Style, Form and Function – How Should My Thesis Look?

For any academic out there who somehow doesn’t follow Pat Thomson’s blog Patter, I highly recommend it. So far it has given me expert advice on writing, choosing an external examiner, working with supervisors, publishing, academic blogging, organisation, reading schedules…I could go on.

Her most recent post – should I number my thesis? – brought up something else that I hadn’t even thought about. Granted, at this stage with nearly 60K words down and another 30K-odd to go I’m not really focusing on the layout so much, but that’s part of the point.

I’ve been pretty much left to my own devices in terms of a set format or style for my thesis as far as the University is concerned. There is no template nor any mandatory referencing and style guide that I have to use. While my lead supervisor prefers a particular style guide, it doesn’t suit my writing or requirements and as such he has advised me to choose one and apply it consistently. It’s possible that an external examiner might be inclined towards a particular style, however they are less likely to insist on this if the system used is clear and properly executed. (I hope.)

There are pros and cons to this freedom, and Pat’s article has highlighted one of them perfectly. It is important to choose a style/format that is in keeping with the content and presentation of your thesis. Question your choices, even ones imposed by your department and/or institution, and make sure that you know that they present your work in the best way possible.

For now, as my comment at the bottom of the article suggests, my numbered subheadings are staying. It’s the best way for me to organise my thinking as well as my writing, and it helps at this stage to think about medium-sized interconnected sections. However, I’ll be seriously reviewing this decision once the full thesis is drafted and deciding then if it helps or hinders the reader.

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