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Dissertation & Thesis Outline | Example & Free Templates

Published on June 7, 2022 by Tegan George . Revised on July 18, 2023.

A thesis or dissertation outline is one of the most critical early steps in your writing process . It helps you to lay out and organize your ideas and can provide you with a roadmap for deciding the specifics of your dissertation topic and showcasing its relevance to your field.

Generally, an outline contains information on the different sections included in your thesis or dissertation , such as:

  • Your anticipated title
  • Your abstract
  • Your chapters (sometimes subdivided into further topics like literature review, research methods, avenues for future research, etc.)

In the final product, you can also provide a chapter outline for your readers. This is a short paragraph at the end of your introduction to inform readers about the organizational structure of your thesis or dissertation. This chapter outline is also known as a reading guide or summary outline.

Table of contents

How to outline your thesis or dissertation, dissertation and thesis outline templates, chapter outline example, sample sentences for your chapter outline, sample verbs for variation in your chapter outline, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about thesis and dissertation outlines.

While there are some inter-institutional differences, many outlines proceed in a fairly similar fashion.

  • Working Title
  • “Elevator pitch” of your work (often written last).
  • Introduce your area of study, sharing details about your research question, problem statement , and hypotheses . Situate your research within an existing paradigm or conceptual or theoretical framework .
  • Subdivide as you see fit into main topics and sub-topics.
  • Describe your research methods (e.g., your scope , population , and data collection ).
  • Present your research findings and share about your data analysis methods.
  • Answer the research question in a concise way.
  • Interpret your findings, discuss potential limitations of your own research and speculate about future implications or related opportunities.

To help you get started, we’ve created a full thesis or dissertation template in Word or Google Docs format. It’s easy adapt it to your own requirements.

 Download Word template    Download Google Docs template

Chapter outline example American English

It can be easy to fall into a pattern of overusing the same words or sentence constructions, which can make your work monotonous and repetitive for your readers. Consider utilizing some of the alternative constructions presented below.

Example 1: Passive construction

The passive voice is a common choice for outlines and overviews because the context makes it clear who is carrying out the action (e.g., you are conducting the research ). However, overuse of the passive voice can make your text vague and imprecise.

Example 2: IS-AV construction

You can also present your information using the “IS-AV” (inanimate subject with an active verb ) construction.

A chapter is an inanimate object, so it is not capable of taking an action itself (e.g., presenting or discussing). However, the meaning of the sentence is still easily understandable, so the IS-AV construction can be a good way to add variety to your text.

Example 3: The “I” construction

Another option is to use the “I” construction, which is often recommended by style manuals (e.g., APA Style and Chicago style ). However, depending on your field of study, this construction is not always considered professional or academic. Ask your supervisor if you’re not sure.

Example 4: Mix-and-match

To truly make the most of these options, consider mixing and matching the passive voice , IS-AV construction , and “I” construction .This can help the flow of your argument and improve the readability of your text.

As you draft the chapter outline, you may also find yourself frequently repeating the same words, such as “discuss,” “present,” “prove,” or “show.” Consider branching out to add richness and nuance to your writing. Here are some examples of synonyms you can use.

If you want to know more about AI for academic writing, AI tools, or research bias, make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples or go directly to our tools!

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When you mention different chapters within your text, it’s considered best to use Roman numerals for most citation styles. However, the most important thing here is to remain consistent whenever using numbers in your dissertation .

The title page of your thesis or dissertation goes first, before all other content or lists that you may choose to include.

A thesis or dissertation outline is one of the most critical first steps in your writing process. It helps you to lay out and organize your ideas and can provide you with a roadmap for deciding what kind of research you’d like to undertake.

  • Your chapters (sometimes subdivided into further topics like literature review , research methods , avenues for future research, etc.)

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George, T. (2023, July 18). Dissertation & Thesis Outline | Example & Free Templates. Scribbr. Retrieved November 11, 2023, from https://www.scribbr.com/dissertation/dissertation-thesis-outline/

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Creating a Dissertation Outline

Published by nicholas tippins on may 5, 2020 may 5, 2020.

Last Updated on: 30th August 2022, 04:26 am

When you begin the dissertation process, you’ll need to start outlining what the final dissertation will look like. Usually, this is accomplished as part of the process you undergo with your committee. 

You begin with a Prospectus, which is essentially an overview of what you plan to do. This serves the purpose of a traditional outline: gaining clarity on your area of focus, your research methods, and what you hope to accomplish with the study. If you’re at that stage, take a look at our article on writing a dissertation prospectus .

How to Write a Dissertation Outline

If you’ve moved on to the Proposal stage, you’ll want to start creating a dissertation outline.

Fortunately for you, most of the work is already done for you. Most institutions have very specific requirements about the sections that each chapter of your dissertation should have, as well as the order in which they appear. 

These requirements function as the structure of your dissertation outline. You just have to fill it in with the specifics of your study.

If you haven’t already, make sure to ask for whatever rubric, outline, or list of requirements your committee has for you.

woman in a white blouse working on her laptop next to a large pile of books

Sample Dissertation Outline

If you’ve looked at your committee’s rubric already and are unclear, or if you’re just looking to see a sample of what a dissertation outline might look like, we’ve included one below, based on official outlines from several universities as well as our own experience editing and coaching .

The structure of your dissertation will change slightly depending on whether it’s qualitative or quantitative. However, these differences aren’t significant in the outlining stage (it will usually just mean different titles for some sub-headings). 

Note that while this is an example of a dissertation outline, your institution may have a slightly different format or requirements. It’s important to look at whatever your committee gives you, as that will provide you the best guidance for how to write your dissertation outline. 

A dissertation title deserves special attention and has special requirements. Make sure that your title is in alignment with the rest of your sections. Essentially, it should be a variation on the phrasing of the problem and purpose statement. 

The title should feature the most important conceptual issue(s) being explored (for qualitative) or the key variables and the relationship between them (for quantitative), and the population being studied.

The Abstract is a summary of the study. Many students write their Abstract after they have completed their study and written the five chapters of their dissertation. Your Abstract should include :

  • Introduction to the topic
  • Problem statement
  • Purpose statement
  • Key research questions
  • Research method and design
  • Participants
  • Key Results
  • Conclusions and recommendations for future research.

Chapter 1: Introduction

Chapter 1 is the introduction to the study. Some of the material for Chapter 1 is already present in your Prospectus. It’s also a summary of what you plan to study, why it’s important, and what methods you plan to use.

Introduction to the Chapter: A few paragraphs introducing the study.

Background: Describe your area of study, relevant research, and identify the gap in research that you seek to fill.

Problem Statement: The problem you intend to address with your study. See this article on Alignment .

Purpose Statement: The purpose of the study. See this article on Alignment . 

Research Questions: The questions you seek to answer. Also see this article on Alignment .

Conceptual/Theoretical Framework: This is the lens through which you will be viewing your research. It must be an established theory.

Nature of the Study: A discussion of your method and design and how this will accomplish the purpose of the study.

Definition of Key Terms: Definitions of key terms and concepts, and (for quantitative) your variables. Include citations for your definitions.

Summary of the Chapter: A few paragraphs summarizing the chapter with a transition to Chapter 2.

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Chapter 2: Literature Review

Chapter 2 is when you have the most freedom of organization. Besides the initial sections, the bulk of the chapter’s organization is up to you. This is because you are expected to present a summary of the relevant research in whatever way makes the most sense. 

People most commonly organize their literature review by topic, but some choose to organize it chronologically or by other methods.

Introduction: After re-stating the problem and purpose of your study, provide a very brief overview of the relevant literature.

Documentation of Literature Search Strategy: In this section, you explain the way you went about conducting your literature review . For example, what search terms did you use and which databases did you search? How did you identify relevant literature?

Sub Topic a

Sub Topic b

Continue to create topics and subtopics until you’ve covered all of the literature you wish to discuss.

Summary: A brief summary of the literature. Reiterate the gap in literature that you’re seeking to f ill.

Chapter 3: Methodology

Chapter 3 is where you dive deep into the specifics of how you’ll execute your study.

Introduction: After re-stating the problem and purpose of your study, provide a very brief introduction to the methodology.

Research method and design: Describe your chosen design and why it is the best fit to accomplish the purpose of your study. 

Population: Describe the relevant population, specific characteristics, and the approximate size.

Procedures for recruitment and data collection: Here you describe the specific procedures for recruiting participants and collecting data.

Instruments: Identify your chosen instruments and explain why they are the best fit for your study. Describe who developed it and give scholarly citations for its effectiveness.

Data analysis plan: Here you describe the process for analyzing the data and identify any software you will use to assist you.

Assumptions: List aspects of the study that are believed but that you cannot verify to be true. Only include those that are of critical relevance to the study. 

Scope and Delimitations: Many people mistake this section for “limitations,” (since it sounds similar), but it’s really related to the boundaries you draw about what you will study and what you won’t. This includes aspects of the research problem as well as geographical boundaries or demographic requirements.

Limitations: Describe any weaknesses related to methodology or design as well as any biases that influence the study and how they will be addressed. Describe measures you are taking to reduce the effect of the limitations. (Don’t worry–every study has limitations! It actually reflects positively on you as a scholar to have the awareness necessary to see and articulate these).

Ethical Considerations: Here you discuss how you will comply with relevant ethical standards when conducting your study. This may include things like informed consent, protection of vulnerable populations, data security, etc. Include a note about getting IRB approval.

Summary : A brief summary and transition.

Note: You write the first three chapters BEFORE you conduct your study (this is your Dissertation Proposal). You write the final two chapters AFTER conducting your study, and change the tense in the first three chapters from future to past tense. Together, these five chapters make your completed dissertation.

Chapter 4: Results or Findings

Introduction: A brief introduction to the findings

Setting and Demographics: Report on the setting the study took place in and the demographics of the participants. Highlight any differences from your plan in Chapter 3.

Data Analysis: Describe the data analysis process. 

Results: Report the results of the study. Provide enough information so that the reader can understand and make an independent judgment about your decision. This section is usually fairly long and includes selections of data (numbers, charts, graphs, quotes from participants, etc.).

Summary: Briefly summarize the results and transition to Chapter 5.

Chapter 5: Interpretations, Conclusions, Recommendations

After rigorously citing your sources in the first three chapters, Chapter 5 is your opportunity to present your thoughts on the results of your study. Use this opportunity to its fullest potential! While many students just want to get their dissertation over with, a little extra care with this section can make a huge difference in the quality of your dissertation.

Introduction: Concisely summarize the findings.

Implications: Describe your interpretation of the findings. It’s important to make sure that the conclusions you draw are within the scope of your study. Support all of your conclusions with the research findings. Describe how these results relate to the problem and purpose of your study. Discuss how this study contributes to scholarly knowledge and could create an impact in the world.

Limitations: Describe the limitations of your study.

Recommendations for Future Research: Based on your findings and the limitations of your study, describe your recommendations for future research. This could be somebody’s dissertation in the future!

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Nicholas Tippins

Nicholas has been a dissertation editor since 2015. He founded a dissertation editing firm that served clients around the world. Currently, he manages the editing team at Beyond PhD Coaching.

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PhD dissertation outline: Creating a roadmap to success

PhD dissertation outline: Dissertation structure and format

A good PhD dissertation outline is as important to your dissertation as a map is to get you to your destination. Imagine for instance you’re trying to drive to a specific place to attend a party you’ve been looking forward to. You know the address, but you don’t have a map or a driving app. You get there eventually, but it takes a lot longer that it should have and stresses you so much that you’re in a bad mood when you get there. The party ends up being a bust. 

This is similar to trying to write an academic paper, especially a PhD dissertation, without using an outline. 

Why you need a PhD dissertation outline

When you do your PhD, outlines become the driving app for your academic paper, giving you direction so you know what’s in front of you. This is especially important for a PhD dissertation because of its physical length and the amount of time you will need to live with it. Successful PhD dissertation writing requires a laser focus, and an outline makes a great navigator. 

There are many advantages of creating a PhD dissertation outline 1,2 : 

  • Organize your project – Using an PhD dissertation outline will help you organize your thoughts and your work. If you have an idea or find a bit of information to include in a different section, simply write a note in the appropriate place to remind yourself. 
  • Stay on task – Like the driving app, a PhD dissertation structure keeps you on the proper road and minimizes distractions. When writing without keeping in mind your PhD dissertation structure, it’s easy to find yourself in the weeds. 
  • Increase productivity – A PhD dissertation outline keeps you aware of what you have to do, allows you to set goals, and be more productive. 
  • Save time – This is a major advantage in PhD dissertation writing. The faster you can successfully complete your dissertation process, the more money you’ll save, and the sooner you can get on with the rest of your life. 
  • Reduce anxiety – The effective use of a good PhD dissertation outline will give you control over this massive project. You’ll be more confident that you can successfully complete your PhD dissertation. 

How to write a PhD dissertation outline

So, now that you’re convinced that you need a PhD dissertation outline, where do you start? A few general steps will get you on the right road 3 : 

  • Select an appropriate topic: This one might seem obvious, but it is often a very difficult decision to make. The topic will guide the approach and research methodology. Although the research question will probably be tweaked along the way, not choosing a relevant topic at the start will result in chaos later on. 
  • Review other dissertations on your topic: This will give you an idea about what your PhD dissertation structure will look like. 
  • Draft a research problem: The research problem is the core of your dissertation and will guide your methodology and thus strongly influence your PhD dissertation structure. 
  • Get input from your advisor/supervisor: Seek advice from your supervisor on some PhD thesis outline examples and take advantage of any assistance they provide to help you choose wisely. This will help keep you on the right road

PhD dissertation structure

Doctoral dissertations typically have five standard chapters, although your university might have a specific required structure. Here is a brief description of the typical five-chapter PhD dissertation format 3 . 

Chapter 1: Introduction – This section provides an overview of the dissertation including its topic, purpose, and relevance. Typically, the general subject area is discussed and narrowed down to the research topic. Then, the research questions are posed, and the methodology is presented.  Chapter 2: Literature Review – A comprehensive survey and synthesis of existing studies on the research topic, the literature review demonstrates the research gap and sets the context for the research question. Depending on the topic, theory may also be explored. Existing methodologies used to address this topic are also discussed.  Chapter 3: Methodology – In this section, the methodology and materials used to collect and analyze the research data are presented in enough detail to demonstrate the validity of the method and allow the research to be duplicated by others.  Chapter 4: Results – The research findings are reported in this section and presented in relation to the research question. Relevant visuals such as tables and figures are typically included here to communicate the findings effectively.  C hapter 5: Discussion – In a five-chapter format, this is the final chapter in a PhD dissertation format. In this chapter, the findings are discussed and interpreted in light of the research question. Bits from all the chapters are synthesized to completely address the research question. 

An additional chapter is sometimes added that includes conclusions, recommendations, and suggestions for future research. 

Tips for creating your PhD dissertation outline 3,4

Finally, here are some quick and useful tips for your PhD thesis outline journey. 

  • Use the structure to complete the outline – Carefully think about each chapter and write down questions and information you will need. 
  • Create your outline early – Keep it up to date through your early research and advisor meetings. 
  • Be flexible – Changes will need to be made to your outline as you progress. 
  • Be detailed – You never know when a small piece of information you jotted down in your outline will save you time and anxiety. 
  • Keep in close contact with your PhD dissertation advisor/supervisor – Make sure to share your outline. You may just save yourself a lot of time and misery if major changes need to be made. 
  • Stay calm – Changes will come from different committee members. Remember, they are just trying to strengthen your work. 
  • Statistics Solutions. The benefit of outlining. https://www.statisticssolutions.com/the-benefits-of-outlining/ [Accessed 14 July 2022].
  • PapersOwl. How To Create An Outline For A Dissertation? https://papersowl.com/blog/outline-for-dissertation [Accessed 14 July 2022].
  • Research.com. What Is A University Dissertation: Structure, Challenges & Writing Tips. https://research.com/research/what-is-a-university-dissertation [Accessed 14 July 2022].
  • Docformats.com. Dissertation Outline Templates. https://www.docformats.com/dissertation-outline-templates/ [Accessed 14 July 2022].

Related Reads:

  • How to write an academic essay with references
  • PhD thesis first draft: 8 practical writing tips for PhD students
  • How to choose and use keywords in research papers
  • Manuscript withdrawal: Reasons, consequences, and how to withdraw submitted manuscripts

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9+ Dissertation Outline Template – DOC, PDF

A dissertation is usually a big fat research report with several different and elaborate chapters. It can be really messy if you do not start your dissertation based on a proper report outline template . An outline will give the needed skeleton for your dissertation so that you can be clear about the proper placement of chapters and the right points to be discussed.

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Grad Coach

Dissertation Structure & Layout 101: How to structure your dissertation, thesis or research project.

By: Derek Jansen (MBA) Reviewed By: David Phair (PhD) | July 2019

So, you’ve got a decent understanding of what a dissertation is , you’ve chosen your topic and hopefully you’ve received approval for your research proposal . Awesome! Now its time to start the actual dissertation or thesis writing journey.

To craft a high-quality document, the very first thing you need to understand is dissertation structure . In this post, we’ll walk you through the generic dissertation structure and layout, step by step. We’ll start with the big picture, and then zoom into each chapter to briefly discuss the core contents. If you’re just starting out on your research journey, you should start with this post, which covers the big-picture process of how to write a dissertation or thesis .

Dissertation structure and layout - the basics

*The Caveat *

In this post, we’ll be discussing a traditional dissertation/thesis structure and layout, which is generally used for social science research across universities, whether in the US, UK, Europe or Australia. However, some universities may have small variations on this structure (extra chapters, merged chapters, slightly different ordering, etc).

So, always check with your university if they have a prescribed structure or layout that they expect you to work with. If not, it’s safe to assume the structure we’ll discuss here is suitable. And even if they do have a prescribed structure, you’ll still get value from this post as we’ll explain the core contents of each section.  

Overview: S tructuring a dissertation or thesis

  • Acknowledgements page
  • Abstract (or executive summary)
  • Table of contents , list of figures and tables
  • Chapter 1: Introduction
  • Chapter 2: Literature review
  • Chapter 3: Methodology
  • Chapter 4: Results
  • Chapter 5: Discussion
  • Chapter 6: Conclusion
  • Reference list

As I mentioned, some universities will have slight variations on this structure. For example, they want an additional “personal reflection chapter”, or they might prefer the results and discussion chapter to be merged into one. Regardless, the overarching flow will always be the same, as this flow reflects the research process , which we discussed here – i.e.:

  • The introduction chapter presents the core research question and aims .
  • The literature review chapter assesses what the current research says about this question.
  • The methodology, results and discussion chapters go about undertaking new research about this question.
  • The conclusion chapter (attempts to) answer the core research question .

In other words, the dissertation structure and layout reflect the research process of asking a well-defined question(s), investigating, and then answering the question – see below.

A dissertation's structure reflect the research process

To restate that – the structure and layout of a dissertation reflect the flow of the overall research process . This is essential to understand, as each chapter will make a lot more sense if you “get” this concept. If you’re not familiar with the research process, read this post before going further.

Right. Now that we’ve covered the big picture, let’s dive a little deeper into the details of each section and chapter. Oh and by the way, you can also grab our free dissertation/thesis template here to help speed things up.

The title page of your dissertation is the very first impression the marker will get of your work, so it pays to invest some time thinking about your title. But what makes for a good title? A strong title needs to be 3 things:

  • Succinct (not overly lengthy or verbose)
  • Specific (not vague or ambiguous)
  • Representative of the research you’re undertaking (clearly linked to your research questions)

Typically, a good title includes mention of the following:

  • The broader area of the research (i.e. the overarching topic)
  • The specific focus of your research (i.e. your specific context)
  • Indication of research design (e.g. quantitative , qualitative , or  mixed methods ).

For example:

A quantitative investigation [research design] into the antecedents of organisational trust [broader area] in the UK retail forex trading market [specific context/area of focus].

Again, some universities may have specific requirements regarding the format and structure of the title, so it’s worth double-checking expectations with your institution (if there’s no mention in the brief or study material).

Dissertations stacked up


This page provides you with an opportunity to say thank you to those who helped you along your research journey. Generally, it’s optional (and won’t count towards your marks), but it is academic best practice to include this.

So, who do you say thanks to? Well, there’s no prescribed requirements, but it’s common to mention the following people:

  • Your dissertation supervisor or committee.
  • Any professors, lecturers or academics that helped you understand the topic or methodologies.
  • Any tutors, mentors or advisors.
  • Your family and friends, especially spouse (for adult learners studying part-time).

There’s no need for lengthy rambling. Just state who you’re thankful to and for what (e.g. thank you to my supervisor, John Doe, for his endless patience and attentiveness) – be sincere. In terms of length, you should keep this to a page or less.

Abstract or executive summary

The dissertation abstract (or executive summary for some degrees) serves to provide the first-time reader (and marker or moderator) with a big-picture view of your research project. It should give them an understanding of the key insights and findings from the research, without them needing to read the rest of the report – in other words, it should be able to stand alone .

For it to stand alone, your abstract should cover the following key points (at a minimum):

  • Your research questions and aims – what key question(s) did your research aim to answer?
  • Your methodology – how did you go about investigating the topic and finding answers to your research question(s)?
  • Your findings – following your own research, what did do you discover?
  • Your conclusions – based on your findings, what conclusions did you draw? What answers did you find to your research question(s)?

So, in much the same way the dissertation structure mimics the research process, your abstract or executive summary should reflect the research process, from the initial stage of asking the original question to the final stage of answering that question.

In practical terms, it’s a good idea to write this section up last , once all your core chapters are complete. Otherwise, you’ll end up writing and rewriting this section multiple times (just wasting time). For a step by step guide on how to write a strong executive summary, check out this post .

Need a helping hand?

sample of a dissertation outline

Table of contents

This section is straightforward. You’ll typically present your table of contents (TOC) first, followed by the two lists – figures and tables. I recommend that you use Microsoft Word’s automatic table of contents generator to generate your TOC. If you’re not familiar with this functionality, the video below explains it simply:

If you find that your table of contents is overly lengthy, consider removing one level of depth. Oftentimes, this can be done without detracting from the usefulness of the TOC.

Right, now that the “admin” sections are out of the way, its time to move on to your core chapters. These chapters are the heart of your dissertation and are where you’ll earn the marks. The first chapter is the introduction chapter – as you would expect, this is the time to introduce your research…

It’s important to understand that even though you’ve provided an overview of your research in your abstract, your introduction needs to be written as if the reader has not read that (remember, the abstract is essentially a standalone document). So, your introduction chapter needs to start from the very beginning, and should address the following questions:

  • What will you be investigating (in plain-language, big picture-level)?
  • Why is that worth investigating? How is it important to academia or business? How is it sufficiently original?
  • What are your research aims and research question(s)? Note that the research questions can sometimes be presented at the end of the literature review (next chapter).
  • What is the scope of your study? In other words, what will and won’t you cover ?
  • How will you approach your research? In other words, what methodology will you adopt?
  • How will you structure your dissertation? What are the core chapters and what will you do in each of them?

These are just the bare basic requirements for your intro chapter. Some universities will want additional bells and whistles in the intro chapter, so be sure to carefully read your brief or consult your research supervisor.

If done right, your introduction chapter will set a clear direction for the rest of your dissertation. Specifically, it will make it clear to the reader (and marker) exactly what you’ll be investigating, why that’s important, and how you’ll be going about the investigation. Conversely, if your introduction chapter leaves a first-time reader wondering what exactly you’ll be researching, you’ve still got some work to do.

Now that you’ve set a clear direction with your introduction chapter, the next step is the literature review . In this section, you will analyse the existing research (typically academic journal articles and high-quality industry publications), with a view to understanding the following questions:

  • What does the literature currently say about the topic you’re investigating?
  • Is the literature lacking or well established? Is it divided or in disagreement?
  • How does your research fit into the bigger picture?
  • How does your research contribute something original?
  • How does the methodology of previous studies help you develop your own?

Depending on the nature of your study, you may also present a conceptual framework towards the end of your literature review, which you will then test in your actual research.

Again, some universities will want you to focus on some of these areas more than others, some will have additional or fewer requirements, and so on. Therefore, as always, its important to review your brief and/or discuss with your supervisor, so that you know exactly what’s expected of your literature review chapter.

Dissertation writing

Now that you’ve investigated the current state of knowledge in your literature review chapter and are familiar with the existing key theories, models and frameworks, its time to design your own research. Enter the methodology chapter – the most “science-ey” of the chapters…

In this chapter, you need to address two critical questions:

  • Exactly HOW will you carry out your research (i.e. what is your intended research design)?
  • Exactly WHY have you chosen to do things this way (i.e. how do you justify your design)?

Remember, the dissertation part of your degree is first and foremost about developing and demonstrating research skills . Therefore, the markers want to see that you know which methods to use, can clearly articulate why you’ve chosen then, and know how to deploy them effectively.

Importantly, this chapter requires detail – don’t hold back on the specifics. State exactly what you’ll be doing, with who, when, for how long, etc. Moreover, for every design choice you make, make sure you justify it.

In practice, you will likely end up coming back to this chapter once you’ve undertaken all your data collection and analysis, and revise it based on changes you made during the analysis phase. This is perfectly fine. Its natural for you to add an additional analysis technique, scrap an old one, etc based on where your data lead you. Of course, I’m talking about small changes here – not a fundamental switch from qualitative to quantitative, which will likely send your supervisor in a spin!

You’ve now collected your data and undertaken your analysis, whether qualitative, quantitative or mixed methods. In this chapter, you’ll present the raw results of your analysis . For example, in the case of a quant study, you’ll present the demographic data, descriptive statistics, inferential statistics , etc.

Typically, Chapter 4 is simply a presentation and description of the data, not a discussion of the meaning of the data. In other words, it’s descriptive, rather than analytical – the meaning is discussed in Chapter 5. However, some universities will want you to combine chapters 4 and 5, so that you both present and interpret the meaning of the data at the same time. Check with your institution what their preference is.

Now that you’ve presented the data analysis results, its time to interpret and analyse them. In other words, its time to discuss what they mean, especially in relation to your research question(s).

What you discuss here will depend largely on your chosen methodology. For example, if you’ve gone the quantitative route, you might discuss the relationships between variables . If you’ve gone the qualitative route, you might discuss key themes and the meanings thereof. It all depends on what your research design choices were.

Most importantly, you need to discuss your results in relation to your research questions and aims, as well as the existing literature. What do the results tell you about your research questions? Are they aligned with the existing research or at odds? If so, why might this be? Dig deep into your findings and explain what the findings suggest, in plain English.

The final chapter – you’ve made it! Now that you’ve discussed your interpretation of the results, its time to bring it back to the beginning with the conclusion chapter . In other words, its time to (attempt to) answer your original research question s (from way back in chapter 1). Clearly state what your conclusions are in terms of your research questions. This might feel a bit repetitive, as you would have touched on this in the previous chapter, but its important to bring the discussion full circle and explicitly state your answer(s) to the research question(s).

Dissertation and thesis prep

Next, you’ll typically discuss the implications of your findings? In other words, you’ve answered your research questions – but what does this mean for the real world (or even for academia)? What should now be done differently, given the new insight you’ve generated?

Lastly, you should discuss the limitations of your research, as well as what this means for future research in the area. No study is perfect, especially not a Masters-level. Discuss the shortcomings of your research. Perhaps your methodology was limited, perhaps your sample size was small or not representative, etc, etc. Don’t be afraid to critique your work – the markers want to see that you can identify the limitations of your work. This is a strength, not a weakness. Be brutal!

This marks the end of your core chapters – woohoo! From here on out, it’s pretty smooth sailing.

The reference list is straightforward. It should contain a list of all resources cited in your dissertation, in the required format, e.g. APA , Harvard, etc.

It’s essential that you use reference management software for your dissertation. Do NOT try handle your referencing manually – its far too error prone. On a reference list of multiple pages, you’re going to make mistake. To this end, I suggest considering either Mendeley or Zotero. Both are free and provide a very straightforward interface to ensure that your referencing is 100% on point. I’ve included a simple how-to video for the Mendeley software (my personal favourite) below:

Some universities may ask you to include a bibliography, as opposed to a reference list. These two things are not the same . A bibliography is similar to a reference list, except that it also includes resources which informed your thinking but were not directly cited in your dissertation. So, double-check your brief and make sure you use the right one.

The very last piece of the puzzle is the appendix or set of appendices. This is where you’ll include any supporting data and evidence. Importantly, supporting is the keyword here.

Your appendices should provide additional “nice to know”, depth-adding information, which is not critical to the core analysis. Appendices should not be used as a way to cut down word count (see this post which covers how to reduce word count ). In other words, don’t place content that is critical to the core analysis here, just to save word count. You will not earn marks on any content in the appendices, so don’t try to play the system!

Time to recap…

And there you have it – the traditional dissertation structure and layout, from A-Z. To recap, the core structure for a dissertation or thesis is (typically) as follows:

  • Acknowledgments page

Most importantly, the core chapters should reflect the research process (asking, investigating and answering your research question). Moreover, the research question(s) should form the golden thread throughout your dissertation structure. Everything should revolve around the research questions, and as you’ve seen, they should form both the start point (i.e. introduction chapter) and the endpoint (i.e. conclusion chapter).

I hope this post has provided you with clarity about the traditional dissertation/thesis structure and layout. If you have any questions or comments, please leave a comment below, or feel free to get in touch with us. Also, be sure to check out the rest of the  Grad Coach Blog .

sample of a dissertation outline

Psst… there’s more (for free)

This post is part of our dissertation mini-course, which covers everything you need to get started with your dissertation, thesis or research project. 

You Might Also Like:

How to structure the literature review chapter



many thanks i found it very useful

Derek Jansen

Glad to hear that, Arun. Good luck writing your dissertation.


Such clear practical logical advice. I very much needed to read this to keep me focused in stead of fretting.. Perfect now ready to start my research!


what about scientific fields like computer or engineering thesis what is the difference in the structure? thank you very much


Thanks so much this helped me a lot!

Ade Adeniyi

Very helpful and accessible. What I like most is how practical the advice is along with helpful tools/ links.

Thanks Ade!


Thank you so much sir.. It was really helpful..

You’re welcome!

Jp Raimundo

Hi! How many words maximum should contain the abstract?

Karmelia Renatee

Thank you so much 😊 Find this at the right moment

You’re most welcome. Good luck with your dissertation.


best ever benefit i got on right time thank you

Krishnan iyer

Many times Clarity and vision of destination of dissertation is what makes the difference between good ,average and great researchers the same way a great automobile driver is fast with clarity of address and Clear weather conditions .

I guess Great researcher = great ideas + knowledge + great and fast data collection and modeling + great writing + high clarity on all these

You have given immense clarity from start to end.

Alwyn Malan

Morning. Where will I write the definitions of what I’m referring to in my report?


Thank you so much Derek, I was almost lost! Thanks a tonnnn! Have a great day!

yemi Amos

Thanks ! so concise and valuable

Kgomotso Siwelane

This was very helpful. Clear and concise. I know exactly what to do now.

dauda sesay

Thank you for allowing me to go through briefly. I hope to find time to continue.

Patrick Mwathi

Really useful to me. Thanks a thousand times

Adao Bundi

Very interesting! It will definitely set me and many more for success. highly recommended.


Thank you soo much sir, for the opportunity to express my skills

mwepu Ilunga

Usefull, thanks a lot. Really clear

Chrisogonas Odhiambo

That was incredibly useful. Thanks Grad Coach Crew!


My stress level just dropped at least 15 points after watching this. Just starting my thesis for my grad program and I feel a lot more capable now! Thanks for such a clear and helpful video, Emma and the GradCoach team!


Do we need to mention the number of words the dissertation contains in the main document?

It depends on your university’s requirements, so it would be best to check with them 🙂


Such a helpful post to help me get started with structuring my masters dissertation, thank you!

Simon Le

Great video; I appreciate that helpful information

Brhane Kidane

It is so necessary or avital course


This blog is very informative for my research. Thank you


Doctoral students are required to fill out the National Research Council’s Survey of Earned Doctorates

Emmanuel Manjolo

wow this is an amazing gain in my life

Paul I Thoronka

This is so good


  • What Is A Literature Review (In A Dissertation Or Thesis) - Grad Coach - […] is to write the actual literature review chapter (this is usually the second chapter in a typical dissertation or…

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A Step-by-Step Guide Creating Your Dissertation Outline

27 Nov 2021

All types of academic writing assignments are deservedly considered the most difficult for students to complete. It’s not only required to demonstrate creativity but theoretical knowledge and understanding of the structure and requirements of the work. In these terms, it’s hard to overestimate the importance of a Master's thesis and a candidate's dissertation. These projects sum up your entire university education. In this article, we will discuss:

  • How to start crafting a comprehensive dissertation outline that serves as the roadmap for your research and writing process
  • Explore the ways in which creating a well-structured chapters outline for your dissertation not only simplifies the task of research writing but also accelerates the entire process, ensuring coherence and clarity in your academic work.
  • What are the essential elements your dissertation should encompass, spanning from the introduction to the conclusion, ensuring your research work meets all criteria of a scholarly work.

To write a dissertation outline, you need to understand its importance and purpose. Let's start by identifying the main objectives of the dissertation outline.

Understanding the Purpose of an Outline

Writing a thesis is the final point in your studies. Responsible work requires a responsible approach, especially considering the volume and requirements of the dissertation. By using an outline strategy, you can save time and structure your work more effectively. Among the main advantages of the plan are these:

  • A dissertation outline brings order to your thoughts and ideas, helping you avoid repetition.
  • An outline will give shape to your ideas and help you organize your thoughts into structured paragraphs.
  • Having a plan in front of your eyes, you won’t miss important points.
  • The dissertation outline logically arranges the flow and the order of your thoughts, linking them together.

Writing a dissertation plan is a process that requires strategy and theoretical knowledge. By using our professional essay-writing services , you will ensure high-quality results and save your energy. We will be happy to help you complete the thesis chapter outline even in the shortest possible time.

Preliminary Steps Before Drafting the Outline

Now that you already know the purpose of creating an outline for your dissertation, the time has come to begin preparing to write it. Before you make an outline for all dissertation parts, you should pay attention to three preliminary steps:

  • Understand the guidelines

Study in detail the requirements and guidelines of your department and university regarding dissertation work. The key to writing a paper worthy of appreciation is understanding the requirements. Considering studying dissertation planning templates for a better idea.

  • Study the scientific context

Immerse yourself in the context of your dissertation topic. You must understand the specifics of existing literature on your topic, as well as the prospects for the development of future research.

  • Define the main research questions

After studying the available information, clearly outline the scope of your research problem and formulate the main research questions. The structure of a dissertation requires you to limit yourself to a few main areas of research and not to spread yourself across many topics.

Chapters of a Comprehensive Dissertation Outline

The title page is the first element of the dissertation structure. Your task is to give an overview of the topic of your work in a few words. We’ve already covered tips on writing research paper titles to help you out. To come up with a dissertation title yourself, conduct a brainstorming, highlighting the main ideas for the title, and use the most interesting option while avoiding ambiguity.

The abstract is a brief summary of the components of a dissertation. After reading the abstract, the audience should get a comprehensive picture of your work. These, together with the title page and table of contents, form a separate fragment at the beginning of a dissertation. Although the abstract and the table of contents are located at the very commencement, they should be written after completing work on the main text, having made all the conclusions. A proper dissertation abstract includes an introduction, purpose, methods, dissertation proposal, research results, and conclusions. Typically, this piece of text consists of 200-300 words.


To create an introduction chapter outline for dissertation, you should base it on four central elements:

  • Background information . You should introduce the reader to your topic by describing the background for choosing this particular research topic.
  • The scientific importance of your research . After all, the research question should not only be interesting to you but also introduce novelty into the scientific community. State the main reasons for conducting research on the topic of your thesis.
  • Define the boundaries of your research design . Indicate within what framework the study of the research question will be carried out and exactly which aspects of the chosen direction were considered in the work.
  • Formulate a goal or hypothesis that is revealed through your research .

Literature Review

A literature review chapter is necessary to highlight the under-researched elements of your chosen topic. First of all, you need to monitor existing sources on the topic of your research. Study works related to your field, selecting the most relevant ones. Then, identify gaps in the literature, namely issues that require further discussion. The final step of a literature review is to draw up a theoretical framework for your further research. Determine the main areas in which study and analysis will be carried out. This stage is integral for identifying the research question and most pressing scientific needs.


The research methodology of your dissertation is not a dry list of research methods. This integral part of your dissertation structure requires a clear explanation of the strategy you have chosen for data collection and data analysis of the research findings. You need to not only mention the research method used for data collection but also compare the feasibility of your choice.

Start your methodology by indicating whether you used quantitative, qualitative or mixed methods, explaining your choice. Tell who participated in your study and what the prerequisites were. Discuss the methods and procedures for collecting and analyzing data for your dissertation paper. Be sure to describe and analyze in your methodology the ethical issues you encountered in your research problem. The general requirements for a dissertation methodology state the scope should be 1,500 to 2,000 words.

After you have completed your research, you will have to present your discoveries. Describe the information obtained during the study. Please note that the research findings or results section of the dissertation only requires a presentation of your own discoveries regarding the topic. The data analysis of other sources has already been discussed in detail in the previous sections of a dissertation. Be concise and logical in listing the main research findings. This section encourages the use of visual material such as tables, graphics, charts, etc.

The discussion is the part of your dissertation that analyzes your findings in relation to the problem statement in the literature review and stated research questions. In this part, you need to logically connect the information you received during the research with your objectives and the main research questions. Explain exactly how the information you received is important for science and future research on the chosen topic. To write a good research paper , it is necessary to provide convincing arguments in favor of the conclusions you draw based on the data obtained.

Also, give an overview of to what extent you were able to disclose the issues identified in the literature review. Moreover, it’s required to discuss what factors limited your progress in studying the dissertation topic. Finally, review your intentions for future research in studying this scientific area. Identify which elements still require additional discussion and why it is important to pay attention to these factors.

The last part of the dissertation or thesis outline is the conclusion. In the final parts of the work, you need to summarize the information you received and the results achieved during the study. Include in the conclusion chapter all important discoveries and conclusions drawn from your research paper. This fragment should be brief and logically correspond to the tasks you set at the beginning of the dissertation. And don’t forget to also state what scientific contribution your study makes and how these discoveries are useful for the scientific community.


After your thesis chapters, the dissertation structure requires a bibliography. This is a list of literature sources that were used during the research. There are generally accepted formats that you must strictly adhere to. Study in detail a Ph.D. thesis outline template to know the requirements for the formatting. Every written, printed or electronic literary source must be included in the Bibliography.

Example Of A Dissertation Outline

It is better to see a sample dissertation outline once in practice than to read it in theory a hundred times. We advise you to familiarize yourself with dissertation outline example so that you have a clear understanding of how to write your own. Our professional dissertation writers tried their best to make your work easier and ensure that you have a hassle-free dissertation writing experience. Study the example we have given below and use it as a dissertation plan template for your own PhD thesis outline:

Tips for Crafting Outline Effective and Fast

Find a good topic.

If you choose a relevant topic, it will be easy for you to develop all five chapters of a dissertation later. To create a dissertation outline without any problems, choose a topic that interests you and that is relevant. The dissertation process is very energy-intensive, and it will go unnoticed if you are interested in what you are researching.

Be Prepared to Adjust Your Outline as Your Research Progresses

Your dissertation outline is a guide for further research, but you may need to make adjustments as you go. It is very difficult to accurately predict the direction of writing a dissertation paper , so drawing up an accurate plan is almost impossible. Be flexible and be prepared to make small adjustments to your dissertation writing strategy.

Stick to a Consistent Style and Format

Any scientific work requires adherence to a certain style and dissertation structure. The specificity of the dissertation implies the use of a formal scientific style without colloquial terms. It is also necessary to remember to follow the format for writing a scientific paper. Be sure to familiarize yourself with the requirements for formatting the chapters in a dissertation, research design, font, paragraph indentation, etc.

Design a Methodology for Gathering Data and Information

Based on what the research question requires, select the necessary research methods and draw up a methodology. Analyze the objectives you have set and determine the most appropriate ways to collect information. Perhaps interviews, surveys, or observations are suitable for you; the most important thing is that the methods of collecting information correspond to the assigned tasks.

Consult Your Supervisor or Colleagues

Very often, our research reaches a dead end because we lack a fresh perspective on the topic. If, in the process of writing a thesis outline, you find yourself in a blind corner, seek help from your colleagues or supervisor. Perhaps their perspective on the problems you are studying will shed a ray of light on your impasse. The main thing is to choose qualified assistants who can give practical advice.

Depth Over Breadth

Science loves precision and depth, so it is better to choose a limited number of topics and study them in detail than to be scattered in different directions. In the process of drawing up a dissertation/thesis outline, choose several main areas of study and weed out vague ones.

Regularly Revisit and Revise the Outline

Do not forget that the outline is your main guideline when writing a dissertation. During the research, consult and resort to the help of your plan so as not to stray from the intended way. This strategy will help you avoid missing any important elements of your research paper.

Need help with writing a dissertation?

Get your paper written by a professional writer

Outline – Your Main Dissertation Guideline

Students often doubt the need to write a dissertation outline, but we are ready to dispel all your doubts. A dissertation outline will not only save you time but will also help organize the flow of your ideas into a structured strategy for action. The dissertation layout will save you time during the writing process by serving as a guide as well. Contact PapersOwl for help in drawing up clear dissertation outline templates and ensuring the highest grade.

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Dr. Caroline Phd

I have always been a bit of a polymath – I loved going through encyclopedias, learning interesting facts about the world around us. Even when it was time to choose my major, I struggled a lot, as I wanted to learn everything about everything.

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