I have always wondered: where should the first page number start? I know the front matter is typically in lower case roman numbers, whereas the mainmatter is with arabic ones.

The mainmatter starts the count ---i.e., page 1--- with Chapter 1; but I have no idea where the frontmatter should begging the counter.

For example, in a PhD thesis typically there is a page with the title, a quote, an abstract, a dedicatory, table of contents, list of figures, list of tables, list of acronyms.

So, two questions:

1) What should be the order of things for the frontmatter

2) What should be numbered in the front matter, and what shouldn't count as part of it?


2 Answers 2


In the US, the standard manual for all of this is The Chicago Manual of Style, published by the University of Chicago Press. It defines the order of front matter, back matter, the things that are necessary and those that are optional.

The front matter begins with the first page inside the cover. In a book, that is the "half title" page. An epigraph or a table of contents generally appears on page v (unless there is a dedication, which has first choice for v).

Chicago specifies:

i - half title

ii - Series title, frontispiece, or blank

iii - Title page

iv - Copyright page

v - Dedication

v or vi - Epigraph

v or vii - Table of Contents

List of Illustrations, can be on a right (recto) or left (verso) page.

List of Tables, ditto.

Foreword (always a recto)

Preface (recto)

Acknowledgements, if not already in the preface. (recto)

Introduction (unless part of the main text) (recto)

Abbreviations (unless in the back matter) (recto or verso)

Chronology (unless in the back matter) (recto)

Second half title, if included (recto)

Not all of these would apply to a thesis, of course. I suggest a trip to the library to spend a convivial hour or two with Chicago or a local equivalent for other countries. It's unlikely that any questions you have in this realm are not answered in those pages.

A possibly more pragmatic approach would be to look at some previously published theses from your institution and use one of those as a model.

  • 2
    There are a few slightly different ways of doing it, and as long as your university does not follow a given standard, you can use the one that makes most sense. What is the most important thing is to be consistent in page numbering, appendices, references, addendums etc.
    – benteh
    Commented Mar 26, 2014 at 21:04
  • An excellent point. I took a guess that Mario wasn't speaking specifically of a university publication, since he prefaces the third paragraph with "For example". Commented Mar 26, 2014 at 21:12
  • Actually it is for a PhD thesis... but there is no mandatory template, so the natural "do what they tell you to do" answer is not useful. What do you feel about the order? Commented Mar 26, 2014 at 21:16
  • @boblet What do you feel is the prefer order? Commented Mar 26, 2014 at 21:22
  • 1
    ah, what i prefer? I think I might write an answer instead of doing a lecture here in the comment field! :D I would like to say, thought, that @AlanGilbertson point is very very valid. Standing on the shoulders of giants and all that. If it was good enough for Einstein..
    – benteh
    Commented Mar 26, 2014 at 21:27

First, I would second @AlanGilbertson in go and have a look at Chicago. These thesis templates might seem dusty and a tad boring, but there are some good arguments for them:

  1. International standards. Should your thesis ever be of interest other places, a standard might be useful.

  2. It will save you time in the long run, as soon as you have your document setup. Though that can be fiddly.

  3. These standards might have taken into account things you have not thought about yet. Nothing is more annoying than after 123 pages realising that you have to go through every page to do something tedious because you did not think of it.


Whatever solution you come up with, you should make absolutely sure that your document is as flexible as possible. With some luck your eminent thesis might be the basis for articles, presentations, keynotes etc; so do not use archaic software or bizarre or uncommon fonts. Most journals will ask you to provide text according to their standards, so do not lock your document into something that would be a hassle to reformat down the line.

Readability, simplicity

The absolute most important thing is to make sure it is as easy and comfortable to read as possible. This to ensure that you do not annoy the readers. You want to make it as smooth for the sensors as possible, and you want them to focus on the content, not be annoyed at the packaging. For you to shine in a thesis, you will have to do it through words and media (images, video, graphs, diagrams, audio...), not through creative expression in layout. You must make navigation and referencing as simple as possible.

Of course, there is the possibility that your thesis breaks the boundaries of a standard thesis, and then that needs to be considered too, but the standards will contain pretty much everything. If your thesis is - for example - heavily dependant on links to web, software, prototypes, consider making your own way of highlighting these important links. Do not let these essential bits drown, just because the Chicago style have not accounted for it.


In academia, remember: no one can – or will! – reference something that does not have a page number. If there is content you or others need to refer to; it must have at the very least a page number of some sort.

University standard page

Your university may not have a standard for the whole shebang, but most will have a "required-box" or even a page of some sort, with uni name, thesis title, copyrights, contact info, dates, advisors, stakeholders and keywords. Where to put this is a hassle. I say get it over with as soon as possible.

Personal opinion..

So, to my personal opinion. This depends on how complex your thesis will be, but I belong to the "keep it as simple as possible but not one bit simpler".

I partly follow the Chicago model, but I move content around a little, and I simplify a great deal. I go with roman numerals all the way to the end of the table of content. I also add in white pages to make sure it works well when printed. Do not be afraid of empty left pages. Use them when sensible.

Personally, I would stick ALL lists of illustrations, tables etc in an appendix. I see no reason why the reader should plough through lots of lists of stuff s/he has not even seen. Use Image captions, image numbers for reference in appendix.

Here is a basic layout of what I prefer: enter image description here

enter image description here

General hints:

  • Spend some time formatting the table of contents so that it looks good and are immediately easy to navigate.
  • 1.5 line-space, font, Times, Times New Roman or very similar.
  • Headings: here you have more freedom, but make them clear, simple, readable with good indents and size differences.
  • Make a footer with name of thesis and your name. Make it subtle. Light gray is good.
  • Use appendices
  • Use sensible referencing, such as Chicago or Harvard (stay away from the stupid IT-idea of numbers in brackets).
  • Make sure your footnotes are well made: they are not AS important as the main content, you can tone then down a little so not to interfere with the main stuff.
  • Great answer! Now the fine details: where would you put the initial quote, the list of publications and the acknowledgements? Commented Mar 27, 2014 at 0:29
  • Not sure if I understand you - initial quote; is that the abstract (three-four sentences "pitch")? list of publication, do you mean the references? Acknowledgements I would either put as the first appendix; or in special circumstances, before the table of content. However, I think I personally would combine dedication and acknowledgements Authors often do this. I believe in less clutter in the beginning, information for the specially interested in the back. Sensible use of footnotes. List of abbreviations I would also put in an appendix, but clearly refer to its existence when appropriate.
    – benteh
    Commented Mar 27, 2014 at 0:40
  • Abstract is the small resume of the whole work. The publications are all the articles that were published while you were working on your thesis and acknowledgements are the people you want to thank: lab technicians, special places, organizations, etc; wheras the dedicatory is a small sentence like "to my wife" Commented Mar 27, 2014 at 0:46
  • Are you sure about a running footer for author and title? I don't think I've ever seen a book that has included that as a footer, rather than a header. Also, I would advise against 1.5x spacing: again, every book you read that is text with a few pictures and diagrams has the text single spaced: a thesis is such a book. (Note, though, that many universities have strict requirements about spacing. For example, my own thesis is double-spaced, single-sided because, er, the university library wants to store in perpetuity four times as much paper as is needed, or something?) Commented Mar 27, 2014 at 9:03
  • 1
    actually, I could go with a header instead of a footer, but then I would have the pagination also on the header.
    – benteh
    Commented Mar 27, 2014 at 10:47

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.