What are the Main Doctoral Dissertation Writing Rules


Writing a doctoral dissertation will be different than any other essay you have ever written. Because this is really a book and will be published like a book, you have to follow specific rules.

One reason you have to follow such distinct formatting rules that may seem strange to you at first is because this book is going to be bound in leather and kept on the library shelves—yes, they will keep a digital copy but all schools still do the student the honor of binding their dissertations and showcasing them on the library’s shelves. Every university, then, has whole rooms full of previous students’ dissertation that you can go and look at.

  • Picture a book with open pages
  • If you picture a book with open pages, you’ll see why the formatting of this project HAD to be different. See, your pages must be able to be sewed into a book--- on the left side of all your pages. Therefore, you will have a huge left margin, one like you’ve never used before.

    Also, while most research papers require you to attach a works cited to every paper, here, you’ll have a whole chapter titled Works Cited. My doctoral works cited, for example, was 35 pages long and full of books, dissertations I’d ordered from other universities because they were important to my study.

  • Other Rules – You Must Know Their Rules
  • Every university has on file with the graduate school and typically on the graduate school’s website a document titled “Dissertation Guidelines.” These guidelines were written by committees over time, and from time to time, committees meet and update these to reflect new documenting practices. For example, there has been a lot of modification over time of every school’s guidelines as the internet has improved and we’ve had to include rules on citing internet sources.

So you’ll need to know these dissertation formatting guidelines very well and keep them near by.

Every school will choose whether you will use APA or MLA. In fact, this rule might change from department to department—because most sociology, psychology, any medical related majors, and most of the sciences use APA citation. Most humanities-based subjects such as English, Art History, Music History, Music Appreciation, Music Theory, Rhetoric and Composition—all use MLA, and you’ll need to know this.

In short, get the guidelines and read them closely.

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