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Thesis Information: Writing

Organising your thesis

As your audience will vary from supervisors to examiners to other researchers, writing up your thesis requires special attention to structure, writing style, formatting, and academic integrity.

Thesis structure support

Consult thesis writing guides, previous theses in your discipline, and your supervisor. There can be variations within disciplines on content and style. You must also consult the following official documents:

Email the Graduate Research School Office if you have questions about how these regulations and guidelines may affect you.

Formatting your thesis requires detailed attention so read the Library's practical guidelines in the Formatting your thesis box.

A prescribed Otago thesis writing template does not exist. Department requirements vary so consult your supervisor or recent departmental theses.

Graduate Research School provides access to an Otago thesis template based on APA Style, in your Blackboard Masters (or PhD) >Academic Writing> section, or use the links below - adapt it for your thesis or dissertation:

If you want your thesis bound, single sided, use the Recto template; if double-sided, customise the gutter margin on mirror pages in Word, or set the Inside and Outside margins based on the templates below:

  • Verso page template binding margins (left hand, even numbered pages)
  • Recto page template binding margins (right hand, odd numbered pages)

OR, set your own margins:


The page binding margin should be at least 30mm - this means that:

  • the right hand pages of your thesis (the recto pages) require a left margin of at least 30mm,
  • the left hand pages (the verso pages) require a right margin of at least 30mm,

In addition, the Library recommends that you keep all other margins uniform and at least 20mm, including for any appendices, tables and figures, photographs, or other illustrations you might include in your thesis. Following these recommendations will ensure that your entire text and page numbers remain intact when your thesis is trimmed during the binding process.

Use word processing software such as Word, Open Office, or Pages. See the IT support tab for more details.

  • Specific title page layout, heading and citation styles may differ within Departments.  Please consult your supervisor.
  • Document set-up, formatting  aligning text - online IT training advice
  • Chapters - keep as separate document files during writing, to retain formatting. Once the thesis is complete merge these files into a new document.
  • Versions of files and regular back-ups of all documents - keep to avoid loss of vital work.
  • LaTeX is a programme for formatting scientific and technical documents.  It is sometimes used by departments such as Computer Science, Information Science, Physical Geography, Mathematics and Physiology.

Effective management of the print and e-resources that you use and create during your research project ensures that you:

  • comply with all internal and external obligations e.g. ethics, funder requirements
  • store this information safely and securely, including large files in Syncplicity
  • can find the information you need, when you need it
  • manage your research, through the many iterations or versions of your work
  • manage your files, so that they can be easily located and identified, by yourself and others.

Your large thesis files and related data will need secure storing, and sharing with your supervisor/s.

ITS offers support with these services here:

Check information on this when attending a Library PG workshop on Research Data Management.

Save time and checking by collecting all the necessary data for each reference, at the time of consulting the works concerned. 

Managing your references - guide to recommended software for in-text and bibliography tasks.

Departments and supervisors vary in their preferred reference management systems - compare products:

Do not store your reference management files in cloud-based services, e.g. iCloud, Syncplicity, Dropbox, etc.

Seek assistance from your Subject Librarian and ITS staff.

Endnote overview videos (PC) and Mac - from Otago IT training

IT self-guided resources include:

Writing support

Use a writing lab, follow tweets, join a writing blog, group or workshop, or read expert titles below:     

Image: egeneric

Map the connections between the themes, ideas and papers you've discovered:

Formatting your thesis

Some disciplines have specific style manuals on writing, and citing. Check their details on layout, structure, writing style and formatting. Also check with your supervisor.

University of Otago Regulations and Library guidelines are in other tabs in this box.

PhD theses are limited to 100,000 words of text, excluding appendices, footnotes and references/bibliographies; Masters theses are up to 40,000 words.

Some disciplines have specific style manuals on writing, and citing. Check the details on layout, structure, writing style and formatting. Always check with your supervisor.

Font Face, Size and Spacing

The OU Regulations state that your thesis must be in typescript - s.14.2(a). In addition, the Library recommends* that you:

  • use a 12 pt. serif font such as Palatino, Times New Roman or Cambria, for the main text,
  • use a sans serif font such as Arial or Calibri for headings and subheadings, and
  • leave one-and-a-half spacing between lines.

Page Numbers

The Library recommends that you consecutively number your pages, as well any additional sheets, tables, maps, and/or appendices you might include.

  • Center your page numbers at the top or bottom of the page, or keep them flush with the outer text margin, making sure that you keep them within the binding margins.
  • Number preliminary pages (i.e. contents, acknowledgements etc.) using lower case Roman numerals, and main text using Arabic numerals. 
  • Clearly identify the location of any figures you inset in the text, e.g. facing p. 42 or between pp. 42 and 43.


The generally accepted rule is to spell out exact numbers up to ninety-nine. The following exceptions should be noted:

  • Use numerals for percentages, decimals, street numbers, page numbers and dates, and in technical or statistical discussions where groups of figures are used.
  • Numerals at the beginning of a sentence are spelt out.

Page Margins

See the Templates tab for details.

* Turabian, K. L. et al. (2013). A manual for writers of research papers, theses, and dissertations, 8th ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

An abstract of no more than 500 words is required – see Examination and Assessment Regulations 2014, 14.2d.

The abstract should consist of a statement of the problem, an explanation of the method and procedures, and a summary of conclusions.

The following order is usually observed:

Author Declaration Form (only in the Library copy)

All quotations should correspond exactly with the original in wording, spelling and punctuation.

Short quotations:

  • Usually not more than three lines in length, are enclosed in double quotation marks and incorporated into the text. 

Longer quotations:

  • Single-spaced without quotation marks
  • Indented at both margins forming a block that stands out clearly from the text.

Single quotation marks are generally used for quotations within a quotation. 

Interpolated comments:

  • Enclosed in square brackets, e.g. [sic], to assure the reader that some error has been noted in the original.

Omissions in quoted matter:

  • Use three spaced periods . . . and take care that the original meaning is not altered.

Use of double or single quotation marks varies from style to style:

  • Modern Languages Association and Chicago (Turabian) use double quotation marks around short quotations,
  • Harvard style uses single quotation marks, and
  • APA uses none,

so check with your supervisor in case your discipline has a preferred style.


These may include photographs, maps, graphs, charts, diagrams and musical examples. 

  • Placing and numbering of figures is the same as that for tables (see below), except that the word Figure, its appropriate number and caption should appear below the figure. 
  • Musical examples are the exception, placed above the example.
  • Referencing styles will vary on use of Figure in text, or fig. used parenthetically in text, e.g. (see fig. 3).
  • Number tables and figures consecutively throughout the text, or per chapter, and write their titles without terminal punctuation.
  • Number photographs, maps and graphs in Arabic numerals. 
  • Text references are made in brackets and should precede the figure unless mentioned as part of a sentence. 
  • If not the author’s own work, acknowledge the source and clear copyright.


Tables should appear as near as possible to the discussion relating to them:

  • Numbered consecutively using Arabic numerals. 
  • The heading ‘Table’ and its number and caption title should appear above the table, leaving the remainder of the page for source citation or explanatory notes.
  • If the table occupies a full page, the caption may be typed on the reverse side of the preceding page, facing the table to which it refers.

Footnotes have four main purposes:

  1. To cite the authority for statements in the text.
  2. To provide cross references.
  3. To acknowledge indebtedness.
  4. To explain or supplement material that is included in the text.

Use the Insert Footnote function in your word processing software to get consistency.

After the first footnote reference, in full, use short form for subsequent references, i.e. author, short title, page number/s. Reference management software will assist with this, or do this manually.

Ibid. (ibidem = in the same) is used for a consecutive reference to the same work, but not necessarily to the same page.  If ibid. is used without a page number, the reference is to exactly the same page as that previously cited.  Ibid. should not be used more than two pages after the original citation.

Any maps or other illustrative materials – including digital media such as CDs, DVDs or USB drives - that accompany your thesis can be deposited as separate files with your e-thesis PDF deposit;

OR if you are having a copy bound for yourself or department, these materials can be:

  • bound with the thesis, or
  • placed in a pocket inside the cover.

Extra large or bulky material can be bound separately as an appendix, or bound in (landscape form), folded in from the right edge,

In-text citation styles vary by discipline - check with your supervisor, and manuals of style, e.g. ACS, APA, Chicago, Harvard, Legal style, MLA, and Vancouver.

Use footnotes or one of these systems:

Author-Date system or Parenthetical system

Insert citations to the literature into the text as the reference is made, instead of using footnotes.  Author-date citations consist of the author's surname and the year of publication, enclosed in parentheses.  Depending on the sentence structure where the citation is made, parentheses may enclose either the name, or the date, or both.  Page numbers may be included.

Full citations for these in-text sources should be listed alphabetically by author, in the “Bibliography” section of the thesis.

Reference Number system

Insert a number in superscript or parentheses, in the text at the point of citation. The citations appear in a numbered list of references at the end of the work. Vancouver, often used in the Biomedical Sciences, is an example of a "numbered" style and follows rules established by the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors.  Check examples of Vancouver style.

Bibliography or References

Commerce and Humanities

For theses in the humanities it is usual to choose a heading such as “Selected Bibliography”, “Works Consulted” or “Reference List”. Include all sources which have substantially affected the form or content of your thesis.  For a “Works Cited” list only include materials referred to in-text.  For a lengthy bibliography, as in a history thesis, the references can be arranged according to type of material, e.g. primary sources (manuscripts, official publications, newspapers) and secondary sources (books, periodical articles, theses).

Sciences and Biomedical Sciences

In science theses full citations for each source mentioned in-text are listed in a bibliography usually called “References”.  If the Arranged references alphabetically by author’s surname and under each name by year of publication, in the Author-Date system.  In the Reference-Number system arrange sources by authors’ names or in the order that the references are cited in the text. 

An appendix is not always required.  It provides a place for material that is not absolutely necessary to the text, or where inclusion in the text might break the flow of argument, e.g. the full text of an Act of Parliament; a timeline of key events; a questionnaire. 

Appendices may be sub-divided according to the class of materials include, so list each appendix by capital letter and title in the Table of Contents.

There are preferred file types when depositing your thesis and supplementary files. This helps to ensure preservation and ongoing access to your research.

Academic integrity

Academic integrity - University of Otago has a strict policy surrounding original research.

Graduate Research School has set up Blackboard papers for PhD and Masters students where you can use Turnitin to check your thesis chapters and supporting documents for matching and ethical referencing of sources.

Follow the steps in this Guide to using Turnitin, or download this PDF:

What does the examiner look for?

Clinton Golding, Sharon Sharmini & Ayelet Lazarovitch. (2014). What examiners do: what thesis students should know, Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 39:5, 563-576. DOI: 10.1080/02602938.2013.859230

From this research reading:

(1)   be broadly consistent
(2)   expect a thesis to pass
(3)   judge a thesis by the end of the first or second chapter
(4)   read a thesis as an academic reader and as a normal reader
(5)   be irritated and distracted by presentation errors
(6)   favour a coherent thesis
(7)   favour a thesis that engages with the literature
(8)   favour a thesis with a convincing approach
(9)   favour a thesis that engages with the findings
(10) require a thesis to be publishable
(11) give summative and formative feedback