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Dissertation Literature Review: Three-Stage Outline

Guide to help dissertation students with literature review.

What is a Three-Stage Outline?

A Three Stage Outline is one way to organize your research as you prepare your literature review.

Creating a Three Stage Outline


First Stage Outline

  •      Develop the main concepts or themes of your literature review/term paper
  •      Determine a logical sequence of topics
  •      Tips: Consider the following questions

o   What am I trying to say?

o   What was the original question?

o   What is the “so what” factor? Why does your reader care?


Second Stage Outline

  •      Develop subheadings for each major concept
  •      Revise your outline – add concepts or change the order – as you learn more about your topic


Third Stage Outline

  •      Add the references that support each topic
  •      Use this as the framework for your paper
  •      Organize your notes in the order of your outline, or in an order that makes it easy for you to find the       appropriate reference quickly and easily


Adapted from Locke, L. F., Spirduso, W. W., & Silverman, S. J. (2000). Proposals that work: A guide for planning dissertations and grant proposals (4th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

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Scott Zimmer