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Formatting Your Thesis/Dissertation: Formatting Overview

Learn about Graduate College formatting requirements.

Setting Up Your Document: First Steps to Ensure Correct Formatting

Note that the requirements outlined in this guide are for all theses, music abstracts, and dissertations submitted to the University of Northern Iowa. Style manuals (APA, MLA, Chicago, etc.) should be followed when citing sources and creating your reference page or bibliography. Page layout, headings, margins, page numbers, and other such formatting requirements should follow what is outlined here (and for a more in depth look at the requirements, please consult the Thesis and Dissertation Manual). 

For questions regarding department specific requirements, please contact your Chair or Program Coordinator.

The tabs in this box will give you some preliminary steps to follow when you begin to setup your document. Review the Front Matter and Body Formatting for more information about how pages are setup and which pages are included in your work. Use the Thesis and Dissertation Manual for more information.


Note: This guide uses Word to format the work. Many requirements cannot be done in Google Docs or even Word Online. 

Tip: Mark up shows the "non-printing characters" like indicators where spaces are or section and page breaks. Turn this on and off as you format to assist with seeing changes.

button to turn on markup or non-printing characters looks like a backward P

1. Start by setting the “normal” style and selecting the font you will use throughout. It should be 12-pt font. But you have some options as to which font you use. Times New Roman is recommended.

  • Format the font
  • Right click on the “normal” style in the styles pane
  • Select update to match selection.

This will help ensure that the font remains consistent throughout the document.

to set style of font, right click on the style type and update to match selected text

2. Next, set the margins and ensure you apply them to the whole document.

  • Under layout, select margins.
  • Top is 1.25”
  • Bottom is 1.25”
  • Left is 1.5”
  • Right is 1”
  • Ensure you apply to the whole document.

top and bottom page margins are 1.25 inch, left margin is 1.5 inch, right margin is 1 inch

3. Edit the headers so they start 0.75” from the top. Completing this action now should allow them to remain consistent throughout the document even with section breaks, however you should double check this when you insert a section break.

  • Double click in the header
  • In the header tab change heading from top to 0.75” and exit the header.

double click in header to open header formatting options. Change header from top to 0.75 inch

The first page of the work should be the Copyright page. This text will be centered horizontally as well as vertically. To center vertically:

  • Select the text of the copyright page (and only that text)
  • Open the document dialog box
  • Under layout – change the vertical alignment to centered
  • Apply to the selected text.

to center text vertically open the document or page setup dialogue box and change the vertical alignment to top

There will have to be a section break after the copyright page to prevent the entire document from being center aligned.

ensure there is a section break after the vertically centered text so you can adjust the next page to vertically align to the top of the page

Next you will format page numbers. Carefully review the manual and the information in the Front Matter section to determine which pages are numbered.

For music abstracts, page numbering is optional. If you choose to number your music abstract, start the numbering with 1 in Arabic numerals in the body of the abstract. Do not number your front matter. Enter a section break after your recital approval pages and follow the steps for inserting numbers in the body of the text that are outlined for thesis and dissertation.

For Thesis and Dissertation writers format the front matter with Roman numerals and the body of the work with Arabic numerals.

There will be several unnumbered pages after the copyright page. Leave at least one blank page after the copyright page and insert a section break at the end of it.

For the Front Matter, the first numbered page will be page ii in Roman numerals:

  • Open the header
  • Unlink it from the previous section

under the header ribbon (double click in header to access) click the link to previous button to unlink the header from previous section

  • Format page number to be in Roman numerals
  • Start at ii.

In the page number format box, change number format to Roman Numerals and start at ii

  • Insert page numbers right aligned

insert page numbers in the top, right of the header

  • To insert more front matter pages after page ii, insert page breaks and enter the text for the page. Leave at least one page as a placeholder until you are ready to format those pages.
  • Insert a section break after the placeholder.

For the Body, the first numbered page will be 1 in Arabic numerals:

  • Open the header of the first page of the body of the work
  • Unlink it from the previous section

at start of body of thesis you need to unlink the header from previous again (double click in header to open header ribbon, click link to previous)

  • Format page numbers to be in Arabic numerals starting at 1.

open the page number formatting dialogue box to adjust number format to Arabic numerals starting at 1

  • Insert page numbers right aligned

insert page numbers in the top right of the header


A "widow" is a single initial line of a new paragraph at the bottom of the page, and an "orphan" is a single terminal line of a paragraph at the top of a page. In other words, a single line of a paragraph is not allowed at either the top or bottom of a page. Either one or two spaces may be used after punctuation at the end of a sentence, as long as it is consistent throughout the entire thesis. This can be avoided by using the Widow/Orphan Control:

1. Under the Home Tab, open the Paragraph Dialog Box

at the top, under the home tab, open the paragraph dialog box

2. On the Line and Page Breaks section, locate Widow/Orphan control and ensure it is checked

the widow / orphan control is under the line and page breaks section of the paragraph dialog box ensure it is checked


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Thesis and Dissertation Manual

Formatting Checklist

This is just a general overview. View the Thesis and Dissertation Manual for all requirements.


Page Margins are correct

  • Top: 1.25"
  • Bottom: 1.25"
  • Left: 1.5"
  • Right: 1"

 Font is same type and point size throughout

  • Note: check your page numbers to ensure that they are also the same font and size as the body of the work

 Document is double spaced

 Front Matter pages are numbered consecutively with lower case Roman numerals

  • Look at the Front Matter section for notes about what pages to number and which to omit the number from

 The body of the thesis is numbered with Arabic numerals

  • This starts with page 1 for the first page of the text and continues consecutively until the last page including the references/bibliography/works cited and any appendices

 Page numbers are 0.75" from the top of the page

 Pages are in the order outlined in the manual

 Table of Contents, List of Tables, and List of Figures have the correct page numbers listed

  • This can be done manually and check, or you can use the tips in Body Formatting to link your headings and List of Tables & List of Figures to link your tables and figures and auto-populate these pages with the correct numbers. Note that you are still responsible for ensuring everything is properly linked and listed before you submit.

 Headings follow the styles outlined in the manual

  • Review the body formatting section for information on how to format and use STYLES in Word to assist with maintaining consistently formatted headings.

 References and in text citations have been carefully reviewed and formatted according to the style guide approved by my department (APA, MLA, Chicago, etc)

  • Note that reference managers are not perfect. There can still be errors so completing a thorough review before submission is important.