Creating an outline for your scientific work requires good research and structure. With their help, you not only keep track of your work, you can also clearly identify your research objective and method. We show you with nine tips and four examples how you can organize your structure in a meaningful way.
The perfect structure: 9 tips for your scientific work
When creating an outline, research, structure and concentration are required. The challenge is to roughly plan your entire project and to clearly highlight the research objective. Here you should always follow your cognitive interest or your research question. As a recurrent theme call it over and over again to find out which steps you still lack in your structure. We have all the important tips to help you create a perfect outline.
The first step: Inform yourself about the shell of an outline
If you have never done a scientific structure, you may think that there is a rough classification of “initiation,” “body,” and “conclusion.” That’s true so far, but reveals nothing about the further course of action, where you can orient yourself. We have a slightly more detailed scheme for you, which probably gives you a better idea of how you can theoretically act. Practical, subject-specific examples can be found later in this article.
Introduction (occasion, cognitive interest)
Situation analysis (state of research)
Objectives (hypothesis and answering the lead question)
Methodology (methodical and theoretical fundamentals)
Synthesis / analysis (combination of methodology and object of investigation)
Evaluation of the results / conclusion
The most common outline: decimal structure
The decimal structure is used in almost every subject. It borders on the alphanumeric structure, which is almost exclusively limited to legal disciplines and individual cases. The decimal structure uses Arabic numerals.
Each main chapter is consecutively numbered from 1 onwards. Each chapter can have any number of subchapters, with two subchapters being the minimum. Each subchapter can have further subchapters, here also two is the minimum. This does not mean that you have to find at least two subchapters for each chapter. They should only appear in your outline if they make sense to you. Most of the subchapters are still indented for better illustration. Bibliography, appendices and the affidavit should be in the table of contents next to your structure. However, they are not numbered. More in the next chapter.
The numbers of the individual levels are separated by a dot. There is no point behind the last outline number, even if there is only one outline number. A decimal structure would look something like this in theory:
2 theory and methodology
2.1.1 theory according to W
2.1.2 Theory according to X
3.1 Investigation 1
3.2 Investigation 2
4 Summary and evaluation
5 rating and conclusion
Bibliography, appendices and the affidavit
As you have already learned in the previous chapter, the outline of your work is in the table of contents. This follows the cover page and is usually not provided with a page number. Also in your table of contents are the bibliography, your attachments, and the affidavit. These are not numbered unlike your chapters. They follow after your final chapter (conclusion / summary). Attachments and the explanation can be delimited with a paragraph to the rest of your work and should always be provided with page numbers. Attachments should also have their own headline if possible.
Your headlines should be meaningful
Avoid monotonous headings like “Theoretical Background” and “End”. They betray the reader or no details about your approach. The more accurate and accurate your headlines are, the better your instructor can judge your project and voice any objections. The more precise the agreement and preparation, the better your scientific work will be. You can orientate yourself by our examples (the third example has particularly meaningful headings).
Do not be afraid to change your structure
Many lecturers already require an outline with a few work steps to discuss their work. If not, you should still create a pre-outline, just so you can explain your instructor structured what you intend. The better you argue with him, the less chance you might do anything wrong. Nevertheless, never be shy to change something in your structure.
It is impossible to keep an eye on the entire state of research in advance and to plan every step. If you find that something in your work does not work the way you intended, or you missed something in your research that has a significant impact on your work, then it’s right to change your outline. As long as everything is meaningful and stringent, your lecturer will not complain about small changes.
Subchapters give more structure
When creating scientific papers, subchapters give additional structure. Especially in the analysis part you should make your individual steps comprehensible. Some seminar papers in the Bachelor may be able to do without subchapters, but at the latest in your Bachelor’s or Master’s thesis you will need some subchapters and sub-chapters.
Your analysis should always be thematically structured. You will probably notice different things that you can then arrange into chapters. For example, in a literary science analysis, you could have a subchapter to figure constellation and one to motive, and take a closer look at these two aspects. The motifs could then be subdivided into the different motifs.
Rule of thumb: For each subchapter at least one page
Many students wonder when it’s actually worth starting a new subchapter. Generally it can be said that you should write at least one page. It’s not worth the while and makes the work look over-structured. Of course, most of your work should be analyzed. For example, if you split them and have both subchapters and subchapters, one page per subchapter is also minimum.
Create outline in Word
Creating an outline in MS-Word can save you a lot of time formatting. You can use this function to easily and vividly create your outline and subsequently edit it as you like and change the design, for example. We’ve created a short tutorial for you based on MS Word 2010, but similar to other versions of Word.
Open a new Word document and select “View” from the menu. Then click on the “Views” tab and select the item “Outline”.
Now simply enter your chapter headings. To the next chapter you get with “Enter”. If you want to set different levels for your subchapters, you can simply indent them with the “Shift” key. You can also copy and paste as usual.
If you have entered your complete outline, click on the button “Close outline view”. You will now see your outline in the Word document. You can also move the various elements by “Shift” and “Enter”.
You can change the design via the item “Styles” under the tab “Start”.
In the last step, you can now simply write your text under the outline points or use it later for your table of contents.
Create outline as automatic table of contents in Word
It is possible to create an automatic table of contents in MS-Word. The advantage: You can update your page number as often as you like and you do not have to count your chapters at the end. If you change a headline in the text, it also automatically changes in your outline when you update it.
The following instructions will guide you step by step how to create an automatic table of contents. It is based on the MS-Word version of 2010, but is also compatible with other versions.
Click in the selection menu of Word on the tab “References” (in some versions also “References”). On the left side is now a button with “Table of Contents”.
Click on this button and select one of the following table of contents: either “Automatic Directory 1” or “Automatic Directory 2” (in some versions also “Table 1” and “Table 2”).
It is also possible to select a manual directory, but in this case you have to enter the headings yourself.
In order to be able to insert text content in the directory, the headings must also be identified as headings. This is done via the “Styles”.
Highlight your desired heading and click on one of the Heading styles (1-3) on the Home tab. If you update your directory now, the new headline will appear in your table of contents.
It does not matter whether you already have a text prescribed you retrospectively mark the headings or if you enter them completely new and then write.
You can change the design manually at any time. The update is done by a right click and the following selection of “Update table of contents”.
4 examples of a correct structure
In theory, it’s always easier to get structure into your work. But only very few university guides give really realistic examples on topics. If you strictly adhere to your guide, it may happen that your headlines do not say what’s really going on in your job.
Passages such as “Introduction” or “Conclusion” are difficult to rewrite. But in the middle part you have all options open. Do not call your theory part “theory”, but directly name what theory (s) the reader will find in it. Do not just give your analysis the title “Analysis,” but fill in exactly what you’ll analyze.
Here are some examples we have created for you. Maybe they’ll help you with the orientation or inspire you for your own housework topic. You will find sections from the fields of German studies, education and business administration.