4 steps to design your outline

One of the most challenging phases of the writing process is probably the outline of your thesis.  Actually everything is interesting, important, worse to be told. The problem is that you cannot tell everything. You will lose yourself and, by the way, get your reader lost. Less is more. Rather concentrate on one specific goal and keep your goal in mind while choosing what to leave apart and what to focus on. This article aims to help you to design clear chapters breaking down the huge “mountain” thesis using a simple – but efficient – technique.

Your thesis will consist in an introduction, a conclusion and several chapters (if you write a thesis on articles,  you can apply the following method do design your articles as well. Replace the word “chapter” with “section”). This  technique consists in 4 steps. How can you proceed?

Step 1

Before you start designing your outline, ask yourself 4  questions. Those questions are essential to taylor your text according to your intentions:

  • What is the final goal of your thesis? Make sure it is a SMART goal (see picture beside).
  • Who are the addressed readers? Be as precise as possible.
  • What is the message you want to convey? The message is a statement, a clear, short sentence.
  • What is the starting problem of your research?

Write down your answers, in order not to forget them underways.

Step 2

Then decide what is going to happen between the beginning (the starting problem) and the end (the goal) of your text. Write them down on a whiteboard or on a big sheet of paper, so will you get a good overview.



Then write down the intermediary goals which will lead to the final goal. Make sure that each intermediary goal is a SMART goal itself. What do you need to reach first? And then? Perhaps you will have more than 3, the picture is just an example.

Step 4

Each of these intermediary goals represents one chapter. Now you can use the following questions to gn each chapter:

  • What is the goal of this chapter?
  • How is this goal related to the final goal of your research?
  • What is the link between this chapter and your thesis research question?
  • What are the starting questions for this chapter?
  • What is the main idea (one idea, the one you would write in bold it if it was possible) of this chapter?
  • What is the outline for this chapter?

A tip: Use pieces of paper (one answer, one piece of paper). You will be more likely to experiment and to play with different options than if you list up everything in your computer.


If you structure your chapters this way, you ensure the coherence of your chapter:

  • You will avoid being off topic.
  • You will ensure the necessity of the chapter by considering the main goal of your thesis.
  • You will ensure the links between chapters.
  • You can easily verify if  information is missing, or if a given idea is inconsistent with the topic of the chapter.

Once you are happy with your outline, write it in your computer and send it to your supervisors. Avoid starting to write without their agreements. In case they would disagree with your outline, it will be much easier to modify it than to rewrite the whole text.




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  1. Hi Prof. Martha, I just wanted to say thank you for the amazing course “write your thesis’.
    Now I see where I am going to and feel motivated to start to write.
    Thanks again,

    1. I am so happy about your message, Marcelo!
      I wish you a gread continuation with your thesis.
      Kind regards,
      Martha 🙂

  2. Thank you so much for this interesting information! This will be really helpful for every student.

  3. I hope your week has started out good. Mine does in any case, applying your method! It is amazing! Thanks a lot, Martha. Warm regards, Caroline.

  4. Thanks for this post, Martha! it is really simpler to design an outline if you have some method :)!

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