I am making a final dissertation for my graduation. I want it to have a better design than the boring traditional. When I read this and this, I think that the downside is because it makes the thesis more clearer, any good or bad thing will be crystal clear. However, a default Word 2013 theme is easily to get and takes you not much effort. I don't want my thesis to be colorful so much, but I also don't want it to be monochrome. Elegance isn't necessary to be black and white.

My university requires me to have the format in form, but I think it's boring. Should I take a risk to make my thesis have better design? If not, why? I need a reason.

Do I really want to graduate? Of course I do, if not, I will happily take that risk immediate. I know that's a risk, and you may have to pay for that. My inspiration is coming from Dance your PhD. Of course I won't dance on my defense day, I just want to say that bad representation is wasting time. You can say, "it's all your choice". I just want to make my choice to be right.

What if I losing point from this? I hope that people will think again when they do a thesis. If they do, then I'm willing to lose my point.

Why does the font need to be Times New Roman, not Calibri?

Why does the font need to be Times New Roman, not Calibri?

  • 2
    "Why shouldn't I take a risk to make my thesis have better design?" Why should you take a risk for that? Do you care so much about what format your thesis uses?
    – xLeitix
    Jun 26, 2014 at 8:05
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    Which part of "My university requires" do you not understand? Jun 26, 2014 at 8:17
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    @Ooker You're expecting some sort of argument based on reason or esthetics, but you're not going to get one. The fact is this: If you do not follow the university's thesis formatting rules, the university will not accept your thesis. This is not something you, your advisor, or even your department head can change. The fact that the university-sanctioned format is boring or ugly is completely irrelevant. The reasons for this requirement are completely irrelevant. Hold your nose, give the bureaucrats what they want, and give everyone else something you're proud of.
    – JeffE
    Jun 26, 2014 at 11:02
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    (And yes, I have seen theses rejected for stupid formatting reasons, like a page number being 1/16" too close to the margin, or the paper having the wrong weight, or the umlauts in the student's name being added in pen to the approval form that was required to be typed. In the last case, the student successfully appealed by asking the thesis office for a typewriter with an umlaut key; they caved when they couldn't find one.)
    – JeffE
    Jun 26, 2014 at 11:06
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    @Ooker You have received some very sound advice. Go ahead an ignore the advice, but please come back and post your outcome.
    – Brian P
    Jun 26, 2014 at 11:25

5 Answers 5


If you want to improve your Universities recommended/required thesis formatting, you should go ahead. But, submitting a differently formatted thesis, just to spite them is not the right way to go. And it will not accomplish anything.

All scientific publications have a required format. You submitted to a conference that prescribes double column, but your paper is single column? Automatic rejection without reading the paper. You don't like the formatting of the journal best suited for your work? Tough luck. You submit a 10-page paper to a conference with 8-page limit? Reject.

It is simply how scientific publishing works. If you want to publish your original content, you have to follow the well-established guidelines.

If you really think that changing your Universities required formatting is a worthy goal, and want to do it for non-selfish reasons, for all the generations to come, you should do it in a proper way. Try to use proper channels, and do it like a responsible adult with an idea, not like a child doing things out of spite because they don't like the way the world turns.

Some things you might try: Make examples of a sensible new format. If there is any current templates, make some for your own formatting. If you can find some proof that your formatting is better, that's good (e.g. it is proven that some fonts are more readable and better than some others). Find the right person, in charge of that. Try meeting with them, and leading a sensible, non-heated discussion. Argument you opinion and proposition. Explain why you think the current design is outdated and why and how you think the new one will be an improvement. Offer your help in implementing the new system and offering new guides and materials. Finally, if you succeed in changing something, you can feel content you did something good for future generations. If you don't, at least you know you gave it your best try, and you tried to do it in the way with best chances of success.


Are you interested in receiving your degree? Then submit a thesis meeting all of the university's requirements. If you think the formatting is so terrible, feel free to post a differently-formatted version on your website or whatever.


Most of the restrictions for thesis formats came from the years when theses were transferred to microfiche storage. Standardizing the format made sure that the reproductions would be as legible as possible.

Similar issues are still in effect, except with respect to electronic scans and the like. Choosing consistent designs and formats makes life easier for everyone. Even though it may not be your personal preference, you should follow the guidelines. The university can choose not to accept your thesis if its format strays too far from the official guidelines, which will force you to spend valuable time (and possibly money) preparing a revised version.

  • I see. This is something like QWERTY and Dvorak keyboard layouts. QWERTY is best for typewriters, Dvorak is best for nowadays keyboards. It is a problem from history, am I right?
    – Ooker
    Jun 26, 2014 at 12:22

Regarding serif and sans serif font, the conventional wisdom is that serif fonts are easier to read (especially on paper). This argument is often used to justify the requirements. Of course, another related factor is just the desire to have all theses be in a uniform style--it looks neater! There seems to be no conclusive evidence that serif fonts are actully easier to read, but I must admit that I strongly prefer a serif font--Times New Roman or Cambria being among my favorites. In a similar situation, I recently had to submit a paper in Calibri, which was a strong insult to my aesthetic sense. My personal post of the paper is in Times New Roman!--but I submitted per the guidelines.

Others claim that sans serif fonts are better for reading on a screen (note that this site is entirely in sans serif!). However, there is apparently no empirically valid data to support either claim. Alex Poole does a nice job of reviewing the convoluted history of this dispute.

So although there seems to be no clear evidence that either type of font is actually better, you are bucking conventional wisdom, tradition, and university policy by advocating for sans serif font in your thesis. I'd say use the serif font for the official version, and then, as JeffE and Tim suggested, post a 'prettier' version everywhere else. If you are determined to try to change the status quo, follow penelope's excellent advice.


What is good or bad is not easy for anyone to judge. Typesetting a document, including selecting fonts, is in essence a profession which through technology has been put in our hands. This has resulted in significant downgrading in quality although some enlightenment has also occurred. The problem is that it is easy for someone to chose a type face and set it as you see fit without actually knowing how it appears to the reader. This is why it is common to come across thesis and reports that are quite awful in type-setting and therefore unnecessarily difficult to read.

Times-Roman, is a type face developed to be space saving. This means it may not be the prettiest but it is easy to read and you can fit more text per page. There are other similar fonts that are less condensed and more easily read such as the popular Garamond. Sans serifs are relatively commonly seen in texts, despite the fact that they were not designed for such use. The are generally no well suited for large volumes of text. There are hybrids such as Optima that works a little better but using Sans Serifs in the text body is not a good idea, typographically speaking. You can pick up any book on type-setting and type faces to learn more. A good example is perhaps Robert Bringhursts The Elements of Typographic Style. Hartley & Marks Publ.

When it comes to colour in a thesis, it can easily be stated that colour improves readability of diagrams and illustrations. The downside is that the colour is poorly reproduced in a B/W copier or when printed on a B/W laser printer. There is thus still incentive to be selective when using colour. unfortunately all plotting software (from things like Excel to R and Matlab) provides colour as default and so turning multicoloured plots into B/W involves extra work. Part of being professional is, however, to make such decisions and simplify. I think this can be seen as part of your professional development through graduate school and shown in your thesis. What must be colour should be colour, nothing else.

So trying to provide some direct feedback. To redesign what you see as boring may sound simple, you comment on choosing some built in Word does not sound very thought through. I believe you should approach the layout of your thesis as professionally as you do your science. You therefore need to get yourself familiar with a little bit of typography and graphics design. The latter can be done by looking at the books by Edward Tufte, particularly his The visual Display of Quantitative Information. If you just put your thesis in the hands of software designers, you have no control over what you actually get. You need to assess what is better or worse in typography and graphic design. The alternative is to be boring and stick with the standard thesis format and I would actually suggest that if you want to save time. In addition, you of course need to figure out what the university allows, there should be some guidelines available.

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