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Dissertation writing is a unique culmination of the intellectual capacity of a person and her/his capability to showcase it in a comprehensive manner. It requires elaborative research and extensive effort inputs by students. All these combined may result in an excellent piece of scholarly work. Though dissertation-writing is in itself a tedious task most students find the formatting part of a dissertation quite confusing.

It is generally found that many universities do give guideline handouts to students for writing a dissertation but sometimes with all the information in hand, students are often left in limbo regarding how to format a dissertation perfectly that would help them score well.

Here, we come to students’ rescue. This article specifically deals with providing students with a detailed and explanatory guideline on how to format a dissertation.

What Does it Mean to Format a Dissertation?

Formatting a dissertation, in plain words would mean following the rules of the game. Formatting ensures that the dissertation is produced in a comprehensive manner and it also gives a touch of professionalism to your work.

Formatting quintessentially deals with the aspects like the language of your text, fonts to be used, page setup and layout, spacing, word and text divisions, et al. Though these words may sound a bit technical to you but not to worry, we will be explaining each and every aspect involved in formatting a dissertation.

Why Formatting a Dissertation is Important?

Formatting a dissertation is as important as the dissertation itself. Formatting your dissertation means packaging your entire piece of work in an expected as well as accepted manner. It complements the efforts put into creating scholarly work. A properly formatted dissertation not only makes the task easier for the assessor but it also acknowledges the perseverance on the student’s part.

A perfect formatting supplements the content of the dissertation. It imparts confidence as well as quality to the dissertation. And these are the things that account for the perfect ingredients of the recipe to score well.

How to Format a Dissertation?

Cut to the chase, now comes the most important part dealing with how to master the art of formatting a dissertation. As discussed above, it does not involve any rocket science but just some efforts and playing smart from the students’ end.

Though there are not any hard and fast rules involved, when it comes to formatting, still we concluded some of the most important aspects involved in formatting a dissertation and they are as follows:

  • Choice of Paper: In the absence of any strict guidelines to adhere to, the use of hard, white blank paper is the safest option. The quality of the paper should not be compromised as it makes for the base of your entire dissertation. It is generally advised to use 8.5 x 11-inch size paper sheets. Text on both sides of the paper is usually not an ideal practise to follow. The text should preferably be kept on the single side of the sheet, as it makes the dissertation look more tidy and comprehendible.
  • Typeface: It refers to the choice of type and size of the font(s) to be used during the course of the dissertation. There are not any specific font types and sizes advised but to reckon, it is preferred to use a font size of 10, 11 or 12. This choice is mainly up to the student but it is advisable to use such a font type and size that it make the text legible and easy to read. It must be ensured to avoid many variations in the type and size of the font(s) used. Different sizes and types of fonts may be used in order to differentiate between the heading, sub-heading and text of the dissertation.
  • Margins: Page alignment ensures the presentation is neat and clear. It is also important from the point of view of the assessor as it provides space to leave any remarks as and when required. To give an idea, the right and left margins of a page should be one and a half inches for all the pages. The top margin is expected to be around one and one-quarter inches for all the pages other than the title page, the acknowledgement page, the list of the content page. The bottom margin should also be around one and one-quarter inches for all the pages.
  • Spacing: It essentially applies to the pages containing the text of the dissertation. Double-spacing is typically required when the text is written in a flow. However, it could be changed in case of citing any quotation, or any anecdotes or when giving some footnotes. Spacing is mainly to ensure to bring a tidiness to the text in order to facilitate the reading of the dissertation.
  • Pagination: It is crucial to writing a well-collaborated dissertation. It brings order to the entire piece of work. For pages like the title page, the acknowledgement page, the content list page, the Dissertation Approval Certificate page (if required), lower case Roman numerals (I, ii, iii…) are advised to be used. While for pages containing the main text of the dissertation, Arabic numbers (1,2,3,4….) should be used continuously throughout the entire body up to the very end. The numbers should typically appear three-quarters of an inch from the top or bottom edge of the paper centred between the margins.
  • Language and Style: Though a dissertation is usually expected to be in the English language exceptions are made for other language dissertations where the subject discipline itself is some other language.

Another most important thing to focus is on the tone of your writing. It is a rough path to follow where a student is required to be juggling the task of amalgamating the technical/complicated words with a simple tone. The overall language of the dissertation should be kept simple and fluid. It should be clear and free from any confusing words. Short and crisp sentences should be used.

  • Order and Content: Though a quintessential dissertation may include a word range of somewhere between 5000 words to 15000 words, it majorly depends upon what your dissertation topic demands or the set word range, if given. Once the word limit is known, start giving substance to your dissertation. A typical dissertation structure involves:
  • Title of the dissertation (ensure that it explains what the dissertation is about)
  • Dissertation Acceptance Certificate, if required
  • Acknowledgements
  • Table of contents
  • Introduction
  • Chapters/ Parts (as dividing the dissertation into appropriate parts makes it more reader-friendly)
  • Conclusion
  • Reference List

Apart from the above mentioned, your to-do list must also include thorough proofreading and editing, as good writing includes great editing. You must also number the pages in your dissertation, excluding the title page, dissertation acceptance certificate page and acknowledgements. You should also provide footnotes as of and when required. And to make one thing clear, the aforementioned structure is to give some ideas on how to go about; it should not limit your thought process and creativity. You are free and must work to add a hint of freshness to your work. Remember, creativity helps to earn some extra brownie points.

  • Text Division: The text should be intelligently divided so as to make the dissertation flow smoothly. Long paragraphs must be reduced to short paragraphs. This practice ensures an easy understanding of the text. Also if the dissertation is long enough, it should be divided into appropriate chapters/sections with proper numbering and heading.
  • Page Layout: A good page layout selection shows the expertise of the writer. Generally, it is advised to use the portrait layout when a page consists of text. While a landscape layout is preferred when any picture, map, chart, graph is used on the page.
  • Use of Third-Party Resources: A major part of writing any dissertation requires research and that research often involves the study of already published materials. Though the use of any research is encouraged at the same time it is expected to be acknowledged and given the due credit.

Using any third-party reference without acknowledgement may amount to plagiarism and thereby it may be a cause for direct rejection of one’s work. Thus it is highly recommended to highlight and cite the due acknowledgements in your work.

Also, if a dissertation involves the use of any copyrighted material, it is well-advised to acquire a letter of approval/permission letter beforehand from the concerned authority. And a copy of this letter so acquired must also be included in the dissertation to avoid any discrepancies.

  • Citations: In order to add emphasis to your work, appropriate citations are a must. Though it is advised to use good citations it is also required to acknowledge the legit owner of that work. The method to acknowledge the citations totally depends on the choice of the writer. It may be acknowledged on the same page at the bottom of any citation could also be numbered and could be acknowledged at the end in the appendices section.
  • Maps/Charts/Graphs/Pictures: When one uses additional material in the form of any chart/graph/ picture, it not only adds emphasis to the work but also brings a wave of freshness to the entire document. It keeps the reader engaged throughout while simultaneously adding validity and value to one’s thoughts.
  • Protecting your Work: In case a dissertation involves first-hand primary research, it is highly advised to get your work copyrighted. Copyrighting your work ensures protection from the illegitimate use of your work. It also gives your work an acknowledgement of originality. Once your work is copyrighted, it is advised to attach a copy of the certificate in the dissertation as it protects your work from getting plagiarised.

Invest in Your Dissertation

Dissertation-writing is a long-term commitment. It is your own production. You are the sole authority of that work. It requires both your time and effort. Invest in your project by giving quality time to it. Do not treat it like any other college assignment. Your dissertation is a reflection of your understanding of the said subject. It is a testament to the knowledge that you have acquired during the course of your education.

It is an opportunity to show your understanding of the subject. Make the most of it as it can take your career to an upward graph.

Remember the above-stated points while writing and formatting your dissertation. Read it over again and again. Make it an absolute error-free work. Edit it keenly. Take help from your peers and friends. Keep the suggestion window wide and open. Take criticism positively and work on improving them.

Remember, your dissertation is the gist of all your efforts put in along your entire academic journey. Own it, embrace it. Enjoy and learn from all the hurdles you overcame while writing this scholarly piece of work. And finally, take pride in your work without worrying about the outcome. 

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