Formatting for Writers of PhD or Master’s Theses 

Why is formatting important?

If you are writing a thesis, you may well ask this question. You may be thinking ‘Surely, it is the content of my thesis that matters, rather than the format.’ However, formatting is a type of presentation which can be compared to other kinds of presentations. If you are listening to a lecture whose content is perfect, but the presentation is poor, then you will probably soon lose interest or even ‘switch off’. On the other hand, if you are attending an interview for a job or for a place on a university course, it is not only your knowledge and ability that matter, but also the way you present yourself.  

What is formatting of a thesis?

Formatting is the way you present your work. A well-formatted document will impress the reader, whereas a badly-formatted document will have the same impact as a poorly-presented lecture. Formatting involves everything in the layout of your document, including: font, headings, word and line spacing, pagination, headers and footers, paragraphs and indentation, margins and justification, and position of pictures and diagrams. Let’s take a look at these in turn. 


In this digital age, there has been an exponential increase in the number of fonts available in word processors, making it difficult to decide which one to use. However, whichever font you use, it is important to be consistent, and never to use different fonts for different paragraphs. However, when writing a thesis, your university style guide will establish which font you should use, sparing you the task of making this decision. 


These involve a main heading or title, and a number of subheadings, both of which are usually in larger font sizes and sometimes in different font types, and also sometimes left-justified and sometimes centred. Your university style guide should be consulted for this. 

Word and Line Spacing

In the past, it was usual to have a double space after the end of a sentence. This practice dates from the early days of printing and continued into the typewriter era. However, it is rarely, if ever, used today. Moreover, take care that you do not inadvertently leave a double space between two words — this does happen. Double spacing between lines can make your thesis easier to read, and most referencing styles require this. However, for both word and line spacing, you should consult your university style guide. 

Pagination, and Headers and Footers

Many style guides require page numbers (and whether they be in the header or the footer, and left, centre or right), and also require a few words of the title to be repeated in the header. The footer is used for footnotes; for example, in the Chicago style. 

Paragraphs and Indentation

A new paragraph should be started when presenting a new topic or idea. It is also usual to have a double space between the end of a paragraph and the beginning of the next one. There is no need to add a double space at the end of every sentence, as this gives the impression that every sentence is a paragraph, making the document difficult to read. It is a matter of debate as to whether the first line of a new paragraph should be indented. It was once common practice, but in recent years, it has become less common. However, it is generally accepted that the first line of a paragraph immediately below a heading should not be indented. Once again, consult your university style guide on this. 

Margins and Justification

Margins (left, right, top and bottom) are determined by the style guide. Although justification remains common in fictional writing, it is now less frequently used in academic writing. 

Position of Pictures and Diagrams

These should be consistent and conform to the style guide. 


It can be seen from above that for PhD writing, master’s theses and dissertations, the university style guide takes the need to choose formatting styles from the student. However, where you do have individual choice, consistency is essential. 


In the reference list below, links (for an example) are given to a selection of university reference guides (some general and some for specific departments), as well as some of the more common reference styles. In our master thesis proofreading services or dissertation proofreading services, we can offer help with formatting. However, it would help if you give us a link to your university style guide.