is approximately 20,000 words whilst a thesis is 4 to 5 times this length at approximately 80,000 – 100,000.

The key reason for this difference is because of the level of knowledge they convey. A Master’s dissertation focuses on concluding from existing knowledge whilst a PhD thesis focuses on drawing a conclusion from new knowledge. As a result, the thesis is significantly longer as the new knowledge needs to be well documented so it can be verified, disseminated and used to shape future research.

Finding a PhD has never been this easy – search for a PhD by keyword, location or academic area of interest.

Related Reading

Unfortunately, the completion of your thesis doesn’t mark the end of your degree just yet. Once you submit your thesis, it’s time to start preparing for your viva – the all-to-fun thesis defence interview! To help you prepare for this, we’ve produced a helpful guide which you can read here: The Complete Guide to PhD Vivas.

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Trapped in dissertation revisions?

How to write a dissertation abstract, published by steve tippins on may 25, 2020 may 25, 2020.

Last Updated on: 3rd June 2022, 04:27 am

The abstract is where you “sell” your dissertation. In over 95% of the cases, the first thing people see will be your dissertation’s abstract. If others (such as potential employers or fellow researchers) are going to be looking at your dissertation, you have to get their interest in the abstract. 

How do you get people’s interest? Think about what you wanted to know when you were searching, and that’s what needs to be in the abstract (in addition to anything that your school requires). 

Normally dissertation abstracts are a page or less. You’ll want to include the problem you were looking at, the questions you wanted to answer, and the methodology you used. Also include what you found and what it means (the implications). For a more in-depth explanation of what to include, see the sample outline below.

Advice for Writing a Dissertation Abstract

two blonde women sitting on the stairs and chatting

Every word is important in a dissertation abstract. Because the space you have is so limited, you want to make sure that every word and phrase helps the reader understand what they’re going to gain when they read the entire document. On the other hand, you don’t want to put everything in the abstract because you want them to read the actual paper.

Avoid the temptation to make it more than a page long. The truth is, people aren’t going to read a multiple-page abstract, which means they won’t read your dissertation. Don’t think of it as condensing 100+ pages of material down into one page. Rather, think of it as giving an introduction to what is contained in the pages of your dissertation.

Some schools have a rubric to follow. If they do have one, follow it to the letter. This will save you time and help you please your committee more easily. There’s also usually a good reason behind the requirements they set out, so it will improve the quality of your abstract overall.

While it takes a certain artfulness to be concise, the abstract should be a relatively easy section to write. Basically, you just have to tell people what you did. You don’t need to report any new information or do anything you haven’t already done while writing your dissertation.

Dissertation Abstract Sample Outline

woman sitting on the campus stairs and working on her laptop

Traditionally, abstracts are less than a page in length, are not indented, and contain no citations. While different universities may have slightly different requirements, most want to see some variation of the following:

  • Introduce the study topic and articulate the research problem.
  • State the purpose of the study
  • State the research method 
  • Concisely describe the overall research design, methods, and data analysis procedures.
  • Identify the participants.
  • Present key results 
  • Outline conclusions and recommendations

What Comes After Writing Your Dissertation Abstract?

Writing your dissertation abstract means you’ve completed your study. Congratulations! As you move through the final phases of getting your degree and into your new career path, you may need support navigating today’s competitive job market. 

Academic jobs are more competitive than ever, and starting your own business is best done with the guidance of someone who’s done it before. Take a look at my academic career coaching services and book a free 30-minute consultation .

If you’re still working on your dissertation, I also offer dissertation coaching and dissertation editing services.

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Steve Tippins

Steve Tippins, PhD, has thrived in academia for over thirty years. He continues to love teaching in addition to coaching recent PhD graduates as well as students writing their dissertations. Learn more about his dissertation coaching and career coaching services. Book a Free Consultation with Steve Tippins

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  • Structuring your thesis
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  • How to write a thesis

The best structure for your HDR thesis will depend on your discipline and the research you aim to communicate.

Before you begin writing your thesis, make sure you've read our advice on thesis preparation for information on the requirements you'll need to meet.

Once you've done this, you can begin to think about how to structure your thesis. To help you get started, we've outlined a basic structure below, but the requirements for your discipline may be different .

If you need help determining a suitable structure:

  • read other theses in your discipline – you can search for UQ theses on the Library website. For prime examples, search for theses that received commendations from their examiners
  • check with your advisor.

A basic thesis structure includes the following sections:

Introduction and literature review

Results or findings.

An abstract is a summary of your entire thesis and should provide a complete overview of the thesis, including your key results and findings.

An abstract is different to your introduction, and shouldn't be used to advertise your thesis — it should provide enough information to allow readers to understand what they'll learn by reading the thesis.

Your abstract should answer the following questions:

  • What did you do?
  • How did you do it?
  • Why was it worth doing?
  • What were the key results?
  • What are the implications or significance of the results?

As your abstract will have a word limit, you may be unable to answer every question in detail. If you find yourself running out of words, make sure you include your key findings before other information.

All theses require introductions and literature reviews, but the structure and location of these can vary.

In some cases, your literature review will be incorporated into the introduction. You may also review literature in other parts of your thesis, such as in the methods section.

Other options for structuring an introduction and literature review include:

  • a brief introductory chapter with a longer, separate literature review chapter
  • a long introductory chapter with a brief introductory section followed by literature review sections
  • a brief introductory chapter with detailed literature reviews relevant to the topic of each chapter provided separately in each chapter — this is common in a thesis comprised of publications.

If you have a separate introduction and literature review, they should complement, not repeat, each other.

The introduction should outline the background and significance of the broad area of study, as well as your:

  • general aims – what you intend to contribute to the understanding of a topic
  • specific objectives – which particular aspects of that topic you'll be investigating
  • the rationale for proceeding in the way that you did
  • your motivation or the justification for your research – the level of detail can vary depending on how much detail you will be including in a literature review.

The literature review should provide a more detailed analysis of research in the field, and present more specific aims or hypotheses for your research. What's expected for a literature review varies depending on your:

  • program – a PhD thesis requires a more extensive literature review than an MPhil thesis
  • discipline – analyse well-written examples from your discipline to learn the conventions for content and structure.

To get some ideas about how to structure and integrate your literature review, look at how to write a literature review and an example analysis of a literature review , or talk to your advisor.

A possible structure for your methods section is to include an introduction that provides a justification and explanation of the methodological approach you chose, followed by relevant sub-sections. Some standard sub-sections of a methods chapter include:

  • Participants
  • Procedures.

How the methods section is structured can depend on your discipline, so review other theses from your discipline for ideas for structure.

Regardless of structure, the methods section should explain:

  • how you collected and analysed your data – you only need to include enough detail that another expert in the field could repeat what you've done (you don't have to detail field standard techniques or tests)
  • why you chose to collect specific data
  • how this data will help you to answer your research questions
  • why you chose the approach you went with.

You may want to present your results separately to your discussion. If so, use the results section to:

  • specify the data you collected and how it was were prepared for analysis
  • describe the data analysis (e.g. define the type of statistical test that was applied to the data)
  • describe the outcome of the analysis
  • present a summary and descriptive statistics in a table or graph.

Use tables and figures effectively

Reports usually include tables, graphs and other graphics to present data and supplement the text. To learn how to design and use these elements effectively, see our guides to:

  • incorporating tables, figures, statistics and equations (PDF, 1.2MB)
  • graphic presentation (PDF, 2.9MB) .

Use the discussion section to:

  • comment on your results and explain what they mean
  • compare, contrast and relate your results back to theory or the findings of other studies
  • identify and explain any unexpected results
  • identify any limitations to your research and any questions that your research was unable to answer
  • discuss the significance or implications of your results.

If you find that your research ends up in a different direction to what you intended, it can help to explicitly acknowledge this and explain why in this section.

Use the conclusion section to:

  • emphasise that you've met your research aims
  • summarise the main findings of your research
  • restate the limitations of your research and make suggestions for further research.

In some cases, the discussion and conclusion sections can be combined. Check with your advisor if you want to combine these sections.

  • Thesis writing tips

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Writing a clear and engaging research paper Thesis and dissertation writing: an examination of published advice and actual practice Scientific writing

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Word limits and requirements of your Degree Committee

Candidates should write as concisely as is possible, with clear and adequate exposition. Each Degree Committee has prescribed the limits of length and stylistic requirements as given below. On submission of the thesis you must include a statement of length confirming that it does not exceed the word limit for your Degree Committee.

These limits and requirements are strictly observed by the Postgraduate Committee and the Degree Committees and, unless approval to exceed the prescribed limit has been obtained beforehand (see: Extending the Word Limit below), a thesis that exceeds the limit may not be examined until its length complies with the prescribed limit.

Extending the Word Limit

Thesis word limits are set by Degree Committees. If candidates need to increase their word limits they will need to apply for permission.

Information on how to apply (via self-service account) is available on the ‘ Applying for a change in your student status’  page. If following your viva, you are required to make corrections to your thesis which will mean you need to increase your word-limit, you need to apply for permission in the same way.

Requirements of the Degree Committees

Archaeology and anthropology, architecture and history of art, asian and middle eastern studies, business and management, clinical medicine and clinical veterinary medicine, computer laboratory, earth sciences and geography, scott polar institute, engineering, history and philosophy of science, land economy, mathematics, modern and medieval languages and linguistics, physics and chemistry, politics and international studies, archaeology and social anthropology.

The thesis is not to exceed 80,000 words (approx. 350 pages) for the PhD degree and 60,000 words for the MSc or MLitt degree. These limits include all text, figures, tables and photographs, but exclude the bibliography, cited references and appendices. More detailed specifications should be obtained from the Division concerned. Permission to exceed these limits will be granted only after a special application to the Degree Committee. The application must explain in detail the reasons why an extension is being sought and the nature of the additional material, and must be supported by a reasoned case from the supervisor containing a recommendation that a candidate should be allowed to exceed the word limit by a specified number of words. Such permission will be granted only under exceptional circumstances. If candidates need to apply for permission to exceed the word limit, they should do so in good time before the date on which a candidate proposes to submit the thesis, by application made to the Graduate Committee.

Biological Anthropology:

Students may choose between two alternative thesis formats for their work:

either in the form of a thesis of not more than 80,000 words in length for the PhD degree and 60,000 words for the MSc or MLitt degree. The limits include all text, in-text citations, figures, tables, captions and footnotes but exclude bibliography and appendices; or

in the form of a collection of at least three research articles for the PhD degree and two research articles for the MSc or MLitt degree, formatted as an integrated piece of research, with a table of contents, one or more chapters that outline the scope and provide an in-depth review of the subject of study, a concluding chapter discussing the findings and contribution to the field, and a consolidated bibliography. The articles may be in preparation, submitted for publication or already published, and the combined work should not exceed 80,000 words in length for the PhD degree and 60,000 words for the MSc or MLitt degree. The word limits include all text, in-text citations, figures, tables, captions, and footnotes but exclude bibliography and appendices containing supplementary information associated with the articles. More information on the inclusion of material published, in press or in preparation in a PhD thesis may be found in the Department’s PhD submission guidelines.

Architecture:

The thesis is not to exceed 80,000 words for the PhD and 60,000 words for the MSc or MLitt degree. Footnotes, references and text within tables are to be counted within the word-limit, but captions, appendices and bibliographies are excluded. Appendices should be confined to such items as catalogues, original texts, translations of texts, transcriptions of interview, or tables.

History of Art:

The thesis is not to exceed 80,000 words for the PhD and 60,000 words for the MLitt degree. To include: footnotes, table of contents and list of illustrations, but excluding acknowledgements and the bibliography. Appendices (of no determined word length) may be permitted subject to the approval of the candidate's Supervisor (in consultation with the Degree Committee); for example, where a catalogue of works or the transcription of extensive primary source material is germane to the work. Permission to include such appendices must be requested from the candidate's Supervisor well in advance of the submission of the final thesis. NB: Permission for extensions to the word limit for most other purposes is likely to be refused.

The thesis is for the PhD degree not to exceed 80,000 words exclusive of footnotes, appendices and bibliography but subject to an overall word limit of 100,000 words exclusive of bibliography. For the MLitt degree not to exceed 60,000 words inclusive of footnotes but exclusive of bibliography and appendices.

The thesis for the PhD is not to exceed 60,000 words in length (80,000 by special permission), exclusive of tables, footnotes, bibliography, and appendices. Double-spaced or one-and-a-half spaced. Single or double-sided printing.

The thesis for the MPhil in Biological Science is not to exceed 20,000 words in length, exclusive of tables, footnotes, bibliography, and appendices. Double-spaced or one-and-a-half spaced. Single or double-sided printing.

For the PhD Degree the thesis is not to exceed 80,000 words, EXCLUDING bibliography, but including tables, tables of contents, footnotes and appendices. It is normally expected to exceed 40,000 words unless prior permission is obtained from the Degree Committee. Each page of statistical tables, charts or diagrams shall be regarded as equivalent to a page of text of the same size. The Degree Committee do not consider applications to extend this word limit.

For the Doctor of Business (BusD) the thesis will be approximately 200 pages (a maximum length of 80,000 words, EXCLUDING bibliography, but including tables, tables of contents, footnotes and appendices).

For the MSc Degree the thesis is not to exceed 40,000 words, EXCLUDING bibliography, but including tables, tables of contents, footnotes and appendices.

The thesis is not to exceed 80,000 words including footnotes, references, and appendices but excluding bibliography; a page of statistics shall be regarded as the equivalent of 150 words. Only under exceptional circumstances will permission be granted to exceed this limit. Candidates must submit with the thesis a signed statement giving the length of the thesis.

For the PhD degree, not to exceed 60,000 words (or 80,000 by special permission of the Degree Committee), and for the MSc degree, not to exceed 40,000 words. These limits exclude figures, photographs, tables, appendices and bibliography. Lines to be double or one-and-a-half spaced; pages to be double or single sided.

The thesis is not to exceed, without the prior permission of the Degree Committee, 60,000 words including tables, footnotes and equations, but excluding appendices, bibliography, photographs and diagrams. Any thesis which without prior permission of the Degree Committee exceeds the permitted limit will be referred back to the candidate before being forwarded to the examiners.

The thesis is not to exceed 80,000 words for the PhD degree and the MLitt degree, including footnotes, references and appendices but excluding bibliography. Candidates must submit with the thesis a signed statement giving the length of the thesis. Only under exceptional circumstances will permission be granted to exceed this limit for the inclusion of an appendix of a substantial quantity of text which is necessary for the understanding of the thesis (e.g. texts in translation, transcription of extensive primary source material). Permission must be sought at least three months before submission of the thesis and be supported by a letter from the supervisor certifying that such exemption from the prescribed limit of length is absolutely necessary.

The thesis is not to exceed, without the prior permission of the Degree Committee, 80,000 words for the PhD degree and 60,000 words for the MSc or MLitt degree, including the summary/abstract.  The table of contents, photographs, diagrams, figure captions, appendices, bibliography and acknowledgements to not count towards the word limit. Footnotes are not included in the word limit where they are a necessary part of the referencing system used.

Earth Sciences:

The thesis is not to exceed, without the prior permission of the Degree Committee, 275 numbered pages of which not more than 225 pages are text, appendices, illustrations and bibliography. A page of text is A4 one-and-a-half-spaced normal size type. The additional 50 pages may comprise tables of data and/or computer programmes reduced in size.

If a candidate's work falls within the social sciences, candidates are expected to observe the limit described in the Department of Geography above; if, however, a candidate's work falls within the natural sciences, a candidate should observe the limit described in the Department of Earth Sciences.

Applications for the limit of length of the thesis to be exceeded must be early — certainly no later than the time when the application for the appointment of examiners and the approval of the title of the thesis is made. Any thesis which, without the prior permission of the Degree Committee, exceeds the permitted limit of length will be referred back to the candidate before being forwarded to the examiners.

The thesis is not to exceed, without the prior permission of the Degree Committee, 60,000 words including tables, footnotes, bibliography and appendices. The Degree Committee points out that some of the best thesis extend to only half this length. Each page of statistical tables, charts or diagrams shall be regarded as equivalent to a page of text of the same size.

The thesis is not to exceed 80,000 words for the PhD and EdD degrees and 60,000 words for the MSc and MLitt degrees, in all cases excluding appendices, footnotes, reference list or bibliography. Only in the most exceptional circumstances will permission be given to exceed the stated limits. In such cases, you must make an application to the Degree Committee as early as possible -and no later than three months before it is proposed to submit the thesis, having regard to the dates of the Degree Committee meetings. Your application should (a) explain in detail the reasons why you are seeking the extension and (b) be accompanied by a full supporting statement from your supervisor showing that the extension is absolutely necessary in the interests of the total presentation of the subject.

For the PhD degree, not to exceed, without prior permission of the Degree Committee, 65,000 words, including appendices, footnotes, tables and equations not to contain more than 150 figures, but excluding the bibliography. A candidate must submit with their thesis a statement signed by the candidate themself giving the length of the thesis and the number of figures. Any thesis which, without the prior permission of the Degree Committee, exceeds the permitted limit will be referred back to the candidate before being forwarded to the examiners.

The thesis is not to exceed 80,000 words or go below 60,000 words for the PhD degree and not to exceed 60,000 words or go below 45,000 words for the MLitt degree, both including all notes and appendices but excluding the bibliography. A candidate must add to the preface of the thesis the following signed statement: 'The thesis does not exceed the regulation length, including footnotes, references and appendices but excluding the bibliography.'

In exceptional cases (when, for example, a candidate's thesis largely consists of an edition of a text) the Degree Committee may grant permission to exceed these limits but in such instances (a) a candidate must apply to exceed the length at least three months before the date on which a candidate proposes to submit their thesis and (b) the application must be supported by a letter from a candidate's supervisor certifying that such exemption from the prescribed limit of length is absolutely necessary.

It is a requirement of the Degree Committee for the Faculty of English that thesis must conform to either the MHRA Style Book or the MLA Handbook for the Writers of Research papers, available from major bookshops. There is one proviso, however, to the use of these manuals: the Faculty does not normally recommend that students use the author/date form of citation and recommends that footnotes rather than endnotes be used. Bibliographies and references in thesis presented by candidates in ASNaC should conform with either of the above or to the practice specified in Cambridge Studies in Anglo-Saxon England.

Thesis presented by candidates in the Research Centre for English and Applied Linguistics must follow as closely as possible the printed style of the journal Applied Linguistics and referencing and spelling conventions should be consistent.

A signed declaration of the style-sheet used (and the edition, if relevant) must be made in the preliminary pages of the thesis.

PhD theses MUST NOT exceed 80,000 words, and will normally be near that length.

A minimum word length exists for PhD theses: 70,000 words (50,000 for MLitt theses)

The word limit includes appendices and the contents page but excludes the abstract, acknowledgments, footnotes, references, notes on transliteration, bibliography, abbreviations and glossary.  The Contents Page should be included in the word limit. Statistical tables should be counted as 150 words per table. Maps, illustrations and other pictorial images count as 0 words. Graphs, if they are the only representation of the data being presented, are to be counted as 150 words. However, if graphs are used as an illustration of statistical data that is also presented elsewhere within the thesis (as a table for instance), then the graphs count as 0 words.

Only under exceptional circumstances will permission be granted to exceed this limit. Applications for permission are made via CamSIS self-service pages. Applications must be made at least four months before the thesis is bound. Exceptions are granted when a compelling intellectual case is made.

The thesis is not to exceed 80,000 words for the PhD degree and 60,000 words for the MLitt degree, in all cases including footnotes and appendices but excluding bibliography. Permission to submit a thesis falling outside these limits, or to submit an appendix which does not count towards the word limit, must be obtained in advance from the Degree Committee.

The thesis is not to exceed 80,000 for the PhD degree and 60,000 words for the MSc or MLitt degree, both including footnotes, references and appendices but excluding bibliographies. One A4 page consisting largely of statistics, symbols or figures shall be regarded as the equivalent of 250 words. A candidate must add to the preface of their thesis the following signed statement: 'This thesis does not exceed the regulation length, including footnotes, references and appendices.'

For the PhD degree the thesis is not to exceed 80,000 words (exclusive of footnotes, appendices and bibliography) but subject to an overall word limit of 100,000 words (exclusive of bibliography, table of contents and any other preliminary matter). Figures, tables, images etc should be counted as the equivalent of 200 words for each A4 page, or part of an A4 page, that they occupy. For the MLitt degree the thesis is not to exceed 60,000 words inclusive of footnotes but exclusive of bibliography, appendices, table of contents and any other preliminary matter. Figures, tables, images etc should be counted as the equivalent of 200 words for each A4 page, or part of an A4 page, that they occupy.

Criminology:

For the PhD degree submission of a thesis between 55,000 and 80,000 words (exclusive of footnotes, appendices and bibliography) but subject to an overall word limit of 100,000 words (exclusive of bibliography, table of contents and any other preliminary matter). Figures, tables, images etc should be counted as the equivalent of 200 words for each A4 page, or part of an A4 page, that they occupy. For the MLitt degree the thesis is not to exceed 60,000 words inclusive of footnotes but exclusive of bibliography, appendices, table of contents and any other preliminary matter. Figures, tables, images etc should be counted as the equivalent of 200 words for each A4 page, or part of an A4 page, that they occupy.

There is no standard format for the thesis in Mathematics.  Candidates should discuss the format appropriate to their topic with their supervisor.

The thesis is not to exceed 80,000 words for the PhD degree and 60,000 words for the MLitt degree, including footnotes and appendices but excluding the abstract, any acknowledgements, contents page(s), abbreviations, notes on transliteration, figures, tables and bibliography. Brief labels accompanying illustrations, figures and tables are also excluded from the word count. The Degree Committee point out that some very successful doctoral theses have been submitted which extend to no more than three-quarters of the maximum permitted length.

In linguistics, where examples are cited in a language other than Modern English, only the examples themselves will be taken into account for the purposes of the word limit. Any English translations and associated linguistic glosses will be excluded from the word count.

In theses written under the aegis of any of the language sections, all sources in the language(s) of the primary area(s) of research of the thesis will normally be in the original language. An English translation should be provided only where reading the original language is likely to fall outside the expertise of the examiners. Where such an English translation is given it will not be included in the word count. In fields where the normal practice is to quote in English in the main text, candidates should follow that practice. If the original text needs to be supplied, it should be placed in a footnote. These fields include, but are not limited to, general linguistics and film and screen studies.

Since appendices are included in the word limit, in some fields it may be necessary to apply to exceed the limit in order to include primary data or other materials which should be available to the examiners. Only under the most exceptional circumstances will permission be granted to exceed the limit in other cases. In all cases (a) a candidate must apply to exceed the prescribed maximum length at least three months before the date on which a candidate proposes to submit their thesis and (b) the application must be accompanied by a full supporting statement from the candidate's supervisor showing that such exemption from the prescribed limit of length is absolutely necessary.

It is a requirement within all language sections of MMLL, and also for Film, that dissertations must conform with the advice concerning abbreviations, quotations, footnotes, references etc published in the Style Book of the Modern Humanities Research Association (Notes for Authors and Editors). For linguistics, dissertations must conform with one of the widely accepted style formats in their field of research, for example the style format of the Journal of Linguistics (Linguistic Association of Great Britain), or of Language Linguistic Society of America) or the APA format (American Psychology Association). If in doubt, linguistics students should discuss this with their supervisor and the PhD Coordinator.

The thesis is not to exceed 80,000 words for the PhD degree and 60,000 words for the MLitt degree, both excluding notes, appendices, and bibliographies, musical transcriptions and examples, unless a candidate make a special case for greater length to the satisfaction of the Degree Committee. Candidates whose work is practice-based may include as part of the doctoral submission either a portfolio of substantial musical compositions, or one or more recordings of their own musical performance(s).

PhD (MLitt) theses in Philosophy must not be more than 80,000 (60,000) words, including appendices and footnotes but excluding bibliography.

Institute of Astronomy, Department of Materials Science & Metallurgy, Department of Physics:

The thesis is not to exceed, without prior permission of the Degree Committee, 60,000 words, including summary/abstract, tables, footnotes and appendices, but excluding table of contents, photographs, diagrams, figure captions, list of figures/diagrams, list of abbreviations/acronyms, bibliography and acknowledgements.

Department of Chemistry:

The thesis is not to exceed, without prior permission of the Degree Committee, 60,000 words, including summary/abstract, tables, and footnotes, but excluding table of contents, photographs, diagrams, figure captions, list of figures/diagrams, list of abbreviations/acronyms, bibliography, appendices and acknowledgements. Appendices are relevant to the material contained within the thesis but do not form part of the connected argument. Specifically, they may include derivations, code and spectra, as well as experimental information (compound name, structure, method of formation and data) for non-key molecules made during the PhD studies.

Applicable to the PhDs in Politics & International Studies, Latin American Studies, Multi-disciplinary Studies and Development Studies for all submissions from candidates admitted prior to and including October 2017.

A PhD thesis must not exceed 80,000 words, and will normally be near that length. The word limit includes appendices but excludes footnotes, references and bibliography. Footnotes should not exceed 20% of the thesis. Discursive footnotes are generally discouraged, and under no circumstances should footnotes be used to include material that would normally be in the main text, and thus to circumvent the word limits. Statistical tables should be counted as 150 words per table. Only under exceptional circumstances, and after prior application, will the Degree Committee allow a student to exceed these limits. A candidate must submit, with the thesis, a statement signed by her or himself attesting to the length of the thesis. Any thesis that exceeds the limit will be referred back to candidate for revision before being forwarded to the examiners.

Applicable to the PhDs in Politics & International Studies, Latin American Studies, Multi-disciplinary Studies and Development Studies for all submissions from candidates admitted after October 2017.

A PhD thesis must not exceed 80,000 words, including footnotes. The word limit includes appendices but excludes the bibliography. Discursive footnotes are generally discouraged, and under no circumstances should footnotes be used to include material that would normally be in the main text. Statistical tables should be counted as 150 words per table. Only under exceptional circumstances, and after prior application, will the Degree Committee allow a student to exceed these limits. A candidate must submit, with the thesis, a statement signed by her or himself attesting to the length of the thesis. Any thesis that exceeds the limit will be referred back to candidate for revision before being forwarded to the examiners.

Only applicable to students registered for the degree prior to 1 August 2012; all other students should consult the guidance of the Faculty of Biological Sciences.

Applicable to the PhD in Psychology (former SDP students only) for all submissions made before 30 November 2013

A PhD thesis must not exceed 80,000 words, and will normally be near that length. The word limit includes appendices but excludes footnotes, references and bibliography. Footnotes should not exceed 20% of the thesis. Discursive footnotes are generally discouraged, and under no circumstances should footnotes be used to include material that would normally be in the main text, and thus to circumvent the word limits. Statistical tables should be counted as 150 words per table. Only under exceptional circumstances, and after prior application, will the Degree Committee allow a student to exceed these limits. A candidate must submit, with the thesis, a statement signed by her or himself attesting to the length of the thesis. Any thesis that exceeds the limit will be referred back to candidate for revision before being forwarded to the examiners.

Applicable to the PhD in Psychology (former SDP students only) for all submissions from 30 November 2013

A PhD thesis must not exceed 80,000 words, and will normally be near that length. The word limit includes appendices but excludes footnotes, references and bibliography. Footnotes should not exceed 20% of the thesis. Discursive footnotes are generally discouraged, and under no circumstances should footnotes be used to include material that would normally be in the main text, and thus to circumvent the word limits. Statistical tables should be counted as 150 words per table. Only under exceptional circumstances, and after prior application, will the Degree Committee allow a student to exceed these limits. Applications should be made in good time before the date on which a candidate proposes to submit the thesis, made to the Graduate Committee. A candidate must submit, with the thesis, a statement signed by her or himself attesting to the length of the thesis. Any thesis that exceeds the limit will be referred back to candidate for revision before being forwarded to the examiners.

A PhD thesis must not exceed 80,000 words, and will normally be over 60,000 words. This word limit includes footnotes and endnotes, but excludes appendices and reference list / bibliography. Figures, tables, images etc should be counted as the equivalent of 150 words for each page, or part of a page, that they occupy. Other media may form part of the thesis by prior arrangement with the Degree Committee. Students may apply to the Degree Committee for permission to exceed the word limit, but such applications are granted only rarely. Candidates must submit, with the thesis, a signed statement attesting to the length of the thesis.

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Formatting your thesis

Candidates are responsible for the formatting of their thesis, in consultation with their supervisor. Some elements provide more detailed guidelines for particular fields of study. Candidates must seek the approval of the Dean, Griffith Graduate Research School if they believe that thesis preparation demands a major departure from these guidelines. The request must be supported by the candidate's supervisors and endorsed by the Dean (Research).

A major consideration in the presentation of the thesis is the ease with which an examiner can undertake the task of examination. To this end, the following factors should be taken into account when preparing the thesis.

Length of thesis

A thesis is intended, among other things, to demonstrate a candidate's capacity to report on the research in a clear and succinct manner. It is recognised that the length of a thesis may vary according to the topic and the discipline (e.g., a PhD thesis is normally between 70,000 - 80,000 words). There is some variation in international standards regarding the length of a doctoral thesis and candidates should consult their supervisors regarding appropriate word limits in their disciplines. A very short thesis may suggest a lack of scope in a project while a very long thesis may suggest a failure in judgment through inclusion of material that could be left out.

Griffith University sets upper limits on the length of a higher degree research thesis, not including bibliography, appendices or footnotes:

These upper limits may be exceeded only in exceptional cases where approval has been given by the Dean, Griffith Graduate Research School on application from the candidate and with the support of the principal supervisor and Dean (Research).

Text layout

  • The lines of text should be in 1.5 or double spacing
  • Each page should have a left and right hand margin of at least 3 cm, and a top and bottom margin of at least 2 cm
  • The pages should be numbered sequentially
  • Depending on the referencing system used, references/footnotes may appear in the body of the text, at the bottom of each page, at the end of each chapter, or at the end of the thesis
  • The text must be legible as the clarity of the thesis depends in part on its presentation.

Thesis structure

The contents of the thesis must take the following order:

1. Title page

Must contain:

  • The full thesis title
  • The full name and academic qualifications of the candidate
  • The element and group in which the candidature was pursued, and the name of the University
  • The degree for which the thesis is submitted including the words, 'Submitted in fulfilment of the requirements of the degree of Doctor of Philosophy/Master of Philosophy/named professional doctorate'
  • The date (month and year) of submission of the thesis.

Refer to this sample title page ( PDF , 20k) for a visual example.

2. Synopsis or abstract (approximately 700 words)

3. Signed statement of originality

The statement of originality ( DOCX , 17k) must include the words:

"This work has not previously been submitted for a degree or diploma in any university. To the best of my knowledge and belief, the thesis contains no material previously published or written by another person except where due reference is made in the thesis itself." 

The signature can either be a scanned copy of a physically signed statement of originality, or it can be a digital signature applied directly to the PDF copy of the thesis.

4. A table of contents, a list of all diagrams and illustrations, and a list of supplementary material , if any.

5. A statement acknowledging the extent and nature of any assistance received in the pursuit of the research and preparation of the thesis

This should include a list of any work published in the course of the research that is included in whole or in major part in the thesis itself, editorial assistance and so on.

6. An acknowledgement of published papers included in the thesis*

* This acknowledgement is relevant only for submitting candidates who choose to include full copies of published papers in chapters of their thesis, rather than write the full thesis in standard thesis style with reference to published papers or inserting the papers as appendices. To establish which statement is required, refer to our published papers requirements diagram ( PDF , 72k) . Please choose one of the below statement types:

  • All included published papers are sole-authored by the student ( DOCX , 22k)
  • Published papers are a mix of sole-authored and co-authored papers ( DOCX , 22k)
  • All included published papers are co-authored ( DOCX , 22k) .

7. The main text

This is where the hard work of the thesis is reflected. For candidates wishing to include papers within the body of their thesis, please also check if there are any group and discipline requirements outlined within the requirement for inclusion of papers within the thesis drop-down .

8. A statement of contribution to co-authored published papers included in the thesis**

** This statement is relevant only for candidates submitting full copies of co-authored papers in chapters of their thesis. To establish if a statement is required, please see the published papers requirements diagram (PDF 72k).

If required, this statement must be included at the beginning of each relevant chapter. If the chapter includes more than one published paper, the statement and set of signatures should be included for each paper.

  • Download statement of contribution to co-authored published paper ( DOCX , 22k )

9. Appendices (including a confidential appendix, where appropriate)

10. Bibliography

11. Other material separate from the body of the thesis and submitted as part, or in support of the thesis

Supplementary material, diagrams and tables

  • Small diagrams, photographic images and tables should be incorporated into the text
  • Full page diagrams should be inserted on a page immediately facing the text describing it
  • Digital deposit of the thesis may not be possible (and exemption from such deposit allowed) where significant supplementary materials are unable to be digitised.

Referencing and bibliographic details

Candidates should pay careful attention to the referencing and bibliographic requirements of advanced research. Training in the use of bibliographic software packages such as EndNote is available through Griffith University Learning Services and should be completed at an early stage of candidature.

A fundamental requirement of research practice is the acknowledgement of the work of others. Failure to acknowledge the work of others may constitute plagiarism and is regarded by Griffith University as academic misconduct ( PDF , 297k) , for which penalties (including exclusion from a program) may be imposed. The strict requirements of an academic thesis for referencing and bibliographic records need to be understood in this context.

Candidates must acknowledge other researchers upon whose work or publications they have drawn. Adequate documentation of sources is expected and relied upon by the thesis examiners who may wish to consult sources quoted in a thesis.

Only recognised referencing styles should be employed, and candidates should consult with their supervisors on the most appropriate form of referencing for the field in which they are working. It is essential that the style of referencing adopted be followed consistently. See the Griffith University referencing guidelines for more detailed advice.

All books and articles mentioned in the body of the thesis must appear in the bibliography or reference list as appropriate. In some fields, the bibliography or reference list contains a record of works consulted, even if not actually cited in the text.

For further resources on referencing articles in the thesis, please see Articles in thesis .

It is expected that the thesis will be written in English, however a candidate may make a case to the Dean, Griffith Graduate Research School that a thesis would be more appropriately written in a language other than English. In considering a request, the Dean, GGRS will take into account the candidate's research topic, the capacity of the host element to provide continuity of linguistic expertise in the supervisory team, the extent to which the thesis is intimately associated with the study of that language, the availability of expert examiners able to read the thesis in the nominated language, and whether its presentation in English would impair the quality of the thesis. A candidate's lack of proficiency with the English language is not an appropriate reason for seeking to write the thesis in a language other than English.

A thesis that is written in a language other than English must have an Abstract in English as well as in the language in which it is written. Approval to write a thesis in a language other than English does not absolve the candidate from meeting Griffith University's English language proficiency requirements at admission to candidature.

This provision does not prevent the reproduction of texts in the original language where there are no adequate English translations available, or where the use of the original text is important to the understanding of the thesis as a whole.

In general, gender inclusive language should be used.

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How to Write an Abstract for a Dissertation or Thesis: Guide & Examples

Dissertation abstract

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A dissertation abstract is a brief summary of a dissertation, typically between 150-300 words. It is a standalone piece of writing that gives the reader an overview of the main ideas and findings of the dissertation.

Generally, this section should include:

  • Research problem and questions
  • Research methodology
  • Key findings and results
  • Original contribution
  • Practical or theoretical implications.

You need to write an excellent abstract for a dissertation or thesis, since it's the first thing a comitteee will review. Continue reading through to learn how to write a dissertation abstract. In this article, we will discuss its purpose, length, structure and writing steps. Moreover, for reference purposes, this article will include abstract examples for a dissertation and thesis and offer extra guidance on top of that.

In case you are in a hurry, feel free to buy dissertation from our professional writers. Our experts are qualified and have solid experience in writing Ph.D. academic works.

What Is a Dissertation Abstract?

Dissertation abstracts, by definition, are summaries of a thesis's content, usually between 200 and 300 words, used to inform readers about the contents of the study in a quick way. A thesis or dissertation abstract briefly overviews the entire thesis. Dissertation abstracts are found at the beginning of every study, providing the research recap, results, and conclusions. It usually goes right after your title page and before your dissertation table of contents . An abstract for a dissertation (alternatively called “précis” further in the article) should clearly state the main topic of your paper, its overall purpose, and any important research questions or findings. It should also contain any necessary keywords that direct readers to relevant information. In addition, it addresses any implications for further research that may stem from its field. Writing strong précis requires you to think carefully, as they are the critical components that attract readers to peruse your paper.

Dissertation Abstract

Purpose of a Dissertation or Thesis Abstract

The primary purpose of an abstract in a dissertation or thesis is to give readers a basic understanding of the completed work. Also, it should create an interest in the topic to motivate readers to read further. Writing an abstract for a dissertation is essential for many reasons: 

  • Offers a summary and gives readers an overview of what they should expect from your study.
  • Provides an opportunity to showcase the research done, highlighting its importance and impact.
  • Identifies any unexplored research gaps to inform future studies and direct the current state of knowledge on the topic.

In general, an abstract of a thesis or a dissertation is a bridge between the research and potential readers.

What Makes a Good Abstract for a Dissertation?

Making a good dissertation abstract requires excellent organization and clarity of thought. Proper specimens must provide convincing arguments supporting your thesis. Writing an effective dissertation abstract requires students to be concise and write engagingly. Below is a list of things that makes it outstanding:

  • Maintains clear and concise summary style
  • Includes essential keywords for search engine optimization
  • Accurately conveys the scope of the thesis
  • Strictly adheres to the word count limit specified in your instructions
  • Written from a third-person point of view
  • Includes objectives, approach, and findings
  • Uses simple language without jargon
  • Avoids overgeneralized statements or vague claims.

How Long Should a Dissertation Abstract Be?

Abstracts should be long enough to convey the key points of every thesis, yet brief enough to capture readers' attention. A dissertation abstract length should typically be between 200-300 words, i.e., 1 page. But usually, length is indicated in the requirements. Remember that your primary goal here is to provide an engaging and informative thesis summary. Note that following the instructions and templates set forth by your university will ensure your thesis or dissertation abstract meets the writing criteria and adheres to all relevant standards.

Dissertation Abstract Structure

Dissertation abstracts can be organized in different ways and vary slightly depending on your work requirements. However, each abstract of a dissertation should incorporate elements like keywords, methods, results, and conclusions. The structure of a thesis or a dissertation abstract should account for the components included below:

  • Title Accurately reflects the topic of your thesis.
  • Introduction Provides an overview of your research, its purpose, and any relevant background information.
  • Methods/ Approach Gives an outline of the methods used to conduct your research.
  • Results Summarizes your findings.
  • Conclusions Provides an overview of your research's accomplishments and implications.
  • Keywords Includes keywords that accurately describe your thesis.

Below is an example that shows how a dissertation abstract looks, how to structure it and where each part is located. Use this template to organize your own summary. 

Dissertation Abstract

Things to Consider Before Writing a Dissertation Abstract

There are several things you should do beforehand in order to write a good abstract for a dissertation or thesis. They include:

  • Reviewing set requirements and making sure you clearly understand the expectations
  • Reading other research works to get an idea of what to include in yours
  • Writing a few drafts before submitting your final version, which will ensure that it's in the best state possible.

Write an Abstract for a Dissertation Last

Remember, it's advisable to write an abstract for a thesis paper or dissertation last. Even though it’s always located in the beginning of the work, nevertheless, it should be written last. This way, your summary will be more accurate because the main argument and conclusions are already known when the work is mostly finished - it is incomparably easier to write a dissertation abstract after completing your thesis. Additionally, you should write it last because the contents and scope of the thesis may have changed during the writing process. So, create your dissertation abstract as a last step to help ensure that it precisely reflects the content of your project.

Carefully Read Requirements

Writing dissertation abstracts requires careful attention to details and adherence to writing requirements. Refer to the rubric or guidelines that you were presented with to identify aspects to keep in mind and important elements, such as correct length and writing style, and then make sure to comprehensively include them. Careful consideration of these requirements ensures that your writing meets every criterion and standard provided by your supervisor to increase the chances that your master's thesis is accepted and approved.   

Choose the Right Type of Dissertation Abstracts

Before starting to write a dissertation or thesis abstract you should choose the appropriate type. Several options are available, and it is essential to pick one that best suits your dissertation's subject. Depending on their purpose, there exist 3 types of dissertation abstracts: 

  • Informative
  • Descriptive

Informative one offers readers a concise overview of your research, its purpose, and any relevant background information. Additionally, this type includes brief summaries of all results and dissertation conclusions .  A descriptive abstract in a dissertation or thesis provides a quick overview of the research, but it doesn't incorporate any evaluation or analysis because it only offers a snapshot of the study and makes no claims.

Critical abstract gives readers an in-depth overview of the research and include an evaluative component. This means that this type also summarizes and analyzes research data, discusses implications, and makes claims about the achievements of your study. In addition, it examines the research data and recounts its implications. 

Choose the correct type of dissertation abstract to ensure that it meets your paper’s demands.

How to Write an Abstract for a Dissertation or Thesis?

Writing a good abstract for a dissertation or thesis is essential as it provides a brief overview of the completed research. So, how to write a dissertation abstract? First of all, the right approach is dictated by an institution's specific requirements. However, a basic structure should include the title, an introduction to your topic, research methodology, findings, and conclusions. Composing noteworthy precis allows you to flaunt your capabilities and grants readers a concise glimpse of the research. Doing this can make an immense impact on those reviewing your paper.

1. Identify the Purpose of Your Study

An abstract for thesis paper or dissertation is mainly dependent on the purpose of your study. Students need to identify all goals and objectives of their research before writing their précis - the reason being to ensure that the investigation’s progress and all its consequent findings are described simply and intelligibly. Additionally, one should provide some background information about their study. A short general description helps your reader acknowledge and connect with the research question. But don’t dive too deep into details, since more details are provided when writing a dissertation introduction . Scholars should write every dissertation abstract accurately and in a coherent way to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding of the area. This is the first section that potential readers will see, and it should serve as a precise overview of an entire document. Therefore, researchers writing abstracts of a thesis or dissertation should do it with great care and attention to details.

2. Discuss Methodology

A writer needs to elaborate on their methodological approach in an abstract of PhD dissertation since it acts as a brief summary of a whole research and should include an explanation of all methods used there. Dissertation and thesis abstracts discuss the research methodology by providing information sufficient enough to understand the underlying research question, data collection methods, and approach employed. Additionally, they should explain the analysis or interpretation of the data. This will help readers to gain a much better understanding of the research process and allow them to evaluate the data quality. Mention whether your methodology is quantitative or qualitative since this information is essential for readers to grasp your study's context and scope. Additionally, comment on the sources used and any other evidence collected. Furthermore, explain why you chose the method in the first place. All in all, addressing methodology is a crucial part of writing abstracts of a thesis or dissertation, as it will allow people to understand exactly how you arrived at your conclusions.

3. Describe the Key Results

Write your abstract for dissertation in a way that includes an overview of the research problem, your proposed solution, and any limitations or constraints you faced. Students need to briefly and clearly describe all key findings from the research. You must ensure that the results mentioned in an abstract of a thesis or dissertation are supported with evidence from body chapters.  Write about any crucial trends or patterns that emerged from the study. They should be discussed in detail, as this information can often provide valuable insight into your topic. Be sure to include any correlations or relationships found as a result of the study. Correlation, in this context, refers to any association between two or more variables.  Finally, write about any implications or conclusions drawn from your results: this is an essential element when writing an abstract for dissertation since it allows readers to firmly comprehend the study’s significance.

4. Summarize an Abstract for a Dissertation

Knowing how to write an abstract for dissertation is critical in conveying your work to a broad audience. Summarizing can be challenging (since precis is a summary in itself), but it is an essential part of any successful work. So, as a final step, conclude this section with a brief overview of the topic, outline the course of your research and its main results, and answer the paper’s central question.  Summarizing an abstract of your dissertation is done to give readers a succinct impression of the entire paper, making an accurate and concise overview of all its key points and consequent conclusions. In every PhD dissertation abstract , wrap up its summary by addressing any unanswered questions and discussing any potential implications of the research.

How to Format an Abstract in Dissertation

Format depends on the style (APA, MLA, Harvard, Chicago), which varies according to your subject's discipline. Style to use is usually mentioned in the instructions, and students should follow them closely to ensure formatting accuracy. These styles have guidelines that inform you about the formatting of titles, headings and subheadings, margins, page numbers, abstracts, and tell what font size and family or line spacing are required. Using a consistent formatting style ensures proper readability and might even influence paper’s overall structure. Another formatting concern to consider when writing dissertation and thesis abstracts is their layout. Most commonly, your paper should have a one-inch margin on all sides with double spacing. Be sure to familiarize yourself with the right guidelines to get the correct information on how to write dissertation abstract in APA format and ensure that it meets formatting standards.

Keywords in a Dissertation Abstract

When writing thesis abstracts, it is essential to include keywords. Keywords are phrases or words that help readers identify main topics of your paper and make it easier for them to find any information they need. Keywords should usually be placed at the end of a dissertation abstract and written in italics. In addition, include keywords that represent your paper's primary research interests and topics. Lastly, use keywords throughout your thesis to ensure that your précis accurately reflect an entire paper's content.

Thesis and Dissertation Abstract Examples

When writing, checking out thesis and dissertation abstracts examples from experts can provide a valuable reference point for structuring and formatting your own précis. When searching for an excellent sample template, engaging the assistance of a professional writer can be highly beneficial. Their expertise and knowledge offer helpful insight into creating an exemplary document that exceeds all expectations. Examples of dissertation abstracts from different topics are commonly available in scholarly journals and websites. We also encourage you to go and search your university or other local library catalogue -  multiple useful samples can surely be found there. From our part, we will attach 2 free examples for inspiration.

Dissertation abstract example

Dissertation Abstract Example

Thesis abstract example

Thesis Abstract Example

Need a custom summary or a whole work? Contact StudyCrumb and get proficient assistance with PhD writing or dissertation proposal help .

Extra Tips on Writing a Dissertation Abstract

Writing a dissertation or PhD thesis abstract is not an easy task. You must ensure that it accurately reflects your paper's content. In this context, we will provide top-class tips on how to write an abstract in a dissertation or thesis for you to succeed. Combined with an example of a dissertation abstract above, you can rest assured that you'll do everything correctly. Below are extra tips on how to write a thesis abstract:

  • Keep it concise, not lengthy - around 300 words.
  • Focus on the “what”, “why”, “how”, and “so what” of your research.
  • Be specific and concrete: avoid generalization.
  • Use simple language: précis should be easy to understand for readers unfamiliar with your topic.
  • Provide enough relevant information so your readers can grasp a main idea without necessarily reading your paper in its entirety.
  • Write and edit your abstract several times until every sentence is clear and concise.
  • Verify accuracy: make sure that précis reflect your content precisely.

Bottom Line on How to Write a Dissertation or Thesis Abstract

The bottom line when it comes to how to write a dissertation abstract is that you basically need to mirror your study's essence on a much lower scale. Specifically, students should keep their précis concise, use simple language, include relevant information, and write several drafts. Don't forget to review your précis and make sure they are precise enough. In addition, make sure to include all keywords so readers can find your paper quickly. You are encouraged to examine several sample dissertation abstracts to understand how to write your own.

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FAQ About Dissertation Abstract Writing

1. why is a dissertation abstract important.

Dissertation abstracts are important because they give readers a brief overview of your research. They succinctly introduce critical information and study’s key points to help readers decide if reading your thesis is worth their time. During indexing, an abstract allows categorizing and filtering papers through keyword searches. Consequently, this helps readers to easily find your paper when searching for information on a specific topic.

2. When should I write an abstract for a dissertation or thesis?

You are supposed to write a dissertation or thesis abstract after completing research and finishing work on your paper. This way, you can write précis that accurately reflects all necessary information without missing any important details. Writing your thesis précis last also lets you provide the right keywords to help readers find your dissertation.

3. What should a dissertation abstract include?

A dissertation abstract should include a research problem, goals and objectives, methods, results, and study implications. Ensure that you incorporate enough information so readers can get an idea of your thesis's content without reading it through. Use relevant keywords to ensure readers can easily find your paper when searching for information on a specific topic.

4. How to write a strong dissertation abstract?

To write a strong abstract for a dissertation, you should state your research problem, write in an active voice, use simple language, and provide relevant information. Additionally, write and edit your précis several times until it is clear and concise, and verify that it accurately mirrors your paper’s content. Reviewing several samples is also helpful for understanding how to write your own.

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  • You are currently on: Doctoral Thesis Policy and Procedures

Doctoral Thesis Policy and Procedures

Application.

Doctoral theses undertaken by doctoral candidates governed by programme regulations that came into effect in or after 2020.

Note: All other doctoral candidates should consult the relevant programme regulations and associated policies, procedures and guidelines.

To specify the policy and procedures that apply to doctoral theses undertaken by doctoral candidates governed by programme regulations that came into effect in or after 2020.

General requirements

1. Candidates are required to submit a doctoral thesis for examination under the applicable degree regulations and procedures.

2. A doctoral thesis must be a substantial presentation of the outcome of an original and coherent doctoral research project. It must situate the doctoral research in the broader framework of the disciplinary field(s) of study.

3. A doctoral thesis must demonstrate the research achievements of an individual. Where doctoral research involves the contributions of others, those contributions must be clearly identified in accordance with clause 22 of the procedures below.

4. The candidate’s contribution to the research outcome(s) presented in the thesis as the outcome(s) of the doctoral research must be no less than 65% and capable, in extent, of satisfying the regulatory criteria for the award of the degree.

5. The thesis requirement at clause 1 must be satisfied by the submission of a cohesive written document.

6. Subject to the PhD Including Scholarly Creative Work Policy and Procedures , scholarly creative work (written or otherwise) that forms an integrated whole with the written document may be submitted for examination as part of the thesis requirement for the PhD.

7. Subject to clause 14a, and excepting citation of other work, which must be fully and appropriately attributed and referenced, the candidate must have written the text of the thesis.

8. All third party editing and proof-reading must be conducted in accordance with the Third Party Editing and Proofreading of Theses and Dissertations Guidelines .

9. Subject to clause 10, the thesis is to be presented and examined in English unless otherwise approved by the Board of Graduate Studies (or delegate) in accordance with clauses 23-26 of the procedures below.

10. The thesis may be presented and examined in Te Reo Māori where the Pro Vice-Chancellor (Māori) (or nominee) and the Board of Graduate Studies (or delegate) are satisfied that appropriate supervision is available, that suitable examiners, and a suitable Examination Committee and Oral Examination committee , will be available for the examination, and that the thesis topic/disciplinary area(s) do not make presentation and examination in English essential on academic grounds, and subject to clauses 23 and 25 of procedures below.

Thesis length

11. Subject to clause 12, the work submitted for examination in fulfilment of the thesis requirement, including all appendices and references, must not exceed 100,000 words except as permitted pursuant to clause 13 of this policy or by the PhD Including Scholarly Creative Work Policy and Procedures .

12. Where doctoral programme regulations specify a word limit lower than that at clause 11 of this policy, the programme regulations prevail, and the specified word length includes all appendices and references.

13. In exceptional academic circumstances, and subject to clauses 27-29 of the procedures below, the Board of Graduate Studies (or delegate) may give permission for a thesis to exceed the word length specified in the doctoral programme regulations.

Inclusion of published work

14. The written document submitted in fulfilment of the thesis requirement may include one or more publications subject to the following conditions:

a. The candidate must be the sole or lead author of the work. To be lead author , the candidate must have written all or the majority of the text and have their contribution to the publication confirmed by all contributors, in the Statement of Contribution required under clause 22 of the procedures below, as no less than 65%.

b. Except for the MD, all candidate work for the publication/s must be undertaken under supervision during the candidate’s enrolment in the doctoral degree for which the thesis is submitted.

c. All co-authors, and the publisher where work has been published or accepted for publication, must agree to the inclusion of the publication in the thesis prior to submission of the thesis for examination.

d. In addition to satisfying clause 2 of this policy, the thesis must, with regard to the inclusion of introductory, concluding and methodological discussions, and literature review, conform to the disciplinary norm for theses that do not include publications.

e. The thesis must be a coherent whole; publications included in the thesis must be integrated by the effective use of linking passages and/or otherwise amended to facilitate coherence, eliminate unnecessary repetition across the thesis and to ensure appropriate scope of engagement with a topic.

f. The thesis remains subject to clause 20 of this policy and must be presented throughout in a consistent format, citation style and typeface.

15. For the purposes of clause 14, “publication” encompasses any work that has appeared in a journal, book or other forum (digital or print), and any work submitted or accepted for publication but which has not appeared at the time of submission of the thesis.

16. There is no requirement as to the number of publications, or as to the journal ranking or impact factor associated with any journal publication, included in accordance with clause 14.

17. The opportunity to include one or more publications in accordance with clause 14 in no way mitigates the statutory requirements for doctoral candidates to undertake, and present the outcome of, a coherent doctoral research project.

18. Candidates including publications in accordance with clause 14 are not required to include a publication in its entirety and may revise previously published material for the purposes of updating or improving material as well as for the purposes of clause 14e.

19. Where a candidate’s contribution to a publication is less than 65%, or where a candidate did not write all or the majority of the text, the candidate may report on their contribution to the research that informs the publication, with due reference to the publication, but may not include that publication in the thesis.

20. The written document presented in fulfilment of the thesis requirement must be formatted in accordance with clauses 30-45 of the procedures below.

21. The thesis must comply with the Third Party Copyright Guidelines . If scholarly creative work submitted as part of the thesis requirement includes co-produced work, the approval of co-producers is required in the Statement of Contribution required under clause 22 of the procedures below.

Statement of contribution

22. Where the doctoral research presented for examination, including any creative practice research, contains the contributions of others, the nature of those contributions, any necessary permissions, and the nature and extent of the candidate’s contribution must be detailed in a Statement of Contribution completed in accordance with the University template. The statement of contribution must be included within the thesis submission, pre and post examination, as per clause 35 of these procedures.

23. Candidates seeking to submit a thesis in a language other than English must normally apply to do so at the time of application for admission to the doctoral programme.

24. Applications to submit a thesis in a language other than English or Te Reo Māori will only be considered on grounds related to the thesis topic and field of study. The English language capacity of the candidate is not grounds for consideration.

25. Applications to submit a thesis in a language other than English must be accompanied by the recommendation of the proposed main or joint supervisor .

26. The Board of Graduate Studies (or delegate) will give permission for a thesis to be submitted and/or examined in a language other than English or Te Reo Māori only where they are satisfied that:

  • appropriate supervision is available
  • the field of study and topic of the thesis make this essential
  • suitable examiners, and a suitable Examination Committee and Oral Examination committee, will be available for the examination of the thesis

27. Unless permitted by the PhD Including Scholarly Creative Work Policy and Procedures , candidates seeking to exceed the word limit at clause 11 of the above policy must apply to the School of Graduate Studies.

28. Applications to exceed the word limit at clause 11 of the above policy must be made solely on academic grounds and must be accompanied by a statement of support from the main or joint supervisor detailing the exceptional nature of the academic circumstances.

29. The Board of Graduate Studies (or delegate) will determine the outcome of applications made under clauses 27-28 of these procedures.

30. The font used must be black and, in the main text of the thesis, equivalent to either 12 point Times New Roman or 10 point Arial. Footnotes or endnotes may be of a smaller font size but must be easily readable by examiners.

31. Line spacing must be no less than 1.5 line space and no more than double line space, with the exception of longer quotations, footnotes/endnotes and materials in tables/figures, which may be single line spaced.

32. Referencing system, paragraph indentations (or lack thereof), formatting of quotations and use of footnotes/endnotes must adhere to the chosen style manual (e.g. APA, Chicago, MLA, MHRA), the choice of which must be determined in accordance with disciplinary norms.

33. These procedures prevail in any case of conflict between these procedures and the style manual/referencing system selected under clause 32 of these procedures.

34. Page numbers must be located in a consistent position throughout the thesis.

35. The order of material in a thesis must be as follows:

a. Title page (required; not numbered and not counted in pagination).

b. Abstract (required; numbered in Roman numerals).

c. Dedication (optional; not numbered and not counted in pagination).

d. Acknowledgements (optional; numbered in Roman numerals).

e. Table of contents (required; numbered in Roman numerals).

f. Lists of tables, figures, etc. (optional; tables and figures numbered by Arabic numerals; the thesis page/s on which the lists feature are numbered in Roman numerals).

g. Glossary (optional; numbered in Roman numerals).

h. Statement of Contribution (where required under clause 22 of these procedures; numbered in Roman numerals).

i. Main text of thesis (required; numbered in Arabic numerals starting at 1).

j. Appendices (optional; numbering continued from main text in Arabic numerals).

k. Bibliography/List of references (required; numbering continued in Arabic numerals).

36. The thesis title must be centred in the top third of the title page and must describe the content of the thesis accurately.

37. The candidate’s full name must be centred in the middle of the title page.

38. The following text must be completed and placed in the lower third of the title page:

A thesis submitted in [partial] fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of [name of your degree] in [ subject area ], the University of Auckland, [year of completion]. This thesis is for examination purposes only and is confidential to the examination process.

The final sentence must be removed prior to final submission of the thesis post examination.

39. The abstract must be a succinct summary, of no more than 350 words, of the aim, methods, findings and conclusions of the doctoral research.

40. The main text of the thesis must be divided into a logical scheme of chapters and/or sections that is followed consistently throughout the work. Any logical system of subdivision within chapters or sections appropriate to the disciplinary fields may be used.

41. The chapters/sections of a thesis must not be termed “papers”.

42. Brief chapter/section abstracts, and/or keywords, must either be included at the start of all chapters/sections in the thesis (save, at the candidate’s discretion, the introduction and conclusion) or omitted entirely.

43. The thesis must conclude with a bibliography/Reference List, as per clause 35.

44. Where a glossary is included to define or explain specialised terms, symbols and abbreviations, any abbreviations or symbols used must conform to disciplinary norms and must be listed individually, with the abbreviated form starting from the left-hand margin followed by the full form to its right.

45. Where appendices are used for any additional material that does not fit conveniently or appropriately in the body of the text, each appendix must be labelled in sequence, either with capital letters or with numerals.

Definitions

The following definitions apply to this document:

Candidate means a candidate for a doctoral degree at the University.

Doctoral candidates are students who are enrolled in doctoral degrees at the University.

Examination Committee is the committee, distinct from the oral examination committee, that may be formed for the purpose of considering the examiners’ reports. It comprises the academic head, an associate dean or director, and the Academic Head Nominee.

Joint supervisor refers to the joint supervisor with primary responsibility for administrative requirements.

Lead author means the candidate must have written all or the majority of the text and must have their contribution to the work confirmed by all co-authors as no less than 65%.

Main supervisor is the lead supervisor who takes primary responsibility for the supervision of a candidate.

Oral Examination Committee is the committee, distinct from the Examination Committee, formed for the purpose of the oral examination. It comprises the independent chair, oral examiner and the Academic Head Nominee.

Publications include any work that has appeared in a journal, book or other publication, and any work submitted or accepted for publication but which had not appeared at the time of submission of the thesis. Publications include ‘traditional’ hard copy works, such as books and journal articles, and works that only appear in digital form.

Subject area is the official subject area in which the candidate is enrolled.

Thesis is a substantial presentation of the outcome of an original and coherent doctoral research project. It situates the research in the broader framework of the disciplinary field(s), and entails a cohesive written document.

Key relevant documents

Include the following:

  • PhD Statute
  • PhD Including Scholarly Creative Work Policy and Procedures
  • Third Party Copyright Guidelines
  • Third Party Editing and Proofreading of Theses and Dissertations Guidelines
  • Statement of Contribution

Document management and control

Content manager: School of Graduate Studies Owner: Dean of Graduate Studies Approved by: Board of Graduate Studies, Senate and Council Date approved: October 2021 Review date: October 2026

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How Long is a Thesis or Dissertation: College, Grad or PhD

How long is a thesis

How long is a thesis

As a graduate student, you may have heard that you must complete a certain comprehensive project, either a thesis or a dissertation. In this guide, we will explore how long a thesis should be, the best length for a dissertation, and the optimal length for each part of the two.

If you read on to the end, we will also explore their differences to understand how it informs each length.

Both terms have distinct meanings, although they are sometimes used interchangeably and frequently confused.

phd thesis abstract length

Structure-wise, both papers have an introduction, a literature review, a body, a conclusion, a bibliography, and an appendix. That aside, both papers have some differences, as we shall see later on in this article.

How Long Should a Thesis be

Before discussing how long a thesis is, it’s critical to understand what it is. A thesis is a paper that marks the end of a study program.

Mostly, there is the undergraduate thesis, a project that marks the end of a bachelor’s degree, and a master’s thesis that marks the end of a master’s program.

A thesis should be around 50 pages long for a bachelor’s degree and 60-100 pages for a Master’s degree. However, the optimal length of a thesis project depends on the faculty’s instructions and the supervising professor’s expectations . The length also depends on the topic’s technicalities and the extent of research done.

How long is a thesis

A master’s thesis project is longer because it is a compilation of all your knowledge obtained in your master’s degree.

It basically allows you to demonstrate your abilities in your chosen field.

Often, graduate schools require students pursuing research-oriented degrees to write a thesis.

This is to demonstrate their practical skills before completing their degrees.

In contrast to undergraduate thesis, which are shorter in length and coverage area, usually less than 60 pages. A master’s theses are lengthy scholarly work allowing you to research a topic deeply.

Then you are required to write, expand the topic, and demonstrate what you have learned throughout the program. This is part of why you must write a thesis for some undergrad in some of the courses.

A Master’s thesis necessitates a large amount of research, which may include conducting interviews, surveys, and gathering information ( both primary and secondary) depending on the subject and field of study.

For this reason, the master’s thesis has between 60 and 100 pages, without including the bibliography. Mostly, the topic and research approach determine the length of the paper.

This means that there is no definite number of pages required. However, your thesis should be long enough to clearly and concisely present all important information.

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How long should a dissertation be.

A dissertation is a complex, in-depth research paper usually written by Ph.D. students. When writing the dissertation, Ph.D. Students are required to create their research, formulate a hypothesis, and conduct the study.

On average, a dissertation should be at least 90 pages at the minimum and 200 pages at the maximum , depending on the guidelines of the faculty and the professor. The optimal length for a dissertation also depends on the depth of the research done, the components of the file, and the level of study.

How long is a dissertation

Most Ph.D. dissertations papers are between 120 to 200 pages on average.

However, as we said earlier, it all depends on factors like the field of study, and methods of data collection, among others.

Unlike a master’s thesis, which is about 100 pages, a dissertation is at least twice this length.

This is because you must develop a completely new concept, study it, research it, and defend it.

In your Ph.D. program, a dissertation allows you the opportunity to bring new knowledge, theories, or practices to your field of study.

The Lengths of Each Part of a Thesis and Dissertation

Factors determining the length of thesis or dissertation.

As we have seen, there is no definite length of a thesis and dissertation. Most of these two important academic documents average 100 to 400 pages. However, several factors determine their length.

rules and regulations

Universities- we all know universities are independent bodies. Also, it’s important to know that each university is different from the other. As a result, the thesis and dissertation length varies depending on the set rules in a certain college or school.

Field of study- some fields of study have rich information, while others have limited information.

For example, you may have much to write about or discover when it comes to science compared to history.

As such, if you are to write a thesis or a dissertation in both fields, one will definitely be longer than the other. Check the time it takes to write a thesis or a dissertation to get more points.

Other factors that affect the length of a thesis or a dissertation include your writing style and the instructor’s specifications. These factors also come into play when it comes to the time taken to defend a thesis or your dissertation.

Tips for the Optimal Length for a Thesis or Dissertation

Instead of writing for length, write for brevity. The goal is to write the smallest feasible document with all of the material needed to describe the study and back up the interpretation. Ensure to avoid irrelevant tangents and excessive repetitions at all costs.

The only repetition required is the main theme. The working hypothesis seeks to be elaborated and proved in your paper.

The theme is developed in the introduction, expanded in the body, and mentioned in the abstract and conclusion.

Here are some tips for writing the right length of thesis and dissertation:

  • Remove any interpretation portion which is only tangentially linked to your new findings. 
  • Use tables to keep track of information that is repeated.
  • Include enough background information for the reader to understand the point of view.
  • Make good use of figure captions.
  • Let the table stand on its own. I.e., do not describe the contents of the figures and/or tables one by one in the text. Instead, highlight the most important patterns, objects, or trends in the figures and tables in the text.
  • Leave out any observations or results in the text that you haven’t provided data.
  • Do not include conclusions that aren’t backed up by your findings.
  • Remove all inconclusive interpretation and discussion portions. 
  • Avoid unnecessary adjectives, prepositional phrases, and adverbs.
  • Make your sentences shorter – avoid nesting clauses or phrases.
  • Avoid idioms and instead use words whose meaning can be looked up in a dictionary.

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Difference between a Thesis and a Dissertation

dissertation vs thesis

The most basic distinction between a thesis and a dissertation is when they are written.

While a thesis is a project completed after a master’s program, a dissertation is completed at the end of doctorate studies.

In a thesis, you present the results of your research to demonstrate that you have a thorough understanding of what you have studied during your master’s program.

On the other hand,  a dissertation is your chance to add new knowledge, theories, or practices to your field while pursuing a doctorate. The goal here is to come up with a completely new concept, develop it, and defend it.

A master’s thesis is similar to the types of research papers you’re used to writing in your bachelor’s studies. It involves conducting research on a topic, analyzing it, and then commenting on your findings and how it applies to your research topic.

The thesis aims to demonstrate your capacity to think critically about and explain a topic in depth.

Furthermore, with a thesis, you typically use this time to elaborate on a topic that is most relevant to your professional area of specialization that you intend to pursue.

In a dissertation, on the other hand, you use other people’s research as an inspiration to help you come up with and prove your own hypothesis, idea, or concept. The majority of the data in a dissertation is credited to you.

Last but not least, these two major works differ greatly in length. The average length of a master’s thesis is at least 100 pages.

On the other hand, a doctoral dissertation should be substantially longer because it includes a lot of history and research information, as well as every element of your research, while explaining how you arrived at the information.

It is a complex piece of scholarly work, and it is likely to be twice or thrice the length of a thesis. To know the difference, check the best length for a thesis paper and see more about it.

Here is a Recap of the Differences

  • While the thesis is completed at the end of your master’s degree program, a dissertation is written at the end of your doctoral degree program.
  • Both documents also vary in length. A thesis should have at least 100 pages, while a doctoral dissertation is longer (over 200 pages)
  • In the thesis, you conduct original research; in the dissertation, you use existing research to help you develop your discovery.
  • For a thesis, you have to add analysis to the existing work, while a dissertation is part of the analysis of the existing work.
  • In comparison to a thesis, a dissertation requires a more thorough study to expand your research in a certain topic.
  • The statements in a thesis and a dissertation are distinct. While a thesis statement explains to readers how you will prove an argument in your research, a dissertation hypothesis defines and clarifies the outcomes you expect from your study. Here, you apply a theory to explore a certain topic.
  • A dissertation allows you to contribute new knowledge to your field of study, while a thesis makes sure you understand what you have studied in your program and how it applies.

A thesis or a dissertation is a difficult document to compile. However, you should not be worried since your school assigns you a dissertation advisor who is a faculty member.

These advisors or supervisors help you find resources and ensure that your proposal is on the right track when you get stuck.

Check out my guide on the differences between a research paper, proposal, and thesis to understand more about these issues.

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Josh Jasen or JJ as we fondly call him, is a senior academic editor at Grade Bees in charge of the writing department. When not managing complex essays and academic writing tasks, Josh is busy advising students on how to pass assignments. In his spare time, he loves playing football or walking with his dog around the park.

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COMMENTS

  1. How to Write an Abstract for a Dissertation or Thesis

    If you're a PhD student, having written your 100,000-word thesis, the abstract will be the 300 word summary included at the start of the thesis that succinctly explains the motivation for your study (i.e. why this research was needed), the main work you did (i.e. the focus of each chapter), what you found (the results) and concluding with how yo...

  2. How to Write an Abstract

    Abstracts are usually around 100-300 words, but there's often a strict word limit, so make sure to check the relevant requirements. In a dissertation or thesis, include the abstract on a separate page, after the title page and acknowledgements but before the table of contents. Instantly correct all language mistakes in your text

  3. What is a dissertation abstract

    An abstract is a short summary at the beginning of the PhD that sums up the research, summarises the separate sections of the thesis and outlines the contribution. It is typically used by those wishing to get a broad understanding of a piece of research prior to reading the entire thesis.

  4. How to Write an Abstract for a Dissertation

    Written by Hannah Slack PhD Study Advice Every PhD student will have to write an abstract. Whether it's for a conference paper, journal article or your thesis, the abstract is an important part for many academic activities. Although only a single short paragraph, writing one effectively takes practice.

  5. Know How to Structure Your PhD Thesis

    Abstract: The abstract is a brief summary that quickly outlines your research, touches on each of the main sections of your thesis, and clearly outlines your contribution to the field by way of your PhD thesis. Even though the abstract is very short, similar to what you've seen in published research articles, its impact shouldn't be underestimated.

  6. Formatting Your Dissertation

    Length. 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. ... Preliminary pages (abstract, table of contents, list of tables, graphs, illustrations, and preface) should use small Roman numerals (i, ii, iii ...

  7. How long is a dissertation abstract?

    An abstract for a thesis or dissertation is usually around 200-300 words. There's often a strict word limit, so make sure to check your university's requirements. Frequently asked questions: Dissertation How long is a dissertation? What is a dissertation prospectus? Who typically writes a thesis?

  8. PDF Guidelines for The PhD Dissertation

    Introduction Every PhD candidate in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences is required to successfully complete and submit a dissertation to qualify for degree conferral. This document provides information on how to submit your dissertation, requirements for dissertation formatting, and your dissertation publishing and distribution options.

  9. Tips for writing a PhD dissertation: FAQs answered

    How long should a PhD thesis be? A PhD thesis (or dissertation) is typically 60,000 to 120,000 words ( 100 to 300 pages in length) organised into chapters, divisions and subdivisions (with roughly 10,000 words per chapter) - from introduction (with clear aims and objectives) to conclusion.

  10. PhD Thesis Guide

    This PhD Thesis Guide will guide you step-by-step through the thesis process, from your initial letter of intent to submission of the final document. All associated forms are conveniently consolidated in the section at the end. ... The abstract has a maximum length of 500 words and serves as a concise description of the proposed work that ...

  11. Format Requirements for Your Dissertation or Thesis

    Abstract — An abstract may be included in the preliminary section of the dissertation or thesis. The abstract in the body of the dissertation or thesis follows the style used for the rest of the manuscript and should be placed following the signature page. There is no maximum permissible length for the abstract in the dissertation or thesis.

  12. PDF Style Guide for Doctoral Dissertation Preparation Graduate School

    be followed and used for the doctoral thesis. Abstract The abstract is expected to give a succinct amount of the dissertation. The maximum length of an abstract is 350 words; the average length of an abstract, approximately 1 and 1/2 pages. Abstracts that exceed 350 words will be returned to the student by University Microfilms

  13. Structure and Style of Theses and Dissertations

    Doctoral students post-defence: Please remember to update the committee page before final post-defence submission if necessary. 3. Abstract (required - maximum 350 words) The abstract is a concise and accurate summary of the scholarly work described in the document.

  14. How Long Is a PhD Thesis?

    However, from the analysis of over 100 PhD theses, the average thesis length is between 80,000 and 100,000 words. A further analysis of 1000 PhD thesis shows the average number of pages to be 204. In reality, the actual word count for each PhD thesis will depend on the specific subject and the university it is being hosted by.

  15. A Guide to Writing a PhD Thesis

    At this point you may also summarise the remaining chapters, offering an abstract of the argument you will go on to develop. ... The length of a PhD thesis varies from subject to subject, but all are far longer than those for undergraduate or Masters degrees. Your university will usually set an upper limit - typically between 70,000 and ...

  16. How to Write a Dissertation Abstract

    Avoid the temptation to make it more than a page long. The truth is, people aren't going to read a multiple-page abstract, which means they won't read your dissertation. Don't think of it as condensing 100+ pages of material down into one page. Rather, think of it as giving an introduction to what is contained in the pages of your ...

  17. Structuring your thesis

    Contact Starting at UQ Show Starting at UQ sub-navigation Programs and Courses Once you've done this, you can begin to think about how to structure your thesis. To help you get started, we've outlined a basic structure below, but the requirements for your discipline may be different check with your advisor.

  18. How to write an abstract for your PhD thesis: what to include and how

    — Degree Doctor® How to write an abstract for your PhD thesis: what to include and how to structure it - with examples! 27 Oct Written By Elizabeth Yardley When you've completed your PhD research and are ready to present your findings to the world, don't overlook the importance of writing a compelling abstract for your thesis.

  19. Word limits and requirements of your Degree Committee

    These limits and requirements are strictly observed by the Postgraduate Committee and the Degree Committees and, unless approval to exceed the prescribed limit has been obtained beforehand (see: Extending the Word Limit below), a thesis that exceeds the limit may not be examined until its length complies with the prescribed limit.

  20. Formatting

    Length of thesis A thesis is intended, among other things, to demonstrate a candidate's capacity to report on the research in a clear and succinct manner. It is recognised that the length of a thesis may vary according to the topic and the discipline (e.g., a PhD thesis is normally between 70,000 - 80,000 words).

  21. How to Write a Thesis or Dissertation Abstract & Examples

    A dissertation abstract length should typically be between 200-300 words, i.e., 1 page. But usually, length is indicated in the requirements. Remember that your primary goal here is to provide an engaging and informative thesis summary. ... Extra Tips on Writing a Dissertation Abstract. Writing a dissertation or PhD thesis abstract is not an ...

  22. Doctoral Thesis Policy and Procedures

    Candidates are required to submit a doctoral thesis for examination under the applicable degree regulations and procedures. 2. A doctoral thesis must be a substantial presentation of the outcome of an original and coherent doctoral research project. ... Thesis length. 11. Subject to clause 12, ... Abstract (required; numbered in Roman numerals).

  23. How Long is a Thesis or Dissertation: College, Grad or PhD

    A thesis should be around 50 pages long for a bachelor's degree and 60-100 pages for a Master's degree. However, the optimal length of a thesis project depends on the faculty's instructions and the supervising professor's expectations. The length also depends on the topic's technicalities and the extent of research done.