Quick Guide for Faculty
NIU theses and dissertations are available for free download from NIU-networked computers through a dedicated ProQuest database called Dissertations & Theses @ Northern Illinois University. The database may also be accessed through Founders Memorial Library’s ProQuest Digital copies are also deposited in NIU’s institutional repository, Huskie Commons. Please note that papers may not be accessible for several weeks after the student’s graduation term and embargos may apply. See also Embargos; Huskie Commons.
The Graduate School does not require bound hard copies of theses and dissertations nor do we provide a bindery service to students. A student who wishes to obtain bound copies for presentation or personal distribution must arrange for it themselves. ProQuest offers competitively priced bindery service as an option during the submission process, but other companies also provide this service. View reputable online companies.
The Thesis Office offers a series of informal brown bag discussions in fall and spring semesters on a wide range of topics of interest to advanced graduate student researchers, thesis/dissertation writers, and advisory faculty. Some recent topics include a Faculty Q&A, Breaking Through Writer’s Block (and Other Obstacles), Demystifying Open Access, Writing the Proposal, Committee Relations, Life Balance, and Copyright and Permissions. View the schedule of discussion sessions.
The composition of committees is similar for both master’s theses and doctoral dissertations. The committee consists of at least three voting members (up to five for dissertations) approved by the department chair or designee. All members of the committee must hold the status of full, senior or provisional member of the graduate faculty, or serve as graduate faculty scholars at Northern Illinois University. The committee must be nominated by the department and appointed by the dean of the Graduate School. Additionally:
- A majority must be tenured or tenure-track faculty members at Northern Illinois University.
- At least one-half of the members must be full or senior members of the graduate faculty at Northern Illinois University.
- All members must belong to the graduate faculty in the student’s program or a closely related one as determined by the department chair (or designee).
Thesis committees must be appointed no later than the conclusion of the semester or term preceding that in which the student will defend the thesis. Dissertation committees must be formed before or soon after the student passes the candidacy examination.
Please refer to the NIU Graduate Catalog for information about removing or adding members to the committee once it has been formed.
Students may collaborate on some aspects of the work contributing to their thesis or dissertation. However, each thesis or dissertation submitted to the Graduate School for approval must be a unique product with the degree candidate as the sole author and with due acknowledgment of the contributions of collaborators. The individual author must demonstrate to the committee satisfactory command of all aspects of the dissertation.
Under federal law, the author of a dissertation automatically has ownership rights and copyright protection for that paper. A student who wishes to declare this may insert a copyright notice on the title page, for example:
© 2017 Chris Student
Additional legal protection may be obtained by registering the dissertation with the U.S. Copyright Office of the Library of Congress, but the Graduate School does not require copyright registration. ProQuest offers registration (for a fee) during the submission process.
If the thesis or dissertation includes materials that are themselves protected by copyright (for example, artworks, graphics, musical scores, lyrics, test instruments, etc.) and which exceed fair use standards, the author must obtain permission to include them. Each copyright holder will need to be contacted for permission and the subsequent permission must be granted in writing, although it may be an email or other electronic medium. Permissions must be in hand before the paper is defended.
Copyright is a complex body of law and may be difficult for students to understand. Contact the Thesis Office if you have any questions.
It is the student's responsibility to obtain a copy of the current graduation deadlines and to adhere to them.
If students defend on or near the deadline for submission of the post-defense version, it is still the student’s responsibility to obtain a copy of the current graduation deadlines and adhere to them. Deadlines will not be waived because the student has failed to allow sufficient time for manuscript preparation, editing and revision.
The oral defense should be scheduled only when both the student and the committee are satisfied that the work is substantively complete and believe that it reflects a level of rigor appropriate to the degree. A student must be registered in the term of the oral defense and be in good academic standing, both overall and in the degree program.
At least three weeks in advance, the committee will inform the dean of the Graduate School of the date, time, place and title for the public presentation. Dissertation defenses will be publicized by the Graduate School, inviting attendance of interested persons. View upcoming dissertation defenses.
An oral defense consists of two parts, in either order, in accordance with department policy:
- public presentation with opportunity for questions from any interested parties and
- restricted examination session with the committee
At the discretion of the department, members of the university’s graduate faculty and/or graduate students from the candidate’s department may be permitted to be present at the restricted session. Further research, analysis or rewriting may be required by the committee as a result of discussions arising during the defense.
One faculty member will be designated by the dean to serve as an ex officio, nonvoting member of each dissertation defense committee. The dean’s designated reader provides information to the dean to ensure that dissertations are of appropriately high quality and that the final oral examination of dissertation students is conducted in a rigorous but fair manner. The designated reader reviews the dissertation in advance of the defense and attends the oral defense. The designated reader may ask questions and participate in both parts of the defense (see Defense, Oral). Afterward, the designated reader reports to the dean with a brief account of the conduct of the defense. Theses do not involve a designated reader.
The terms “chair” and “advisor” are often ambiguous and confusing, so the Graduate School uses the term “director” in all matters related to the thesis or dissertation committee structure.
The role of the director is similar for both master’s theses and doctoral dissertations. A student intending to write a thesis should identify a prospective faculty director as soon as possible. A student intending to write a dissertation must identify a prospective faculty director soon after the candidacy examination, if not before. The proposed director/co-directors must be nominated by the department, approved by the college, and appointed by the dean of the Graduate School. The director, in consultation with the committee, will judge the acceptability of the work.
A provisional member of the graduate faculty may, with a full or senior member of the graduate faculty, co-direct a thesis or dissertation.
At any time, a faculty member may decline to serve as director of any particular project. Students may also appeal to remove or change directors. Please refer to the NIU Graduate Catalog for information about altering the composition of committees after they have been approved.
The NIU Graduate Council defines a dissertation as "a substantial contribution to knowledge in which the student exhibits original scholarship and the ability to conduct independent research. Its subject must be in the area of the student’s major and be approved by the student’s dissertation director and, ultimately, by the dissertation committee. The dissertation presents research that has been conducted under the supervision of a senior member of the graduate faculty... The document may not have been published previously, and the dissertation must be defended in an oral examination. The author must demonstrate to the committee satisfactory command of all aspects of the work presented" (NIU Graduate Catalog). See also Previously Published Material, Policy on.
The default documentation style of the Graduate School is the American Psychological Association (APA), 6th ed., but the Graduate School does not specify a particular manual of style because different disciplines follow different practices. A department may and should designate a style appropriate to its scholarly literature. The Thesis Office will approve any recognizable documentation style if it is correctly and consistently followed, such as MLA, ASME, American Chemical Society, American Medical Society, Chicago/Turabian or the house style of a reputable journal in the field. Footnote documentation is acceptable, but endnotes are not acceptable.
The draft version of a dissertation is the version of the work that has been deemed by the committee to be ready to defend. It is the copy provided to the dean’s designated reader (see Designated Reader, Dean’s). The draft version must be submitted in hard copy to the Graduate School Dean’s Office at least three weeks in advance of the scheduled defense. Most students present it at the same time as they submit their request for oral defense. Draft versions should be hand-delivered or mailed to the Graduate School general office, not the Thesis Office. This version is not reviewed by the Thesis Office.
The draft version should be substantively complete with respect to research methods, results and analysis, including relevant figures, data and references. However, at the discretion of the department, the draft version may be in an unfinished form with respect to format. Papers should be printed single-sided and placed loose leaf in an envelope or appropriate box.
In August 2008, the Graduate School implemented mandatory electronic submission of theses and dissertations. Electronic theses and dissertations (ETDs) have many advantages over paper documents, including:
- Ease of access. Students may submit work from any online computer anywhere in the world, 24 hours a day.
- Saves paper. The process after defense is completely paperless.
- Saves cash. There is no fee to deposit ETDs with ProQuest, the nation's largest repository of graduate student scholarship. Students save the cost of reproducing final copies on expensive paper. Students may select additional services and products for a fee during the submission process, but these are entirely optional. The required submission is free.
- More flexible. ETDs allow for color graphics, animation, sound and video, and hyperlinks, none of which is possible with paper reproduction or microfilm.
- Widest possible distribution. Students choose their level of accessibility, from traditional (royalties-paying) to full-text web access with widest possible online searchability. See also Publishing Options.
A thesis or dissertation must be available to the public, but students may choose to delay the public release of their work (i.e., embargo) by six months, one year, or two years, depending on the contents of the work, their future publishing ambitions and the common practice in their disciplines. Some considerations for restricted or delayed release may be:
- Patentable rights in the work or other issues in which disclosure may be detrimental to the rights or interests of the author
- The ethical need to prevent disclosure of sensitive or classified information about persons, institutions, technologies, etc.
- The interest of an academic or commercial press in acquiring the rights to publish the dissertation or thesis as a book
- Content that is likely to be submitted to a peer-reviewed journal
Other embargo periods may be set at the discretion of the Graduate School’s thesis advisor. If you feel an embargo for a period other than those available to the student is warranted, please contact the Thesis Office.
Egregious errors are those that deviate so far from the conventions and standards of Standard Edited American English or the specifications and requirements of the Graduate School’s format that the document cannot be reviewed or the correction of which would require staff to re-read the document from scratch. Examples of egregious errors include excessively small or large margins, misplaced or haphazardly presented tables and figures, incorrect or incomplete documentation of sources, and glaring grammatical errors such as sentence fragments.
Papers submitted with egregious errors will be returned to students unread, and the student must correct and resubmit in compliance with the guidelines. Egregious errors may delay graduation if a fully compliant paper cannot be resubmitted by the published deadline for post-defense versions.
The most common types of errors that the Thesis Office encounter fall into the following categories:
- Format of tables/figures and pagination
- Deadlines/submission steps
- Capitalization and punctuation
Most errors can be avoided by conscientious adherence to the requirements and standards found in the Guidelines for Preparing a Thesis or Dissertation at NIU. Thesis Office staff are available to consult with students on any of these matters. For errors related to general composition and writing skills, the University Writing Center offers free tutorial assistance to graduate students. See also Errors, Egregious.
The format specifications of the Graduate School refer to how the material looks on a page of text in PDF, for example, page numbering, headings, margins, tables and figures, front matter, etc. The Graduate School Guidelines (i.e., the NIU “house style”) takes precedence over any other publication style. These requirements are spelled out and illustrated in a number of ways, including downloadable templates, annotated example pages and narrative descriptions in the Guidelines for Preparing a Thesis/Dissertation at NIU.
As a courtesy to students, the Graduate School maintains a list of freelancers who have indicated their availability and interest in formatting dissertations and theses for a fee. The Graduate School does not supervise or assume responsibility for the quality of work done by a freelancer. The transaction is entirely between the student and the freelancer. Hiring a professional freelancer does not absolve students of the responsibility to ensure the paper meets the standards and requirements of the director, advisory committee and Graduate School.
The Thesis Office recommends that students confer with the freelancer about rates, schedules and details of the particular manuscript before work begins so that both parties have a firm understanding regarding the work to be performed and the charges to be paid. Graduate School deadlines are firm and will not be waived because the student has failed to allow sufficient time for the freelancer to complete the work.
Detailed format requirements and instructions for theses and dissertations are found in the master's thesis format guidelines (PDF) or doctoral dissertation format guidelines (PDF). Everything you need to know about the exact specifications of the thesis or dissertation document is found in the guidelines above. There is no shortcut or substitute for the guidelines and a thesis or dissertation prepared without careful consultation of the guidelines will invariably fail to comply with the requirements for final approval.
After degrees are awarded, all theses and dissertations are deposited in Huskie Commons, Founders Memorial Library’s open-access digital repository. Please note that papers may not be accessible for several weeks after the student’s graduation term. See also Access to Theses and Dissertations.
"Open Access" (OA) is a publication option offered by ProQuest at the time of submission (see Publishing Options). There is a one-time fee charged to the student for OA publication, which funds the perpetual hosting of the student’s work for electronic public access. OA graduate works are available for free download to all users of the ProQuest Dissertations & Theses (PQDT) database. See also Huskie Commons.
Published manuscripts are not acceptable in fulfilling the thesis/dissertation requirement for graduate degree programs, but it is permissible to include some previously published material (for example, a chapter, a section or data/findings) in doctoral dissertations so long as the dissertation as a whole is original, unpublished work. A dissertation that includes previously published material must conform to all format requirements of the Graduate School as detailed in the master's thesis format guidelines (PDF) or doctoral dissertation format guidelines (PDF) and be stylistically and organizationally coherent. Such a dissertation must contain a single overarching abstract, a single integrative introduction and a single unifying conclusion.
ProQuest is the global database company that provides the Thesis Office with the document management platform for submission, review, approval, deposit, and publication of all NIU theses and dissertations. ProQuest, formerly known as UMI, is a for-profit corporation headquartered in Ann Arbor, MI. It is the largest single repository of graduate dissertations and theses in the world and is a leading innovator in digital archiving and accessibility of scholarship and research.
Students must choose between “Traditional” and “Open Access” publication at the time of submission via the ProQuest platform. Traditional publication is free, restricts access to the full text (digital or print) behind a paywall and pays out royalties on sales; the title and abstract are freely discoverable. Open Access publication makes the full text of the digital work freely available by download upon publication. Students pay a premium up front for Open Access and do not receive royalties. Embargos, if any, are enforced in either publication option. See also Embargos; Open Access; ProQuest.
The results of the candidate’s oral defense must be reported to the Graduate School within three days of the defense. The results are reported using the Results of Oral Defense of Thesis or Dissertation form. The form may be hand-delivered or faxed to the Graduate School.
Types of "Pass"
- Pass with no further committee review required
- Pass with request for revisions and subsequent committee review. If the thesis or dissertation requires no further review by the committee or director, the thesis/dissertation may be submitted immediately to the Graduate School Thesis Office
(see Submission Process).
If the student passes but the thesis/dissertation requires revisions that must be subsequently reviewed and approved by the committee prior to submission to the Graduate School Thesis Office, the form may be held by the director until the revisions have been reviewed and approved, then submitted to the Graduate School, or the director may send the initial results form within three days of the defense and then resubmit the form following the subsequent approval, which indicates the satisfactory completion by initialing the form where indicated.
After the defense and final committee approval, all theses and dissertations must be submitted to the Graduate School Thesis Office in PDF via the ProQuest submission platform (see ProQuest)
The NIU Graduate Council defines a thesis as “a scholarly contribution to knowledge. Its subject must be in the area of the student’s major and be approved by the student’s thesis director and, ultimately, by the thesis advisory committee. The thesis presents research that has been conducted under the supervision of a graduate faculty member from the student’s major department . … The document may not have been published previously, and the thesis must be successfully defended in an oral examination” (NIU Graduate Catalog). See also Previously Published Material, Policy on.
The Thesis Office is in Adams Hall, room 104. The office is staffed for walk-in consultation without appointment Monday – Thursday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Other times and locations for one-on-one consultation may be arranged by appointment.
The Thesis Office offers hands-on workshops (in fall and spring semesters and during the intersession in early June) addressing some of the most common sources of problems for thesis and dissertation writers. Some recent topics: tables/figures/pagination, ASME documentation.
The Thesis Office also offers informative presentations in fall and spring semesters and during the intersession in early June for graduate students preparing theses and dissertations for degree requirements. Some recent topics: Dissertation Essentials, Thesis Essentials, Writing a Dissertation in Education, Writing a Thesis in Engineering, Demystifying the Submission Process. These programs are the best way to ensure compliance with the Graduate School requirements.
Thesis Office staff are available to make customized presentations for departmental groups, graduate classes and special events by invitation. Contact the Thesis Office at 815-753-9405 or firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.