Thesis/Research Paper Guide and Manual

Thesis/Research Paper Guidelines and Manual

Approved by Graduate Council October 10, 2003
Draft Revision Effective Spring Semester 2006
Revised Spring 2010- Effective Fall 2010


Purpose of the Thesis/Capstone

Graduate Student Responsibility

Academic Honesty and Plagiarism

Steps in Completing Thesis/Capstone


Formatting Guidelines

Thesis Checklist


Congratulations upon reachng this stage inyour graduate education! Within this manual you will find procedures and recommendations for developing a thesis or capstone project. Read and follow the guidelines carefully to avoid time delays in the completion of your project. The manuscript that you submit must be in publishable condition. This means your paper should be without error—no spelling, grammatical, or formatting error. The content of the manuscript should be clearly written and should follow the guidelines of the Graduate College and your departmental writing style manual. Consult with your advisor frequently to ensure your thesis/capstone project is within the time frame for completion. If you have any questions about the information contained within this document, contact the Graduate College.

Purpose of the Thesis or Capstone

A final project is an essential part of graduate education. All graduate students should become knowledgeable about scholarship and research in their particular fields of study and should engage in the process of conducting, analyzing, interpreting, and reporting their own personal projects.

A thesis/capstone or capstone is the result of research, scholarly, or creative activity that gives evidence of independent, critical, and creative investigation. The thesis/capstone experience demonstrates the ability to define and develop a problem; to understand and synthesize relevant literature; to use appropriate methodology; to analyze and interpret data; and to draw reasonable conclusions based on the investigation.

Graduate Student Responsibility

Requirements will not be waived, and exceptions will not be granted because of ignorance of policies, requirements, or procedures for graduate study. The responsibility to adhere to the policies and procedures as stated in the Graduate Catalog, these guidelines, and college and departmental regulations lies with the student.

Academic Honesty and Plagiarism

Academic honesty is a prerequisite for academic achievement; all members of the academic community are expected to act in accordance with this principle. The University recognizes plagiarism as a serious academic offense. Please consult the Graduate Catalog and work with your advisor regarding any questions related to academic and research conduct. Research projects that fail to follow appropriate academic and research procedures may be subject to rejection and other sanctions.

Steps in Completing a Thesis/Capstone Project

Appointment of the Committee

Unless other college and departmental procedures are in place, your graduate advisor will work with you to select your committee. The chair of your committee is your thesis/capstone advisor/first reader. The advisor/first reader must be a full-time faculty member of the department, possess an earned doctorate or a recognized terminal degree in his/her professional field, and have been designated as a Graduate Faculty member. In addition to the advisor/first reader, at least one additional faculty member is selected as a second reader. One of the members of the committee may be from another department. Additional committee members may also be chosen. All committee members must have Graduate Faculty status.

Course Credit

Depending on your program, three to six semester hours of graduate credit may be earned by completing the project. Check with your thesis/capstone advisor/first reader about enrolling in the course. You will receive a grade of X each semester until your project is completed. The X grade simply means a work in progress. You must enroll in thesis/capstone or some sort of applied research each semester until you complete the thesis/capstone project. Upon completion of your work, your advisor/first reader will assign a pass/fail grade in place of the X.

Help with Writing a Thesis/Capstone

You should be in frequent contact with your committee. Typically, several drafts are needed, and you will need to provide your committee members with plenty of time to read your work and provide feedback. You should be open-minded about accepting constructive criticism; remember that the goal is to complete an excellent end of program project.

The Writing Lab in Seminary Hall can be of considerable assistance. The Writing Lab staff will not write your thesis/capstone for you, but they can help you learn how to write more effectively and how to produce a paper that is formatted correctly.

The Library staff can help you locate relevant resources for your thesis/capstone. You may need to order some items through Interlibrary Loan, so allow time for these materials to arrive.

The Thesis/Capstone Proposal Application

Your department may require that you submit a thesis/capstone application or prospectus and have it approved by your committee before proceeding with the collection of data. Check with your advisor/first reader to determine the specific requirements in your department.

Research Involving Human Subjects

Federal law requires that all research involving human subjects, regardless of the source of funding, must be approved in advance by the Institutional Review Board (IRB). In order to comply with governmental directives, you must complete the appropriate human subjects form and submit it to IRB through the Office of Academic Affairs. Forms and instructions can be downloaded from the Institutional Review Board Home Page. The University Institutional Review Board meets regularly, but approval must be received at least one month before data collection begins.

A copy of a properly signed and approved "Application for IRB Study Approval Form" must be filed in the Office of Human Experimentation Advisory Committee before the research can proceed with data collection. A copy of the approved form must be submitted with the final thesis/capstone in the appendix of the manuscript. Failure to follow the Human Subjects Review procedure may result in rejection of your project by the Graduate College.

Research Involving Animals

Federal law requires that all research projects involving the use of animals be conducted in such a manner as to ensure humane treatment of the animals. To ensure humane treatment and proper care, all such projects, regardless of the source of funding, must be approved in advance by the University Animal Welfare Committee.

Copyright Issues

According to the 1976 Copyright Act, your manuscript is automatically copyrighted. Until formal transfer of the copyright, you are the owner. You do not need to register the copyright (fee required) unless you desire a public record of the copyright. The manuscript need not display the copyright symbol, however, the best way to protect an unpublished work is to place a copyright notice on every copy.

A second copyright issue involves the use of copyrighted materials in the thesis/capstone projects. If you are to use copyrighted materials in your project, it is best to receive permission first. However, please refer to the Fair Use Copyright Checklist in the "Thesis or Capstone" section of the Graduate College website for a more typical way of including certain copyrighted materials in your project. 

Approval by the Graduate College

It is recommended that a preliminary check of the thesis be done by the Graduate College four to eight weeks prior to graduation. After one week, you may pick up the review copy with any notations for corrections. The Graduate College staff will check for Margins, Spacing, Typestyle/Font, Page Numbering, Order of Pages, and inclusion of the IRB form, if needed. Upon final approval of the project by the committee you must submit two bound copies on 20% cotton content paper to the Graduate College four weeks prior to graduation. The bound copies will contain original signatures of all committee members with a blank line for the Graduate Dean's signature. Information on binding requirements and businesses offering the specific binding required may be found on the Graduate College Website under "Thesis or Capstone".

One copy, the original manuscript, will be sent to John Vaughan Library for archival. The second copy of the manuscript may be photocopied, and it will be sent to the Department. However, both bound copies should contain original signatures of committee members. All other bound copies are based upon program requirements and student choice.

If you wish to have the thesis made available to a wider audience for research purposes, you will need to include a copy of the thesis on disk with your signature on the Library Transmittal Form in the appropriate section.

Note: It is the responsibility of the student under the direction of the advisor/reader(s) to submit an error-free paper. A list of discipline-specific style manuals is included in this manual. If, after submitting the two bound copies of the manuscript to the Graduate College for final approval, errors are still evident, the manuscripts will be returned to the student with notice to the advisor/first reader for correction(s).

DO NOT USE OTHER STUDENT PAPERS AS A GUIDELINE! These guidelines are regularly updated. Other students' papers will likely not have current, accurate formatting or style. For this reason, please refer to the present guidelines, your departmental style manual, and your advisor.

Copying and Binding

Following the preliminary check by the Graduate College and approval by the Thesis Committee, the student should then arrange to make the appropriate number of copies. Copies must be made on 20% cotton content paper. The Graduate College only requires two copies. One copy will be sent to University Archives and one copy will be sent to the Academic Department. Any original materials (photos, drawings, videotapes, computer disks, etc.) will become the property of the university archives, so you should keep copies of all of this material for yourself. Also high quality copies of materials that are to be bound with the thesis/capstone should be procured and included with the copies for binding. Check with your advisor/first reader for the minimum number of copies required for your academic department in addition to the two copies required by the Graduate College.


Completing a thesis/capstone is a time-consuming process. A thesis/capstone cannot be rushed through at the last minute. Use the timeline below to plan work on your thesis/capstone and to avoid delay in graduation. Printer-Friendly Version (PDF)

Date Completed Task Suggested Completion Responsible Part Notes
  Select Topic Semester 2 or 3 Student & Advisor Discuss with Advisor
  Appointment of Thesis/Capstone Committee Semester 2 or 3 Student & Advisor Work with Graduate Advisor
  Obtain human Subjects or Animal Use approval (if applicable 2 Months before collecting data Student Obtain forms from IRB Office; must be completed and filed before data collection begins
  Approval of Application/Prospectus by Thesis/Capstone Committee Semester 2 or 3 Committee  
  Enroll in Thesis/Capstone Course Program requirement Student Check departmental requirements
  Complete Thesis/Capstone manuscript 4-8 weeks prior to graduation Student Guidelines for Thesis/Capstone; work with Writing Lab; check departmental requirements
  Submit completed manuscript for preliminary approval by the Graduate College 4-8 weeks prior to graduation Student Guidlines for Thesis/Capstone
  Schedule Thesis/Capstone Defense (if applicable) 4-8 weeks prior to graduation   See thesis advisor/first reader; check departmental requirements
  Approval by Thesis/Capstone Committee 4-8 weeks prior to graduation   Work with thesis/capstone advisor/first reader; check departmental requirements
  Submit Copies of Thesis/Capstone to Library for Binding     See binding directions
  Submit two (2) bound manuscripts to the Graduate College At least 4 weeks prior to graduation  

Deadline is 4 weeks prior to graduation


Use of Proper Style Manual

Each graduate degree program at NSU has selected a writing style manual or manuals to be used for the main body of the manuscript. They are listed below. Many of these style manuals are kept in inventory at the Bookstore and the others can be ordered through the Bookstore or online. These manuals are also available in the library. These thesis/capstone guidelines take precedence over any style manual. All formatting not specified in these thesis/capstone guidelines should follow the guidelines set forth in the selected style manual. Do not copy formatting from old theses. Guidelines change. Manuscripts submitted with outdated formatting will not be accepted. For all programs using the APA Style format, the 6th edition applies as of Fall, 2010.

List of Approved Style Manuals by Program

Manual Style

American Studies








Health and Kinesiology


Industrial Management


Early Childhood Education




School Administration


School Counseling


Special Education


Speech-Language Pathology




Counseling Psychology


Criminal Justice


Library Media and Information Tech.


Accounting and Financial Analysis


Higher Education Leadership


Formatting Guidelines

Formatting must be consistent throughout the thesis/capstone and follow the guidelines established by the Graduate College and the style manual of the discipline. Consult your department's style manual for proper language usage and formatting that has not been otherwise established by the Graduate College. Guidelines for paper content, margins, spacing, font, preliminary page inclusion, page numbering, page order, and IRB form inclusion supercede those of the discipline style manual.


The paper for the two official copies of the manuscript is 8 ½ x 11, at least 20% cotton content. Text should only be printed on one side.


The margins for the text, including page numbers, must be 1 inch at the top, bottom, and right side of the page, and 1 ½ inches on the left side to allow for binding. Page numbers should be included within these margins.


The body of the document must be double-spaced. Tables may be single-spaced. Consult the style manual of your discipline for spacing after title, headings, quotations, references, etc.


The typeface for the text must be 12-point, serif typeface, e.g., Courier, Times Roman. Black ink should be used unless color is approved by the thesis/capstone director.

Page Numbering

Number all preliminary pages with lower case Roman numerals. Place numbers one inch from bottom of page, three spaces to the right of center. Count but do not number the title page. Number the thesis main body with Arabic numbers in the upper right-hand corner of the page one inch from the top with a double space before the first line of text, and 1 inch from the right-hand side of paper edge. Count but do not number the first page of the main body of the text. Also, do not place a running head on this first page.

Page or Section Numbering
Blank Flyleaf Page No number
Title Page Roman numeral i counted, but not printed
Thesis/Capstone Signature Page Roman numeral ii
Abstract Page Roman numeral iii
Acknowledgments (departmental designation) Roman numeral iv (if applicable)
Table of Contents (departmental designation) Roman numeral v (if applicable)
List of Tables (if applicable) Roman numeral vi (if applicable)
List of Figures (if applicable) Roman numeral vii (if applicable)
Main Body—Page 1 Arabic numbers, counted, but not printed
Main Body—Page 2 through last page Arabic numbers, top right
Bibliography/References/Works Cited Continue from main body, Arabic numbers, top right
Appendix or Appendices Continue from References, Arabic numbers, top right

Preliminary Pages

Title Page. On the title page, the following information is vertically and horizontally centered: the title of the master's thesis; the full name of the author (this must be the name of the student record); "A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of (Master of Arts, Master of Business Administration, Master of Science, etc.)"; "Northeastern State University"; and the month and year in which the degree sought is to be awarded (contact the Graduate College for the correct month and year). There should be an equal number of spaces between title/author text and the degree text and the date.

Signature/Approval Page

The signature/approval page begins with the thesis title keyed two inches down from top of page. Use inverted pyramid for longer titles and center within margins. Double-space typed lines. Include signature lines for all of your committee members and the Graduate College Dean.


The abstract is a one-paragraph, double-spaced, self-contained summary of the most important elements of the paper. The abstract begins on a new page.

Acknowledgments (departmental designation)

The format of the acknowledgements page is determined by the discipline style manual. An acknowledgments page is included immediately before the table of contents. Acknowledgments should be made of any grants that supported the research. The thesis/capstone advisor, readers and any others who contributed significantly to the project is typically also noted here.

Table of Contents (departmental designation)

The format of the table of contents is determined by the discipline style manual. The table of contents will list the page numbers of the chapters and specific pages that follow. Double space each entry, beginning with the list of tables, if applicable, chapters of the main body, references, and appendices.

List of Tables and Figures (if applicable)

The format of the list of tables and figures is determined by the discipline style manual. Tables are data presented in tabular form (rows and columns) and should not include any artwork or graphics. Tables should be formatted with clear labels for the rows and columns. Figures are any illustrations that are not in table format. Both tables and figures should be designed to communicate information quickly and clearly. Refer to the style manual for your discipline for documenting tables and figures.

Body of Thesis/Capstone

The format of the body of the thesis is determined by the discipline style manual. The text is to be double spaced with paragraph indentions. Margins are one-inch at top, bottom and right. A one and one-half inch margin on left side of the paper will allow for binding. All main body pages are to be numbered consecutively with Arabic numerals in the upper right-hand corner of each page (except for the first page which is counted but not numbered), one inch from the top and one inch from the right-hand edge of the paper. Double-space between the page number and the top line of text. Do not use the abbreviation p. or any other mark before the page number.

The number of chapters, chapter titles, headings, and subheadings within chapters should be chosen to present the material in a logical and comprehensible manner and formatted according to the discipline style manual. Thesis/capstone content and form should be discussed with your thesis/capstone committee or thesis/capstone advisor/first reader before you complete the thesis/capstone. Formatting will be according to the style manual used by the discipline.

Bibliography/References/Works Cited

The thesis/capstone must contain documentation for all sources cited in the text. This documentation takes the form of the Bibliography, References, or Works Cited page(s), depending on the style manual used in your discipline. Each source that is mentioned in the text of the thesis/capstone must be documented. Formatting will be according to the style manual used by the discipline.


One or more appendix may be included for material which would detract from the flow of the manuscript, but which is relevant to the thesis/capstone. Examples include large data sets, computer programs, and stimulus materials. Formatting will be according to the style manual used by the discipline.

Order of Pages

The following indicates the correct order of pages. Some pages are required for all theses while other pages are optional and should be included as needed. 

Page or Section Required or Optional
Blank Flyleaf Page Required for all copies
Title Page Required
Signature Page Required
Abstract Page Required
Acknowledgments Optional/Departmental Designation
Table of Contents Optional/Departmental Designation
List of Tables Required if tables are included
List of Figures Required if figures are included
Main Body Required
Bibliography/References/Works Cited Required
Appendix or Appendices Optional
Blank Flyleaf Page Required for all copies

Master's Thesis Check List

  1. Have you used one of the approved style manuals as a guide in writing your master's thesis?
  2. Have you checked for punctuation, spelling, and grammatical errors?
  3. Is the print clean, neat, and dark?
  4. Do all margins conform to the following standards?
    1. 1½ inches from left
    2. 1 inch from right
    3. 1 inch from top
    4. 1 inch from bottom
  5. Have you received PRIOR permission for the use of colored photographs?
  6. Is page numbering consistent throughout?
  7. Did you present a preliminary copy of the master's thesis to the Graduate School to
  8. check margins, spacing, font, preliminary page inclusion, page numbering, page order, and IRB form inclusion?
  9. Have you used 8½ x 11 inch, 20% cotton content paper?
  10. Have you secured original signatures of committee members on all signature pages?
  11. Does the date of the master's thesis title page agree with the month and year that the degree will actually be awarded?
  12. Have arrangements for copying the master's thesis been made well in advance so that the deadline for depositing the master's thesis can be met?
  13. Have you thoroughly proofread the master's thesis even after duplication/reproduction?