Dissertation Chapter Guidelines

Dissertation Formatting Guidelines

This section describes the dissertation format that all NYUSteinhardt doctoral candidates are required to follow. Dissertations must adhere to these requirements in order to be accepted by the Office of Doctoral Studies for the scheduling of the final oral examination. Please read this section carefully and contact the Office of Doctoral Studies if you have any questions.

Choice of Style Manual

Faculty policy leaves the choice of a style manual to the doctoral candidate with the advice and consent of his or her committee. Generally, candidates are urged to learn and use the manual most often required for scholarly writing by journals within their disciplines. Typically, the following style manuals are used by NYUSteinhardt students:

  • American Psychological Association, Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association
  • Gibaldi, J., & Achtert, W. S., MLA handbook for writers of research papers
  • Turabian, K., A manual for writers of research papers, theses and dissertations
  • The University of Chicago Press, The Chicago manual of style

The most recent editions of the chosen style manuals should be used.

Print and Copy Quality

Your printer must produce consistently black letters and consistent margins. Sufficient darkness is also necessary for any supporting materials, such as tables, figures, drawings, pictures, etc., -- either as originals or as copies -- that you may need to append or insert in your manuscript. Your dissertation will be published by ProQuest UMI which requires clear, high-contrast characters and images. As a guide to the quality that will be obtained, you can photocopy a sample page at 75% reduction to evaluate the readability and clarity of the print.


The School and ProQuest UMI allow students to use typefaces that are between 10 and 12 points; however, because 10 point can appear too small in most typefaces, 12 point is generally preferred. A smaller or condensed typeface can be used for tables that otherwise might not fit across a page within the correct margins, however, mixing typefaces is otherwise not recommended.

Underlining or italics may be used for statistical symbols, book titles, or definitions (but use either one or the other consistently throughout your manuscript, including tables). Headings should be underlined when appropriate and not italicized. Bold type should not be used in the manuscript.

Do not justify the right margin of your text; keep it left aligned like the text shown here.


To assure proper binding and for ease of reading, the following margins are required:

  • Left margin: one and one-half inches for all pages.
  • Right margin: one and one-half inches for all pages, with no intrusion of letters or anything else into the right margin.
  • Top margin: one-and-one-quarter inches for all pages except the first page of the Acknowledgments, Table of Contents, List of Tables, List of Figures, each chapter, Bibliography, and Appendices which should begin two inches from the top edge of the page.
  • Bottom margin: one-and-one-quarter inches for all pages.
  • Page numbers for all pages preceding page 1 of Chapter I (lower case roman numerals for Acknowledgments, Table of Contents, etc.) should be placed three-quarters of an inch from the bottom of the page, centered between the left and right margins.
  • Page numbers from page 1 of Chapter I through the last page of the last appendix should be placed three-quarters of an inch from the top or bottom, centered between the left and right margins.

See the next section for sample dissertation pages.

White Space

Avoid leaving more than two inches of white space without type. This applies to tables and figures as well as to text. A table or figure should be inserted in the text as soon after it is first referred to where it will fit in its entirety on one page. Leave three blank lines between a table and text or text and a table; the same for figures. Continue your text if you can fit at least four lines after it. You may have more than one table on a page and you may have a table, discussion, and a table. The same procedure applies to all illustrative material.

Line Spacing

Double space the entire manuscript with these exceptions (which should be single-spaced):

  • chapter titles, appendix titles, headings, and subheadings of more than one line;
  • block quotations;
  • column headings and lines that run on in tables;
  • bibliography or references entries -- double space between entries;
  • footnotes;
  • figure captions;
  • explanatory material for figures, tables, and illustrations; and
  • appendices -- the spacing will vary depending on the source and content.

APA style requires writers to double space all typed material, including the exceptions noted above. If you are using APA, the above rules supersede APA rules in most cases. You have the option, however, of double spacing your references and block quotations; MLA style users also have this option.


The title page is counted as page one and the copyright page as page two, but numbers do not appear on them. Lower case roman numerals (iii, iv, v, vi, etc.) are used for all subsequent pages up to the first page of the text (page 1 of Chapter I) and should be placed three quarters of an inch from the bottom edge of the paper, centered between the margins.

Beginning with page 1 of Chapter I, Arabic numbers are used and are continuous through the last page including all appendices. Page numbers for all pages in the chapter, including the first page of each chapter or major section, should be placed three quarters of an inch from the top or bottom edge of the paper centered between the margins.

Order of Sections

The material of your manuscript should be ordered as follows:

  1. title page;
  2. copyright page;
  3. acknowledgments;
  4. table of contents;
  5. list(s) of tables, figures, charts, graphs, musical examples, illustrations, etc., if used;
  6. preface or forward, if used;
  7. the text;
  8. bibliography;
  9. and appendices (if any).

Title Page of Dissertation

Please see the sample title page below. You are required to follow that format exactly.

Copyright Page

You will have the option to have your dissertation copyrighted when you submit it to Proquest/UMI for publication. You should include a copyright page with your name and copyright date in the middle of the page, centered left to right (between the margins) and top to bottom. Please note that the copyright date is the year of your degree conferral. Follow this format:


The copyright page is page ii of the pages preceding the text (the title page is understood to be page i), but no number should appear on either the title page or the copyright page.

Table of Contents and Lists of Tables and Figures

Because a dissertation does not have an index, your Table of Contents should be as comprehensive as possible. Include all headings and subheadings, exactly as they appear in the text, up to and including Level 2. Including lower level headings is optional. (See sample Table of Contents in the next section.) Note that the indentation of a heading used in the Table of Contents corresponds to the level of the heading. The following illustrates this:

You should supply the reader with lists of tables, figures, and any other illustrative material used in your dissertation. See the sample lists in the next section. Lists of musical examples or reproductions of art, or information about films, follow the same form as that used for lists of tables and figures.

Chapter Titles and Headings

Chapter headings and titles appear as follows, beginning two inches from the top of the page:


Headings within the chapter should indicate the weight you assign to particular ideas by the form of headings suggested in the style manual you have selected or the form suggested below.

Leave three blank lines (i.e., begin typing after two double spaces) before each heading and after each major section and chapter title. If one heading immediately follows another, leave only one blank line (a double space) between the two. Leave one blank line (a double space) after each heading. Capitalize the first letter of each word of headings except for articles, conjunctions, and prepositions.

The following is one way in which to order headings and to type them. Students following APA style may use the format in the APA Style Guide, however, the format below is preferred for NYU Steinhardt dissertations.


See the sample page 1 in the next section for an example of heading placement.

Be sure that no heading appears at the bottom of a page without at least two lines of text beneath it. The Table of Contents will contain all Level 1 and Level 2 headings exactly as they appear in the text. It is not necessary to include Level 3 or lower-level headings in the Table of Contents, but you may if it provides the reader with more useful information.

Numbering Conventions

Chapter numbers are upper case roman numerals (with no period), e.g., CHAPTER IV, to differentiate them from any other numbers in the text. All other items requiring numbers should have Arabic numbers. Appendices, should be designated by capital letters, e.g., APPENDIX A, APPENDIX B, etc.

Use numbers or letters for other items only when necessary. Use 1) in the text and 1. in a set-off list; a) in the text and a. in a set-off list -- not (1) or 1). or a.), etc. If items in a numbered list run onto two or more lines, you may let the additional lines begin at the margin or indent the entire paragraph to the right of the numbers.

Numbers beginning a sentence, as well as numbers below 10 (or, if you prefer, 12) should be spelled out when they appear within the text.

Reduction of Tables and Other Materials

If a table, appendix, illustration, or graph is too wide or long, or both, to fit within the specified margins, have it reduced, or if textual material, type it using a smaller font. Whenever possible, avoid inserting tables which must be read by turning the book sideways. If such a table is necessary, be sure to insert it with the heading to the spine or binding. You may also use a condensed typeface.

Bibliographic Entries

For style guides other than APA, if you have more than one work by the same author, do not repeat his or her name over and over. Use ten underscore characters, ending with a period if the author is exactly the same as the previous one, or with a comma if the author is the first of a series of new authors, as shown below. Single space the entry; double space between entries. Indent the second and subsequent lines one-half inch.


Note that authors with two initials have a space after the period between each initial, e.g., Smith, A. B., & Jones, M. J. Do not allow initials to break between lines; keep them together on one line or the other.

Regardless of the style guide you use, avoid having one or two lines of an entry on one page and the rest of the citation on the next page. The entry should be cited in its entirety on one page or the other.

Citations in Text

The way you cite an author in your manuscript is based on the context. If you are attributing an idea that you paraphrased to someone, use the name and date (according to APA style) such as (Jones, 2002), or as shown in the first sentence below. If you are

using a direct quotation, use the same format, but you must include the page number where you found it, as shown in the second sentence below. Also, specific information or ideas need a page number even if paraphrased. For example, the following brief passage refers to the same publication by a hypothetical author:


Review the whole manuscript to be sure that every work referred to in the manuscript is cited in the text (or footnotes) and included in the bibliography.

Block (Indented) Quotations

Four or more lines of a quotation should be set off from the main text with a double space, typed single spaced with no quotation marks, and the entire block indented one-half inch. Quotations within these block (or indented) quotations may use double quotations. The first line of the quotation is not indented; however, the first lines of new paragraphs within the quotation should begin with an additional indent of one-half inch. Students using APA or MLA style may double space block quotations.


Each appendix should have the proper designation at the top of the first page. A title page does not need to be inserted before each one. Use the following format, centered between the left and right margins, beginning two inches from the top of the page:



If you have material that, because of its format, needs to have a title page (because the title doesn't fit on the same page as the material), you need to consistently use title pages for all appendices. Avoid it if you can. Again, all material in an appendix must fit within the overall page margins.

Letters of Permission

It is necessary to obtain letters of permission for the reproduction of any copyrighted material which exceeds the Federal law pertaining to "Fair Use." Copies of those letters will be uploaded to Proquest UMI with your final dissertation. Copies of the letters do not need to be included in the dissertation.

The Abstract

The abstract is a brief summary of the contents of the dissertation. Begin typing the abstract two inches from the top of a blank page with no heading. The abstract should be typed double-spaced with the same typeface and margins as the dissertation. The length of the abstract should be limited to 350 words.

The abstract title page is identical to the dissertation title page with one exception: the abstract title page has the words An Abstract of directly above the title (see Sample Title Page in the next section). Each abstract is stapled in the upper left corner and kept separate from the dissertation. The chairperson of the dissertation committee should sign one copy of the abstract title page.

Sample Pages

The following section includes sample dissertation pages which should be followed carefully. Refer to the preceding section for more detailed information on format requirements. Students should follow the instructions on these sample pages rather than using a dissertation from the library (or elsewhere) as a guide. Format requirements differ from year to year and from school to school.

For a printer-friendly PDF version of this guide, click here

This Study Guide addresses the task of writing a dissertation. It aims to help you to feel confident in the construction of this extended piece of writing, and to support you in its successful completion.

You may also find the following Study Guides helpful:


Sometimes writing is seen as an activity that happens after everything else:

“The research is going well, so the writing should be straightforward - I can leave it until later”.

“I know I’m not good at writing so I keep putting it off”.

“I know I’m good at writing so I can leave it to later”.

“I want to get everything sorted out in my mind before I start writing or I’ll just end up wasting my time re-writing”.

These four very different perspectives lead to the same potential problems:

  • regarding re-drafting as a failure or a waste of time;

  • ignoring the further learning and clarification of argument that usually occurs during the writing and re-writing process; and

  • leaving too little time for effective editing and final proofing.

The process of having to describe your study in detail, in a logical sequence of written words, will inevitably highlight where more thought is needed, and it may lead to new insight into connections, implications, rationale, relevance, and may lead to new ideas for further research.

Barras (1993:136) suggests that you ‘think of your report as part of your investigation, not as a duty to be undertaken when your work is otherwise complete’, and this Study Guide suggests that: writing is an integral part of the research process.

Getting on with the writing

The good news is that you have already started writing if you have written any of the following in relation to this study:

  • a research proposal;

  • a literature review;

  • a report of any pilot studies that you undertook;

  • an abstract for a conference;

  • reports for your supervisors;

  • a learning journal where you keep ideas as they occur to you; or

  • notes for a presentation you have given.

In each case the object of the writing was to communicate to yourself, your supervisors, or to others, something about your work. In writing your dissertation you will draw on some of this earlier writing to produce a longer and more comprehensive account.

Check out what is required

Before embarking on any substantial writing for your dissertation you will need to check the exact requirements regarding:

  • the word limit: maximum and minimum; and whether or not this includes words within tables, the abstract, the reference list, and the appendices;

  • which chapters are expected to be included, in which order, and what kind of material is expected in each;

  • the kind of content appropriate to place in the appendices rather than in the main text; and

  • the marking scheme or guidance.

The structure

There are some conventions that guide the structuring of dissertations in different disciplines. You should check departmental and course regulations.

Below are two structures that are commonly used.

  • Title page
  • Abstract
  • Acknowledgements
  • Contents page(s)
  • Introduction
  • Materials and methods or Literature review
  • Results or Sources and methods
  • Discussion or Findings
  • Conclusions
  • References
  • Appendices

Each section or chapter has its own particular function

Title page

The title itself is an important opportunity to tell the potential reader what your research is about. You will need it to be succinct, specific, descriptive, and representative of the research you have done. There is likely to be a required format for the title page in your discipline, so you need to check what that is.


This may be one of the shortest sections of your thesis or dissertation, but it is worthwhile taking great care to write it well. Essentially, the Abstract is a succinct summary of the research. It should be able to stand alone in representing why and how you did what you did, and what the results and implications are. It is often only one page long, and there may be a word limit to adhere to. The Abstract is an important element of the thesis, and will become a document in its own right if the thesis is registered within any database. The examiners will therefore assess your Abstract both as part of your thesis, and as a potentially independent document.

It can be best to write the Abstract last, once you are sure what exactly you are summarising. Alternatively it can be useful to write the abstract earlier on, as an aid to identifying the crucial main thread of your research, its purpose, and its findings, which could then guide the structure of the dissertation.

Attending to the very restrictive word / space limit, while at the same including all the relevant material is quite a challenge. It might be useful to look at how others have managed. It is certainly an academic exercise, but perhaps not too different from the concise explanations of your research you may have had to give to relatives and neighbours over the last few years, in terms of its brevity, accessibility, and comprehensiveness.


This is your opportunity to mention individuals who have been particularly helpful. Reading the acknowledgements in other dissertations in your field will give you an idea of the ways in which different kinds of help have been appreciated and mentioned.

Contents, and figure and table lists

The contents pages will show up the structure of the dissertation. Any  imbalance in space devoted to different sections of content will become apparent. This is a useful check on whether amalgamation of sections, or creation of further sections or sub-sections is needed.


Although this is the first piece of writing the reader comes to, it is often best to leave its preparation to last as, until then, you will not be absolutely sure what you are introducing. The introduction has two main roles:

  • to expand the material summarised in the abstract, and

  • to signpost the content of the rest of the dissertation.

The literature review, or context of the study

The purpose of this chapter is to show that you are aware of where your own piece of research fits into the overall context of research in your field. To do this you need to:

  • describe the current state of research in your defined area;

  • consider whether there are any closely related areas that you also need to refer to;

  • identify a gap where you argue that further research is needed; and

  • explain how you plan to attend to that particular research gap.

This can lead logically into a clear statement of the research question(s) or problem(s) you will be addressing.

In addition to the research context, there may be other relevant contexts to present for example:

  • theoretical context;

  • methodological context;

  • practice context; and

  • political context.

It can be difficult to identify the best order for sections in this chapter because the rationale for your choice of specific research question can be complicated, and there may be several inter-linked reasons why the research is needed. It is worth taking time to develop a logical structure as this will help to convince examiners of the relevance of your research, and that you understand its relevance. It will also provide you with a framework to refer back to in your discussion chapter, when you reflect on the extent to which your research has achieved what it set out to do.

Chapter(s) describing methods, sources, material etc

In these chapters a straightforward description is required of how you conducted the research. If you used particular equipment, processes, or materials, you will need to be clear and precise in how you describe them.  You must give enough detail for another researcher to replicate your study.

Results / Findings

You will need to check which style of reporting is preferred in your field. For example a scientific dissertation would probably have very clear separation between the results and the discussion of those results; whereas a social science dissertation might have an overall chapter called Findings, bringing the results and their discussion together.

Decisions about style of presentation may need to be made about, for example:

  • whether you want to begin with an initial overview of the results, followed by the detail, or whether you move immediately into the detail of the results;

  • in which order you will be presenting the detailed results; and

  • what balance, in terms of word space, you want to achieve across the spread of results that you have.


This is where you review your own research in relation to the wider context in which it is located. You can refer back to the rationale that you gave for your research in the literature review, and discuss what your own research has added in this context. It is important to show that you appreciate the limitations of your research, and how these may affect the validity or usefulness of your findings. Given the acknowledged limitations, you can report on the implications of your findings for theory, research, and practice.


This chapter tends to be much shorter than the Discussion. It is not a mere ‘summary’ of your research, but needs to be ‘conclusions’ as to the main points that have emerged and what they mean for your field.


This section needs to be highly structured, and needs to include all of your references in the required referencing style. As you edit and rewrite your dissertation you will probably gain and lose references that you had in earlier versions. It is important therefore to check that all the references in your reference list are actually referenced within the text; and that all the references that appear in the text appear also in the reference list.


You need to check whether or not the appendices count within the word limit for your dissertation. Items that can usefully go in the appendices are those that a reader would want to see, but which would take up too much space and disrupt the flow if placed within the main text.  Again, make sure you reference the Appendices within the main text where necessary.

Designing your detailed structure

If your dissertation is well-structured, easy to follow, logical, and coherent, your examiners will probably enjoy reading it, and will be able to listen to your argument without the distraction of trying to make all the links themselves.

The only way to achieve a consistent argument throughout a piece of writing is by creating some kind of plan or map of what you want to say. It can be useful to think of the research question or topic going like a strong thread throughout the dissertation: linking all the elements of the study, and giving coherence to its reporting.

Moving from doing the research to writing a comprehensive account of it is not necessarily easy. You may feel that you know everything in your head but can’t see how you can put it into words in the most useful order. It can be helpful to break the task down into smaller, more easily accomplished elements. The process of producing your writing plan could go as follows.

  1. You could start by making a comprehensive and unstructured list of all the elements and ideas that you need to include, ranging from

  2. chapter headings to notes about analysis, and from ideas for graphical representation to ideas for further research. Alternatively you could choose to start at stage 2.

  3. List the main chapter headings in the order in which they will appear.

  4. Under each chapter heading, list a series of important sub-headings. It may be that, for example, a literature review chapter needs to be split into a review of several different segments of literature. In this case each segment can have its own sub-heading, with a synthesis that brings the findings together at the end of the chapter.

  5. Under each sub-heading, list the main content that needs to be included, creating sub-sub-headings if needed. If you began by making a long and unstructured list of content, you can now feed that into the developing structure by inserting it as bullet points under the relevant headings. You need to ensure that all the content you want to include has been allocated a place.

  6. As you go, you can slot in ideas, references, quotes, clarifications, and conclusions as they occur to you, to make sure they are not forgotten.

  7. Check that there is an appropriate balance between and within  sections, and that the structure facilitates the logical and coherent description of the research study you have undertaken.

  8. Take feedback from others at this stage, before you begin to fill in the detail.

Filling in the detail

It can be a good idea to put the word limit to the back of your mind at this point, and concentrate on getting everything recorded in a document. You can always edit upwards or downwards later as necessary.

Writing as you go along

It is likely, and advisable, that you will not wait until the end of your research before starting to write it up. You may be required to produce one or more chapters for assessment part way through your research. The process described above can be used for any individual chapter you are working on. It is important to be prepared to critique and revise your own work several times. Even the early chapters submitted for assessment, and passing that assessment, may need to be revised later on. This is not a failure, but a positive sign of increased experience and skill.

Developing an argument

An important aspect running through your dissertation will be your argument for:

  • why this specific topic is worth researching;

  • why this is a good way to research it;

  • why this method of analysis is appropriate; and

  • why your interpretations and conclusions are reasonable.

You will refer to the work of others as you make your argument. This may involve critiquing the work of established leaders in the field. While it is important to be respectful in the way that you discuss others’ ideas and research, you are expected to engage directly, and even openly disagree with existing writing.

In Taylor’s (1989) book on writing in the arts and social sciences, he suggests that the following different approaches offer a range of academically legitimate ways to engage with published work.

  • Agree with, accede to, defend, or confirm a particular point of view.

  • Propose a new point of view.

  • Concede that an existing point of view has certain merits but that it needs to be qualified in certain important respects.

  • Reformulate an existing point of view or statement of it, such that the new version makes a better explanation.

  • Dismiss a point of view or another person’s work on account of its inadequacy, irrelevance, incoherence or by recourse to other appropriate criteria.

  • Reject, rebut or refute another’s argument on various reasoned grounds.

  • Reconcile two positions that may seem at variance by appeal to some ‘higher’ or ‘deeper’ principal.

  • Develop an existing point of view, perhaps by utilising it on larger or more complex datasets, or apply a theory to a new context

(Adapted from Taylor 1989:67)

It is important that you are assertive about what you are arguing, but it is unlikely that, in a dissertation project, you will be able to be definitive in closing an established academic debate. You should be open about where the gaps are in your research, and cautious about over-stating what you have found.  Aim to be modest but realistic in relating your own research to the broader context.

Improving the structure and content

Once you have the dissertation in draft form it becomes easier to see where you can improve it. To make it easier to read you can use clear signposting at the beginning of chapters, and write links between sections to show how they relate to each other. Another technique to improve academic writing style is to ensure that each individual paragraph justifies its inclusion. More ideas will be presented in the Study Guide The art of editing.

You may choose to review your draft from the standpoint of a dissertation examiner, which might involve preparing a list of questions that you want to see answered, then reading through your dissertation scribbling comments, suggestions, criticisms, and ideas in the margin. If you have a marking guide then apply it to your dissertation and see if there are aspects that you can improve.

While you do this, be aware of whether you need to increase the number of words, or decrease it to reach your target. As you read you can then cross through material that appears unnecessary, and mark points that could be expanded. This will then form the basis for your next, improved, draft.

When to stop

Just as it can be difficult to begin writing, it can also be difficult to know when to stop. You may begin to feel that your dissertation will never be good enough, and that you need to revise it again and again. It may be helpful to divert your attention for a while to the finishing off activities you need to attend to:

  • writing the abstract and the introduction;

  • checking the reference list;

  • finalising the appendices; and

  • checking your contents page.

Coming back afresh to look critically at the main text may then enable you to complete it to your satisfaction. Remember the dissertation needs to demonstrate your ability to undertake and report research rather than to answer every question on a topic.

It is important to allow yourself enough time for the final checking and proof reading of the finished document.


  • Devote time to planning the structure of the dissertation.

  • Plan a structure that will enable you to present your argument effectively.

  • Fill in the detail, concentrating on getting everything recorded rather than sticking to the word limit at this stage.

  • Regard writing as part of the research process, not an after-thought.

  • Expect to edit and re-edit your material several times as it moves towards its final form.

  • Leave time to check and proofread thoroughly.


Barrass R. (1979) Scientists must write. A guide to better writing for scientists, engineers and students. London:Chapman and Hall.

Taylor G. (1989) The Student’s Writing Guide for the Arts and Social Sciences. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


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