Outlining is the first step to writing effectively. Many times, dissertation writers run into problems when they need to make the transition from researching their idea or their topic into actually writing about their topic. The number one reason this becomes a problem is because most dissertation writers do not take time to outline the topic prior to writing it. Outlining is a necessary step between research and writing, and here’s why.
When you try to write directly from your thoughts or your notes, or some ideas that you have, automatically your writing is not going to follow a logical structure or a coherent pathway. What is going to happen then is you will sit down to write, and the writing will be extremely difficult. You will find yourself writing sentences and not know where you’re trying to go with your concept. You will find yourself writing things, and you are not sure if they belong in the section that you’re working. The best antidote to that kind of confusion is to actually take the time to create an outline before writing. It sounds basic; however, an outline can make a significant difference in the ease with which you write your dissertation.
So when we talk about outlining, what are we looking at? We are looking at a structured format whether or not it’s the standard Roman Numeral I, II, and III or some type of a structured format that allows you to organize your ideas by theme or by section. For example, if you take your outline or checklist for what should be in your chapter II, it may look something like this: One section on what the research problem, another section on what are the five big themes in the literature that you need to be aware. Then, you will need to discover or relate your research hypotheses, and then you may need to talk about the limitations of the study. Again, everyone’s literature review may be a little bit different, but I just want to give you an example of the kinds of sections that may be in at least some part of your dissertation, whether or not it’s called the literature review.
The point being is that you have these natural divisions within your paper, and those divisions are actually mandated by your graduate school. So it’s important to make sure that your writing into that structure as early as you can. What I would recommend is that you take a piece of paper and that you go ahead and write in the section headings for each of the requisite sections that must be in whatever chapter you are working on. What you would do is label the first section–Number 1, the second section–Number 2, the third section—Number 3, and so on. When you set up these sections, be sure to leave enough room on your word processing sheet or on your piece of paper so that you can actually go back in and write down some ideas or thoughts that would belong under each of those sections. For example, let’s say that your first section is a review of the literature. Then what you would do is, you would break that section down further into subsections, and the subsections would relate to the important themes or topics that you need to cover in that area. So remember, that dissertation is not about just reporting what was what in the literature or reporting what was found. It’s about reading it for yourself and then synthesizing it into something that is more of a summary or a broad overview of the literature.
That kind of synthetic thinking can be somewhat difficult to convey on paper, but it’s actually what you do anyway. You’ve already created some idea about why your study is a good one to do. Now, it’s just a matter of outlining it appropriately and actually writing it out so that the reader can understand it too. So, when you look at the major themes, think about what kinds of information has to be synthesized to create a coherent picture and fill out all of the sections of that chapter.
Your next step then is when you’ve identified the themes is to actually go back and one more time and jot down maybe two, or three, or five ideas under each of those themes. So, by building it up in increments, you all of a sudden go from some chapter headings or title headings (which don’t mean anything to you) to actually an outline that is semi-filled out where you actually put in your own data or your own content in terms of the questions you need to answer. Then you build it out a little bit further by putting in more specifics to your project.
So that is how you take a generic outline process and really make it your own related directly to your own projects. Once you’ve done that, it will be important at that point to note any place where you need to do some additional research or where you may need to check facts and figures before proceeding. I would go ahead and just make a note in that section of the outline that you need to reread this item or re-review that chapter prior to writing. I would always start by writing what you know, so that once you’ve outlined a section and if you feel pretty comfortable that you can go ahead and write to it, I would go ahead and start there. If you get stuck in the writing, just refer back to your outline and be thinking about where it is you have to take this particular section or category–where you have to begin and where you have to end up, so that it flows into the next theme that you’ve already identified.
By taking the time to set up this kind of outline at the beginning, your writing process will be much easier and will proceed more smoothly.