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The thesis should be an independent and original study. That does not mean that it must treat a subject never before considered, but rather that it should treat the subject in an original way. The thesis is derived from original research (i.e., laboratory, field or library) and must be prepared under the guidance of a thesis director and advisory committee. The thesis must be acceptable in both content and expression and must be presented in a format consistent with the discipline and the thesis guide.

See the Graduate Bulletin - Catalog for details on the requirements and procedures for students seeking the master's degree.

Policies and Procedures

It is your responsibility to follow the guidelines below while developing a thesis.

Thesis Advisory Committee

The initial step in establishing an advisory committee is to select a thesis director. Next, with the advice of the director, select a thesis topic as soon as possible. Following completion of these two steps, the balance of the committee can be formed. The committee includes a chair (thesis director) and at least three other members of the graduate faculty — two selected by the thesis director in consultation with the student and one appointed by the department chair from a list of candidates provided by the dean of graduate studies. Committee members with affiliate graduate faculty membership may serve where deemed appropriate with the approval of the dean of graduate studies but may not serve as the thesis director.

Thesis Proposal

Under the supervision of the thesis director, prepare a thesis proposal that is then submitted to the advisory committee for approval. After each committee member has signed the thesis proposal approval form, the proposal and form are submitted to the academic unit head and academic dean for final approval. The proposal approval form, with the proposal attached, is then sent to the dean of research and graduate studies. The thesis proposal must be submitted the semester prior to the semester of intended graduation.

Any research proposal that uses human participants, laboratory animals or hazardous materials must be accompanied by a memorandum of approval from the chair of the appropriate university committee: the Institutional Review Board for the Protection of Human Subjects in Research, the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee, the Institutional Biosafety Committee, and the Environmental Safety and Health/Radiation Committee.

Thesis Proposal Preparation

The thesis proposal should be prepared in a format that is consistent with the field of study involved. The proposal should address the following topics, in the exact order shown below. Office of Research and Graduate Studies thesis guide specifications should be used for reference on margins and pagination. The body of the thesis should be appropriately formatted according to chosen style manual such as APA, MLA, Chicago/Turbian, etc. The Thesis Proposal Approval Form should serve as the cover sheet.


The title at this stage may be tentative, but it should reflect the central purpose of the study in a brief but accurate and comprehensive manner.


One or more paragraphs should introduce the reader to the subject of study. The introduction may indicate several of the important sources for the proposed study.


Clearly state the central purpose of the proposed study and the specific objectives to be addressed.

Literature Review

This section should indicate the extent you have become acquainted with the relevant literature and other resources available on the subject. It may also be used to lead into the following section.


In this section, justify the proposed research and explain how the study will add to present knowledge and/or modify existing theory or practice in the discipline.

Proposed Methods of Study

This statement should explain how the study will be approached. Normally, a step-by-step procedure will be necessary. This section should address such issues as procedures for the establishment of the study, how the data will be collected and how the data will be manipulated, including statistical treatments where appropriate.

Limitations as to size, time and other factors also should be detailed. Plans for presentation and publication of the results of the study might also be included here. Finally, make note of the book, manual or journal that will be used as a style guide for the presentation of the thesis.

References/Bibliography/Literature Cites/References Cited

The sources used should be in appropriate form in this section and cited appropriately in the text of the proposal.

Registration for Thesis

When preparing a thesis, enroll in the appropriate thesis course. Until the thesis examination is held, continue to register each full semester and summer term during which the resources of the university (faculty, library, laboratories, etc.) are utilized. You must be enrolled during the semester in which the thesis examination is conducted; however, enrollment is not required for the semester or summer session of graduation if the thesis examination is completed in a prior semester or summer session. Until the thesis is completed, a grade of withheld is given for each section of thesis enrollment. When the final copy of the thesis has been approved and signed by the advisory committee, it is the responsibility of the thesis director to turn in grades for all thesis courses.

Supervision of Thesis Research and Writing

You conduct research and write the thesis under the supervision of the thesis director and the thesis advisory committee.

Thesis Defense - Thesis Draft

A thesis draft may serve as the basis for the thesis examination/defense. The thesis draft must meet the following requirements:

  • complete in all aspects
  • mechanically correct (See items under final manuscript preparation in the thesis guide.)
  • figures, plates and tables in final form (photos may be high-quality reproductions.)
  • and approved for content by all members of the thesis advisory committee.

An electronic copy of the complete thesis must be sent to the Office of Research and Graduate Studies before filing the application for the thesis examination.

Thesis Examination

The application for thesis examination form can be submitted only after the thesis draft is submitted to and approved by the Office of Research and Graduate Studies. This form must be filed at least one week before the examination and no later than four weeks before the day of commencement.

The thesis advisory committee also serves as the thesis examination committee. A copy of the final thesis draft must be in the hands of each member of the thesis examination committee and one copy submitted to the Office of Research and Graduate Studies at least one week prior to the examination. The thesis draft submitted to the thesis director must contain original figures and plates.

The thesis examination is held at a time and place agreed upon by you and all members of the thesis examination committee. If the thesis examination committee requires changes or additions to the thesis more extensive than just improvements in language, punctuation, format or illustrations, approval of the thesis will be delayed until each committee member has a chance to examine a new draft incorporating the changes.

Report of Thesis Examination

Following the examination, the thesis director submits the report of thesis examination to the dean of graduate studies.

Final Corrections, Approval and Signatures

Following the thesis/dissertation examination, all changes and corrections required by the thesis/dissertation examination committee and the Office of Research and Graduate Studies must be incorporated into the final draft. Email the revised thesis/dissertation to the graduate office to for approval. The final product must be uploaded into ScholarWorks.

It is your responsibility to check the thesis guide for proper arrangements and page numbering.

Final Manuscript Preparation

The final manuscript is approved by the Thesis Advisory Committee and the dean of graduate studies before the final step of uploading the work to the theses and dissertations section of ScholarWorks. The manuscript must be of the highest possible quality with respect to content and presentation.

The student bears the primary responsibility for quality, but each member of the Thesis Advisory Committee also bears responsibility and is not obligated to approve the work until satisfied with the overall quality of the thesis. Before uploading the manuscript, thoroughly proofread all pages of the thesis to make sure all mechanical specifications have been met. Failure to meet one or more specifications could result in the manuscript being returned for correction.

Mechanical Specifications

Form c contains a template for spacing, margins, headings and page number locations.


Times New Roman or Arial 12-point font is preferred. Where necessary, smaller type may be used in figures and tables but never less than an 8-point font.


For preliminary pages, such as the table of contents, list of figures, tables and abstract, lowercase Roman numerals must be placed in the center, 1 inch from the bottom edge of the page. For the text of the thesis, Arabic numerals should be centered 1 inch from the bottom edge of the page (see sample form c).


Text must be double-spaced. Footnotes, captions, figures and appendix materials should be single-spaced. In the bibliography/references section, citations are single-spaced with double-space between citations.


All pages of the thesis must have the following margins: 1 inch on the right and 1 1/2 inches on the bottom, left and top. For pages with a primary heading, the top margin should 2 inches (see sample forms c and d). The first line of each paragraph and footnote should be indented five spaces from the left margin. Equations, formulas and other such notations should be centered.


Major divisions of the thesis (e.g. introduction, bibliography and appendix) require primary headings and must begin on a new page. Primary headings are centered 2 inches from the top edge of the page and typed in all capital letters. Body of thesis should be appropriately formatted according to chosen style manual such as APA, MLA, Chicago/Turbian, etc.  Headings and subheadings are consistently formatted throughout the document. A subheading at the bottom of the page must have at least one line of text beneath it. Otherwise, the subheading may be moved to the next page.

Tables and Figures

Tables and figures must appear in the text as near as possible to the discussion relating to them. Under no circumstance will a table or figure precede the first discussion of its content (exception: tables in appendices). Tables and figures should not be inserted in the middle of a sentence. Tables and figures should be numbered consecutively.  Tables and figures must have a caption the tells concisely what it contains. The caption must be placed above a table and below a figure.  Tables and figures fit within margins (page orientation may be changed to landscape with the top at the binding [left] side). Tables are cleanly formatted, with the least number of horizontal and vertical lines to separate main elements. If a table spans multiple pages, the word (continued) appears on the last line of the table before the break – this goes for each page where a break occurs. If a table spans multiple pages, the table’s headings repeat at the top of each new page.

Reference Citation

Style and manner of reference citation and bibliographic format are determined by academic discipline. The style manual or journal used must be acceptable to the discipline and stated on the bottom of the vita page preceding the identification of the typist (see sample form d). The AARC’s writing program employs graduate and undergraduate tutors who have been trained in most of the commonly accepted documentation styles. The graduate tutors are engaged in similar writing, so their experience may prove useful in the evaluation of resources and proper documentation.

Although style manuals will govern the way electronic sources should be cited, citations from web-based resources raise special concerns due to the transitory nature of the data. While electronic versions of scholarly articles appearing also in print or refereed electronic journals may be expected to persist in online form, the same is not true of conventional web sources. Take this into account by including copies of cited text in an appendix for review by the thesis committee. Sufficient material should be provided to enable the thesis committee to determine whether the sources have been used appropriately. In cases where conventional web sources form a significant foundation for a thesis, consideration should be given to binding the appendix with the thesis to the extent this can be done without violating copyright.

Parts of the Thesis

The thesis should be arranged as follows:

  1. Flyleaf - a blank page for protection in binding
  2. Title page - conventional page showing essential bibliographical information (see sample form a)
  3. Signature page - a formal record of approval (see sample form b)
  4. Abstract - a concise description, 150 words or less, of the problem, methods of approach, salient results obtained, and conclusions and their significance. The abstract will be published in “Thesis Abstracts” and will largely determine who uses the thesis in the future.
  5. Preface (Optional)
  6. Acknowledgements (Optional)
  7. Table of contents - a paginated guide or outline listing primary, secondary and tertiary headings
  8. List of figures - a paginated listing of all figure captions as they appear with the figures they accompany, used only when thesis contains figures
  9. List of tables - format same as item 8, used only when thesis contains tables
  10. Text - the main body of the thesis
  11. Bibliography - may be labeled “References,” “References Cited” or “Literature Cited, depending on the style used. Format must be consistent with style followed throughout the thesis.
  12. Appendix (Optional)
  13. Vita - a brief autobiographical sketch emphasizing your educational and professional experience. Thesis typist and style manual are identified at the bottom of the page (see sample form d).

For questions concerning the mechanical content or presentation format of the thesis not addressed in this guide, consult the Office of Reseearch and Graduate Studies before proceeding.

Journal Model

Departments may elect to use a specific journal’s format for the body of the thesis or dissertation; the journal should be a respected scholarly journal well known in the major field.  The decision to follow the journal model must be approved by the student’s academic dean, department chair, and advisor. Following the journal model means that while each manuscript will follow the same structure for front and end matter, the body of the document will be structured according to the journal’s standards (with a few exceptions). 

Continuity is provided by a common abstract, introduction, detailed review of the literature, and conclusion that ties together the major results and reference sections.  Unavoidably, this will duplicate some of the introductory and concluding material in each article. 

The following information should help explain the structure for a journal model:

Front Matter

Front matter includes:

  • Title page
  • Signature page
  • Dedication (optional)
  • Abstract
  • Acknowledgments (optional)
  • Preface (optional)
  • Table of contents
  • List of tables
  • List of figures

The abstract summarizes all articles presented in the thesis, even though each article may also have its own abstract.


Front matter is formatted according to SFA standards.

Body of Document

Document body includes:

  • Introduction of all research presented in thesis or dissertation, including:
    • Literature review
    • Study area
    • Literature cited
  • Articles (each in its own chapter)
  • Summary or conclusions of all research


The following items are formatted according to the selected journal’s instructions to author (note that SFA standards supersede journal instructions):

  • Location of table titles (above or below)
  • Location of figure titles (above or below)
  • Heading styles

Margins, font style, page numbering, and chapter designation follow SFA standards. Do not use column formatting.

If tables and figures are placed in a separate section, they should include a chapter designation as well as a table/figure number (Table 1.1, 1.2, 1.3; 2.1, 2.2, 2.3) both in the text and in the caption.

End Matter

End matter includes:

  • Bibliography or list of references
  • Appendix
  • Vita

While each chapter in the body text may have its own list of references, a complete list of all references will be compiled for the bibliography or list of references at the end of the document.


End matter is formatted according to SFA standards; however, entries in bibliography or list of references will be formatted according to journal’s standards.

Checklist for Body of Thesis

The thesis body should conform to the following specifications:

  • Separated into chapters with chapter titles.
  • Appropriately formatted according to chosen style manual, such as APA, MLA, Chicago/Turabian, etc.
  • Headings and subheadings are consistently formatted throughout the document.  Do not change heading structure midway through the document.
  • A subheading at the bottom of the page must have at least one line of text beneath it.  Otherwise, the subheading may be moved to the next page.
  • Text is double-spaced throughout.  Do not insert extra blank lines or spacing to separate text.
  • You may insert blank lines at the bottom of one page in order to keep a single Table from breaking, or when inserting a Figure.

Special instructions for Journal Model

  • First chapter contains an introduction discussing all research presented in the document, including:  literature review, study area, and literature cited.
  • Each article appears in its own chapter and may have its own list of references.
  • Last chapter is a summary or conclusion of all research.
  • A comprehensive listing of all references appears in a reference/bibliography section.



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