There are two aspects to making a dissertation outline – a practical list needs to be made, and a rough outline of the content you’re planning to write.

There are 31 different things you can use as the basis of your list, to begin with. This part is the least demanding part of the dissertation, as you’re really just getting organized here and planning what to do. The tasks should be more or less chronologically listed, so keep an eye on that.

After that, the outline. This part needs to state the concepts and thoughts you’re planning to include in the various sections of your work. It’s important to make a sketch of what you’ll be saying now so you can make sure it all works well together before you begin. There are a few different ways to do this, and the two we’ll deal with here are the most common – linear mapping and mind mapping, or concept-planning.

The camps are often divided when it comes to choosing the “best” one, and they each have their advantages and disadvantages.

Choose the option that works for you and stick with it, using the same method for each chapter. This ensures that your work is consistent and coherent, and avoids tautology and other literary mistakes.

It’s best to take a flexible approach to your dissertation plan. It is a fluid idea that may develop and change as you work with it, so don’t get too attached to any particular thought – if something no longer fits, drop it and move on. When in doubt, ask a supervisor if you’re still on the right track.


This method, linear planning, involves making a list of tasks in the order you’ll be doing them from start to finish. Your outline will then be very clear, although critics will say that this is a more rigid approach that leaves less room for maneuver than concept-planning/mind mapping. For this method, use the chapter headings advised by your supervisor, or if you like, the headings below:

  1. Introduction and rationale: ‘Why am I writing this dissertation?’ ‘What drew me to this topic?’
  2. Research question: Your terms must be clearly outlined here in this section.
  3. Outline of the literature: Make sure to include who the key thinkers are, what the primary texts being referenced are, and what the underlying theory or idea of the whole work is. Choose the 4 or the 5 heading.
  4. Research methodologies:
    1. Advantages and disadvantages of the different methods used in researching (observation, interview, etc.)
    2. Present your data clearly
    3. Analyze and discuss the data you’ve discovered
  5. Primary theorists and supporters:
    1. Opposing arguments and supporters
    2. Your personal take on the argument (and supporting theorists)
  6. Conclusions and suggestions for further research: What have you learned with regards to the research question and what ideas do you have for further developments.
  7. Appendices and bibliography: All the references and materials used.


Some learners are more visually orientated. If you’re a visual learner/thinker, then a concept/mind map may be the most suitable approach for you. The shortfall here is that your dissertation, obviously, will be linear and not presented as a mind map, so there is some extra work involved in converting your mind map.

A major benefit of a concept map is the ability to adjust and change your tasks as you go without disrupting the whole process and having to rewrite the map over again.


A major shortfall of to-do lists is that it’s easy to get so caught up in them that you leave little time for your dissertation! This is a tool that must be used wisely and sparingly for it to be effective. When this is done, they can be very useful for:

  • Keeping an overview of your work in front of you.
  • Recording your progress clearly
  • Developing a sense of accomplishment and progress as you check items off your list.

Each list is unique, but the one below contains many points that are typically key features of every dissertation to-do list, so take a look and see whether they apply to yours – they usually all will.

  • Choose a topic and do some preliminary investigations.
  • Read through dissertations written by other students.
  • Write a proposal/finalize your research question.
  • Consult a supervisor for approval.
  • Will your dissertation be empirical or non-empirical? Choose one.
  • For an empirical study, consider your research methodologies and run these ideas by your supervisor.
  • Be sure to organize yourself and figure out how you’re going to keep your notes in order.
  • Don’t forget to read! Hit the books and take notes as you go.
  • Discover the advantages and disadvantages of the different research methodologies.
  • Begin planning your literature review and research methodologies (in detail) – these notes will be incorporated into your dissertation over time, so take them well.
  • Plan the overall structure of your dissertation with outlines for each chapter.
  • Writer’s block? A good way to get started is the introduction/rationale. Get that done and the rest will start falling into place.
  • Keep in touch with your supervisor and keep sending them your drafts.
  • Make sure that you have ethical clearance and subject permissions if you’re doing empirical work.
  • Roughly plan the general arguments (for and against) for your dissertation. For empirical work, find ideas to support your findings and contextualize your work. If your work is non-empirical, deal with this item in a detailed way.
  • Carry out any necessary empirical work if that applies to your dissertation topic.
  • Empirical only: organise the data you’ve gathered so far and outline any challenges you came across and how you overcame them (this will come in handy later on when you need to go over the research methodologies).
  • Empirical only: Carry out data analysis and talk about your conclusions with your supervisor.
  • Non-empirical only: Talk to your supervisor about the key thinkers and detractors of the topic, ensure that you’ve understood their ideas and that you haven’t left anyone important to your particular topic out of the dissertation.
  • Detail your thoughts.
  • Your Intro and conclusion must be written up.
  • For empirical work, double check your information like diagrams, charts, etc. , and plan the appendices.
  • Send more draft work to your supervisor.
  • Make sure that you’ve done everything on the list so far and compile all your data in a coherent manner, following the list. Congratulations! This is your first draft, ready to go.
  • A new to do list must be made here to make sure you’re not forgetting anything or leaving anything out – everything has to be covered.
  • Do the final draft work (editing what you have and tie up any loose ends).
  • Get a friend to proofread your work as you go or consult a professional.
  • Always keep your supervisor informed and keep making appointments to make sure that they have enough time in advance for when you’re in need.
  • Look into the binding regulations and make sure that you’re up to speed with how to have your dissertation bound correctly.
  • Always keep an eye on the submission date! You don’t want to be penalized for a mistake so simple as getting the date wrong and submitting it late.
  • Take a break! You’re done – congrats.


Manage your time realistically

Chances are, you have never worked on a dissertation (its outline included) before, so you might overestimate your skills as a writer and a researcher. By the end of your university program, it may seem as if you already know everything there is to know about academic writing, research, and proper formatting. While it may be true to a certain extent, a dissertation is still a very complex and lengthy assignment, and you will be working on it for the first time. So, it’s totally not the right time to postpone or procrastinate.

Ideally, you should start working on a dissertation plan as soon as you get your topic approved. First, it takes a lot of time to collect all the info and come up with a plan for your research. Next, crafting an outline takes time, too. Finally (sad as it may sound), your first dissertation outline will unlikely be approved in all entirety. It is possible, of course; however, in most cases, the supervisor will require a lot of changes to be made. All in all, you can consider yourself very lucky if the second draft gets the approval. Usually, though, it happens on the third-fourth attempt. And – what is even more important – more or less the same logic applies to your first dissertation draft. Bottom line, suspension is not your friend here.

Don’t be ashamed to ask for help

Since you have never worked on a dissertation before, you are totally entitled to some help. So, if you have any questions and concerns, take them directly to your scientific supervisors – after all, it is their job to guide you through the dissertation writing process. Surely, the actual degree of assistance and collaboration will mostly depend on the particular professor you are working with; still, remember – you do have the right to ask for it.

Finally, you may come to a point in your dissertation writing process when you need a bit more than advice. Sometimes, students require more practical help with dissertation writing, structuring, formatting, editing or proofreading. If any (or even all of those) is the case with you, do not hesitate to contact the professionals. Consulting an expert essay writing agency can save you a lot of time and effort on all of those stages.