Last week, I posted Parts 1 and 2 of this five-part series that’s all about advice related to what you should be doing as you prepare to finish your Ph.D. Part 1 focused on the importance of meeting with your thesis committee, what you should be talking about with them, etc., and Part 2 focused on drafting a thesis outline and going over this outline with your adviser. As promised, this next post will focus on…

Part 3 of 5 in The Beginning of the End: Understand the formatting guidelines for your thesis required by the Graduate School at Penn State

Before getting started, I’m going to give the disclaimer that I have not personally taken part in the process of finishing a Ph.D. thesis and submitting it for format review to the Graduate School. As such, I am hardly an expert! However, I am in the process of doing this myself, so I’d like to think that I have somewhat of an idea of what I’m talking about. Also, I asked around for some advice on what I should discuss from students who actually have gone through this process, and that information is included in this post.

If you are someone who has gone through this process and has some personal insight to share, please do so in the comments section!!

First things first, why should you care about understanding the formatting guidelines for your thesis required by the Graduate School at Penn State?

  • EVERYONE’S thesis is reviewed by the Office of Theses and Dissertations for format review
  • You need to follow and meet ALL of these guidelines in order to get final approval of your thesis and thus graduate
  • Meeting the formatting guidelines ensures that should you decide to print/bind your thesis, it will look pretty


Now, without further ado, here’s my advice…

1. Use the template provided by Penn State

If you’re someone who is at the point of getting ready to start writing or has already started writing your thesis, I’m hoping you didn’t just open up a blank Microsoft Word document and start going for it. If you are planning to do this/are currently doing this, STOP RIGHT NOW!

If you’re someone who is at the point of getting ready to start writing and has looked up the formatting guidelines provided by the Graduate School and are completely intimidated, have no fear!

YES! Penn State DOES provide a Microsoft Word template that contains all of the required formatting and explanations for different headings, etc. and where they should be used throughout the template. Awesome right!? You can find the templates HERE! All you have to do is download the file for the version of Microsoft Word on your computer and then start writing using this template so that all of the formatting is done for you.

You’ll see that there’s also a second download link for a user guide on how to use that template, which I also suggest reading through.

These templates make use of the “styles” feature in Microsoft Word, which allow formatting to be kept consistent throughout the entire document. Styles include: font name, font style, font size, font color, paragraph alignment, and spacing. If you aren’t familiar with this feature or how to apply a style to a line or paragraph of text, then read through that user guide I mentioned, which explains all of that for whatever version of Microsoft Word you are operating.

The user guide also explains how to insert figures or tables, manage footnotes and references, import text from other Word documents, edit front matter (table of contents, list of figures, and list of tables), add new sections, and change page numbering (only if needed), with all directions specific to the version of Microsoft Word you downloaded for your template.

In addition to these templates and user guides, the Graduate School also has a list of how to avoid the most common mistakes and a full thesis and dissertation guide that you should take the time to read through to double check that you are doing everything correctly.

2. If you’re not using the template, carefully read through the thesis and dissertation guide

Should you not want to conform to the styles in the thesis template or you just feel like the added challenge of doing all the formatting on your own, detailed instructions for the formatting guidelines can be found in the thesis and dissertation guide. This includes: type specifications, margins, page numbers, in-text citations, front matter formatting, back matter formatting, table/figure formatting, adding oversized materials, and formatting copyright/authorship/ProQuest/UMI.

Personally, I’m just going to use the template because writing a Ph.D. thesis is hard enough without having to worry about formatting everything from scratch.

3. Remember to submit your thesis for format review by the deadline

As I mentioned previously, every person needs to submit his/her thesis to be reviewed by the Office of Theses and Dissertations for formatting. This allows the staff to take a preliminary look and check for any formatting errors. The Graduate School has deadlines for this review, which are updated for each semester, and can be found here. Make sure you know this deadline!

To submit your thesis for format review, you need to go to the eTD (electronic thesis and dissertations) website. When uploading your thesis for format review, you actually don’t have to turn in the final, polished product. As stated on the Graduate School website, you should turn in as complete a draft as possible that includes the front matter (title page, committee page, abstract, etc.), several chapters, and the back matter (references, appendices, etc.). All the reviewers will do is check formatting – they won’t be checking for spelling/grammatical errors or whether your data is statistically significant.

After submitting your thesis for format review, you should get feedback of corrections and detailed instructions within two weeks via e-mail.


Coming up next in Part 4 of 5 in The Beginning of the End is write, write, write, WRITE! With some more on writing.


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