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Style standards

In any piece of research writing (thesis, conference paper, journal article), referencing and formatting need to be consistent. To ensure this, sets of rules called styles have been developed by a number of journal publishers.



Style standards cover not only referencing conventions, but also matters of formatting like use of quotation marks, abbreviations, numbers, lists, and the labelling of figures and tables. Find out if your department has special formatting requirements. If it does not recommend a particular style standard, it is important for you to find a way of making your treatment of these features consistent. You can refer to one of these commonly-used guides:

  • American Psychological Association. (2001). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (5th ed.). Washington , DC : American Psychological Association
  • The Chicago Manual of Style (15th ed.). (2003). Chicago: University of Chicago Press
  • Turabian, K. (1996). A manual for writers of term papers, theses, and dissertations (6th ed.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press
  • Gibaldi, J. (2003). MLA handbook for writers of research papers (6th ed.) New York: Modern Language Association of America

(Note that in this website we are using the APAOpens in new window style for citing references.)

Here are some points that most style guides agree on:

Quotation marks

Use them for:

  1. a word or phrase used in a special or unusual way.
  2. material that is quoted verbatim. Note that if this material extends for more than about two and a half lines, you should set it out as an indented quotation.

Note: American publishers recommend double quotation marks for these purposes, and single quotation marks for quotes within quotes, but it is common in Australia and the United Kingdom to do it the other way round. Check whether your department has a preference.


Abbreviations are often needed in tables, lists and bibliographies, but should be used sparingly in the main text. Use them:

  1. without explanation if they are used as word entries in the dictionary (e.g. IQ)
  2. even if they are not in the dictionary but are frequently used in a relevant journal
  3. for units of measurement (in scientific and technical writing)
  4. for names of organisations (e.g. UNESCO, YMCA ) - but spell them out the first time you use them if they are likely to be unfamiliar to the reader

Any other abbreviations you decide to use should be explained in a List of Abbreviations.


In scientific or technical writing, all numbers are expressed in figures, e.g. ages; times and dates; percentages; ratios; fractions or decimals; scores and points on scales; sample or population sizes.

In non-technical writing, numbers between zero and nine inclusive (some style guides say between zero and one hundred) are expressed in words; a figure is never used to begin a sentence.

Figures and tables
  • Label tables above the table and figures below the figure.
  • Refer to the table or figure in the text.
  • Tables and figures should be self-explanatory.
  • A table or figure from an outside source should be referenced like any other outside information.
  • Keep titles brief: you can include explanatory notes if needed as footnotes under the table or figure.

Data should be presented in an appendix if it contains information which is essential to the thesis, but would interrupt the flow if it were in the body of the thesis.

Appendices may contain:

  • documents
  • raw data
  • detailed experimental results
  • lengthy calculations

If there is more than one appendix, each should be numbered and given a descriptive title. Note: figures and tables in an appendix should still be labelled, and numbered separately from those in the body of the thesis.

Additional references

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