Guide to Preparing Your Master's Thesis

These guidelines should help you prepare your thesis, so that it will constitute a permanent document of quality appropriate for a major graduate institution.

Not all departments require that your thesis be deposited in Memorial Library. If your department has this requirement, your thesis should conform to the standards. It must be approved by the faculty committee, be unbound, fully corrected, and complete. You may choose to deposit your thesis in Memorial Library even if your department does not require it.

Once your thesis is deposited in the library, you are not allowed to make changes on the final copy. Careful review of the final copy before you bring it to the library can prevent delays, and avoid the difficulties of correcting errors discovered later. Please make all personal or departmental copies before submitting the thesis to the library.

You are responsible for knowing the appropriate deadlines for degree completion. Deadlines are published here.

Most master’s theses at UW – Madison are not microfilmed. If you choose to publish your thesis through UMI, you need to talk to the Graduate School Degree Coordinator, Room 217 Bascom Hall, in order to file the appropriate paperwork. UMI works with Memorial Library to publish thesis abstracts and, upon request, to provide microfilm and photocopies of theses to the public.

  • Check with your department whether you must deposit a thesis.
  • You do not need to bring your thesis to the Graduate School for approval unless you choose to microfilm your thesis through UMI.
  • You or your designate must bring your unbound thesis to Memorial Library, Room B137. The library does not accept theses by mail.
  • Please bring your student I.D. number.
  • Make sure you have included the Advisor Approval Page (see below)
  • The Library will notify the Graduate School of deposit.

The library cannot accept your thesis without this page containing your advisor’s original signature. Faxed or photocopied page is unacceptable. Some departments use a standard form for this page. You may substitute a single sheet that contains the word APPROVED, followed by your advisor’s signature, advisor’s title, and date signed. This page is not numbered, or counted in the pagination. This page must not be double-sided with the title page or any other page.

Your department may require an abstract to be included within the thesis. Please follow your department’s style requirements, and number these pages as part of the preliminary material.


Unusual or supplementary materials, such as questionnaires or copies of photographs, may be put into appendices. The appendices must be consecutively paginated with the text. The paper quality and margins of the appendices must conform to the standards for the rest of the thesis.

The bibliography should meet your major department’s style requirements, which often conform to the leading journals or book series of the field.

You may register a copyright of your thesis by writing to: Register of Copyrights, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20559. You can find more information at the U.S. Copyright Office website.

To ensure a clean final copy, correct and reprint pages. Do not make handwritten corrections or use correction fluid in the final copy.

Double-sided print is acceptable. But the Title Page and the Advisor Approval Page must not be double-sided. We suggest that you set both right and left margins at 1 1/4 inches. Remember to place page numbers in the upper left-hand corner for the back side of the page.

Superscripts and subscripts may be one size smaller than the text. Separate equations with double spacing or enough space to identify each equation clearly.

Footnotes and end-notes may be single-spaced with an extra space between notes. Footnotes for each chapter are usually numbered consecutively. Follow the preferences of your major department when deciding the location of footnotes or end-notes: at the bottom of the page, grouped at the ends of chapters, or grouped at the end of the thesis.

You may include quotations in languages other than English in your thesis However, the thesis must be in English unless your department certifies that one or both of the following conditions have been met: the foreign language is that of the readers to whom the work is addressed; or translation into English would make the study obscure and imprecise. Theses submitted by students from a foreign language department are acceptable in the language of that department.

Computer-generated figures and graphs must meet the same standards as the rest of the thesis. Render original material with a permanent, non-water soluble, black ink (e.g. India ink, Koh-i-noor rapidograph drawing ink, etc.) Do not use pencil, ballpoint or felt tip in the final copy. Labels on photographs, charts, and other figures must be permanent. Headings, keys, and all other identifying information should be of the same quality of type as the text. If graphics, tables, or figures are horizontal, place the top of the printed page on the left side of the paper with the page number in the upper right hand corner.

Remember that some copiers enlarge the original about one to two percent. To avoid problems with margins, we suggest that you produce the original copy with margins larger than the required minimum.

  • The text begins 1 – 1/4 inches from the top and left side of the paper.
  • Bottom and right side margins are 1 inch.
  • Page numbers are placed in the upper right-hand corner 1 inch from both sides of the paper.
  • 8 -1/2 by 11 inches.
  • White.
  • Acid-free or PH neutral.
  • At least 20 pound weight
  • 25% cotton bond minimum
  • You can buy paper that meets these requirements at book and stationery stores.

Print your theses on a laser printer. A professional copy shop can produce an acceptable copy of the thesis. Look carefully at a copy before paying for the services and ask for pages to be recopied if necessary. Common problems are smudges, copy lines and specks, missing pages, margin shifts, slanting of the printed image on the page, and poor paper quality.

  • Black print with a sharp, dark image.
  • 12 or 14 point type.
  • Double-space the body of the thesis.
  • Lengthy quotations, footnotes, and bibliographies may be single -spaced.
  • Color maps, charts, etc. are acceptable.

Please do not use page headers or decorative borders.

  • Please check your thesis to ensure that all pages are present and in numerical order. The library cannot check your thesis for the page order, and will bind the thesis in the order you present it.
  • All pages must be numbered with the exception of the title page and advisor approval page.
  • Preliminary pages (e.g. table of contents, dedication page, acknowledgments, abstract, etc.) that precede the main text are numbered with lower case Roman numerals beginning with numeral i. Page numbers are placed in the upper right-hand corner one inch from both sides of the paper.
  • The main text is numbered consecutively beginning with Arabic numeral 1, in the upper right-hand corner one inch from both sides of the paper.

You are responsible for appropriate use of copyrighted materials in your thesis.  Some material may be available for use without restriction while other material may require written permission from the rights holder.  Other material may be appropriately used without written permission under the “fair use” provisions of the copyright law.  General guidance regarding use of copyrighted materials is available from ProQuest/ UMI or from the UW-Madison Libraries website.

  1. Fair Use: General information regarding how to determine if your use of copyrighted materials constitutes fair use can be found here.  Reviewing and completing a fair use check list may also assist you.   See the fair use checklist here.  Additionally, your own professional or disciplinary societies may have fair use statements to help you negotiate disciplinary specialties.
  2. Written Permission:  If written permission is required, you are responsible for obtaining such permission and maintaining records of the written permission to use the copyrighted material in your thesis.  You can usually get permission by sending a letter of request to the copyright holder. Normally, your letter will be returned with an approval stamp or signature. Some copyright holders require a specific form of acknowledgment. Note that obtaining written permission can be a lengthy process.  Plan ahead and budget ample time to obtain all required permissions.

You can scan photographs, tables, and graphs onto thesis quality paper. Alternatively, use a cold mount permanent adhesive sheet, or a dry-mount tissue that requires heat. These mounting products are available at most bookstores, photo supply stores, or art supply stores. We suggest that when you use one of these mounting methods, you have page numbers and identification of figures already on the thesis quality paper. Rubber cement, spray glues, tapes, and glue sticks are not suitable for archival purposes.

Title Page

Please follow the format of this sample page.

  • MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. 3d. ed. By Joseph Gibaldi and Walters S. Achtert. Modern Language Association, 1968. A style manual for the humanities.
  • Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association. 4th ed. American Psychological Assoc., 1994. Widely used as a reference for psychology, education, and other social science disciplines.
  • CBE Style Manual. 5th ed. By the Council of Biology Educators, Committee on Form and Style. American Institute of Biological Sciences, 1983. The standard reference source for life sciences (biology, chemistry, biochemistry, geography, and geology).
  • The Chicago Manual of Style. 14th ed. Univ. of Chicago, 1993. A comprehensive standard reference.
  • A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations. 5th ed. theses, and is more affordable than Chicago Manual of Style.

For More Information

Master's Degree Coordinator

228 Bascom Hall
500 Lincoln Drive


Memorial Library Binding Department

Room B137

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