Thesis mechanics

Notes for October 17


I want to cover two things in today’s class: first, how to format your thesis, especially the references, and second, how to use Word.

Thesis formatting

A thesis is not a book but it is a lot closer to a book than the papers you have written in college. It has a title page, a dedication, a preface, an acknowledgements page, a bibliography, and it will be bound. To see how to arrange this material, we can look to two sources: book publishing and other theses.

The Wilson reading describes the conventions of book publishing. In particular, note the treatment of front matter, chapters, and pagination. Assuming that you will print your thesis double sided, we will want to be sure that most of the front matter, such as a dedication, preface, and acknowledgements, are placed on the right page (the front side of a double sided sheet). Chapters should start on the right as well.

I posted a sample document for the front matter of a Pomona thesis on Sakai. I based my sample on a template provided by Cal Tech; the University of Texas also has Word templates for theses. Those templates are overkill for our purposes, but they might be worth consulting if you have special needs.

The formatting of the chapters does not present any special problems. They’re very much like the papers that you have been writing all along. However, there two things that are different: pagination and references. I will deal with these in the next two sections.

Chapter pagination

Chapters, like papers, have a title and a bunch of text. The only tricky thing is ensuring that they start on the correct side of the page, the right or odd side.

Use sections to accomplish that.

  1. Make an extra paragraph break at the end of a chapter; the next paragraph will go into the next section.
  2. In Word: Insert -> Break -> Section Break (Odd Page).
  3. Insert your chapter title and procede.

Section breaks are most easily managed in Draft View. You will see blue lines that indicate where the section break falls. To get rid of a section break, delete those lines.


References have to convey publication information and follow a standard style. There are a variety of styles. I’m going to recommend you use one of the styles documented in the Chicago Manual of Style (CMS). These styles are ubiquitous in academic publishing, they are well supported by software, and the library has subscribed to a very handy electronic version of the CMS.

You should consider one of three styles:

  1. Chicago author-date. This will insert a reference in your text like this (Author 2013) with a full bibliography at the end. See these examples.

  2. Chicago full note, no ibid. This will put your references in footnotes or endnotes. The first reference will be a full citation; subsequent references will be abbreviated like Author, “Article title,” optional page number. There is a full bibliography at the end. See these examples.

  3. Chicago note, no ibid. This will put your references in footnotes or endnotes. All references will use abbreviated citations like Author, “Article title,” optional page number with a full bibliography at the end. See these examples.

Generally speaking, the author-date styles are used more often in the natural and social sciences while the note styles are used more often in the humanities. But which one you use is a matter of personal preference. I myself use the last one, the Chicago note style.

Using Word for references

Word has the ability to format your references with Chicago author-date styles. Here is how to use it.

First, you need to put your references into Word. To do that, you need to use what Word calls the “source manager.”

  1. On the Document Elements tab, under References, click Manage.
  2. Enter your reference information the box that pops up.

When you click on a reference, Word will insert an author-date reference in your document. If you click on this reference, the background will be gray. That means Word has it in a special field that it will use to keep track of the references used in your document.

You might want to modify the reference in your text. For instance, you might want to eliminate the author or year if either one is obvious in context. Or you might want to add a page number for a specific quotation.Consult the CMS (see “Text Citations”) for guidelines. Here’s how.

  1. You have to be in Print View; this won’t work in Draft View. (I do not know why).
  2. You’ll see a little blue box around the citation. Click it.
  3. You’ll get a dialog where you can modify the reference in the text, taking out the author or year or adding a page reference.

Here’s how you make a bibliography at the end of your thesis.

  1. Put the cursor at the end of the document, where you want the bibliography to be placed. Presumably, you will start a new chapter and put the cursor there.
  2. Go to the Document Elements tab. Under References, click Bibliography.
  3. A formatted bibliography should appear.

Suppose you have added additional references and you want to update the bibliography. Click on the bibliography, meaning the text at the end of your document. A blue box should appear around the bibliography. Click on the little arrow and you’ll get a dialog that gives you two options:

  1. Update the bibliography to add new references.
  2. Convert the bibliography to text to block Word from changing anything in the future.

Using Zotero or Mendeley

There are several programs that manage references, format Word documents, and cost nothing. This is amazing. I will concentrate on two: Zotero and Mendeley. They seem to be pretty much the same to me. I believe that several professors in the Political Science department have their research assistants use Zotero; that might be a reason to prefer it.

There are several reasons for using one of these programs rather than Word.

  1. They can produce one of the Chicago notes styles that are more appropriate for humanities papers.
  2. They have the ability to automatically import bibliographic information from web pages.
  3. They make independent bibliography files that won’t be tied to Word.
  4. They have web services you can use to share your bibliographies with others.

In my opinion, the first is the most important reason. Automatic importing of bibliographic information is really nice, but you have to be careful with it. You probably don’t care much about the last two.

Both programs use plug-ins to work with Word. These plug-ins will insert citations into your Word document and format them using the styles you choose.

What goes in a reference?

The CMS answers a lot of questions about references. When in doubt, that’s where to go. That said, here are some decent rules of thumb.

Generally speaking, for journal articles, you need this information.

  1. Author
  2. Title of the article
  3. Journal title
  4. Volume (the issue number within the volume is often left out)
  5. Year of publication (the month or season is often omitted)
  6. Page numbers on which the article appears

And for books, the following information usually suffices.

  1. Author
  2. Title of the book
  3. City where the publisher is located. Sometimes the state, but usually not. If there are two cities listed, use the first one.
  4. Publisher
  5. Year of publication

Other matters of style

There are a lot of small things that go into making a refined document. To get them all, you really need a professional editor and typesetter. But we can take care of some of them on our own with good old Word.

For example, have you ever wondered about how to format ranges of numbers? When do you use all the numbers, like 3–10, and when do you truncate the second one, like 101–15? The CMS has the answer. Just save that page somewhere on your computer; if you’re like me, you will need to look it up every time.

Good style also requires smart quotes (aka printer’s quotes). Huh? And the CMS requires en-dashes between continuing numbers, where the dash means ‘up to and including’. Double huh? Here’s how to use those marks and, for the obsessives among you, a guide to all the quote marks.You can make Word automatically use smart quotes with “AutoFormat as you Type.”

Generally speaking, Butterick’s Practical Typography is an excellent guide for these sorts of issues.

Finally, you need a gutter. Your thesis will be bound. Binding eats up some of the margin, such that text that looks right on the page when the paper is loose will look wrong when it is bound. A gutter offsets the effects of binding by adding to the margin on the left side of odd pages and the right side of even pages. You set a gutter in Word like this: Format -> Document -> Margins -> Gutter. For what it’s worth, I set the gutter for the front matter at 0.25".


You will submit drafts of your thesis to your readers. (Right?)

When you do so, please make sure you have added page numbers to your document. Why? Well, imagine you printed out a long document and some pages fell out of your hand or the printer.

While we’re making believe, imagine you have printed out several documents from different people and some pages fall out of your hand or the printer.

So put your name on each page of the draft along with the page numbers.

You can do this by using the header or footer in Word.

This page was written by Michael Green for Freedom, Markets, & Well-being, PPE 160, Fall 2013. It was posted October 16, 2013.
Freedom, Markets, & Well-being