Article 49 3 Dissertation Outline

I. Groups of Research Methods

There are two main groups of research methods in the social sciences:

  1. The empirical-analytical groupapproaches the study of social sciences in a similar manner that researchers study the natural sciences. This type of research focuses on objective knowledge, research questions that can be answered yes or no, and operational definitions of variables to be measured. The empirical-analytical group employs deductive reasoning that uses existing theory as a foundation for formulating hypotheses that need to be tested. This approach is focused on explanation.
  2. The interpretative group of methods is focused on understanding phenomenon in a comprehensive, holistic way. Interpretive methods focus on analytically disclosing the meaning-making practices of human subjects [the why, how, or by what means people do what they do], while showing how those practices arrange so that it can be used to generate observable outcomes. Interpretive methods allow you to recognize your connection to the phenomena under investigation. However, the interpretative group requires careful examination of variables because it focuses more on subjective knowledge.

II. Content

The introduction to your methodology section should begin by restating the research problem and underlying assumptions underpinning your study. This is followed by situating the methods you will use to gather, analyze, and process information within the overall “tradition” of your field of study and within the particular research design you have chosen to study the problem. If the method you choose lies outside of the tradition of your field [i.e., your review of the literature demonstrates that it is not commonly used], provide a justification for how your choice of methods specifically addresses the research problem in ways that have not been utilized in prior studies.

The remainder of your methodology section should describe the following:

  • Decisions made in selecting the data you have analyzed or, in the case of qualitative research, the subjects and research setting you have examined,
  • Tools and methods used to identify and collect information, and how you identified relevant variables,
  • The ways in which you processed the data and the procedures you used to analyze that data, and
  • The specific research tools or strategies that you utilized to study the underlying hypothesis and research questions.

In addition, an effectively written methodology section should:

  • Introduce the overall methodological approach for investigating your research problem. Is your study qualitative or quantitative or a combination of both (mixed method)? Are you going to take a special approach, such as action research, or a more neutral stance?
  • Indicate how the approach fits the overall research design. Your methods for gathering data should have a clear connection to your research problem. In other words, make sure that your methods will actually address the problem. One of the most common deficiencies found in research papers is that the proposed methodology is not suitable to achieving the stated objective of your paper.
  • Describe the specific methods of data collection you are going to use, such as, surveys, interviews, questionnaires, observation, archival research. If you are analyzing existing data, such as a data set or archival documents, describe how it was originally created or gathered and by whom. Also be sure to explain how older data is still relevant to investigating the current research problem.
  • Explain how you intend to analyze your results. Will you use statistical analysis? Will you use specific theoretical perspectives to help you analyze a text or explain observed behaviors? Describe how you plan to obtain an accurate assessment of relationships, patterns, trends, distributions, and possible contradictions found in the data.
  • Provide background and a rationale for methodologies that are unfamiliar for your readers. Very often in the social sciences, research problems and the methods for investigating them require more explanation/rationale than widely accepted rules governing the natural and physical sciences. Be clear and concise in your explanation.
  • Provide a justification for subject selection and sampling procedure. For instance, if you propose to conduct interviews, how do you intend to select the sample population? If you are analyzing texts, which texts have you chosen, and why? If you are using statistics, why is this set of data being used? If other data sources exist, explain why the data you chose is most appropriate to addressing the research problem.
  • Describe potential limitations. Are there any practical limitations that could affect your data collection? How will you attempt to control for potential confounding variables and errors? If your methodology may lead to problems you can anticipate, state this openly and show why pursuing this methodology outweighs the risk of these problems cropping up.

NOTEOnce you have written all of the elements of the methods section, subsequent revisions should focus on how to present those elements as clearly and as logically as possibly. The description of how you prepared to study the research problem, how you gathered the data, and the protocol for analyzing the data should be organized chronologically. For clarity, when a large amount of detail must be presented, information should be presented in sub-sections according to topic.

ANOTHER NOTE: If you are conducting a qualitative analysis of a research problem, the methodology section generally requires a more elaborate description of the methods used as well as an explanation of the processes applied to gathering and analyzing of data than is generally required for studies using quantitative methods. Because you are the primary instrument for generating the data, the process for collecting that data has a significantly greater impact on producing the findings. Therefore, qualitative research requires a more detailed description of the methods used.

III.  Problems to Avoid

Irrelevant Detail
The methodology section of your paper should be thorough but to the point. Do not provide any background information that doesn’t directly help the reader to understand why a particular method was chosen, how the data was gathered or obtained, and how it was analyzed.

Unnecessary Explanation of Basic Procedures
Remember that you are not writing a how-to guide about a particular method. You should make the assumption that readers possess a basic understanding of how to investigate the research problem on their own and, therefore, you do not have to go into great detail about specific methodological procedures. The focus should be on how you applied a method, not on the mechanics of doing a method. An exception to this rule is if you select an unconventional methodological approach; if this is the case, be sure to explain why this approach was chosen and how it enhances the overall process of discovery.

Problem Blindness
It is almost a given that you will encounter problems when collecting or generating your data, or, gaps will exist in existing data or archival materials. Do not ignore these problems or pretend they did not occur. Often, documenting how you overcame obstacles can form an interesting part of the methodology. It demonstrates to the reader that you can provide a cogent rationale for the decisions you made to minimize the impact of any problems that arose.

Literature Review
Just as the literature review section of your paper provides an overview of sources you have examined while researching a particular topic, the methodology section should cite any sources that informed your choice and application of a particular method [i.e., the choice of a survey should include any citations to the works you used to help construct the survey].

It’s More than Sources of Information!
A description of a research study's method should not be confused with a description of the sources of information. Such a list of sources is useful in and of itself, especially if it is accompanied by an explanation about the selection and use of the sources. The description of the project's methodology complements a list of sources in that it sets forth the organization and interpretation of information emanating from those sources.

Azevedo, L.F. et al. "How to Write a Scientific Paper: Writing the Methods Section." Revista Portuguesa de Pneumologia 17 (2011): 232-238; Blair Lorrie. “Choosing a Methodology.” In Writing a Graduate Thesis or Dissertation, Teaching Writing Series. (Rotterdam: Sense Publishers 2016), pp. 49-72; Butin, Dan W. The Education Dissertation A Guide for Practitioner Scholars. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin, 2010; Carter, Susan. Structuring Your Research Thesis. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012; Kallet, Richard H. “How to Write the Methods Section of a Research Paper.” Respiratory Care 49 (October 2004):1229-1232; Lunenburg, Frederick C. Writing a Successful Thesis or Dissertation: Tips and Strategies for Students in the Social and Behavioral Sciences. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, 2008. Methods Section. The Writer’s Handbook. Writing Center. University of Wisconsin, Madison; Rudestam, Kjell Erik and Rae R. Newton. “The Method Chapter: Describing Your Research Plan.” In Surviving Your Dissertation: A Comprehensive Guide to Content and Process. (Thousand Oaks, Sage Publications, 2015), pp. 87-115; What is Interpretive Research. Institute of Public and International Affairs, University of Utah; Writing the Experimental Report: Methods, Results, and Discussion. The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University; Methods and Materials. The Structure, Format, Content, and Style of a Journal-Style Scientific Paper. Department of Biology. Bates College.

Format checking:

Before students can complete the final submission (deposit) of a major paper, thesis or dissertation, their document must be submitted to the Graduate Studies office for conformity with the format requirements outlined below.





The format requirements are applicable to the following research documents:

  • Doctoral dissertation and Master’s thesis (all programs), and Master’s creative writing project (English);
  • Master’s major paper (all programs) and major internship paper (Political Science).

Students are advised to consult the Office of Graduate Studies or refer to the SAMPLE document template before they begin writing the final version of their document.   

A student has not completed the requirements leading to a degree until the major paper, thesis or dissertation has been deposited in the Office of Graduate Studies, and may miss tuition refund or convocation deadlines or be required to register for an additional term if the document needs substantial revisions in order to meet Office of Graduate Studies guidelines.

The Faculty of Graduate Studies guidelines, derived from those set by Library and Archives Canada, concern copyrightauthorship, and physical format. No particular style of presentation is recommended for the body of the thesis document (e.g. style of chapter headings and sub-headings, heading levels, style for references, etc.). The single most important aspect of style is consistency: the same style must be followed throughout.
If your program does not recommend any particular style manual, the following are widely-accepted examples of the numerous style manuals available: 


Students may choose between two format types for the thesis or dissertation: the traditional format or the manuscript format.

(1) Traditional format
This format organizes chapters around a central problem and is normally used when no part of the thesis has been published or submitted for publication.

(2) Manuscript format
The manuscript format comprises the text of one or more papers/manuscripts that have been, or will be, submitted for publication. These texts must follow the guidelines for format given elsewhere in this document with respect to font size, line spacing and margin sizes. The document must be more than a collection of manuscripts, however, in that all the components must be brought together into one cohesive unit, with logical progression from one chapter to the next and following one consistent style throughout the document in each chapter, e.g. chapter headings, sub-headings, heading levels, style for references, etc. 


Note: pages marked with an asterisk [*] are optional.

(1) Traditional format

Title page

Copyright page (if separate)

Approval page

either Declaration of Originality orDeclaration of Co-Authorship/Previous Publication


*Dedication (where applicable)

*Acknowledgements (where applicable)

Table of Contents

*List of Tables (where applicable)

*List of Figures (where applicable)

*List of Appendices (where applicable)

*List of Abbreviations, Symbols,
*Nomenclature (where applicable)

Body of thesis(divided into various chapters)

Bibliography/References (note that the Bibliography/References section can either precede or follow the Appendices)

*Appendices(include copyright releases here, if applicable).

Vita Auctoris

-(2) Manuscript format

Title page
Copyright page (if separate)
Approval page
Declaration of Co-Authorship/Previous Publication
*Dedication (where applicable)
*Acknowledgements (where applicable)
Table of Contents
*List of Tables (where applicable)
*List of Figures (where applicable)
*List of Appendices (where applicable)
*List of Abbreviations, Symbols,
*Nomenclature (where applicable)
Body of thesis, divided into:

  • Introductory chapter to the entire thesis with its own bibliography, where applicable.
  • Each subsequent chapter presented in a manuscript format without an abstract, but with its own bibliography/references, and following consistently the same style throughout, e.g. style of chapter headings, sub-headings, heading levels, same style for references, etc. regardless of the citation formats of the journals in which the manuscript has appeared or will be published.
  • Final chapter (general discussions and conclusions) to relate the separate studies to each other and to a relevant discipline or field of study. 

This section to contain details of methodology, tabulated data, and other pertinent data. Copyright releases from previous publications may be included in the Appendices. Remove any private information from appended materials, such as signatures, personal phone numbers, addresses, etc.

Vita Auctoris

The preliminary pages should appear in the following order:

Note: pages marked with an asterisk [*] are optional, depending on the demands of the thesis and the wishes of the author.

Title page

Assigned page number one (i), but not physically numbered. Format should follow that of Example 1 (for a Master's thesis, the caption should begin “A Thesis Submitted...”, for students in the Creative Writing Program – “A Creative Writing Project Submitted…”) and the wording of the caption should follow the one in Example 1, with the correct Department name and respective Degree.
In selecting your title, keep in mind that the systems used by libraries to retrieve the information contained in your document rely on title keywords. The title should therefore be accurate, specific, and brief.

Copyright page*

Assigned page number two (ii), but not physically numbered. Not necessary if copyright symbol appears on the title page.

Approval page

Assigned page number two (ii) or three (iii), but not physically numbered. For details see Example 2.

  • the unsigned approval page must be included within the thesis document.
  • the printed and signed approval page with signatures of all committee members must be submitted to Graduate Studies at the time of hte final deposit. 

Begin physically numbering pages after the Approval page.

either Author’s Declaration of Originality or Declaration of Co-Authorship/Previous Publication:

Author’s Declaration of Originality
Assigned page number "iii" or "iv" and physically numbered. This declaration should be used in the traditional thesis format when the thesis does not include materials based on joint research or material that has been published or submitted for publication. Download and insert the declaration in your thesis.

Declaration of Co-Authorship/Previous Publication

  • Assigned page number iii or iv and physically numbered. This statement should be used as an alternative to “Author’s Declaration of Originality”, when the thesis incorporates material based on joint research (published or unpublished), and/or when the thesis incorporates the text of one or more papers that the student has published or submitted for publication. In the case of previous publications, it is the responsibility of the student to obtain proper permission from the journal/copyright holder to use the published material in their thesis. For details refer to Using previously copyrighted material.
  • This declaration is normally used in the manuscript thesis format (or in the traditional format, in case of co-authorship). Download and insert the declaration in your thesis.


Assigned a page number and physically numbered. All theses, dissertations, and major papers as well as creative writing projects must contain an abstract, which should not exceed 2 pages double-spaced (for Doctoral dissertations), and 1 page double-spaced (for Master's theses, major research papers, and creative writing projects).  


Assigned a page number and physically numbered.


Assigned a page number and physically numbered.

Table of Contents

Assigned a page number and physically numbered. The Table of Contents should follow the format of Example 3 (a) or 3 (b). All preliminary pages should be listed, except for the title page, the copyright page, the approval page and the table of contents itself. All pages following the body of the text must be listed too, including the Vita Auctoris page.

When subheadings are included in the Table of Contents, they may be indented differently from the chapter titles or set in another type style.

List of Tables*

- should match the Table of Contents in font size and general style - list not only the table captions but also their page number. Assigned a page number and physically numbered.

List of Figures*

- should match the Table of Contents in font size and general style - list not only the figure captions but also their page number. Assigned a page number and physically numbered.

List of Appendices*

- should match the Table of Contents in font size and general style. Assigned a page number and physically numbered.

List of Abbreviations (or Nomenclature)*

- should match the Table of Contents in font size and general style. Assigned a page number and physically numbered.

The body of the thesis follows, divided into chapters. Remember that pages in the body of the thesis are assigned Arabic numerals (beginning with "1") which run consecutively to the very end of the thesis (including the Vita Auctoris page).
No particular style of presentation is recommended for the body of the thesis document (e.g. style of chapter headings and sub-headings, heading levels, etc.). The single most important aspect of style is consistency: the same style must be followed throughout. If using the manuscript format, each chapter should have its own bibliography/references section. If using the traditional format, the bibliography normally follows at the end of the text.

Back matter (the pages following the thesis body) should appear in the following order:

References (or Bibliography)

No particular style for references is recommended so students should consult their supervisors about the appropriate style for their discipline. In the traditional format, the References/Bibliography section appear at the end after the body of the thesis, and can either precede or follow the Appendices. In the manuscript format, the References/Bibliography must appear after each chapter within the thesis body.


Copyright releases from publications may be included in the Appendices. Remove any private information from appended materials, such as signatures, personal phone numbers, addresses, etc.

Vita Auctoris

(or life of the author). The Vita Auctoris is a required thesis element, however, there are no specific requirements / restrictions about its format or contents: it should include as a minimum the author's name, year and place of birth, and education and degrees (for privacy concerns, students should NOT include personal information such as home address and phone numbers, full date of birth, etc.). Other information may be included, but should be directly related to the thesis or academic discipline (e.g., list of student’s publications/conference presentations resulting from their thesis research, etc.). See sample Vita Auctoris pages. The Vita Auctoris page must be the last page of the document, it must be assigned a number and listed in the Table of Contents.


Use paper of good quality, 8½ x 11 inches (21.5 x 28 cm). Do not use erasable paper or thin computer paper. If maps or charts necessitate the use of larger sheets of paper, check with the Office of Graduate Studies for advice.


Every page must have the same margins: 1 inch all around, preferably a larger margin (1½ inches) on the left. If sufficient margins are not observed text or diagrams extending into the margins could be destroyed in the binding process.

Typing & Line spacing

The pages must bear print on only one side of the sheet. The spacing of the typed lines should be at least 1½ spaces, with the exception of notes, long quotations, figure and table captions, and references.  The typeface must be clear and the font size should be 10 points or larger; a smaller font size may be used for graphs, formulas and appendices. Computer printers must produce letter quality print. If in doubt about acceptability of print, bring a sample to the Office of Graduate Studies. 


The document must use 2 numeration systems: Roman numerals for the front matter/ preliminary pages, and Arabic numerals for the thesis body and thereafter through the end of the document. Each page must be assigned a page number.

  • Front matter (preliminary pages): All preliminary pages (those preceding the body/main text of the thesis) are assigned Roman numerals (i, ii, iii, iv, etc.), however, the number does not appear on the following preliminary pages even though they must be accounted for in the numbering system: title page, copyright page (if separate), and approval page. See further details under Page order where each page is listed. Beginning with the declaration (numbered three (iii) or four (iv)), all pages must be physically numbered.
  • Body of thesis and back matter: pages within the body of the thesis are assigned Arabic numerals, beginning with one ("1") at the beginning of chapter 1/introduction, consecutively to the end of the thesis.

Do not begin new pagination sequences at the beginning of appendices. If appendices include material taken from other sources on which page numbers already appear (permission to reproduce this material having been received, if necessary), they must also carry numbers conforming to the pagination of the thesis or dissertation.

Illustrative Material

Keep illustrative material within the margins defined above. If this is not possible, such material may be inserted into a pocket at the back of the bound document, or uploaded as a supplementary file as part of the online submission. Consult with the Office of Graduate Studies for details.
The format of tables, figures, etc. must follow one style consistently. Check with your research supervisor for advice on your program’s preferred style. 

Use of colour

Colour graphs or figures can be printed either in colour or black-and-white, provided contrast is acceptable. If printing in black-and-white ensure identification of lines on a graph is clear by line symbols rather than by variation of colour. For better contrast, use cross-hatching rather than colour for shaded areas.

Grammar and Spelling

It is the student’s responsibility (and an important courtesy to the readers) to ensure that grammar and spelling conventions are observed.

Other Questions

For questions contact the Office of Graduate Studies, Room 309, Chrysler Hall Tower, or call 519-253-3000, extension 2104.


Example 1: Title Page
[Follow exactly the wording of the paragraph beginning with “A Dissertation submitted to…” below. Note that this example is for a Doctoral dissertation; if you are a Master’s student substitute “A Dissertation” with “ A Thesis”, "A Creative Writing Project", “A Major  Research Paper”, or "A Major Internship Paper" and use the correct program name and degree, e.g. “Master of Arts”, “Master of Science”, etc.]



Magdy Bayoumi

A Dissertation
Submitted to the Faculty of Graduate Studies
through the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering
in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for
the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy at the
University of Windsor

Windsor, Ontario, Canada

© 2017 Magdy Bayoumi

Example 2 - Approval Page

  • the Approval page should not be numbered, although it is counted in the numbering system. The text should be centred except for the defense date at the bottom which should be right-aligned.
  • the names of the committee members must be listed in the following format: no title "Dr.", initial for the first name, e.g. "J. Doe" instead of "Dr. Jane Doe"
  • only the advisor(s) must be indicated – insert the word: “, Advisor” after the advisor’s name as shown below (or “Co-Advisor” if you have two co-supervisors).
  • note that the chair of defense is not listed and does NOT sign the approval page.
  • see sample below or download the Approval page templates (under 'Thesis and dissertation forms')

Example 3(a) (Table of Contents - Traditional format)


Example 3(b) (Table of Contents - Manuscript format)


Examples 4 and 5:


[Note that there is no specific required format for the Vita Auctoris although it is a mandatory element. You may include any information about you, the author, below are some examples. Do NOT include personal information such as telephone numbers, full date of birth, etc.]

Example 4:


Mary Scott was born in 1976 in Windsor, Ontario. She graduated from Assumption High School in 1995. From there she went on to the University of Western Ontario where she obtained a B.Sc. in Chemistry in 1999. She is currently a candidate for the Master's degree in Chemistry at the University of Windsor and hopes to graduate in Fall 2001.


Example 5:


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