By Marina Pantcheva
Do acknowledgements follow or precede the table of contents? What comes first – the appendix or the bibliography? And what is the difference between a bibliography and a list of references? In this article, you can read about the main components of a doctoral dissertation and their order.
A doctoral dissertation is a book, and books have a particular structure. Most of us are familiar with the basic book design: we know that the preface comes before the first chapter and the appendices are somewhere towards the end. But the ordering of some book components can be less obvious: Do acknowledgements follow or precede the table of contents? What comes first – the appendix or the bibliography? And what is the difference between a bibliography and a list of references? In this article, you can read about the main components of a doctoral dissertation and their order. Many of these principles apply to master theses and books in general.
A dissertation has three major divisions: the front matter, the body matter, and the back matter. Each of them contains several parts. These parts and their customary ordering are presented below. Click on the link for more information about each particular part.
The front matter
The front matter serves as a guide to the contents and the nature of the book. The pages in the front matter are assigned lowercase roman numerals (i, ii, iii, iv …). The front matter includes (in this order):
Half-title page (p. i)
This is the very first page of the book and also the first page that is counted. It carries nothing but the title. No subtitle, no author, no publisher. This is why it is often called “bastard title page”. The back (verso) of this page is blank.
Title page (p. iii)
The title page repeats the title. It carries also the subtitle and the full name(s) of the author(s) as they are printed on the cover. In addition, it has the university logo and a text about the academic degree, the place and time for the submission.
Science and Fiction in Norway
Mark Christian Nilsen
Dissertation submitted for the degree of Philosophiae Doctor (PhD)
Department of Culture and Literature
Copyright page (p. iv)
The verso (back) of the title page is where you find the copyright notice, the publisher, the ISSN number, etc. This may look like this:
|© 2014 by Mark Christian Nilsen. All rights reserved.|
Cover illustration: Inger Nilsen
Printed by Tromsprodukt AS, Tromsø, Norway
Your university might not have a standard for a copyright page. If this is the case, you could put here the names of your supervisor(s) and evaluation committee members instead.
On the dedication page the author names the person(s) for whom the book is written. It is for the author to decide whether to have a dedication or not. It is not necessary to identify the person(s) to whom the work is dedicated. Examples of a dedication are:
To my wonderful wife.
To Samuel Anderson, in memoriam.
To my father.
The epigraph is a short quotation or a poem, which usually serves to link the book to other, usually well-known, published works. The source of the quotation is given on the line following the epigraph and is usually aligned right, often preceded by a dash.
“Science without religion is lame; religion without science is blind.”
Table of Contents
The table of contents (often titled just Contents) is the first page on which the page number appears (v, vii or ix – depending on whether there is a dedication/epigraph). The table of contents should contain the title and beginning page number of everything that follows it: acknowledgements, book parts, chapters, sections, list of references, etc. If some chapter titles are too long, consider choosing alternative short titles to be used in the table of contents. Do not include the contents in the table of contents unless you want to make a joke.
List of Illustrations (optional)
The list of illustrations contains all illustrations in the dissertation and the page numbers where they can be found. If there are various kinds of illustrations, the list can be divided into parts, such as Figures, Maps, etc. The titles of the illustrations need not correspond exactly to the captions printed with the illustrations themselves; you can use shortened titles. The list of Illustrations is usually titled simply Illustrations, but appears as List of Illustrations in the table of contents.
List of Tables
A list of tables (usually titled just Tables but entered in the table of contents as List of Tables) contains all tables and their page numbers. The titles of the tables may be shortened if needed.
The abstract includes a concise description of the thesis – the problems discussed in it and their proposed solution. The abstract must focus on the result of the scientific investigation, rather than giving the background and methodology for the investigation. This is why people read the abstract: to find out what you have discovered. The abstract is a self-contained text and should not contain references. If this is needed, then you can include the whole reference in the abstract.
The abstract is best written towards the end of the dissertation writing process. Plan enough time for writing the abstract – a day or two perhaps; it is generally more difficult to write a short, concise text than a long text.
The abstract will be the most widely read and published part of your thesis: this is what the potential reader will first look at when deciding whether to spend more time on reading the entire dissertation.
In the acknowledgement you thank the people who have contributed to your doctoral degree by providing academic supervision, administrative support, food and shelter, friendship, etc.
First and foremost, you should thank your main supervisor, followed by the co-supervisor(s) and the people who have helped you shape your academic profile. It is a good idea to thank the administrative staff at the Faculty, who will have most likely helped you sort out some problems during your postgraduate studies. You can then continue with thanking your close colleagues, friends, spouse, kids, parents, and (optionally) God.
The acknowledgements are the only place in the dissertation where you may reveal personal information about yourself and your life. It is less formal than the rest of the dissertation and can include jokes, sentences in foreign language, etc. Keep in mind though that a lot of people who do not know you personally will read this part, so you should not be too personal and revealing.
It is a good idea to prepare a list of people to include in the acknowledgements before one has started writing them. You can begin with this list months before you submit your dissertation; stick a post-it note on your desk and add the names of people to thank as you remember them.
The acknowledgements of a dissertation are the only part that everyone will read (I believe that by the end of a defense event, everybody in the audience has read the acknowledgements in the dissertation copy before them). Make time to write it well and include all people you want to thank to.
Be aware that the acknowledgements of your dissertation can form the basis for the selection of your defense committee.
Note on Transliteration
Sometimes, the author may need to add a list of the transliterations used in the book. This is best done in the front matter and can include a table specifying the conversion of each symbol of the source alphabet into a symbol of the target alphabet.
List of abbreviations
The list of abbreviation contains all the abbreviations used in the body text of the dissertation, listed in an alphabetical order. If the list is less than a page, it can be places on the left-hand page next to the first page of text.
The body matter contains the main text of the dissertation. It is commonly divided into chapters, which are often (but not necessarily) of approximately the same length. Each chapter title should provide a reasonable clue to the contents of the chapter. Choose short title chapters; in case this is not possible, consider having shorter versions to be used in the Table of Contents and as running heads.
The first chapter in a dissertation is commonly labelled “Introduction” and serves to acquaint the reader with the topic of investigation, its importance for science, and the issues it raises. The Introduction often includes a literature overview, where the author provides short summaries of works relevant for the topic. The goal with this exercise is twofold: to show what is already known about the problem(s) dealt with in the dissertation, and to demonstrate that the doctoral candidate is familiar with the findings in his/her assumed field of expertise.
The middle chapters
The exact structure of the middle chapters may vary, depending on the scientific field. In the exact sciences, one normally uses the IMRAD format (Introduction – Methods, Results And Discussion). (The introduction part naturally belongs to the first chapter “Introduction”.) Dissertations in other fields may include one or more chapters on the theory and data.
In some dissertations, the middle chapters are journal articles where the doctoral candidate is a first author. This model has certain disadvantages. Firstly, the dissertation cannot be easily published as a book later on. Secondly, it might be tricky to write a common introduction/conclusion for all the different papers.
The final chapter of a dissertation is almost inevitably called “Conclusion”. It summarizes the conclusions of the scientific investigation, the solutions to the problems stated in the beginning, suggestions for future research, and practical implications of the findings. This chapter should be relatively short and preferably written in a way that it can stand alone. Avoid copy-pasting sentences from the Abstract and the Introduction.
Sections in a chapter
Long chapters can be divided into sections, which can be further divided into subsections and sub-subsections. When a chapter is divided in sections, there should be at least two of them. Just one section in a chapter is illogical and asymmetric — you should not have any sections at all in such case. The same applies to subsections and sub-subsections.
Numbering of sections
Numbering the sections and subsections in a chapter provides an easy way for cross-referencing. The most common numbering system is the multiple numeration system, where the number of each division is preceded by the number(s) of the higher division(s). For instance, the number 3.2 signifies Section 2 in Chapter 3; the number 5.4.2 signifies Subsection 2 in Section 4 in Chapter 5.
The contents of the back matter are generally supplementary and often non-essential. The back matter of a dissertation comprises the following parts:
The material found in the appendix is not essential to the dissertation, but can be helpful for the reader who seeks further information. Examples are: source texts, lists, survey questionnaires, and sometimes even charts and tables. The appendix should not be a repository of raw data that the author has not been able to work into the main text.
If there are two or more appendices, they are designated by letters: Appendix A, Appendix B, etc.
The notes section must be arranged by chapters, with chapter numbers and even chapter titles serving as section titles.
A reference list includes all sources cited in the work. A bibliography contains all sources the author has consulted, including sources that are not cited in the work: these can be background readings, relevant articles, etc.
No matter whether you have a Reference List or a Bibliography, make sure that all works cited in the text are included there. There is nothing worse than searching for a cited article in the back matter and not finding it there.
For more information on citing and referencing consult Harvard & Vancouver referencing style [coming soon].
I feel the need to record a dissenting opinion on this.
It is my understanding that acknowledgments are not a required component of a PhD thesis. They are a tradition and a custom, and like most traditions and customs, people participate in them because they find them valuable and enjoy doing them, not because they are obligated to do so. One answer says that many grants "contractually require you to acknowledge the funding entity". Yes, but that's a different kind of acknowledgment: for instance, in many published papers that goes on a footnote appearing on the first page, whereas there may (or may not) be a paragraph in the introduction or at the end of the paper thanking various people. Moreover, a PhD advisor is not a "funding entity" in this sense, and I have never heard of anyone being contractually obligated to thank their advisor. Let us assume that the OP is not.
After reading advice that amounts to "Yes, you should absolutely write acknowledgments in a way that conveys a positive impression of your advisor. Since you in fact feel exactly the opposite way you will have to write them very carefully indeed" a few times, I got a bit worried. I see a personal integrity issue here: really one should not record in a formal document sentiments which are diametrically opposed to those one actually holds. Moreover, all the comments about the career risk one might incur for not including acknowledgments -- well, I must agree that omitting acknowledgments is a suboptimal career move, but such comments make me even more worried. It seems to me that many people here are essentially viewing acknowledgments as a loyalty oath that one must make to one's thesis advisor. That can't be good. People stood on principle against loyalty oaths in the past, sometimes with cost to themselves. They were right and courageous to do so. I'm afraid I see a similar principle here.
My point is this: no, actually the OP certainly does have the right not to put acknowledgments in his thesis. Is that the best career move? No, probably not, but it is his choice and he may have good reasons for doing it. Four final comments:
No acknowledgments at all seems much better to me than acknowledgments which are sarcastic or show bitterness, and probably even better than acknowledgments which are carefully written to extract exactly the level of thanks that a dissatisfied person can muster. I do agree that it is less than plausible that the OP does not have warm feelings about anyone (e.g. his family and friends), but writing acknowledgments to your thesis and not mentioning your advisor is also worse than not writing them at all. If you really want to thank your friends and family then you don't need a page in your thesis to do so. (I looked back at my own thesis acknowledgments just now and was somewhat pleasantly surprised by the effusiveness with which I thanked my mother and a very supportive ex-girlfriend. But now I have a sinking feeling in my stomach: I'm not sure either of them ever read my thesis! A facebook message may be in order here...)
In case people are wondering whether I personally identify with the OP's ingratitude to his advisor: hell no. My first reaction to the post was to roll my eyes at the sentiment that his advisor was helpful for half the time and then so unhelpful so as to make the total contribution 0%. I am struggling to imagine what someone could do to make a contribution so negative as to cancel out years of support. My first impression of the OP was that he is -- to put it mildly -- a peevish ingrate. My second thought? Gosh, this guy would make a much better impression simply by not talking about his advisor at all. Not recording for posterity your own sentiments when you know that they contain inappropriate and unseemly negativity is a sign of great professionalism, more so than just lying through your teeth.
I recently read a PhD thesis from my own program without acknowledgments. I must admit that I did notice this: when I saw the question I thought "Wait, didn't so-and-so not have acknowledgments in their thesis?" so I looked back and confirmed that it was true. Without giving away personal details, let me say that I have every reason to believe that so-and-so had an unusually positive relationship with their thesis advisor, and that so-and-so has gone on to another academic job and, apparently, a promising career. Why did so-and-so not include acknowledgments? I simply don't know. It's not my business.
In contrast to what some other people have said: other than in the context of my own graduate program, I rarely read people's PhD theses. When I do it is usually to get some exposition or technical detail that I wish they had put into their published work. In particular, I almost never read the theses of job candidates. Does this sound weird? I think it isn't: I read lots of other accounts of the material in candidates' theses: from their recommendation letters, from their cover letters and research statements and -- when I am really interested -- from the papers and preprints resulting from their thesis work. If other people here specifically read PhD theses in the context of academic hiring, I would be very interested to know. Also, as a hirer -- yes, times are tough and we can be very selective, but there are certain things that one does not want to take into account. If I was at a hiring meeting and someone brought up a lack of acknowledgments in a PhD thesis as a point against a candidate, I would say something like "This person really must be great if you want to sink her and can't do any better than that."