The type of material that belongs in the appendix of a dissertation will vary considerably from one research project to another. My only two appendix items were my IRB materials and a list of resources that didn’t work neatly in the reference list, including websites and a pseudonymous directory of my participants.
I’ve edited dissertations that included the study’s complete interview transcripts, all of the study’s tables, and the various letters sent to people and groups requesting interviews or permissions.
Standard Appendix Material
Many if not most universities have resources, usually on the web, that list examples of the types of appendix materials they consider standard, normal, or acceptable. I’ve reviewed a number of universities’ thesis and dissertation help pages to compile the following list of typical appendix materials:*
This is a nonexhaustive list, of course, but it should give you an idea of what belongs in the appendix. Most of the materials that go there will be of your own authorship, though some (such as correspondence with people whose assistance contributed to the dissertation) will be at least partially written by someone else whose permission you’re expected to get before including their writing.
Sometimes material that has more detail than most readers will want to be immersed in can be presented in an appendix. I once worked my way through a 60-page thesis chapter in which the client wrote about the feedback given him by an expert on about a dozen case studies. The chapter was informative but monotonous, and much of my editing was done with copy/paste because entire paragraphs were identical from section to section. Despite its monotony, the client intended it to be that way, so I wasn’t tasked with making it more readable. I was pleased and relieved to find in the next draft that the chapter had been moved to the appendix. I almost wished it had been my idea.
The appendix can be used for material that is better provided in list form than in running text, or for tables that might be informative but aren’t critical enough (or might just be too large or detailed) to insert in the text. Computer code or musical notation might be central to the thesis, but not all readers will understand it as conventionally written. These can go in appendices too.
What Usually Isn't Appendix Material
Secondary sources seldom belong in an appendix. The same is true for primary sources that were not generated by the dissertation writer (such as interview transcripts, which are fine) and are publicly available, whether online or in a university library.
Legislation is an interesting type of source material. It’s often in the public domain (but not always, so look into it before you include it), so it’s usually legal to include it, but it’s not always necessary. Here are a few things to think about when determining whether that piece of legislation you’re thinking of including really belongs there.
Oh, and I hope no one reading this needs to be told not to use appendix material to pad the dissertation and turn 100 pages into 300.
Historical documents might sometimes fall into the same area as legislation, where its availability and length, as well as the likelihood that readers will find its presence useful (versus superfluous) will affect its inclusion. Find out whether it's in the public domain or whether you need to obtain permission to use it first, though.
Dissertations and Copyright
If the materials you include in your appendix were not written by you, you’re required to obtain copyright permission before you reproduce them. ProQuest, the folks who publish dissertations, provide a Copyright Guide that covers both “how to avoid infringing on someone else’s copyright and how to protect your own copyright.” There are some uses that might fall under "fair use," but err on the side of caution when you're unsure. The form includes a sample letter you can use to contact the copyright holders and request permission.
Questionnaires written by prior researchers are almost always copyrighted. Before you include them, obtain permission.
Images, including figures and photographs, are nearly always copyrighted, as well. Write to someone and get permission.
Websites are, by and large, copyrighted content. Just because something is online, it doesn’t mean you’re free to use it. Get that permission!
An Exception that Proves the Rule
While I was looking up examples of appendix materials, I came across an Oxford University page detailing the process of creating not a normal appendix but a separate appendix. This page explains what to do when you have material to put into your dissertation but it is either “sensitive” (see their page for examples) or copyrighted (and you haven’t received permission to reproduce it yet).
The “separate appendix” is available to the thesis supervisor and possibly other readers, but it doesn’t get published with the rest of the document. Note that the concept of the separate appendix doesn’t substitute for the responsibility to gain copyright permission; you’re still supposed to obtain that, while the separate appendix allows you to turn your thesis in if the copyright holders haven’t gotten back to you yet. When you deposit your thesis, you inform the research archive when those other materials can be released (if ever).
Also note that this is an Oxford thing, and not all universities (I’ve never heard of this in the US, for instance) will honor it or have a system set up for doing it. I mostly mention it in order to illustrate that while Oxford has a system in place for including copyrighted materials that the student doesn’t yet have permission to share yet, the key words are “system” and “yet.” So no rogue creation of “separate appendices,” right folks? “But they do it at Oxford!” isn’t an excuse. And the system’s purpose is to acknowledge time constraints, not to relieve students of the responsibility.
*Sources for this list include American University (USA), Iowa State University (USA), Pennsylvania State University (USA), Simon Fraser University (Canada), Southampton Solent University (UK), the University of Akron (USA), the University of California at San Diego, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (USA), the University of Nottingham (UK), the University of Tennessee at Knoxville (USA), Walden University (USA). These were the ten universities that appeared first in a Google search for dissertation appendix material and that had information of the kind I was looking for.
I'm Lea, a freelance editor who specializes in academic and nonfiction materials. More info about my services is available throughout this site.