Formatting Your Thesis and Word Limits

Student Writing

The University has rules for the presentation and binding of research degree theses and your thesis may not be examined if you fail to follow these.

Take some time to familiarise yourself with these rules before you get too far into your writing. You might also want to look at some recent theses from your Department to see how they are presented. If you have any questions regarding these rules, you should seek advice from your supervisory team or the Doctoral College Office.

The Doctoral College's Top Tips for Formatting Your Thesis
  1. If You Are Unsure, Ask
  2. Look At Recent Theses in Your Department to See How They Are Formatted
  3. Keep To the Word Limit - If It Looks Like You Will Exceed It, Seek Advice From Your Supervisors
  4. Re-use in the Thesis of Work You have Authored and which Has Already Been Published is Fine - So Long As it is Appropriately Referenced and Standard Practices for Academic Honesty are Adhered To

Thesis Format

The rules for formatting research degree theses are quite straightforward, but it is important that you get them right:

  • with the exception of short quotations for which an English translation is provided, the thesis must be written in English unless the Graduate Dean has given approval prior to submission for examination for all or part of the thesis to be in another language
  • the thesis must be presented on good quality A4 paper
  • the thesis pages must be printed on one side only
  • the printed text must be of good quality with 1.5 line spacing and should normally be in 12 point type
  • the thesis pages must have a margin of at least 3.5 centimetres on the left side of each page to allow for binding - all other margins must be of at least 2.5 centimetres

Title Page

The first page of the thesis must be a title page that includes the following information:

  • the full title of the thesis
  • your full name
  • the name of your School/Department - such as School of, Department of, Centre for, etc.
  • the month and year in which the thesis was submitted for examination

You can download an illustration of what your thesis title page should look like:

Thesis Abstract

The title page of the thesis must be followed by the thesis abstract. The abstract must not exceed 300 words and must include in the form of a heading the full title of the thesis and your full name.

It is recommended that you make it clear in your abstract what your original contribution to knowledge is.

Order of Contents

There are then rules for how the contents of the thesis must be ordered. The thesis abstract must be followed in this order by:

  • acknowledgements page
  • table of contents
  • main body of the thesis
  • appendices (if needed)

Footnotes and Bibliography

Explanatory notes and references must be numbered and presented as footnotes at the bottom of the relevant page.

The thesis appendices – or the main body of the thesis if there are no appendices – must be followed by a complete and accurate bibliography. All works referenced in the thesis must be included in the bibliography.

Thesis Word Limits

The University has a maximum word limit for research degree theses and you must ensure that your thesis does not exceed the relevant limit.

College of Social Sciences, Arts, and Humanities

In the College of Social Sciences, Arts and Humanities, the length of the thesis – including footnotes, but excluding the table of contents, tabulated data, diagrams, any appendices, the bibliography, and table(s) of cases/legislation/treaties cited – must not exceed the following limits:

PhD

EdD

DSocSci

MPhil

80,000 words

55,000 words

50,000 words

50,000 words

College of Medicine, Biological Sciences, and Psychology

In the College of Medicine, Biological Sciences, and Psychology, the length of the thesis – including footnotes and any appendices, but excluding the table of contents, tabulated data, diagrams, and the bibliography – must not exceed the following limits:

PhD

MD

MPhil

50,000 words

30,000 words

30,000 words

Except for:

a. research students registered for the degree of PhD, MD, or MPhil and whose thesis is based on qualitative or case study research, where the length of the thesis – including footnotes and any appendices, but excluding the table of contents, tabulated data, diagrams, and the bibliography – must not exceed the following limits:

PhD

MD

MPhil

80,000 words

50,000 words

50,000 words

b. research students registered for the degree of PsyD or DClinPsy where the length of the thesis – including footnotes and any appendices (except mandatory appendices), but excluding the table of contents, tabulated data, diagrams, and the bibliography – must not exceed the following limits:

PsyD

DClinPsy

30,000 words

29,000 words

College of Science and Engineering

In the College of Science and Engineering, the length of the thesis – including footnotes, but excluding the table of contents, tabulated data, diagrams, any appendices, and the bibliography – must not exceed the following limits:

PhD

EngD

MPhil

50,000 words

25,000 words

30,000 words

Except for research students in the Department of Geography registered for the degree of PhD or MPhil and whose thesis is based on social science research, where the length of the thesis must not exceed the limits specified for the College of Social Science.


Referencing and Citations

You will need to reference your thesis fully and accurately both to acknowledge your debts to others and to allow your readers to distinguish your ideas from those of others that you have drawn on.

There are three key rules that you should follow:

  1. speak with your supervisors early on for advice on referencing conventions in your discipline - the two main ones are the Harvard (author/date) system and the Vancouver (numbered) system, but in the School of Law the Oxford Standard for the Citation of Legal Authorities (OSCOLA) is used
  2. your references must be accurate - having inaccurate references is as bad as having no references at all and potentially could lead to you being accused of poor academic practice or plagiarism
  3. your referencing must be consistent - make sure that your formatting of references with respect to capitalisation and punctuation is consistent all the way through your thesis

If you need general advice on how to ensure your thesis is appropriately referenced, take a look at the Referencing and Bibliographies Study Guide.

The University Library also offer detailed guides on using the Harvard Referencing and Vancouver Referencing systems.

Bibliographic software allows you to create databases of references which can then be stored, searched and used in conjunction with MS Word to input citations as you write your thesis. The two main types of bibliographic software are EndNote and RefWorks. The University Library offer advice on accessing and using bibliographic software.

Use of Published Work Within Research Degree Theses

You may wish in your thesis to re-use work which you have authored and which has already been published elsewhere.

Research degree theses may include:

  • complete specimens of published work that you have authored and which are submitted in support of the thesis

and/or

  • material from published work that you have authored and which has been re-worked and incorporated within the main body of the thesis

The inclusion within the thesis of work that has been accepted for publication must not be taken as a guarantee that the thesis will meet the requirements for the award of a research degree. The decision to award a degree rests with the examining team.

In all cases, published work may be used in these ways provided that:

  1. the published work was written during your period of registration at the University and represents work undertaken wholly or mainly by you
  2. where the published work represents a collaborative effort the thesis must include a statement as to the nature of your contribution as well as an acknowledgement of the contribution of others
  3. the thesis acknowledges where the published work has been submitted for examination at the University or elsewhere by a co-author
  4. standard rules regarding plagiarism and academic honesty are adhered to

It is your responsibility to ensure that the use of published work within the thesis complies with any applicable copyright restrictions.

If you intend to provide complete specimens of published work in support of the thesis, these must be presented as appendices to the main body of the thesis. Appendices will count toward the maximum word limit as specified above.

Complete specimens of published work that are submitted in support of the thesis must:

  • be relevant to the research question(s) addressed by the thesis

and

  • have appeared in print or have been accepted for publication

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