How do I Write a Thesis Outline?

B. Miller

Writing a thesis outline before you write your thesis is a great way to organize your thoughts. It helps your paper to progress in a logical way, as well as ensuring that all your material is covered. Preparing a thesis outline also helps you to identify areas that are inadequately covered, or which are explained in too much detail. It is best to begin with your thesis statement, and to gather all your research in one place.

Woman standing behind a stack of books
Woman standing behind a stack of books

Most people write a thesis outline in the form of a bulleted list, because this is not only easy to write, but it is easy to reference later. The list might have a series of indentations all the way down. For instance, one might create a few topic headings to indicate the main points of the paragraphs in the thesis, and then indent additional bullets underneath those headings with supplementary details and information.

It might be helpful to use different types of indicators for each point in the thesis outline. For example, in topics that will be paragraph headings, you might choose to use Roman numerals. For indented details underneath those, you might use numbers, and for any additional indents underneath the details, you might use letters. This makes it easy to understand, and gives your information a hierarchical scheme which can make it simpler to write the thesis when the thesis outline is complete.

Some people find it helpful to create a two- or three-column thesis outline. The first column can be the bulleted outline as described above, whereas the second column might include additional notes that may be too long to fit into the outline. A third column might include relevant quotes that can be incorporated into the paper, or it may include reference material and citations to be included in a bibliography page.

It may also be helpful to consider the style guide you are using for your thesis when you are creating a thesis outline. Examples of academic style guides include the Modern Language Association (MLA) style guide, or the American Psychological Association (APA) style guide. If you keep your style guide in mind, it will be easier to write the thesis later on; you may even choose to write out source citations as you use them in the proper format. They may then just be copied and pasted into the paper. Creating a comprehensive thesis outline is one of the best ways to write an excellent thesis.

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Discussion Comments


If you have to write a thesis paper, writing a thesis outline first will definitely help you start your paper on the right foot. The thesis outline format helps you to organize your thoughts. This is a format that you can refer back to as you work on your paper. It will also help to keep you focused on what you want to accomplish in the body of your thesis.

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