Formatting Your Thesis

Consultants at the Center for Writing and Public Discourse (CWPD) are available to assist you with any questions you may have regarding the writing process, formatting issues, and citation guides. To consult the extended editions of the style guides, visit the CWPD and ask for assistance. The guides must remain in the CWPD. Lab Technology Assistants (LTAs) are also available in Poppa Lab to assist you with formatting, saving, and retrieving your Thesis.

Selecting a Citation Style

Before you begin writing, you should work with your reader(s) to select the appropriate style guide for your discipline (i.e. Chicago, MLA, APA, or Turabian). For more detailed formatting rules and tips, you should consult the style guide that you and your advisor have selected. You can find links to the major style guides online at

The instructions of your advisor(s) regarding formatting should always take precedence over the CWPD’s suggestions.

General Instructions

  • If your advisor does not have a preference regarding font, you may use either Times New Roman (12pt) or Courier New (10pt).
  • Make sure that your footnotes and page numbers are also in the same font.
  • The text of your thesis may be either Left Aligned or Full Justified. Ask your advisor(s) for their preference.
  • Indent the first line of each paragraph either one quarter inch or one half inch. Be consistent.
  • Only one space should follow all punctuation marks.

Proper Citation

Abide by the formatting requirements outlined in your style guide of choice. Each style guide will explain how to use and when to employ and format footnotes, endnotes, and bibliographical materials. You can find online links to style guides at the Center for Writing and Public Discourse's website and you can consult hard copies of the style guides at the CWPD as well.

Keep careful track of your sources while you write (see your style guide for the kinds of information you will need to document) and make absolutely sure you are citing any and all outside sources that you use in your thesis. When in doubt, cite!

Setting Margins

Note: the instructions below are intended for use with Microsoft Word 2016.

The margins for your thesis are:

  • Top: 1.2”
  • Bottom: 1”
  • Left: 1.5”
  • Right: 1”

If your reader so chooses, you may change the margins for the top, bottom, and right to accommodate the preferred citation mode; however, do make sure that the left margin remains at 1.5”. The extra .5” is an allotted space for the binding that will eventually hold your thesis together.

To Set Margins

  1. Click on the Layout tab.
  2. Go to “Margins”, then “Custom Margins.”
  3. Ensure the “Margins” tab is selected, then set proper margins and hit OK.

Page Setup dialog box in Microsoft Word

Chapter Titles

Generally speaking, the titles of all sections should be 2” from the top of the page. However, as with the rest of your thesis, consult the appropriate style manual and check with your advisor regarding the placement of chapter titles.

Inserting Page Numbers

Consult your style guide and thesis advisor. Your advisor may want you to do something specific with your page numbers, and different styles require different page numbering setups.

To insert page numbers, go to Insert, then select "Page Number" to insert the page numbers where you need them.

Page Number dropdown options in Microsoft Word

If you wish, select "Format Page Numbers" for more options. The Page Number Format dialog box will appear, and here you can specify the starting page number if your document is not the first section of your thesis.

Page Number Format dialog box in Microsoft Word

Remember, you have to keep track of the page numbers of each chapter yourself.

Occasionally, the need arises for the first page of a document to not have a page number, or for the page number on page one to be different. To do this, go to Layout, then click on the arrow in the Page Setup pane to go to the Page Setup dialog box.

Page Setup pane in Microsoft Word

To exclude page one of your document from the normal page numbering, double-click in the header/footer area, then select "Different first page".

Selecting a different format for page one of a document in Microsoft Word

Tips for Saving Your Thesis

  • Save regularly and save your chapters and the final thesis document to several locations continuously as you write. Use Ctrl+S for quick saving.
  • Save each chapter as its own file, i.e. the first chapter may be called "Chapter1.docx". When you make big changes to a chapter, save the file under a new name, i.e. "Chapter1-1.docx", to indicate that it’s an updated version.
  • Keep your thesis chapters and completed thesis in a “Thesis” folder in your account! This gives you access to the last 10 “versions” of your saved documents. It is also backed up in the cloud for security’s sake.
  • You may want to create dated folders to keep track of your progress, and to document the progression of your ideas should you need to prove that your work is original.
  • Make hard copies – especially after making radical revisions – and store them in a safe place. Keep these copies somewhere safe and readily available until you receive your grades. If your reader asks to review your working papers, these will come in handy.

Assembling Your Thesis into a Single PDF

Locate and Organize Your Files

The best practice that we recommend is to save your thesis in multiple sections (chapters), then standardize the formatting between each file. You can set the page numbers for each chapter as appropriate using the procedure above. After you have formatted all your files properly, assemble them in one folder; this will streamline the process and ensure that you do not have any missing pieces. When you are ready to start combining your files, make sure none of them are open.

Combining Your Files into One PDF

You should complete this process with Adobe Acrobat. Acrobat Pro 2017 is available in in all Student Technology Services computer labs.

  1. Open Adobe Acrobat, then go to File > Create > Combine Files into a Single PDF.

Screenshot - choosing the "Combine Files into PDF" option

  1. Select all of your thesis sections from your folder and drag them into the “Combine Files” screen. Click on the “Switch to List View” button to see the files as a list; this will help you make sure Adobe has ordered your chapters correctly. Here you may make ordering changes, if necessary. When you are done, click Combine.

Screenshot - Viewing the PDFs as a list

3. This process will produce a single large PDF file. If your big PDF has pages that are still out of order, you can easily reorder pages in Acrobat Pro. With the file open, click on the “Page Thumbnails” icon on the left bar. From here, you can reorder pages by dragging and dropping them to their proper locations. You can also add more pages by dragging another MS Word file directly into the thumbnail view, or delete pages by selecting them and hitting the Delete key.

Screenshot - reordering pages

Finishing Up

Save your document before you exit. Adobe Acrobat gives the PDF the placeholder name of “Binder1.pdf”, but you should change that to the appropriate name, then make sure you save the file to your network folder (your U:\ drive, Dropbox, Box, Google Drive, et al.).