I was emailing with one of the members of the dissertation coaching site today and he was asking about how to structure and build his chapter outline. I tend to believe that if one person is asking me a question, it reflects questions that other people may have, so I thought I’d focus on building your chapter outline for this post.

A chapter outline is, simply, the specific listing of points or statements you will make in each section of your dissertation. In the Introduction, your points are likely to be more general and broad- seeking to encompass a wide range of theory, history, and concept. In your literature review, the chapter outline becomes somewhat more narrow, focusing more closely on the specific themes or areas which are the main topics of your project. In the remaining chapters, your chapter outline may follow a reasonably strict set of guidelines (especially for those of you completing quantitative dissertations.)

For those working in the humanities or other areas, your chapter outlines need to be broad enough to capture the main points, but specific enough to help you write on them. This can be be a delicate balance, and is somewhat difficult to convey. The idea behind your chapters is to present enough information to build your ‘case’ or support your main points, without drowning the reader in too much fact or fairness. As I’ve said before, the dissertation is, primarily, a persuasive paper. It may not (and need not) be a fair one. Your goal is to build support and belief for your perspective, and to tightly focus all the examples, literature, and findings to point in exactly the direction you want them to go.

This does not mean you ignore contradictory information. Rather, you find a way to "neutralize" it so that the reader realizes how insignificant it truly is. It’s the framework of saying "This was found, yes, but this is why that finding should be treated with caution."– so you bring up the contradiction and deftly address it at the same time.

When building your chapter outline, be sure to keep in mind how many pages your chapter should be (this can range from 15-50 pages), and be sure your outline will fit comfortably within the specified chapter length.

You must continually keep balancing conceptuality and practicality if you want to finish as quickly as possible.


If you want to finish your dissertation as fast as possible, I strongly suggest you join my dissertation coaching site. Members are making fast progress, with several people on target to finish this summer. Plus, if you join now, you’ll be eligible to attend the next dissertation coaching teleseminar at no extra charge. In case you’ve recently joined the notification list (welcome!) or missed the notifications before, or just want to take another look, here’s the link:

The Secrets of Dissertation Success