Thesis Style Guidelines

These instructions represent the thesis style regulations as they apply to theses in the Biology Department. They are consistent with the Thesis Guidelines that are published by the Graduate School (see their website). That document should be obtained and used along with these guidelines in preparing your thesis.

The ultimate goal of your thesis work is the submission or one or more manuscripts to a peer-reviewed journal. The content and writing style of your thesis should therefore conform to the requirements of the target journal, though the formatting must conform to the requirements of the graduate school.

Sections of the Thesis

The thesis will be subdivided into sections and subsections according to those commonly found in biological journals. These sections are common in theses presented to the Biology Department: ABSTRACT, ACKNOWLEDGMENTS, TABLE OF CONTENTS, LIST OF FIGURES, LIST OF TABLES, INTRODUCTION, STUDY AREA (if relevant), METHODS, RESULTS, DISCUSSION, LITERATURE CITED.

Each copy of the thesis must have a one page abstract numbered with lower case Roman Numeral iv (following the signature, authorization/copyright and title pages). The abstract will vary somewhat with the nature of the study, but it must provide a concrete statement of the problem, a brief description of methods, and the significant results and conclusions. The abstract page must include the thesis title and the author’s name. Margins and spacing should be consistent with thesis text requirements. Because the abstract will be included with every copy of the thesis, an additional summary of the thesis work is unnecessary.

Examples of a signature page, authorization page, and title page are available in the Thesis Guidelines publication described above. You should ask your thesis advisor to show you a copy of a completed thesis, to answer questions regarding thesis formatting or organization, although sometimes these copies might contain inadvertent mistakes.

Headings and Subheadings

All headings and subheadings are to be printed in boldface type. The hierarchy of headings is as follows. Primary headings, used for the major sections of the thesis, are to be centered, all upper case, and boldface. Major sections of the thesis must begin on a new page. Do not refer to major sections as Chapter 1, Chapter 2, etc. Secondary headings used for major topics within a section of the thesis are to be centered, lower case except for the initial character, and boldface. Secondary headings begin two lines (one double-space) below the primary heading or four lines (two double-spaces) below the end of the preceding text paragraph. Tertiary headings begin at the left margin, lower case except for the initial character, and boldface. Tertiary headings begin two lines below the secondary heading or four lines below the end of the preceding text paragraph. The text associated with either secondary or tertiary headings begins two lines before the heading. The use of fourth order headings is discouraged, but if these must be used they are to be indented as part of the paragraph, lower case except for the initial character, and boldface. A period separates this heading from the lead sentence of the paragraph.

The following example illustrates the proper use of headings and subheadings for Biology theses:


Overstory litter

Based on previous sampling of total leaf fall in the mixed hardwood forest type, nylon mesh bags...

Understory litter

I divided understories of both forest types according to growth forms of ...

Herbaceous layer

Two types of herbaceous plants grew in the study area and the methods for litter decomposition were...

Annuals. I collected litter from annual plants at monthly intervals during the growing season and...

Perennials. I collected litter from perennial plants only at the end of the growing season and...

Literature Citation Style

Literature citation styles should follow the accepted norms required for papers in journals in the field. For example, see the citation styles in Cell, Ecology, Evolution, and Genetics. Note that citations for journal articles, books, software, and websites may differ slightly from one another. Be sure to use the standard style for each.

Tables and Figures


Tables must be numbered consecutively, with Arabic numerals, one table per page. The caption must be single spaced, and it should go above the body of the table. Footnotes associated with the table must go at the bottom. We discourage the use of tables numbered 1a, 1b, 1c, etc. Lines in the table may be used, according to the custom of you and your thesis advisor. Do not put tables in the text. Each table must be on its own page. Edit the data in tables rigorously; long lists of raw data should be eliminated. Never repeat the same data in a table and a figure. If either will suffice, a figure is preferable.


All figures must be numbered consecutively with Arabic numerals, one figure per page unless clearly related figures can be grouped on one page with one caption. The single spaced legend must go below the figure, or if there is not enough room, on a facing page such that it can be read while viewing the figure. In the text, references to figures may be made as Fig. 2, but on the figure caption the word “Figure” must be spelled out. We recognize that figures are handled differently in different aspects of the discipline, especially when photographic plates or drawings are involved. Limited groups of related illustrations (line drawings) may be included in the main body of the thesis as figures (as opposed to plates), with subdivisions a, b, c, etc. Plates are considered to be groups of illustrations located at the back of the thesis. As such they may be referred to as Plate 1, fig. 1; Plate 9, fig. 3; etc. Note the use of lower case for fig.

Lists of Tables and Figures

You are required to prepare a list of tables and a list of figures. These should be treated each on separate pages, and should follow immediately after the Table of Contents. These lists should contain each table or figure number, the caption exactly as on the table or figure, and the page number on which the table or figure can be located.

Arrangement of Tables and Figures for Examination

Check with the thesis advisor on how to arrange tables and figures when assembling the defense copies of the thesis. Some professors prefer to receive the copy with the entire text together at the front, followed by all the tables, and finally the figures. This is the form in which journal articles are submitted to an editor for publication; the advantage is that all the primary evidence (tables and figures) are collected in one place. Not everyone prefers this arrangement, however; many faculty like to have the tables and figures inserted in the correct order in the body of the thesis. The draft that will be checked by the Graduate Dean and then duplicated must have tables and figures in the correct order in the body of the thesis.

Other Guidelines


This section is optional, but recommended. Its purpose is to acknowledge those who contributed to the research. It is important, for example, to acknowledge the assistance of National Parks and Forests, State Agencies, and private citizens on whose land you worked, people who helped gather data and provided advice, and sources of funding. Acknowledgments should follow the abstract.


Everything in the text must be double spaced, except that there will be two double-spaces between the last sentence of a paragraph and any heading or subheading. The entries under Literature Cited, captions of tables and figures, and bodies of tables are to be single spaced. Text in the body of a table may be double-spaced if it makes the table easier to comprehend, but the caption still must be single spaced.

Margins and Pagination

For details on margins and pagination, see the Thesis Guidelines on the Graduate School’s website.


Use the metric system for all measurements, including tide heights, throughout the thesis. Common units of measurement in the metric system need not be followed by periods (eg, 2 mm, 3.5 cm, 6 km, 10.23 L).