Finished! After many months of reading literature, collecting data and doing your research you are finally ready to hand in your thesis and take that well-deserved holiday. Congratulations!
But wait! Whether it’s because of immense excitement, relief or happiness: each year I receive a couple of dissertations from students that miss some elementary parts! Not only may this have a negative effect on the evaluation of your thesis, but often these are minor details that can easily be avoided, especially if you know how to spot them. The following are the five most common things students forget when they hand in their thesis:
1. Page numbers
As trivial as this may sound, every year I receive a couple of dissertations without page numbers! Such a shame and completely unnecessary, as this is something that you can easily add in a word processor. Therefore, make sure that your pages are numbered (except for your cover page), and that the number is visible on all pages of your thesis (excluding your front cover).
Where should you place page numbers?
A good location to place page numbers is the right corner of the page, preferably in the footer portion of the page (i.e. the bottom). Some style guidelines, such as the popular American Psychological Association style (APA), require you to include it in the header.
Tip: PDF conversion and page numbers
Do you have to hand in a PDF version of your thesis, but did you write it using a different format? For example, you wrote your thesis in a Word document, but have to save it as a PDF? Then double-check whether the conversion to PDF did not remove your page numbers. This sometimes happens when you have placed the page numbers too low or too high on the page (in your header or footer).
The same problem may occur with footnotes. Try to resize the header and/or footer: this often corrects this problem. If this doesn’t help, you could always try to use an online converter such as PDF.io. This online converter even allows you to add pagenumbers to a pdf, in case all of the previous steps failed.
2. Formatting rules and mandatory pages
Most universities require students to format certain pages of their thesis using very specific formatting rules. A typical example is the cover page. Your university may ask you to include mandatory pages such as a statement of originality or a statement of confidentiality.
Example: Cover page
An example of a mandatory page is the thesis cover, for which the exact formatting rules will vary per university. The cover is an important example, though: some universities do not even accept a dissertation if the cover deviates from their rules! Therefore, I’ve dedicated a separate post on designing your cover page!
Example: Statement of originality
Some universities require that your thesis contains a “Statement of originality”. Usually, you have to include a specific sentence or text, plus your name. By including this text in your thesis, you acknowledge that the research you have put forward is indeed yours. For example:
Statement of originality
This document is written by Ruben de Bliek, who declares to take full responsibility for the contents of this document. This thesis, and the work contained in this thesis, has not been previously submitted for a degree at any other higher education institution. To the best of my knowledge and belief, the thesis contains no material previously published or written by another author except where due references are made.
Example: Statement of confidentiality
A statement of confidentiality is usually included if sensitive information was processed in the thesis, such as patient reports or sales numbers of a company. An example:
Statement of confidentiality
This thesis contains confidential information. This document, and its contents, may not be digitally stored in the thesis repository of the University, nor may it be shared in any way, including (but not limited to) sharing through: transcripts, (photo) copies, or videos. A hard copy version of this document is available from the thesis supervisor printed on the cover.
Tip: finding thesis formatting rules
You may wonder: “Where can I find all this information for my University?“. Most universities will circulate a thesis writing guideline at the start of your thesis, which contains all the formatting rules. Some have a dedicated web page for thesis students where this information is shared. You could also simply ask the person from your Faculty that is in charge of coordinating all thesis students, or drop a line to your supervisor!
Nowadays, many universities have adopted the document guidelines set by the American Psychological Association (APA). A helpful website completely devoted to explaining the formatting rules of this style is: APA Style.
Do you spend many hours tracking down missing or superfluous references in your thesis, only to find that at the end, the number of authors you have cited (still) does not match the number of items in your Bibliography? Situations like these usually happen when you include references manually, for example by using the manual citation functionality in Microsoft Word.
Don’t insert references manually
Citing manually is very prone to error: you run the risk of not including a reference in your Bibliography, or you include items in your Bibliography that are never referenced in your text. And it’s not just a shame that you did not (properly) include that one paper: not citing an article is considered to be an act of plagiarism! Bad referencing is therefore something you definitely want to avoid before you hand in your thesis.
Tip: reference manager
Use a reference manager when you are writing your thesis. Not only will this help you with citing the correct articles in the body of your text, but a reference manager will also take care of your Bibliography (also called the ‘References’ section), and will cite consistently using any citation style you like (e.g. APA, or ‘author-year’).
4. Captions for tables and figures
No matter how hard you’ve worked on building that spectacular table or plotting that fancy graph, if you forget to appropriately number and label your output this will largely have been for nothing. Adding captions to tables and figures is very easy (although some styling notes should definitely be taken into account: see below), and automatically lifts up the quality and (professional) appearance of your dissertation.
Some common mistakes that I encounter are:
- forgetting to number tables and figures (e.g.
- not including a caption (i.e. a title)
- including a plot or graph without axis labels
Attribution if you re-use a source
Also, if you have included tables and figures from previous research (for example, a published article) then don’ t forget to cite the original source in the caption. Even if you haven’t made an identical copy of the table or figure but you have (slightly) changed it, always mention the original article. For example by adding
"Adapted from Author (2018)." to your caption.
5. Read your thesis
The last thing that students often forget when they hand in their thesis, is to have a final close look at their document. Small errors, such as typos and small punctuation mistakes, can easily creep in and lower the quality of your dissertation (happens to the best!). The funny thing with small errors is, however, that they typically have a large impact on the overall (reading) experience. It’s like a singer that misses a note or 2 during a concert: no matter how perfect the concert was, you will always remember those 2 notes that he or she missed.1
How-to proofread your thesis
When you have finished your thesis, don’t look at it for at least one week. This will help you clear your mind, and it will make it easier for you to spot small errors. Come back to it, and read it: make notes while reading, highlight small errors and typos, and make sure that your sentences and arguments are solid.
What to look for when proofreading your thesis
A good strategy is to ask yourself the following questions while you are reading the final document:
- Did I not forget any of the previous things mentioned on this page (points 1-4)?
- Is the style of my document consistent? For example, do my chapters (or sections), tables, and figures all look the same across my thesis? The more consistent your thesis is, the more professional it looks.
- Did I use the same font everywhere (including the Bibliography)?
- Are my references placed correctly? References should be placed inside a sentence (
correct: My awesome sentence (Author, 2006).), not outside of it (
incorrect: My awesome sentence. (Author, 2006)).
Submitting your thesis: Concluding words
I hope this post was helpful to you and that your dissertations ticks ‘all of the boxes’. Have a look at our other Thesis Tips for more helpful discussions on writing your thesis!