Using the APA Level Heading Outline

Most dissertation students at one point or another become overwhelmed during research process. For many this happens during the review of the literature. There are so many articles to identify, obtain, and then organize. Therefore, it is important to have a system that builds your confidence that the articles you find you’ll be able to locate when it comes time to read and write. May I suggest a system that starts with the development of what I call the APA level heading outline?

APA Level Heading Outline

When organizing to write your dissertation proposal, I recommend you use an outline. The outline should align with the appropriate Walden checklist for your methodology and the headings in the outline should be formatted as they are in the dissertation template; level 1 headings (centered, bold, and title case) and level two headings when necessary (left justified, bold and title case). All of the headings are predetermined for you except for the ones in the literature review. Work with your chair to determine your level 1 literature review headings. The headings should provide a full description of the topics covered by your research questions. Here is the template version I give my mentees to individualize for their own study.



Using the outline provides several benefits. First, it helps you to know all the elements that required for the final product. If you consider each level 1 heading as its own mini-paper, the whole process seems less daunting. You can also use the outline as a task-list, and “check” headings off as you write them. I keep an outline for each of my mentees and I change the text color of the completed heading and insert a comment bubble with the date I approved that heading. This provides us with a bird’s-eye-view of what’s been done, and what still needs to be done. Last, I suggest the outline be used to help you tag articles for where in the paper you’re likely to need it.

For example, if a study has the research question:

How effective is technology-enhanced feedback given to doctoral students during the dissertation writing process?

the following APA level 1 headings might be used to organize the Literature review.

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Tagging Part 2

Tagging Part 2: Digitizing Tags for a Reliable Cross-Referencing System

In my Tagging Part 1 post, I define what a tag is, describe why you should consider using tags, and then give examples of how to assign tags to research article you read for your dissertation. In this post, Tagging, Part 2, I will address the number of tags you might assign each article, and then how to use the tags as part of a larger, digital cross-referencing organizational structure.

Tags Part 2

How many tags should I assign to each article?

It depends. For example, you might have found this article…

Fram, S.M. (2013). The constant comparative analysis method outside of grounded theory. The Qualitative Report, 18(1), 1-25. Retrieved

…and decided to tag it with the big picture tags

mych1; mych3

But you might also want to further determine where in those chapters the article may help. Therefore, you could ALSO add APA Heading tags. I might choose

myNoS; myDataAnal

To further narrow the usefulness of the article, you might choose to use the Library Sub-Question Letters as an additional tag.


FYI: LibSubQ-E is “Why is the methodology I’m proposing the best choice to address the problem I’ve identified?” You can learn more about LibSubQ’s in my NoteTaking post.

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Power of Google Scholar for PhD Students

If you haven’t yet harnessed the power of Google Scholar, you need to. There are lots of little ways that Google Scholar can help you find what you are looking for, and to help you reach “saturation” of the literature. Walden library suggests you use Google Scholar to supplement your database searches, not replace them!The Power of Google Scholar for PhD Students

#1 Tip: Pay attention to the links under the citation.

Use the “Cite” link to find the APA formatted reference. Always double check it, as it may not be exactly right, but its a good place to start. And you can also import the reference information into various bibliography software programs.



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