Preparing Theses & Dissertations
This guide presents an outline of good practice in the preparation of theses and dissertations. The intention is to direct you to some of the best sources of information that are available in the University of Surrey Library, so that you can explore these for yourself, and to provide guidelines for areas which often cause problems, such as the citation of references. This does not, however, lay down official policy of the University.
You may find information about citing references and preparing your project or thesis in your Course Handbook. This will give accurate information about what is expected for your particular course.
Please remember that your supervisor and your Academic Liaison Librarian are here to help you, so if you are not sure about something - please ask.
Searching the Literature
Writing your Thesis
The Layout of your Thesis
Including Copyright Material
Regulations for Presentation
Typing-Binding-Publishing your Thesis
Before beginning your research, you should check systematically through the literature of your subject, to see what has already been published. This will ensure that you are in touch with current trends, and that you do not duplicate someone else's work.
Be sure that you are clear in your own mind about the scope and extent of the literature search you are going to carry out. Use encyclopedias and specialist dictionaries to get an overview and to clarify terminology.
Search the Index to Theses to find out what theses in Great Britain and Ireland have been written.
Guidance on Online Literature Searching
For further information, web sites and gateways see Subject Guides
How you set about the writing of your thesis is dependent on the nature of your research, the discipline within which you are working, and your own temperament. You should ask your supervisor for advice and look through some of the books that have been published on thesis and report writing e.g Glatthorn, A (2005) Writing the winning thesis or dissertation: a step-by-step guide 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Corwin
It is a good idea to sketch the outline of your thesis as soon as you possibly can; titles of every chapter, with a page or so of notes for each of them. This will give your work a proper structure, and you will have gained a clear overview of the logic and direction of it.
The first and last chapters in your thesis will determine the impact you make on your reader, so they are of crucial importance. For the first chapter, three sections are suggested:
a broad review which puts the area of work with which the thesis is concerned into its wider context,
a succinct argument for the significance of the problem to be considered,
an outline of the thesis, which links together the elements of the work, and shows how the problem was approached.
The last chapter should also fall into three sections:
a brief restatement of the original problem, seen now in the light of what has been learned,
an answer to the essential question: `What has been achieved?'
a discussion of the main avenues of potential future work.
Make sure that all illustrations, tables, and so on are clearly numbered and labelled. Pages must also be numbered, but if you are preparing chapters out of sequence, and so cannot give continuous pagination, then you should assign to each chapter its own page-numbering sequence: 8.16 would thus be the sixteenth page of chapter eight.
The usual layout of theses is as follows:-
Title page (this should contain the approved thesis title, your name and qualifications, a statement of the degree for which the thesis is being presented, the names of the School/Department and the University, and the date of submission). There is a Template available [in Word] which provides guidelines for the title page layout, content and size of text.Thesis Title Page (20.0KB)
- The Abstract (a summary - of not more than 300 words - of the content of your thesis).
- Contents page (a tabulated listing, giving page numbers for each section and chapter).
- Acknowledgements (it is here that you thank those persons and organizations who have assisted you in your work).
- The main body of your thesis (usually comprising an Introduction, several chapters, and a Conclusion).
- Appendices (if any).
- Bibliography (a complete listing of all works consulted).
It is not usual to include an Index to your thesis.
You should note that "presentation", which is clear and accurate typing, unambiguous labelling of tables and illustrations, clear bibliographical references, and a logical progression in your argument, is taken into account by your examiners.
You will find it helpful to look through some past theses from your School/Department. Copies of University of Surrey theses are kept in the Library:
- Pre-2008 Masters dissertations are on the 4th floor East by author
- From 2008 only those dissertations awarded a distinction are held in the Library. These are classified and kept
in the Short Loan Collection on the ground floor
- Theses are in the Library store and need to be requested at the Information Desk
- Theses are for use in the Library only.
There are two ways of finding theses and dissertations that have been written in your School/Department or in your subject area:
- Ask your supervisor or School/Departmental secretary.
- For theses on a particular topic, use the Library Catalogue - select the Theses Catalogue from the Collections menu.
It is important for you to be able to read and interpret a bibliographical reference, and to know how to write one. There are no absolute rules for setting out bibliographical references, but certain information must be given. The information given here is confined to the essential points, but it must be said that different styles of referencing are used in different disciplines, so that the accepted conventions in, say, the biological sciences are quite different from those in electronic engineering.
There are at least fifteen different conventions currently in use, so ask your supervisor or your liaison librarian for guidance on what is appropriate for your School or look at recent theses written by students in your School or Department.
References tend to fall into the following categories, and if you follow the guidelines below your own references will be unambiguous:-
1. Articles in Journals
Author(s) of article, Title of article. Title of journal (underlined, or in bold type or in italics), Volume number, Part/issue number (if known), Page numbers, Date.
Rostow, W W, The take-off into self-sustained economic growth. Economic Journal, 66(1), 25-48, 1956.
This refers you to an article by Rostow, published in Volume sixty-six, Part one, of the "Economic Journal" in 1956. The article will be found on pages 25 to 48.
If you abbreviate journal titles, you should use internationally recognised styles - British Standard BS 4148: 1975, Abbreviation of title words and titles of publications, is helpful here. If you are in doubt, you should consult your Academic Liaison Librarian.
Author(s) or editor(s) of book, Title of book (underlined, or in bold type or in italics), Edition unless first edition). Place of publication: Publisher, Date.
Williams, G, Learning the law, 9th ed. London: Stevens, 1973.
Anscombe, G E M, and Geach, P T, Three philosophers: Aristotle, Aquinas, Frege. Oxford: Blackwell, 1961.
Wagner, L, and Baltazzis, N, eds. Readings in applied microeconomics. Oxford: Clarendon, 1973.
If there are more than two authors, only the first need be named:-
Adams, R, and others, eds., Organic reactions, vol. 1. New York: Wiley, 1942.
3. Corporate Body (eg. a learned society, or a government department)
Some books will not have an author or editor as such, but will have been prepared by a corporate body (eg. a learned society, or a government department). In such cases, the body is listed as the author:-
Department of Energy, Energy: the key resource. London: HMSO, 1975
British Sociological Association, Sociology without sexism: a sourcebook. London: The Association, 1977.
Reference books, though they do have editors, are usually best listed under their titles:-
Chamber's encyclopedia, rev. ed. 15 vols. Oxford: Pergamon, 1966.
Concise Oxford French dictionary, 2nd ed. Oxford: Clarendon, 1980.
4. Articles in Books
Author(s) of article, Title of article. In: Editor(s) of Book, Title of Book (underlined, or in bold type or in italics). Place of publication: Publisher, Date, Page numbers.
Mann, S H, The use of social indicators in environmental planning. In: Altman, I, and Wohlwill, J F, eds., Human behaviour and environment: advances in theory and research, vol. 2 London: Plenum, 1977. Pp. 307 - 330.
5. Conference Papers
The proceedings of conferences are often published in book form or as "special issues" of journals. In addition to the details listed in (1), (2) and (3) you should give:-
Name of conference: Sponsoring body (if any), Place, Date.
Venables, P, Finding the high-risk child. In: Carruthers, M, and Priest, R, eds., The psychosomatic approach and the prevention of disease: proceedings of the twentieth annual conference of the Society of Psychosomatic Research, London, November 1976. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 21(4), 1977. P.275.
Feyerabend, P K, Consolations for the specialist. In: Lakatos, I, and Musgrave, A, eds. Criticism and the growth of knowledge: proceedings for the international colloquium in the philosophy of science, London, 1965, vol. 4. London: Cambridge University Press, 1970. Pp. 197-230.
Author of thesis, Title of thesis (underlined, or in bold type or in italics). Degree awarded, University, Date.
Hargreaves, E, The tensile deformation of oriented polyvinyl chloride and oriented polyethylene. PhD thesis, University of Surrey, 1970.
7. Technical Reports
Author(s) of report, Title of report (underlined, or in bold type or in italics). Sponsoring body, Date. Report number (in brackets).
Schmidt, H, Anomalous prediction of quantum processes by some human subjects. Boeing Scientific Research Laboratories, 1969. (AD 684 490).
8. Internet Sources
In this case you are citing a source which may or may not be there if your reader wishes to follow up your reference. However, there are times when this will be the only source of information.
Author, title, edition, place of publication, publisher, date.
In addition, you will need to make a note of the URL (web site) and state on what date you accessed the information. You also add the information ‘[online]’ after the title to show that it comes from the Internet.
University Library, The preparation and presentation of theses and dissertations [online]. Guildford: University of Surrey, 1999. Available from: http://www.surrey.ac.uk/Library/theses.shtml [Accessed 13 Dec 1999]
The same would apply to any E-Journals, when you would need the following details:
Author, article title, Journal Title [online] volume (issue), pages, date.. Available from: URL [Accessed date]
Sometimes you may wish to refer to an e-mail message, especially if it was one generally distributed. On the whole, this is less useful than printed sources or other Internet material which is accessible to all users, because the reader may not be able to follow up the message. It might be an idea to append a printed copy to your work.
Sender (sender’s e-mail address) day, month, year. Subject of message. E-mail to recipient (recipient’s e-mail address)
Many major conferences publish their proceedings after the conference. They may also have a book of abstracts which is available at the time of the conference. There is sometimes difficulty in determining the details for citation; the year of publication may not be the same as the year the conference was held, It may be difficult to identify the publisher and place of publication.
The following reference is for a conference paper which is published in the conference proceedings the following year.
Oakley A, Rajan L. The social support and pregnancy outcome study In: Robinson S, Thomson A, Tickner V (eds) Research and the midwife conference: proceedings 1988. Privately published, 1989.
Other conferences may not specify the editors but an organization may be responsible for the publication
10. Pamphlets & Leaflets
It may be hard to find the information that you want to cite in a leaflet. Many are undated, for example, and the author is rarely stipulated. In these cases, do as best you can. For example the Concrete Society published a pamphlet on a while ago which is undated and without an individual author. The ‘author’ is therefore the Concrete Society. Instead of the date, state ‘(n.d.)’ for ‘not dated’ or ‘no date’. The details are:
Concrete Society, Concrete Industrial Ground Floors: a guide to their design and construction. Slough: Concrete Society, (n.d.)
You will have little difficulty if you have the original newspaper, which will have all the details you require printed on it. If, however, you merely have a cutting, with the publication title and the date jotted on it, you are in greater difficulty. However, these details will be enough to trace the material, though it is obviously better if you can include the issue number (they do not usually have volume numbers) and the page. For example:
Cooper, G. Foul food: can the Government protect us from killer bugs? The Independent (3508):1 Thursday 15 January 1998.
Some other Points to Note
When writing your bibliographical references, there are three rules you must observe. Your references must be:-
- Correct: you should double-check every detail. If you photocopy something, or make notes from an article or book, be sure you write down the full reference at the time. Keep a personal card index or a computerised file of all the references you use, otherwise you could waste hours trying to trace a reference later on.
- Complete: never omit page numbers, volume number, the date, or anything. You are guiding your reader to the source you have used - always ask yourself: "Is it possible, from the information I have given, for someone to walk into a library and readily locate the source I am referring to?"
- Consistent: don't worry too much about full stops, commas, capital letters, and so on - they are not of crucial importance, as long as you choose a style, and stick to it throughout your bibliography. If you give all the necessary information, then that is sufficient.
(see Bibliographic References)
Your thesis must include a bibliography of all the works you have consulted, and in your text you should refer the reader to the sources you use. There are three main systems for citing bibliographical references. The best one for theses is:-
The Harvard System
The name and year system.
Cite all references by using the author's name (either in the text, or in brackets), together with the date of publication (in brackets). If you are citing several works by an author from the same year, distinguish them by adding "a, b, c,....." to the date.
The bibliography is arranged alphabetically by author, and within each separate author's name, chronologically. To make it easier to find references, it is usual, but not essential, to put the date of publication immediately after the author's name.
Subjects were asked to do some reading between sessions, to enhance the orientation of looking for and changing irrational thinking. Frequently recommended was A new guide to rational living (Ellis, 1975), written specifically for non-professionals. Paul Hauck has written a number of problem-orientated books - for instances, on depression (1973), anger (1974), and anxiety (1975). Also recommended was Humanistic psychotherapy (Ellis, 1974b).
Ellis, A, 1974a. Growth through reason. N. Hollywood: Wilshire.
Ellis, A, 1974b. Humanistic psychotherapy. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Ellis, A, and Harper, R A, 1975. A new guide to rational living. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall.
Ellis, A, 1977a. Fun as psychotherapy. Rational Living, 12(1), 2-6.
Ellis, A, 1977b. A garland of rational songs. New York: Institute for Rational Living.
Erikson, M H, and others, 1976. Hypnotic realities. New York: Irvington.
Greenwald, H, 1973. Direct decision therapy. San Diego: Edits.
Hauck, P A, 1973. Overcoming depression. Philadelphia: Westminster.
Hauck, P A, 1974. Overcoming frustration and anger. Philadelphia: Westminster.
Hauck, P A, 1975. Overcoming worry and fear. Philadelphia: Westminster.
When quoting an author's actual words, always include a page reference:-
This theory, then, is not deterministic. Humans have freedom of choice, although this freedom has its limitations. To quote Ellis (1974b, p.307): "Deterministic theories see individuals as not responsible for their behaviour, as the pawns of society, heredity, or both."
Quotations in the text should appear between quotation marks, and should run on from your own words, using standard spacing between lines. If, however, you wish to quote at length (say, more than five or six lines), you should instruct your typist to indent the quotation, and type it single-spaced, without quotation marks.
The Harvard system is widely used. Its main advantage is that it gives information in the text (author and date), so that your reader can evaluate the reliability and currency of your source, without having to look it up in your bibliography.
The Alphabet Number System
As with the Harvard system, you arrange your bibliography alphabetically by the author's name. Each item is then tagged with a running number, which you use to refer to it in your text.
It is only recently that papers by Pollak and Wales (12), Phlips (11), and Lluch (7) have started to build up a library of specifications within which the Linear Expenditure System might be dynamized.
(7) Lluch, C, The extended linear expenditure system. European Economic Review, 4(1), 21-32, 1973.
(8) Lluch, C, and Powell, A, International comparison of expenditure patterns. European Economic Review, 5, 275-303, 1975.
(9) Parks, R W , Systems of demand equations. Econometrica, 37(4), 629-50, 1969.
(10) Parks, R W, Maximum likelihood estimation of the linear expenditure system. Journal of the American Statistical Association, 66, 900-03, 1971.
(11) Phlips, L, A dynamic version of the linear expenditure model. Review of Economics and Statistics, 54(4), 450-58, 1972.
(12) Pollak, R A, and Wales T J, Estimation of the linear expenditure system. Econometrics, 37(4), 611-28, 1969.
The system produces a neat bibliography, which your reader can easily use, but it does not give as much information in the text itself as does Harvard. Also, you will have to complete your bibliography before you can begin writing up, and this may be difficult to do.
The Citation Order System
You should tag each of your references with a number, according to the order in which they appear in your text. The bibliography is then arranged in number order.
Pascarelli and Fisher1 and report that poverty and feelings of low social status are of paramount importance, while Bergman and Amir2 claim that being forgotten and feeling useless are recurrent reasons for drug misuse by the elderly. Garetz3 believes drug use is a reaction to alienation, which Schuckit4 reports that "loss of life structure and feelings of uselessness" may play a role in the development of substance abuse in old age.
Pascarelli, B, and Fisher, W, Drug dependence in the elderly, International Journal of Aging and Human Development, 5, 347-56, 1974.
Bergman, S, and Amir, M, Crime and delinquency among the aged in Israel. Geriatrics, 28, 149-57, 1973.
Garetz, F K, Common psychiatric syndrome of the aged. Minnesota Medicine, 57, 618- 20, 1974.
Schuckit, M, Geriatric alcoholism and drug abuse. The Gerontologist, 17, 168-73, 1977.
Some other Points to Note
- Avoid the use of ibid. (= in the same work) and op. cit. (= in the work already referred to) when writing references. They are unhelpful, and often confusing.
- Always be sure, when citing a book, to refer precisely to the edition which you have actually used.
- Don't put your references in the form of footnotes, scattered through the text - it will make your manuscript difficult to type, and you will have to duplicate the information in a separate bibliography, anyway.
- Use footnotes only for amplifying points in your text.
Further information may be found in, British Standards BS 1629: 1976, Recommendations: bibliographical references, and BS 5605: 1978, Recommendations for citing publications by bibliographical references.
You should seek permission from the copyright holder if you want to include substantial parts of any third party copyright material, e.g. extracts from publications such as books and journals, or illustrations such as photographs, images, maps, tables etc. In most cases this will mean contacting the publisher of the original work. If the publisher does not hold the rights to the work they should forward your request to whoever does.
If a copyright holder replies granting permission you should indicate this at the appropriate point in your thesis, e.g. "Permission to reproduce this ... has been granted by ...". Keep a copy of any letters or emails you receive from rights holders.
For further guidance and templates for permission seeking letters see Including Third Party Copyright Material in your Thesis.
The University's regulations for theses for higher awards (i.e. Masters & Doctors Degrees) are made by the Senate of the University. Changes may be made occasionally, so if you are not certain about anything, you should ask the University Examinations Officer in the Registry for advice.
On the page following the Abstract of your thesis, you should include a copyright statement, in the following form:
(c) Mary Smith 1996
This secures your legal position as the owner of the copyright. However, the University's regulations lay down that the Librarian is authorised to make further copies, in whole or in part, should they be required for legitimate academic purposes.
The British Library Document Supply Centre is given a list of PhD theses submitted and will be lent a copy to satisfy any requests it might have from other individuals or institutions. If a candidate completes a prescribed form, the British Library will make a payment in respect of copies supplied in certain circumstances.
If the sponsoring organisation or collaborating body considers that the thesis contains matter of a confidential nature, the author may instruct the Librarian to restrict access to a thesis for a period not exceeding five years. Access to the thesis may be allowed during this period only with the permission of person(s) specified by the sponsoring organisation or collaborating body. Similarly, if it is desired to seek a patent from matter in the thesis, the author may instruct the Librarian to restrict access for a period not exceeding one year. If it is desired to extend the restriction beyond the above periods, or restrict access on other grounds, application must be made in writing to the University Examinations Officer.
Typing your Thesis
Many students will wordprocess their own thesis, but if you need help it is advisable to make enquiries well in advance of your deadline to make sure that you have a typist booked for work on your thesis at a specific time. Typists who specialise in thesis work inevitably find that certain times of the year are busier than others - so don't wait until you have finished your final fair copy before looking for a typist. Ask your departmental secretary and the Students' Union for advice; they should be able to recommend locally-based typists. If you wish to use a commercial agency, look in the Yellow Pages telephone directory under the heading "Secretarial."
Remember, you must submit three copies of a PhD or MPhil thesis, and two copies of a taught Master's degree dissertation (see section on Regulations above). You will also need at least one copy for your own use. All typing should be in black; use India ink for any symbols which you have to add. Normal spacing between lines should apply, though in tables, wider spacing may, of course, be desirable. Page margins should be wide, to allow for binding. As a rough guide, the left-hand margin should be 1.5" (40mm), the top margin (including page number) 1" (25mm), the right-hand margin also 1", and the bottom margin 1.25" (30mm). If you intend to print the thesis using both sides of each page, the wider margin (1.5" or 40mm) must be towards the binding on either side (many modern photocopiers can make the adjustment and perform this function automatically).
Good advice on preparing your manuscript for the typist will be found in:-
Morbey, M A, From "fair copy" to "bound" how to prepare your manuscript for typing - and what happens next! London: Lienna, 1984. 415.1 is the classification number.
Binding your Thesis
The copies of your thesis must be bound to the University's specification.
There are facilities at UniSPrint for binding your thesis. See their web pages or Tel.01483 879290
You will find other binders listed under "Bookbinders" in the Yellow Pages, but if you decide to take your thesis to one of them, make sure that they will conform to the University's regulations.
As with finding a typist, you should make advance enquiries, and book a firm date. Make sure you know how long the binder will need to complete the job.
The thesis should be hardbound in blue cloth, and the spine should show your name, the degree awarded, and the date, thus:
M SMITH PhD 1993
Any folding tables or charts, and supporting publications should be bound in wherever possible. If they cannot be bound in, you should ask the binder to make a pocket to hold them, on the inside of the back cover.
Publishing your Thesis
When your thesis is finished, and you have been awarded your degree, you will probably be hoping to publish your findings, either as a book, or in the form of several journal articles.
You will find valuable advice on how to do this by consulting:
- Day, R A, How to write and publish a scientific paper, 2nd ed Philadelphia: I S I, 1983.
- Harman, E, and Montagnes, I, eds. The thesis and the book. Toronto: Toronto University Press, 1976.
Both these books are available in the Library; 415.1 is the classification number for both of them.
You will find that book publishers and journal editors have "house styles" for the layout of typescript and the citation of bibliographical references. You must follow these. Journals usually print an outline of their requirements ("Notes for Authors") inside the cover of each issue.
There is a British Standard - BS 5261, Part 1: 1975, and BS 5261, Part 2: 1976, Copy preparation and proof correction, which lays down basic guidelines, but not all publishers follow it.
A number of learned societies (for example, The American Psychological Association, the Modern Language Association, and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers) publish style sheets, and these are often helpful. If you are doubt, though, you should contact the publisher or journal editor for further information.