Brief Guide to Dissertation Outline & Main Chapters

Dissertations have always been one of the most challenging and time-consuming works in higher education. As a result, understanding the dissertation outline becomes a vital element that helps speed up the writing process and provide clear research goals.

Before a student begins a dissertation, it is necessary to develop an accurate structure and plan for research. An outline represents a guide that states the process to follow when preparing your dissertation. It also determines the ideas and concepts needed for a successful paper.

In this article, we provide a dissertation outline guide and give the common dissertation outline chapters along with general writing rules.

What is a dissertation outline?

A dissertation outline is a standard and concise structure used to keep students in line when researching and writing about a proposed topic. This prevents time wastage and the introduction of extra and unnecessary ideas.

Clearly outlining the dissertation chapters enables the collection of only required data and helps organize it in a more logical and structured way. The outline also helps connect arguments to the central thesis and avoid confusion and repetition as the lengthy paper is gradually written.

How many chapters in a dissertation?

A dissertation is a detailed piece of academic writing from original research submitted as part of a degree. The structure of a dissertation often depends on the student’s field; however, it is usually split into at least four or five chapters. This includes both an introduction and a conclusion chapter.

Different university professors may use different dissertation chapter outlines, but they mainly utilize five standard sections in general scientific papers. This usually contains a basic introduction, literature review, methodology, analysis, and a conclusion chapter.

How to write a dissertation outline

Generally, most dissertations are not structured the same. The form the research takes often determines a dissertation outline. However, the research format can depend on the discipline, location, topic, and approach.

For instance, dissertations in fields like humanities are primarily structured like a detailed essay, created by building an argument to support the central thesis. However, it is different for qualitative social science fields, where the results and discussion can be woven together rather than divided.

Creating a dissertation outline can be much more straightforward when you have a topic and a clear standard of writing. Here are a few things that can help you learn how to outline a dissertation:

  • Firstly, begin by choosing a relevant topic or field of study you can support well with scientific sources.
  • Next, scan through various academic journals before choosing the central thesis.
  • Present every concern with your process to an academic advisor to ensure your structure concentrates on approach, methodology, and arguments.
  • Read through scientific works and take note of their outlines.
  • Create each section of your dissertation according to the information gathered.
  • Cross-check your outline with your institution and department’s guidelines for structuring a dissertation

What are the chapters of a dissertation?

Before we provide the major dissertation outline chapters, it is good to note that no dissertation outline example will be suited for every field or subject. For example, the Social Science department usually includes 4-5 parts, but an assigned academic committee can add subtle changes. Generally, it is always better to check with your superiors to know how to proceed.

Below is the 5 chapter outline method for structuring a dissertation:

  1. Introduction

As with every academic paper writing, you need to begin with an introduction. The introduction starts the dissertation and gives a background of the researched topic. Next, the problem statement usually follows, serving as the general thesis idea. Still within the introduction are the study purpose and research questions significant for the topic. Then, finally, you have the definition of the terms used.

  1. Literature review

Chapter 2 dissertation focuses on the literature described, investigated, and studied in the dissertation. Depending on the topic, students may provide a detailed review of the sources.

  1. Methodology

The third chapter often differs the most from the different dissertation outlines. This is dependent on the chosen topic and methods of research. The qualitative methodology, quantitative methodology, and combined methodology analysis method are used.

  1. Research outcomes

The fourth dissertation chapter examines and explains the research findings. It is often structured with research questions or hypotheses provided.

  1. Conclusion and future research suggestions

The final chapter of a dissertation needs to offer a detailed summary of the findings. It is best to provide a conclusion that includes analytical thought. This can be achieved by mentioning suggestions for additional investigation or revealing a unique insight into the research ideas.


Now that you’ve learned how to structure your dissertation outline, your research and writing process should go more smoothly. By following the outline of each chapter, you can provide only the necessary information and produce a wholesome academic paper.

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