13-Step checklist for submitting dissertation, journal article

Dave HarrisIt may be intimidating to have to turn in a paper according to a specific set of style guidelines, but if you just follow a step-by-step process it’s not all that difficult. Here’s a basic checklist of the fundamental issues. It’s just a starting point, but check it against your style guidelines and you should be set. Style manuals are hundreds of pages; universities and journals often have additional specific requirements. But don’t be intimidated. There’s a lot of detail that you probably won’t face. This list is primarily aimed at dissertation writers, but the principles are the same for journals.

  1. Font. I suggest Times New Roman 12pt. Many other fonts are acceptable, but if there is a restriction, Times New Roman 12pt is almost always accepted. In general, the more common the font, the more likely it will be accepted.
  2. Set up your margins. The size of margin varies depending on the project. Typically it will be one inch on all four sides, but theses and dissertations often require a larger left margin (typically 1.5 inches). If you set your margins early in the writing process, it may save you some hassles later (especially if you’re using tables that might be affected by the width).
  3. Double space. Most papers in the humanities (MLA and Turabian style manuals) and social sciences (APA style manual) require this. This includes lengthy quotations that are set off from the rest of the text by indentation (double spacing is required by APA, MLA; and Chicago styles; the Turabian manual says quotations “may be single spaced”). Tables of contents, footnotes, and reference lists often have different line-spacing requirements.
  4. Number your pages. Pagination rules vary from institution to institution.
  5. Page headers are often necessary.
  6. Title Page. But this is usually highly specific. Universities have their own guidelines; journals usually do, too.
  7. Front matter. This may include a signature page, a copyright notice, a dedication, and acknowledgments.
  8. Table of contents.
  9. Abstract. Keep it short and as simple as possible. Check your style manual for details. UMI Dissertation Publishing requires a 350-word limit on doctoral dissertation abstracts and a 150-word limit on master’s theses. A good abstract is worth the effort. It’s what people read first.
  10. The body of the text. You’re not too likely to forget about this.
  11. Figures and images. Often it is most simple to include figures and images at the end of the text. If you are using images that are copyrighted, you will probably need to get permission for their use in your dissertation or thesis.
  12. List of references. Don’t leave this for last! Your references in the text have to be consistent with the references on the reference list. Although most references will be done easily, don’t get caught at the last minute scrambling to figure out how best to cite one of your references. Most style manuals have extensive lists of examples to help put references in the proper form.
  13. Paper. Typically, schools require dissertations and theses to be printed on special paper (usually low-acid or acid-free). Check with your school for acceptable papers.

This is a basic and generic checklist. When it comes time to finalize your work, be sure to find the official guidelines published by your department or university. This checklist cannot replace the official university guidelines. Getting it all right requires attention to detail and some effort, but it doesn’t require brilliance. Don’t be intimidated.


Dave Harris, Ph.D. (dave@thoughtclearing.com), academic writing coach and editor, enjoys untangling the delicate threads of arguments and helping writers capture their ideas in an effective written form. More information can be found at www.thoughtclearing.com. Copyright 2007, Dave Harris. All rights reserved.