Expert Tips

Organizing A Good Qualitative Dissertation Outline

One of the most common types of dissertations is the qualitative – used primarily in the social sciences. You can usually find a structured qualitative dissertation sample template by visiting your department’s website or by checking online. But you can also create one of your own by following this simple advice:

  • Organize your material by chapters first
  • Assuming you have written at least a first draft of your research study you can create your qualitative dissertation outline by first grouping related materials into your main chapters. The number of chapters you have will depend largely on your topic and discipline. Most graduate research projects in social sciences have about nine chapters – the Introduction, Review of Literature, Methodology 1, Methodology 2, Methodology 3, Research Findings, Conclusions, Discussion, and Suggestions for Future Research. Use these to create your top-level headers.

  • Create sub-sections within each chapter
  • Within each chapter, create sub-sections for each important topic discussed in your work. This can be very complicated, so our best advice is that you approach each chapter individually. Take one chapter and group related material together. Give each group a working title, even if you aren’t clear what that section is entirely about. No two chapters will have the same sub-sections (except maybe for the methodologies), so don’t simply apply the same structure for each chapter.

  • Make a List of All Required Sections
  • In addition to the chapters of the main text, there probably are a number of other sections you are required to put in (e.g., appendices and bibliography). Check with your department or ask your advisor for these sections. It’s better to have a complete list before you get started with the difficult task of writing. Making changes to your document just before it is finished can be harder than getting it right from the start. If you have any doubts about the required sections as an academic expert or a classmate.

  • Start Simple before Adding the Details
  • From experience, you probably already know that it’s easier to create a qualitative dissertation proposal outline in broad strokes before getting down to the specific details. Start by putting in all the top-level section – assigning each one an upper-case Roman numeral. Next, put in your second-level sections beneath each appropriate top-level item. For consistency label each one with a lower case letter. Finally, go into further detail by adding your bottom-level content using lower case roman numerals.

  • Double-Check Your Outline Before Starting
  • Before you start writing your draft always double-check your outline to ensure it is structure properly. So, how do you know if it’s correct? Review the material and make sure it makes sense logically and is ordered in a way to effectively make your argument. It’s far easier to make adjustments now, so rearrange accordingly.

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