Friday, 11 September 2015

Formatting your thesis

Many of you have been working on the final version of your thesis over the summer and are thinking about submitting. One question we have been asked recently is: what should the text of my thesis look like? What fonts and formatting should be used?

The first answer is to check the university's guide to formatting PhD theses. Note the special rules on margins you need to observe. Then check with your department's guidelines and ask your supervisor. There may be subject specific requirements you need to observe. 

If you are still not sure, the following are some general principles to follow:



The two most important readers of your thesis are the examiners. They want to concentrate on understanding your arguments and assessing your evidence. They don’t want to be distracted by strange layouts, or frustrated by small fonts

To help them, choose a serif font like Times New Roman or Georgia. Don’t pick a sans-serif font like Calibri or Arial. These are fine for web pages or emails, but they are hard to read over hundreds of pages. Serif fonts are much easier to read in long documents. That’s why books are usually published in serif fonts. 

You can help the examiners further by making the font size 12 point. Anything smaller becomes difficult to read in hard copy. Personally, I would have justified paragraphs, rather than left-aligned. Again this is how books are printed, and your thesis is more like a book than it is a blog post. 

Remember that hyperlinks won't work in hard copy. Make sure any images you use are of a good size and good quality. If the examiner can't read the legend on a chart, how can they interpret it correctly?



Whatever fonts and layout you choose be consistent. A thesis which has chapters in different fonts or sizes can become annoying. Any random changes in formatting suggest the author has not proofread the final version. Consistent fonts and formatting make the whole document look professional.  

You can see past examples from your department in the LRA. When I wrote my thesis I printed off three pages in three different fonts. I gave them to a friend and asked them which version they found most readable. This is a good way to get an objective opinion on what your text looks like to a reader.  

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