Suppose the outline of my PhD thesis looks like this:

  • Acronyms
  • Preface
  • Introduction
  • Part I: some topic
    • Chapter 1: ...
    • Chapter 2: ...
  • Part II: another topic
    • Chapter 3: ...
    • Chapter 4: ...
  • Conclusion
  • Recommendations and outlook
  • Glossary
  • etc.

From the table of contents it is immediately clear that the Conclusion chapter is on the same level as the parts, and it is therefore a conclusion about the entire work.

In the actual body of the thesis, parts are indicated by a full page with "Part I: topic" on it, a relevant picture and probably a bombastic quote of some kind.

My question is: how do I visually separate the conclusion from Part II, such that when reading the entire book it is clear to the reader that "ah, this is the end of Part II and now we get something else entirely"?

Is there a standard way to do this? Any ideas?

  • 2
    I assume you're using a top-level header on each top-level section, right? Why not just do the same for Conclusion? ("Bombastic quote" - ha!) Jul 25, 2016 at 13:12
  • "Part III: Conclusion" ...? Feb 21, 2017 at 20:37

3 Answers 3


Each field has their own formatting habits, and each university/school/department their own. Most often, you number them separately so that you have:

1 Introduction

 1.1. Aims of the Research

 1.2 Theoretical Background and Primary Works
3. Aspects of Femininity in *Frankenstein*
 3.1 [a title]

And so on... The conclusion would be the last, before any appendixes (that's where your acronyms, bibliography, etc should be)


I really don't think there is a reliable way to do this visually in the text simply because whatever visual cues announced to the reader that they have started Part II have long been forgotten before they get to the end of it. You can always do things like devoting an entire right page to "Part I", "Part II" and "Conclusion" but that is no guaranteed that the reader will recognize their significance when they encounter them so many hours apart.

Also, at the semantic level, it is unlikely that they are holding a hierarchical structure in their heads as they read. Even if we organize a long work hierarchically, this is more for our convenience than for the readers. It may help them get an initial sense of the work from the TOC, if they bother to read it, but when they are actually reading, the will read linearly. They will experience one thing after another, not one thing inside another.

If you want to make sure they they know they have arrived at the conclusion of the whole work, the most reliable way to do it is to announce it in the opening of the conclusion itself.

In Part I we looked at some topic. In Part II we looked at another topic. To sum up, some topic and another topic both lead us to the conclusion ...

And after all, this is the job of the conclusion, to remind the reader of the larger structural and logical unity of the argument, which they will likely have lost track of during the long read.

In short, don't rely on visual clues to guide the reader as to the structure of your text. Do it in the text itself.


Although different fields will assuredly have variation in formats, doctoral candidates are expected to design their own research protocols and report them in a meaningful way. As such, I don't think there's a wrong answer per se as long as it doesn't put off your Primary Investigator or thesis committee.

You've already decided to give Part I and Part II their own title pages; you should consider staying consistent and give the Conclusion it's own title page in the same format. This is assuming your conclusion takes up a few pages.

However, I think I'd leave out the clever ideas and separate page from the bibliography.

Good luck.

  • In consideration, I think I'd do the same for the Preface and Introduction: namely, no title page for the Preface but one for the Introduction.
    – Stu W
    Aug 24, 2016 at 19:36

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