Capella University Dissertation Format Guidelines
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     Dissertation and thesis preparation in APA style differs markedly from that of manuscript articles for submission to a professional journal. Dissertations are final documents prepared in accordance with university-specific guidelines for long-term storage and public usage, whereas journal manuscripts are prepared in accordance with journal-specific guidelines for editorial and typesetting purposes. Therefore, APA's guidelines specific to the writing and preparing of theses and dissertations are relatively brief (APA, 6.01-6.03; p. 321-326), and although schools often refer students to these and other sections of the APA publication manual for guidance in formatting and style, criteria are often set that supersede the APA recommendations.

     Capella University's guidelines closely follow the APA style and format recommendations; however, there are some important differences, as well as specific formatting rules that must be followed for dissertation submission as required by ProQuest, Capella's dissertation publisher. No copy editing or formatting services are available through ProQuest, so the submitted manuscript must be in its final, polished form, and will appear in published form exactly as submitted. In general, writing with these basic guidelines and criteria in mind from the start is a much better strategy than waiting until a partial or complete draft has been completed to begin editing and formatting your project. Writing according to all style and formatting requirements in the beginning will save you a great deal of corrections and proofreading in the end.
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     Capella guidelines state that abstracts should be no longer than 350 words. This word limit is much longer than the maximum of 120 words specified for most abstracts in APA journals. This increased word limit allows additional flexibility in composing a self-contained abstract, as your abstract will be published and indexed separately from the dissertation in research databases. Within your abstract, references to other works should be completely avoided or cited completely, and footnotes are almost never used. The abstract should appear on an unnumbered page, centered, with an APA level 1 heading. A fully-justified paragraph formatting is not necessary.

Line Spacing

     Capella guidelines state that headings, table titles, column headings, table text (including notes), figure captions, numbered lists, table of contents entries that run longer than one line, the reference list, and long table entries should be single-spaced. The reference list should be single-spaced within each reference entry, but double-spaced between each reference entry. An extra space should be placed above level 1 headings to set off new topics from previous text; extra spaces above level 2 or 3 headings is optional, depending on effects on readability, but should be consistent throughout the document.


     Top, left and right margins should be set at 1 inch. Bottom margins should be 1.2 inches for the text, and 1 inch for the footer (page numbers). You should be particularly attentive to the bottom margin, as it must be 1 inch regardless of the paragraph break. This is important for dissertation preparation because no external copy editing or formatting services will be utilized in publishing and storing your document.

Block Quotations

     Capella follows APA formatting guidelines regarding quotations and quotation marks. Direct quotations that exceed 40 words need to be indented inch from the left margin. Block quotations may be single- or double-spaced, as long as they're done so consistently throughout the document, and should not be fully justified. Single quotation marks are used only to replace any double quotation marks that appear in the original quotation of an in-paragraph direct quotation. Double quotation marks are to be used in all other cases. Periods and commas should always be placed within closing quotation marks, but other punctuation marks such as question marks should be placed inside closing quotation marks only when they are part of the quoted material (APA, section 3.36).

Tables and Figures

     Tables or figures should be inserted directly within the text, shortly after the conceptual material is discussed. This differs from preparing a manuscript for journal publication, where tables and figures are placed at the end of the document. All tables should be of uniform font size and may be as small as 10-point. Notes for tables should be placed directly below the bottom rule of the table, and notes for figures should be placed at the end of the caption. The caption is aligned left rather than centered under the figure. All figures must be readable in black and white because color printing of bound copies of dissertations is not available.


     Hyperlinks should not be used in the text of your document for both typographical and longevity reasons. However, URLs are permitted in the reference list when appropriate, and should wrap from one line to the next after a slash or before a period. The student should refer to the APA manual (section 4.16) for further guidance on the acceptability of URL documentation.

Reference List

     The reference list must contain all references cited in the body of the dissertation or thesis, and vise versa, though it is not a comprehensive bibliography. The list should be titled as "References", and single-spaced within each entry, but double-spaced between entries using a hanging indent style. If no author is given, do not use "anonymous" unless the work was signed accordingly; instead, alphabetize by the first significant word of the title. The exact form of each reference will change depending on whether the cited text is a book, edited book, journal article, dissertation, electronic-journal article, technical research report, newsgroup, data file, on-line forum, personal email, or other source type. Remember that dissertation reference lists are often more expansive than typical journal manuscripts, as you are required by your dissertation committee to demonstrate the breadth and depth of your knowledge in the field. You may wish to refer to chapter 4 of the APA manual, which lists 95 different possible source types, and the appropriate formatting for each.


     It is important to include all necessary documentation, but to exclude superfluous forms and paperwork such as IRB and CITI forms or resumes. If your data collection instruments are not well-known or published, you should include a blank copy within your appendix; however, if you used unmodified versions of standard instruments or protocols, a clear in-text citation within the manuscript is sufficient. If you do include materials from other sources, complete references must be given whether these sources are copyrighted or not.

     The dissertation is probably the most important, and often the most stress-inducing document of your graduate career. Obtaining assistance with dissertation style and formatting allows you to concentrate on the conceptual issues that excited your interest in the field from the beginning, and will improve the overall quality of your project in the end.

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