The 6 Systemic Formatting Mistakes Almost All TC Students Make

| December 14, 2016

It’s not a myth—all TC dissertations pass through the hands of one man. We sat down with Russell Gulizia, the manager of the Office of Doctoral Studies (ODS) to get all the details on what students to right, and what they do really, really wrong, when they submit their first dissertation draft.

“What’s the biggest mistake students make when they turn in their dissertation?” we asked him.

“The biggest mistake many students make,” he said, “is that they didn’t even know the TC style guide existed.”

That’s right; TC has its own dissertation style guide that all EdDs must fit. (PhD dissertations do not go through TC but are instead reviewed and accepted by Columbia GSAS.) But many students don’t even know the 23-page guide exists until they submit their first draft to ODS, when they then have to spend massive amounts of time reformatting their entire manuscript.

So what are the biggest formatting errors people make? If you’re a doctoral student, you’ll want to review these formatting problems that Russell thinks are most systemic at TC:

  1. Margins
    According to the ODS style guide, margins on dissertation manuscripts should be 1.5” on the left and 1” on all other sides. The tricky thing is that the default margins on Microsoft Word are 1.25” on all sides. Many students turn in their dissertations like this, and when they correct their margins later, it adds 20 pages to their projects. Yikes, that could be an unpleasant surprise so late in the game.
  2. Landscape Pages
    Ah yes, the old landscape pages. These are notoriously tricky, but luckily, the ODS manual keeps the requirements for landscape pages simple: they’re exactly the same as a non-adjusted portrait pages. That means that the 1.5” left-hand margin on the portrait page will remain the same when turned to landscape setting, even though that side will now appear at the top of the page. Similarly, page numbers are also placed in the same spot on landscape pages as they are on non-adjusted portrait pages. If you think of a landscape page as a page in a book, this should help you visualize the correct format. For more guidance, check out Appendix H in the style guide (which was added just this year because so many students were having problems with it!).
  3. Prefatory Pages
    Title page, abstract, table of contents, dedications … students consistently format these sections incorrectly. There is a very certain style to each in the ODS style manual, yet it’s simple to follow. If students refer to the guide while formatting these sections, they will do it correctly. Also, one little-known prefatory page that TC requires is a list of all tables and figures in the dissertation along with the page numbers they appear on.
  4. Pagination
    We know, page numbers seem like they would be such an easy addition to the manuscript, but there’s actually some thought that needs to go into it. For instance, whereas the prefatory pages are marked with lowercase Roman numerals (i, ii, iii), all other pages are marked with Arabic numbers (1, 2, 3). To make matters more complicated, they don’t even appear in the same area on the page. The prefatory page numbers should appear centered at the bottom of the page, but the rest of the manuscript’s numberation should appear on the top right-hand corner of each page. Oh, and title and abstract pages don’t have page numbers at all. Tricky, right?
  5. Table and Figures
    Tables and figures present another notoriously tricky section of formatting a dissertation. All tables and figures, no matter how large, must abide by the 1.5” left-hand margin, and may only run to the right-hand margin in exceptional cases. Headings and titles of tables and figures must be included apart from the image, and each table and figure must be numbered according to its order.
  6. Subheadings
    In both the main text and table of contents, there is a particular format that must be taken to distinguish different levels of subheadings within chapters. It could get a confusing if we tried to explain the rules, so instead, here’s a table taken from the ODS style guide that shows you how it’s done with a chapter:

For more information, check out the style guide or visit the ODS to get some personal feedback on how successful your formatting is. The earlier you start the formatting process, the less hair you’ll pull out down the road when you submit your first draft.