Why is there not a single Doctoral Thesis outline or structure?

After working with the transcription for my doctoral thesis, I have found creating the structural outline for the entire write-up to be the greatest challenge.

Now, don’t shake your head wondering why I am considering this. Indeed, we always need an intro, and some literature, methods, data analysis, and the like. The trick I have found, least for those of us working on a doctoral thesis or doctoral dissertation, is to determine the structure of this given that we are conducting original research.

There is the main issue–this is ORIGINAL research. Why (or how?!) can my work follow the same structure as somebody else’s? Yes, we somehow need to address some of the same things, but our research designs and personal interests and writing skills all come into play. Nobody (I hope!) would confuse a randomized control trial with an autoethnographic inquiry, so why (or how?) should they look or be structured the same? My research engages in narrative inquiry (with a healthy dose of actor-network theory), and as my interpretation will be presented alongside the analysis itself (at least in some places), the thinking about using a cookie-cutter approach to chapters and sections vanishes. For those of us who relish in the originality while still wanting to follow a map, this part of the process can certainly cause some concern.

While an Introduction usually precedes Data Collection, consider that there is not only a single way to organize all of this. Some of these elements, such as the researcher’s ontological stance, disciplinary frame where the research is situated, and significance–to name only a few–can be placed in different locations, as needed. At times they may not even need to be isolated (or even mentioned); again, it depends on your work . . . and original work means there is no standard outline that works best for everybody; you have to make it up yourself.

BTW, don’t forget to be prepared to explain why you did so!