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How to Create a Dissertation Outline. Writing Tips and Free Template

How to Create a Dissertation Outline Fast

Out of all thesis-related tasks, dissertation outline writing is the most overlooked and underrated. Most students perceive developing a thorough dissertation outline as a waste of time better spent on research or writing. But that’s a dangerous way of thinking, especially when dealing with a lengthy academic paper like a thesis. To help you understand the value of a dissertation outline, we’ll highlight its major benefits and walk you through the process of crafting an outline from scratch. We’ll also share a dissertation outline example to help guide your planning sessions. You’re welcome to check out other posts if you want more tips on how to write a thesis after your outline is done.

Why Do You Need a Dissertation Outline?

In its simplest form, a dissertation outline looks like a table of contents you create before you start working on the manuscript. It should include all major chapters and sections of your work logically ordered. The task seems easy until you get down to dissertation outline writing, when it suddenly becomes unbearably dull. If the writer’s block gets the better of you, remember these three benefits you’ll reap:

  1. Writing will go much faster when you have a plan. Instead of racking your brain for things to write, you can pick any section of the dissertation outline and work on it during your writing sessions.
  2. A dissertation outline will hold you accountable to yourself and your advisor. Crossing off complete subsections will help you monitor your progress and ensure you complete the thesis on time without succumbing to procrastination. 
  3. You’ll save time on writing and editing if you follow a dissertation outline. Instead of going off-script into unrelated tangents, you’ll stay on track and reach the word count sooner without the need to go back and rework individual sections.

Besides, presenting the outline to your advisor is a convenient way to get their feedback and ensure you’re on the same page when it comes to the direction of your research.

Before You Begin Dissertation Outline Writing

Most post-graduate students avoid outlining because the task seems too challenging. These preliminary steps should facilitate the process and help you beat the writer’s block:

  • Study the requirements. If you want your dissertation outline to be a helpful tool throughout your writing process, analyze thesis requirements and address them as you map out the layout and contents of your manuscript. Consult with your advisor if requirements seem too ambiguous or incomprehensible.
  • Settle on the topic. Remember to make it specific enough to suit the scope of your dissertation but not too narrow to make it impossible to research. You’ll need at least a rough draft of the title to create a dissertation outline, but you can always return and adjust it later. 
  • Review major publications. You’ll need to be familiar with the latest findings in the field before you can formulate your research questions and hypotheses and start dissertation outline writing. 

With these preliminary steps out of the way, you can finally work on planning the structure of your dissertation.

Basic Elements of a Dissertation Outline

Like most academic papers you dealt with in high school or college, it should have the title page, introduction, conclusion, and a list of references. These elements are non-negotiable for most assignments. But it’s the “body” section of a thesis that differs greatly from other academic pieces and that benefits most from the effort you put into dissertation outline writing. 

Whereas a short essay would merely have three or more body paragraphs devoted to one major point each, a thesis should have at least three chapters in their place:

    1. Literature analysis should answer the “WHY” questions. Why did you choose the topic? Why should anyone care about it? It showcases your understanding of the subject and provides evidence of the relevance of your research. It requires you to review dozens of references to identify knowledge gaps and missing pieces, so you should be extra careful when building a dissertation outline for this chapter. Remember to keep track of the sources used and cite them properly to avoid plagiarism issues. 
    2. The methodology chapter answers the “HOW” questions. How will you conduct your research? How will you know your data is valid? It should include your justification for using the primary methods you’ll use, list the materials and equipment used, explain your data processing approach, etc. As you work on the study, you’ll likely need to adjust this section of the dissertation outline to match additional tests, experiments, etc.
    3. The results and discussion chapter answers the “WHAT” questions. What did you learn? What does it mean? First, you’ll present your results in raw form, but you’ll also need to process them and draw conclusions. This part of the dissertation outline should confirm or disprove your hypotheses or answer the research questions you include in the introduction or literature review.

The specifics of each chapter depend on your research field and topic, but if you keep these basics in mind, you should have no trouble developing an outline. If you need more help with writing your dissertation, you can check out this link for some useful tips and guidance.

Dissertation Outline Example

Now that we’ve covered the major elements of a dissertation outline let’s put them together in a basic template. You can use it as is, replacing default sections with chapters tailored to your research project. Remember to eliminate any pieces that don’t suit your dissertation outline or include additional parts as needed.

Here’s a dissertation outline example put together by our experts, whom thousands of students pay to write an essay or any other assignment:

  • Title page
  • Abstract
  • Introduction
    • Brief overview of the subject
    • Basic context
    • Research questions and objectives
    • Hypotheses
  • Literature review
    • Analysis of current knowledge on the subject
    • Contradictions, inconsistencies, and gaps in knowledge
    • Potential for further study
    • Evidence of research relevance and perspectives
  • Methodology
    • Qualitative methods
    • Quantitative methods
    • Sampling techniques
    • Instruments, equipment, and other resources
    • Software and hardware requirements
    • Data processing and analysis methodology
    • Ethical considerations for studies with human subjects
  • Results
    • Presentation of primary data
    • Tables, charts, photos, and other visual aids
  • Discussion
    • Analysis and implications of results
    • Limitations of the study
  • Conclusion
    • Summary of major findings
    • Potential for further research
    • Theoretical and practical applications
  • Reference list
  • Appendices

There is no universal approach to dissertation outline writing, but this sample presents the most common study layout that should work regardless of your field of study, though some sections may not be applicable to your research. For instance, you only need to include ethical considerations in your dissertation outline if you deal with human subjects or private data. So, while Nursing, Psychology, and Medical students would likely need it, STEM majors could skip it in most cases. 

Bonus Dissertation Outline Writing Tips

We’ve covered the purpose and structure of an outline and explained its major pieces. Still, our professional academics wanted to share a few more writing tips that will help you get the most out of the planning stage of your postgraduate research.

  1. Reverse outline a thesis on a similar topic. While reading a dissertation outline example can be useful, mapping out a rough layout of another’s work is even more so. It will help you build connections between different sections of the dissertation and notice how to order your research in the most logical way.
  2. Get regular feedback from your academic advisor. Getting a second pair of eyes on your dissertation outline in the early stages will help guide your research in the right direction, keep it on track, and save you much time in the long run. 
  3. Make your dissertation outline as helpful as possible. After you submit a formal outline to your advisor (if necessary), keep adding to it to make it a tool uniquely suited to your needs. You can add paragraph topic sentences and paste reference data, links, and other materials you plan to use in different chapters. Keeping all this information in one place will help you write each section faster. 
  4. Keep track of different dissertation outline versions. You can do so by creating new files on your desktop or laptop or using a cloud-based word processor, like Google Docs or Microsoft Office 365. If you need to retrace your steps or restore an older version of the outline for any reason, having the option to review the edit history can be invaluable. 
  5. Pick the best grammatical construction for your chapter outlines. These one-passage-long summaries of the different sections of your thesis should be clear and concise, following the same rules. You can write them in active or passive voice, in first-person or third-person, or in the present or past tense, but the tone and structure should be consistent throughout your dissertation outline writing.

Our final piece of advice is to get help if you’re out of time and energy to deal with the dissertation outline on your own. Sometimes, it’s better to let things go and get a fresh perspective on your study, especially if you’re anxious to meet the submission deadline. Besides, all it takes is typing “write my paper” in a live chat window. Our support managers will take over from there and match you with the best person to deal with your outline.

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