Any great journey begins with a single step. Think of your dissertation as a great journey. You’ve been preparing, learning and working toward this goal for years. Your dissertation is the final and arguably the most important step in your education and preparation for your future career. So how do you tackle the behemoth that is your dissertation? Just looking at the university’s guidelines to see what is required isn’t enough, you must do the planning and organization beforehand if you want to stay on course. One great way to accomplish this is to create a dissertation outline. This outline can serve to keep you organized and on topic, as well as giving you an idea of where you’re going with the direction of your manuscript. Here are some great tips for creating a helpful outline.

Understanding the Main Points

The first thing you need to do when developing your dissertation outline is to make sure you’re fully aware of all the guidelines the university requires of your paper. Many universities are quite particular about the format and inclusion of certain main sections, and you will benefit by knowing them inside and out. There are several main aspects typically present in a dissertation that you can plan for, and they are as follows:

  1. The Abstract
  2. Chapter 1: Introduction (the problem statement, background of the problem, purpose of the study, significance of the study, research questions and/or hypotheses, assumptions, and limitations)
  3. Chapter 2: Literature Review (topics and sub-topics will be unique to your research)
  4. Chapter 3: Methodology (overview of the design, research questions and/or hypotheses, the sample, data collection procedures, data analysis)
  5. Chapter 4: Results or Findings (organized unique to your design)
  6. Chapter 5: Conclusions and Discussion (also includes recommendations for future research and summary)
  7. Appendices
  8. References
  9. Any other pertinent information.

Protecting Your Outline

Always be smart when starting work on your dissertation, especially when it comes to electronically protecting your work. Make sure to back up your files weekly on a disk or thumb drive, and rename the file of each edit so you know you have the most updated version. Also, create a special file for each chapter of your dissertation on your computer and a hard copy in a file drawer, and make sure to keep your most current editions in the file, storing older editions in a separate file. It may seem like overkill, but as we all know, computers can sometimes crash or malfunction, and if you’re careless you could lose your whole dissertation, and I don’t have to tell you what a nightmare that would be.

Developing a plan and sticking to it can save you a lot of time and stress if done correctly. Keep your files separate and updated, and you’ll find your dissertation doesn’t need to be quite as daunting as you previously thought.