THE SKELETON OUTLINE
The next phase is to plan your thesis paper. You had an idea. You converted that idea into the question your thesis is addressing. You have carried out your research. You must now convert the idea into a research paper drawing upon the relevant source material and establishing your thesis. You will almost certainly begin with a skeleton outline. Be prepared to go through many drafts of the skeleton outline. You are looking for the perfect shape and structure for your paper. Whatever the length of your paper you will want to divide your argument up into a number of reasonably balanced sections.
It will be at this stage that you may discover that you will have to abandon some part of your original idea. Many writers find this difficult. You will have done lots of work in the area to be abandoned, which will become invisible to the person assessing your work. You may develop an emotional investment in retaining such material. Yet your final paper will be more powerful if you have the courage to leave out material which does not contribute to the achievement of the purpose of your paper. Remember that the rejected material will have helped your understanding of the overall problem you are addressing. If in doubt, make a note to discuss the rejection of material with your supervisor if that is permitted.
Having decided what you will be including and excluding, prepare a list of headings and sub-headings and have a clear idea what you will be including under each. For research papers and dissertations, keep the system simple. You will almost certainly not need more than three levels of headings; try to keep to just two levels of heading. Think about the size of the sections. Think in terms of sections rather than chapters. If you divide a 5,000 word research paper into five sections, you will only have on average 1,000 words per section. Is this enough? If you think a section will take up too much space, does it subdivide into smaller sections? All this is part of the important search for the shape or structure of your paper.
Discuss your skeleton outline with your supervisor, if permitted. Be prepared to explain why this is your chosen shape. Be willing to defend the scheme, but also be flexible in listening to any suggestions your supervisor offers for your consideration.
DEVELOPING YOUR IDEAS
Developing the structure of your ideas will come as you prepare a draft of your research paper. Where you start will be a matter for you, but you need not start on the first page of the first section. You may prefer to write a section setting out the background to the problem you are exploring rather than the introduction to the paper. That may best come at a later stage, but you must remember your skeleton outline. If you find that the writing does not fit the skeleton, go back to the skeleton outline and revise it.
Remember when writing your draft that your purpose is to present a reasoned argument based on authority. The first draft is your first draft written as much for you as for anyone else. When you start to write, you will discover some difficult areas, you will identify sections which will need re-writing, pruning or expanding, and there will be gaps to be filled.
If you have trouble getting started, begin with a section that is straightforward and you will soon find the flow of words is there. Do not put off getting some words on the page. It is easier to polish a text than to write from scratch. As you are going along, keep track of how much you are writing. Is it too much? Or too little? Retain a willingness to be flexible at the initial draft stage. Avoid the risk of regarding words on the page as unchangeable.
If you are writing directly onto the word processor, print out drafts from time to time, and read and edit them as you go along. Few have the ability to edit effectively on screen. Do not rely on the spell checker as the only proof reader.