Oliver Kirchkamp


What matters for a good thesis is mainly good content. Still, a good layout does not require a lot of effort and it makes your paper and your thesis more readable. So here is my opinion:
A good book leaves some space in the margin. One common rule (this is not the only rule, though, there are others, but these are rules, nonetheless) is to reserve 1/3 of the page for margins (2/9 on the outer part of the page (4.7cm with A4 paper), 1/9 on the inner part (2.3cm), 1/9 at the top (3.3cm), 2/9 at the bottom (6.6 cm)). And please, please, use single spacing. Nobody wants to write his or her comments between the lines.

To learn more about margins, have a look at Canons of page construction.

Line length and font size
The optimal line length is somewhere between 39 and 60 characters per line (including blanks).

Lines which are too short and lines which are too long make your text hard to read. As a consequence you should use 12pt fonts if you print your thesis on A4 paper — unless you want your margins to be wider than your text. 10pt is a good choice if you print on A5.

Line spacing
During the middle of the last century, when people used typewriters to write their theses, it was common to use 1 1/2 line spacing. At that time 1 1/2 line spacing was justifiable. If you type your manuscript with the help of a typewriter, breaking your text into lines (while you are still typing) is hard. Typists preferred long lines and small margins. As a result, there was no space left for notes and comments in the margin. 1 1/2 line spacing or even double line spacing was then the lesser evil, allowing readers to scribble their notes at least between the lines.

[layout of an incunable of Valerius Maximus, Facta et dicta memorabilia, printed in red and black by Peter Schöffer, Mainz, 1471.] Today, when most students do have a computer, 1 1/2 line spacing can and should be avoided. Line breaking and hyphenation are done by the computer; typesetting shorter lines is done by an algorithm and constitutes no problem at all. Short lines are more readable. Short lines allow the reader to write comments in the margin. There is no need to scribble between the lines. Avoid 1 1/2 line spacingunless you are still using a typewriter.

On the right you see a picture from an old book (1471). At that time people thought a lot about optimal presentation. Please have a look at the linelength, the linespacing, and the space left for notes in the margin. People followed these conventions for a long time—until typewriters came into use.

(Some journals still recommend 1 1/2 spacing - if you read along they also recommend using a typewriter. They simply forgot to update their rules.)