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From http://thewallaceline.blogspot.com/2006/11/double-line-spacing-in-dissertations.html:

It is standard practice to require dissertations to be double-spaced. In the age of word processors, one wonders why this practice persists. This must surely be a legacy from the days when dissertations were typewritten and students were allowed to make corrections in situ rather than re-print. Word processors have eliminated that problem. Double-spacing might also be suitable for drafts which require annotation for editing, but final copies of dissertations are not used in this way and modern techniques such as commenting do this job.

How did this tradition get started? The ability to make corrections on the printed thesis in the days of typewriters sounds like a pretty good guess.

  • 3
    It seems like you asked and answered your question. – Brian P Jun 17 '14 at 19:25
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    I have never heard of this convention. Is this indeed common? My dissertation was singled-spaced. – xLeitix Jun 17 '14 at 19:30
  • I little magic with LaTeX let me format my dissertation for the printer as required and in a neat and compact version for download. – dmckee Jun 18 '14 at 3:02
  • Why would there be any corrections in the final copy of a document? These two attributes somehow seem mutually exclusive to me (as in, the final version by definition being the one that will be on file as is, without any further amendmends or changes)? – O. R. Mapper Dec 30 '15 at 20:17
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Why are the final copies of thesis dissertations often required to be double spaced?

Inertia.

How did this tradition get started?

From what I read, with typewriters:

Double spacing is an entrenched practice due to the era of typewriters [...]. Typewriters had a limited number of options for leading and double spacing was chosen as a default.

8

My understanding was that this is for the convenience of examiners, who may wish to annotate a printed copy while reading the thesis, for reference during the defence. In the UK, at least, where candidates may be expected to make corrections to their thesis after the defence, this is quite common. Annotation is much easier if there is plenty of whitespace on the page.

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    This would make sense for the draft copy that goes to the committee before approval, but not for the final libarry copy. – Ari Trachtenberg Jun 18 '14 at 0:48
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As Frack Demoncourt's answer says, this comes from the typewriter era (I did my undergraduate thesis then). A change in a page meant retyping it completely, so having extra leeway to add/delete a line was critical. Less text on the page meant less retyping in case of an error, also important. I remember my advisor was extra careful to suggest changes that didn't spill over to following pages.

Yes, the good old days. How do I miss them...

By the way, the local standard still specifies double spacing, printed on one side only. In practice, the librarians here are thrilled when my students turn in single spaced, double sided printed theses (less precious shelf space!).

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