Guide to APA Format for PhD Thesis and Dissertation

Academic writing is largely dependent on rules. These rules range from font to spacing, subject matter to word count, formatting to tone of writing. Among these rules, the format presents a huge challenge for students. 

With a couple of formats to follow, one could easily get confused about the rules to follow when writing their paper. 

This article will highlight the APA dissertation format to help you go about your paper quickly. We will also discuss the rules for APA referencing and offer some incite on how to cite various resources using the APA format for the thesis. 

APA format dissertation

The APA format is perhaps the most popular among other referencing styles. This format is often used in the social sciences field and is the most common for high school and college papers. 

The basics for a thesis APA format include:

  • Format all the pages to 8.5” by 11”
  • Insert a 1” margin on all sides and indent each paragraph by 0.5”
  • Apply double-spacing at the end of each sentence
  • Insert the page number flush right and the running head flush left
  • Use the times new roman font 12
  • Each section, i.e., the abstract, the body, and references should start on a new page

Preliminary pages

The title page and copyright pages should not be counted in the total tally of the page count. Your page numbers should thus start from the abstract page and run to the last page of your appendices. 


All headings and subheadings in the APA format for the doctoral dissertation should be edited in a manner that avoids confusion for your reader. The headings should be edited as:

Heading 1: Boldface, Titlecase, Centered 

Heading 2: Boldface, Titlecase, Flush Left 

Heading 3: Indented, bold, lowercase, with a period in the end.

Heading 4: Indented, bold, italicized, lowercase, with a period in the end. 

Heading 5: Indented, italicized, lowercase, with a period in the end. 

Table and figures

All the tables and figures in the APA format should have italicized captions with a single space and all the major words capitalized. The page number, table number, and table/ figure title should be properly recorded in the list of tables/ figures. 

This helps you to avoid confusion when referring to a specific item and helps a reader to scroll to the section of the paper they are interested in the most. 


Any quote exceeding forty words should follow the block format with a 0.5” indent. If your quote has a second paragraph, apply a 1” indent to the second paragraph. It is crucial to note that each quote in your paper should end with a full stop.


References in the thesis format APA should be double spaced. A hanging indent should also be applied to the references, allowing for neatness and easy reading of the items in the References section. 

As is custom with APA, you should include the in-text citations and cover the full bibliography in the references. The in-text citations comprise the author’s last name, first name initial, and the publication year. This could appear as (Jake, K. 2008)

If the paper/ book was co-authored, you should include the last name of all authors involved and the publication year: (Jake, K. & Mary, B. 2008)

How do you cite a dissertation in APA format?

If you are looking to investigate an idea that has been touched on in a previous study, the dissertation makes a great source for your study. However, citing a dissertation is slightly different from citing a book as most papers remain unpublished. 

Like other sources, the in-text citation for a dissertation comprises the author’s last name, initials of their first and middle name, and the year of writing. The only slight difference comes from writing the references. 

A reference for a thesis comprises:

Authors last name, initial of first name, initial of middle name. (year of publication). Title of the thesis and description. University, location. 

i.e.,  Jake, K.M. (2008). Technology in Education: Assessing the impact of infusing technology into teaching-learning on a learners performance (unpublished master’s thesis). Earlinghall university, Nightingale. 

If the paper has been published, your reference should appear as:

Jake, K.M. (2008) Technology in Education: Assessing the impact of infusing technology into teaching-learning on a learners performance (master’s thesis). Earlinghall university, Nightingale. 

Final take

Applying the APA format for PhD thesis is not rocket science. We hope that this essay has helped you overcome various challenges and format your essay easily. Feel free to consult us for custom guidance on your thesis

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