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Formatting Restrictions

The format of a thesis should be agreed to in the earlier states of writing by the department, supervisor and candidate. If any changes are made later on they must be agreed to once again by all three parties.

The thesis must be limited to 100,000 words of text (excluding appendices, footnotes and bibliographies). Illustrative materials (such as maps, computer disks and CD's) may be submitted with the thesis, either be bound with the thesis or placed in a pocket inside the cover. Extra large or bulky material may be bound separately as an appendix.

More information regarding writing and formatting your thesis is available on the Library website.

Candidates should try to stick to the following guidelines while writing their thesis:


  • Use a 12pt serif font, such a Palatino, Times or Cambria for the main text.
  • Use a sans serif font, such as Arial or Calibri, for headings and subheadings.
  • Leaving 1.5 spacing between lines.

Page Numbers

  • Consecutively number the pages, as well any additional sheets, tables, maps and appendices you might include.
  • Center the page numbers at the top or bottom of the page, or keep them flush with the outer text margin. Make 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.


  • General rule is to spell out exact numbers up to nine, with the following exceptions:
    • Use numerals for percentages, decimals, street numbers, page number and dates, and in technical or statistical discussions where groups of figures are used.
    • Numbers at the beginning of a sentence are spelled out.


See the Library templates page for information on margins.


Theses will normally be written in English and must conform to proper standards of linguistic presentation.

Other languages

Candidates intending to write their thesis in Māori should, early in candidature, contact the Graduate Research School for advice.

Candidates wishing to write their thesis in a language other than English or Maori will need to seek approval, at the time of admission, from the Graduate Research Committee. Such approval will only be given in exceptional circumstances.

Citing of References

There are three principal methods of citing references in a text:

  • footnotes
  • the author-date
  • the reference-number system.

Candidates should consult their supervisor as to the method favoured in their subject area. There are particular rules for each, and it is important to be consistent in the application of the method that is used.

Footnotes may be used for purposes other than citing references, namely to provide cross-references, to acknowledge indebtedness and to explain or supplement material that is included in the text.

Bibliographic style is important, and considerable time will be saved if all the necessary data for each citation are collected at the time of consulting the works concerned. Various styles are acceptable; the important point again to remember, is that having decided on a particular style, candidates should retain this style throughout the bibliography.

The Library contains various authorities for consultation on styles of footnoting and bibliographies.


Plagiarism (including being party to someone else's plagiarism) is a form of dishonest practice. It is defined as copying or paraphrasing another's work, whether intentionally or otherwise, and presenting it as one's own.

In practice this means that plagiarism includes:

  • copying or cutting and pasting text from others without using quotation marks or block quotes to identify that text, nor clearly indicating the source (this includes paper and electronic sources)
  • copying visual materials, images and/or physical objects without clearly indicating the source
  • using poor paraphrasing of sentences or whole passages without referencing the original work
  • using another person's ideas, work or research data without acknowledgment
  • copying computer files or computer code without clearly indicating their origin
  • submitting another student's work in whole or in part, where this is not specifically permitted in the course outline
  • submitting work that has been written by someone else on a student's behalf
  • resubmitting portions of previously submitted work without indicating the source.

Thesis candidates should note that the Introduction/Literature Review in their thesis must demonstrate evidence of their own scholarly work. In a PhD thesis, the Literature Review goes beyond a mere literature 'survey' and candidates should avoid therefore the temptation of merely regurgitating the work of others or of piecing together sections of the work of others into a new whole. Research is not summarising or repeating uncritically the ideas of others.

Candidates should also be extremely cautious about depending heavily on review articles for their Literature Review. While these are often very helpful, they can also lead to undue reliance upon both the ideas and actual words of other workers. Candidates have a responsibility to be aware of acceptable academic practice in relation to the use of material prepared by others, and for taking all steps reasonably necessary to ensure that no breach of acceptable practice occurs.

Any candidate found responsible for plagiarism shall be subject to the University's Student Academic Misconduct Procedures, which may result in various penalties including, in extreme cases, exclusion from the University.

Inclusion of Material from Published Papers

The University of Otago encourages publishing during candidature for doctoral degrees, and the inclusion of published work, and/or work submitted for publication, where appropriate. Such published material must have been prepared during the candidate's enrolment in the research degree. The submission of papers for publication during the course of thesis research assists the candidate's progress, it clarifies for the candidate the objectives and discipline-specific requirements for presentation of the research, it assists the candidate in future careers, it contributes to the University's research effort, and it provides quality assurance that helps the candidate and the supervisor establish the academic integrity of the research.

If candidates are planning to include published material in a thesis, they should discuss the most appropriate format for this with their supervisors, and check the Guidelines for the Inclusion of Material from a Research Candidate's Publications in their Thesis.
Two formats are commonly used for including published material in a University of Otago thesis:

  • a hybrid thesis format, whereby published material is inserted either wholly or partially as chapters or sections in the thesis (usually with modification to ensure an integrated and coherent body of work); or
  • a thesis with publications appended, whereby published material is not included in the body of the thesis but is appended to the thesis in an unmodified format.

For the PhD and professional doctorates, the University of Otago does not offer a formal 'thesis by publication' option, whereby the thesis is composed solely of a portfolio of publications.

Proof-Reading of Theses Guidelines

Doctoral candidates may use a third party as a proof-reader at any stage during their candidature provided that certain Proof-reading Guidelines are followed.

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