Dissertation & Thesis Outline | Example & Free Templates

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.

Tip
You can find a thesis and dissertation outline template below, as well as a chapter outline example, and example sentences and words.

How to outline your thesis or dissertation

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

  1. Working Title
  2. Abstract
    • “Elevator pitch” of your work (often written last).
  3. Introduction
  4. Literature Review
    • Subdivide as you see fit into main topics and sub-topics.
  5. Methodology (can differ between quantitative and qualitative research)
  6. Results
  7. Conclusion
  8. Discussion
    • Interpret your findings, discuss potential limitations of your own research and speculate about future implications or related opportunities.
Tip
For a more detailed overview of chapters and other elements, be sure to check out our article on the structure of a dissertation or download our template.

Dissertation and thesis outline templates

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

Tip
Remember that it’s usually considered best practice to use Roman numerals in your formatting (e.g., I, II, III rather than 1, 2, 3), but each citation style has its own best practices for using numerals. APA Style doesn’t allow for numerals in headings at all.

Chapter outline example

Chapter outline example American English

Sample sentences for your chapter outline

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: Passive construction
An introduction to the problem is presented in Chapter 1 and the relevant literature is discussed in Chapter 2.

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: IS-AV construction
Chapter 1 presents an introduction to the problem and Chapter 2 discusses the relevant literature.

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: “I” construction
In Chapter 1, I discuss the cause of the problem. In Chapter 2, I then discuss the literature. In Chapter 3, I discuss the methods.

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.

Example: Mix of different constructions
Chapter 2 contains a review of the relevant literature that I used for the purposes of this paper. The methods used in the study are then described in Chapter 3, after which the results are presented and discussed in Chapter 4.

Sample verbs for variation in your chapter outline

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.

Address Describe Imply Refute
Argue Determine Indicate Report
Claim Emphasize Mention Reveal
Clarify Examine Point out Speculate
Compare Explain Posit Summarize
Concern Formulate Present Target
Counter Focus on Propose Treat
Define Give Provide insight into Underpin
Demonstrate Highlight Recommend Use

Frequently asked questions about thesis and dissertation outlines

How should you refer to chapters in your thesis or dissertation?

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.

Where does your dissertation title page go?

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

What is a thesis or dissertation outline?

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.

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

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Tegan George

Tegan is an American based in Amsterdam, with master's degrees in political science and education administration. While she is definitely a political scientist at heart, her experience working at universities led to a passion for making social science topics more approachable and exciting to students. A well-designed natural experiment is her favorite type of research, but she also loves qualitative methods of all varieties.