Dissertation Plan / Outline

When it comes to tackling a dissertation, having a plan of attack is the best way to start.

Whether you are required to complete a dissertation outline, or you want to write one for your own personal use, having one handy will keep you on track. It is also advisable to get your outline approved by your supervisor so that you can confidently carry out your research.

In this post, we will show you what to include in your dissertation outline and, most importantly, how to get it approved by your supervisor.


This is the section of the dissertation which adds colour to your work. It absorbs the reader and lets them know what will be discussed, why it will be discussed and how the dissertation will progress in order to reach a conclusion. It is vital that you include the following two sections in order to define your research and make your intentions very clear to the reader.

Research aim

This is simply a statement (or many statements) that outlines the aims of your research. What are you hoping you will achieve by writing your dissertation (other than passing your degree)?

Research question

This part states the question you intend to answer, or the hypothesis you wish to test over the course of your research.

In order to get this part approved by your tutor, you need to have solid questions and aims. To do this, you need to be sure that your aims and your question are realistic, testable and make sense.

Literature Review

Your literature review is where all the existing research on your topic is compiled and critiqued. It is also where you will decide how your research can continue from what others have done, by exposing their limitations. Please note that the literature review is where all of your secondary research is compiled. Your primary research (if any) will be discussed in later chapters.

In your outline, you should indicate what kind of literature review you intend to write. The most popular types are chronological and thematic.

Chronological literature reviews look into a topic by researching how it has developed over a period of time. This would be useful if your topic is time sensitive, for example, if you were researching the success and failures of Apple Inc. over a five year period. To impress your tutor in your outline, write an initial timeline of sources that you have found and discuss why each source is important to your topic.

For a thematic literature review, your sources are organised into themes and concepts. For example, if you were writing a dissertation about the events which caused the Second World War, you could split the literature review into the various causes and discuss them individually with reference to how other academics have interpreted them. When writing your outline for a thematic literature review, make it clear what themes you are going to discuss and justify why you have chosen to write about them. This can be done by providing the initial sources you have found to discuss and perhaps providing a few quotes so that your supervisor can see your thought process.

If you are unsure how you want to organise your literature review, then discuss the best way to approach it with your supervisor. Literature reviews are fundamentally about assessing the strengths and limitations of existing research, so to kick-start this chapter you could compile a list of sources in a table as shown below:

Source Strengths Limitations

This would be a great way to start your research and prove to your supervisor that you are thinking carefully about what sources you are using.


The methodology outlines how you intend to do your own research, now that you are aware of the limitations of existing research. This is arguably the most important chapter in your outline, because it tells your supervisor what primary research you intend to collect. This is why, when you write your outline, you have to make sure you justify everything you intend to do in your research.

The first step is to decide whether you will compile quantitative research (statistics, numbers or questionnaires), qualitative research (interviews or focus groups), empirical research (observations and personal experience), or a mixture of different research methods. This decision depends entirely on what the topic of your dissertation is. Again, if you are not sure, ask your supervisor to advise you.

The most essential part of outlining your methodology is that you state why you have chosen to do your research in a certain way. Think of it as a sales pitch to your supervisor; you have to convince them that you are going to be able to collect your data and that by doing so, you will reach an appropriate conclusion. If you really want to impress them, you could provide a draft of a questionnaire or interview questions, or the contact information of people you intend to talk to.

Findings / Discussion / Conclusion

It’s very difficult to write the next two sections as you haven’t conducted your research yet. Your supervisor will know this so they will not be expecting anything substantial. However, you could give them an idea of how you intend to present your data. For example, if your research is very statistical, you could state that you want to present the work as pie charts or diagrams.

For the conclusion, it is worth just letting your super visor know that you intend to discuss whether your research has answered your question, the limitations of your research and recommendations for future study.   

Your outline should be no more than 1000 words. While it is reasonable to expect that part of what you write in your outline may change over the course of your research, having an initial outline will keep you from going off track and will give you sturdy foundations when compiling your research and writing up your dissertation.