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Advanced Research & Doctoral Dissertation

Outline Method

I utilized a phased outline approach in order to make the transition from a mountain of articles to an organized and cohesive literature review.  Review the tabs below to see each step in detail.  The images at the bottom are screenshots of the actual outline I used for my dissertation lit review - scroll through to see how the outline changed throughout the process!

  • Determine the main concepts you wish to discuss.  It helps to examine the idea clusters that you have identified in the literature.  I did this by sorting the data in my article tracker spreadsheet by theme.
    • Alternatively, the NVIVO software also offers similar functionality. 
    • Those with a more tactile print approach might sort their articles based on a physical system (color coded post-its, etc.)
  •  Decide on the order in which you will address each concept and begin drafting the basic outline. 

  • If you get stuck, ask yourself: 
    • What is it that I'm trying to say here? 
    • How does this relate to my research question(s)?
    • Why is this important to the research question? 
  • Begin to fill in the subheadings of your outline
  • Revise the outline and the organization as you learn more or adapt your approach

  • If you get stuck, continue to ask: 
    • What is it that I'm trying to say here? 
    • How does this relate to my research question(s)?
    • Why is this important to the research question?
  • Add article citations and relevant excerpts / quotes to each section 
    • I used different color fonts in order to distinguish my ideas from the words of others
  • Take a look at how much content falls under each heading and sub-heading. 
    • Are there areas that are thin and need additional sources or background information? 

  • If you get stuck, think about scope: 
    • How does this relate to my research question(s)? 
    • Does this idea belong in my dissertation? Or is it something for further study in the future? 
  • Continue to refine and adapt the outline, and the sequence of ideas
  • Begin to replace quotes and excerpts with your own words
  • Copy your final outline to the body of a fresh document to begin writing!  You can reference your original outline throughout the writing process as needed. 

** PRO TIP** Once in the body of a fresh doc, turn your outline into your table of contents!

  • Highlight each outline heading and subheading, and select the appropriate heading level and style in accordance with your style guide
  • Reset the default heading and subheading styles of each heading and subheading in your document
  • Insert your table of contents and adjust as needed
Outline Phase One
Outline Phase Two
Outline Phase Three
Outline Phase Four
Outline Becomes Table of Contents