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How to Write a Research Paper Outline: The Complete Step-by-Step Guide

Crafting a research paper outline is a common, yet arduous part of a student’s life. It takes a great deal of effort and time to create a thorough, well-thought out research paper. Fortunately, is here to help.

A research paper has to reflect your position on the topic and persuade the readers in its accuracy and truthfulness. A research paper outline is a helpful point-by-point plan, which makes your research paper writing services  easier.

However, before proceeding to an outline you will have to take some pre-writing steps. They will be helpful in composing the best quality outline and, as a result, a great academic work.

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Before Writing a Research Paper Outline

what is an outline for research paper

Writing a Good Research Paper Outline

When you are finished with pre-writing activities, created a good research paper topic, you are more than ready to make an effective research paper outline. An outline is a basement of your research paper from which you build up the whole paper. Each outline consists of three main parts the Introduction, the Body, and the Conclusion. For a successful and high-quality research paper, however, the more detailed outline you use, the better. There are many services that can do the research paper for you , but give a chance and try to make a good outline for your paper by yourself.

The simplest diagram of an outline looks like this:

A Research Paper Outline: a Step-by-Step Guide

The introduction is an important part of every academic work. It determines whether a reader is going to continue with your paper or just give it a rest. An introduction should be intriguing, engaging, and informative, although without giving away too much. There are three main points that make an impressive Introduction:

elements of the introduction for research paper outline

Tips for Introduction

Here are some useful things to consider when writing a research paper introduction:

The Body is the main part of the research paper outline you are writing. It has no volume limitation, as it is the biggest and main section of the paper. The quantity of paragraphs for this part depends on the overall requested volume of the research paper: the more arguments you have to support the bigger the Body section there should be.

All the evidence you have found during the research should go here. You state each idea and provide efficient evidence. Do not state something you have no way of proving! Each statement you give has to be backed up with proof. Do not forget about valid references and proper citations according to the required paper format.

You can mention counterarguments to your ideas and provide evidence why they are not correct. Opposing facts prove your deep knowledge of the topic and that you have really conducted thorough research. This will show your commitment to challenging tasks and create quite an impressive academic reputation.

Do not forget about the style and tone of your research paper, which you have stated in the introduction. The paper should be consistent from the beginning to the very end. The manner, pattern, and techniques should be the same throughout the paper. However, remember to be creative and use various language techniques to make your paper interesting to read. Take into consideration that there is a high chance that your professor knows everything about the subject. Nonetheless, your paper needs to be addressed to the reader unfamiliar with the topic and the thesis statement of your choice. This again will show your deep knowledge on the matter. Be sure to explain everything clearly without sounding too dull in the process.

Stuck on Your Research Paper Outline?

Check out these research paper example.

Yes! Show me examples

The conclusive part of the research paper has to summarize the arguments so the readers digest the main idea and remember it for a long time. The conclusion should not be long but should contain all the important parts to make the whole paper sink into readers’ memory.

Example: Here’s how the general outline would look if we’re writing about Shakespeare.

It is essential to bear in mind that every new idea, in this case, an aspect of Shakespeare’s life and work, requires a separate paragraph.

To simplify, use the following diagram when you have to work on a research paper.

research paper outline diagram

The purpose of a research paper outline is to help you think through your topic carefully and organize it logically before the writing process commences. Since I’ve already shown how to write the introduction, it’s time to give a few pointers for the body and conclusion of your work. So, here we go:

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Remember that the main purpose of the research paper is to show your abilities to work by yourself and demonstrate the range of your knowledge on various topics. Creating a good outline is essential in further composing of your research paper. Make sure to take notes when conducting research, do not be afraid to ask for assistance, and read additional resources. Alternatively, you could choose to pay to write a research paper and save yourself the time and energy. In such a case, you should make sure to find a reliable and experienced writer who can deliver a high-quality paper.

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what is an outline for research paper

How to Write a Research Paper Outline

A research paper outline is an essential part of every written research paper. This brief, but the very important section helps to keep the entire information organized. When you perform a research paper, you need to focus on its proper structure, an appropriate number of pages, arguments revealed and proven, etc. It is important to check every part of a paper for a few times in order to submit a flawless work. If you want to conduct a paper as fast as possible, make sure to provide an outline to keep a track of all the activities and stages completed.

Most colleges and universities require an outline to be presented in a research paper. Mostly, this short copy covers less than a page, but you need to be very attentive once writing it, thus check how to write an outline in advance to perform a flawless research paper.

In this article, our best writers who have been providing research paper help at WriteAnyPapers for years, will inform you on all the basics you need to create a great research paper outline.

How to write a research paper outline properly

When writing an outline for research paper, make sure to follow the next useful guidelines:

It is very important to check the exact outline format to use in your research paper. Mostly, tutors provide full requirements for an entire paper and an outline in particular. A properly written outline allows checking the connection between certain arguments and ideas and their evidence base. Thus, there will no idea that remains without a strong evidence. Since the research papers differ in their pages’ numbers, short articles often do not require any outlines. In a case with an academic research paper, this important part of the text must be provided. You can look through numerous research paper outline template available online or ask your tutor to provide one. You can also use the example outline below for most research paper. But keep in mind that some research paper outlines may differ from this example.

How to start a research paper

First of all, you need to choose a great research paper topic , in case if you don’t have it already. You can choose it either from our articles or browse around the web. Secondly, you need to research the topic and create a great research paper outline.

The outline can be placed at the beginning of the paper, as MLA paper format requires. Different paper formats need its own format details’ followed. You get all the format requirements and instructions from your professor or tutor, in general.

Mostly, students first provide a working paper outline they only show to their tutors. This important section helps to check every detail of a research paper, provide a schedule of every analysis, and conduct an investigation that is more detailed. It is easy to modify your outline if needed since you can face more important facts and evidence to use in your research paper.

The outline definition shows that this part of a paper is specially created to keep you satisfied with the way you conduct your research work or let you change your course in order to reach the better results. Many formatting styles require various outlines and have own requirements for it proper performing. In a case of MLA outline, it is used to start your work and plays the role of a guide for your further analyses.

How to make an outline really useful

In order to provide a flawless outline, you can use an outline example available online. Students often prefer checking other writer’s outlines to create their own pieces. Make sure to keep an eye on its proper format written in your paper’s requirements. It can be MLA, Chicago or APA research paper outline. You can find numerous examples on the Internet or in numerous materials provided. Besides, every example contains many details you need to be very attentive to when performing your research paper. In case of MLA paper example, focus on the preferred ideas, chronology, and a strong evidence base.

If looking for a research paper example, it is as same easy to find outline examples online. They mostly consist of the main thesis statements and their evidence put into three main sections: introduction, body part, and conclusions. Almost in every of existed research paper format samples, the mentioned structure is followed. In addition, it facilitates the writing process and allows focusing only on the most important and useful points and details.

Lastly, if you want to write a research paper fast , make sure to provide an outline to keep a track of all the activities and writing stages to complete. Most colleges and universities require an outline to be presented in a research paper, thus write this part very professionally.

Mostly, this section covers less than a page, but you need to be very attentive once writing it, thus check outline template to perform a perfect research paper outline.

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Ethen graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 2012 and since then has been occupied in consulting businesses and entrepreneurs on the questions of management and marketing. For more than 4 years, he has been writing compelling and interesting essays, research papers, and other types of academic assignments. In his spare time, he enjoys hiking and exploring new countries.

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How to Write a Research Paper Outline As They Do in Academia

Outlining serves several important purposes. Mainly, a good outline provides writing aid. It helps you organize your thoughts in a coherent argument and understand how the ideas within your research are related to each other. Moreover, it also gives you a roadmap for writing, ensuring that nothing important is left out. Usually, you don’t have to hand your outline in – it’s just a sort of private academic writing help .

However, sometimes instructors ask students to submit a college research paper outline beforehand, so they could see how you plan to conduct your study. This way, they can assess your approach, see all the major issues you are going to address, and suggest improvements.

This is beneficial for students. You don’t waste your time making things the wrong way and then redoing the entire paper all over. However, it presents its own difficulties. You will have to learn how to write a formal outline for a research paper adhering to all standards.

Don’t have time to master the art of academic outlining? Why not order an example outline from PaperHelp? After all, modeling is one of the best ways to learn new skills!

How to Write an Outline for a Research Paper Example

Depending on the information already available to you on the topic, you can write a short, very generalized outline, or a highly detailed outline, with all the minor points laid out. However, the rule of thumb is to list the introduction, the body with several major issues, and the conclusion.


At the very minimum, the introduction’s outline should include your working thesis statement , aka, what your paper is attempting to prove. However, you may want to make your outline more detailed. In that case, you can add a current problem you are addressing with your article, focus areas, key terms , and research methods .

In the body, you should outline at least the most important sections:

At the preliminary stage, you cannot outline a detailed conclusion based on all your future findings. However, you should be able to revisit your thesis (you presume it will be confirmed). You can also suggest the next steps in research or in practice to curb the problem or define your paper’s place in a broader discussion .

Each of the rubrics in your outline should be represented by a short statement. Those statements are going to be topical sentences of the corresponding paragraphs in the full-fledged research paper.

For example, if you are doing your research on musical education in school, this is how your outline could look like:

Topic : The benefits of musical education in K-12

Thesis statement : Students benefit from musical instruction in school in many ways, starting from better academic performance to improved emotional well-being.

If you are using direct quotes or paraphrased statements from sources others than your independent research, you should cite them properly, even in the outline.

How to Write a Research Paper Outline APA Style

The 7th Edition Publication Manual of APA does not give any formal guidelines for formatting outlines. However, if you are asked to submit your outline in APA for your class, the good practice is to use:

Also, APA style usually favors alphanumeric or decimal subheadings system. The example from the previous rubric is an alphanumeric APA style outline. It combines Roman numerals, capitalized letters, Arabic numerals, and lowercase letters – in that order. It also uses varying indentations to organize the flow of information spatially.

The decimal subheading system is similar but only uses Arabic numerals to structure the text. Here is how section III from the above example would look like in the decimal system:

3. Academic benefits of teaching music in the K-12 system:

How to Write an Outline for a Research Paper MLA Style

Similar to APA, MLA does not have a specific format for outlines. General recommendations apply:

However, you must remain consistent and provide a key of your chosen heading formatting along with your outline. Also, for both APA and MLA, there are four essential principles of organizing your outline:

Too complicated? Not a problem for us! If you need help editing the outline for your research paper or writing it from scratch, we can do it in no time!

Elissa Smart

Elissa Smart

Elissa Smart is an omnipotent demiurge behind PaperHelp's blog. Driven by seething creativity, not only she helps students with particular research and writing requests, but also finds the energy to share her extensive expertise via blog posts. A Barclay College graduate, Elissa puts her BA in Psychology & Family Studies and MA in Transformational Leadership degrees to good use, being of benefit to readers who are willing to learn from accomplished experts. She can also talk about boating on the Lake Superior by the hour, roots for Atlanta Falcons, and loves to sing in thick woods.

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what is an outline for research paper

A Guide on How to Write a Research Paper Outline

How to create a structured research paper outline.

A research paper is a scientific or academic document that involves surveying a field of knowledge to get the most accurate data on the topic. It is written in a formal style. Students of elementary and middle school do not face this complicated assignment, while high school, college , and university students should be ready to face this challenge.

A good research paper writing process starts with organizing the workflow. Students should know every step of creating this document. That is what will prevent you from sitting in front of a blank paper for hours, having no idea where to start from.

In your career, you may face the need to write research papers. That is why it's essential to master this art while you're a school, college, or graduate student.

WiseEssays is the best organizer for you. It will both structure your research paper or proposal properly and meet the deadline. Our experts can imitate your writing style so that your teachers will be sure that the piece was written for you. Now, let's have a closer look at what makes a great research paper .

Research Process: A Step-by-Step Guide

We would like to share a detailed guide on crafting an outline. Thorough research is the first step to success, so we'll start with it.

Before conducting an in-depth study, you should decide on the topic first. Sometimes, a teacher may provide you with an idea. However, often, students have to choose the topic related to the subject they study on their own. Here are some possible titles for a research paper:

After collecting the relevant information, the process of writing an outline begins. If you order a paper from WiseEssays, the local writers will do everything for you, from collecting data and analyzing it to writing a paper from scratch. With our new "hot" discounts, it will only cost you $12.71 per page with our new "hot" discounts!

How to Write a Research Paper Outline

Unlike an English essay, a research paper has more sections. In a research paper, make sure that you have:

Some parts can be optional. For example, graphics, charts, and tables, as well as their explanations, are not always needed.


That is the right place to set up your research problem. The main idea is to stress the significance of your research and prove that this issue matters to the community.

The primary goals include grabbing the audience's attention, providing background on the topic, and developing a thesis statement. List the reasons for analyzing the specific question. The intro part of this work may vary, depending on if an author wants to construct an argument by engaging with different sources or offer findings of empirical research that they conducted personally.

This basic part should contain evidence to support the thesis statement. It is the bulk of your work. This section shows up between the introductory part and conclusion. Its length should be proportional to the entire paper's length. However, it is better to stick to the word count suggested by your teacher or professor.

It is the last obligatory section of a research paper, excluding the references page. One paragraph is often enough. Here, a writer should wrap up their ideas and leave a robust impression on the audience so that they realize the essence of the problem or even decide to continue research on their own. The primary objectives of a good conclusion are: restating the main topic and summing up the results.

Thesis/Purpose Statement

Don't confuse it with a thesis as a separate lengthy assignment, similar to a dissertation. A thesis statement is a sentence or few that sums up the main argumentative point(s) of your work. It is the perfect way to end an intro. A writer should sound persuasive in their thesis to show the true value of their work.

Outlining Video

On our platform, you can find and view some useful educational materials. One of them is a video on how to create an outline.

Related Resources

You should operate with relevant, trusted sources only. For instance, if your topic is death, you may retrieve stats and facts from websites like CDC, Our World in Data, WHO, ONS, and more.

The Format of Research Paper Outline

If it is not simple for you to cite papers using academic formats, just let us know. Our experts will cope with this task better than online citation generators.

The Modern Language Association has developed this format for students and scientific organizations to follow when writing their papers. Most often, MLA is applied to projects in humanities.

That is the second most popular formatting style. The full name is The American Psychological Association. Writers use APA to format docs like scholarly journals and books. Most often, this format is applied to works in the field of social sciences and psychology.

Examples of Research Paper Outlines

If you review these samples of outlines, you'll have an idea of how this part of an assignment looks and why it is helpful. You can also find free paper templates on our website . They are available for download in PDF or Microsoft Word.

Why Use an Outline?

That is your writing plan. It will lead you to the perfect project and the highest grade. Of course, our service will maximize your chances of getting an A. Anyway, an outline is the structure of your paper. It makes no sense to start working on an assignment without having this clear plan.

If you order an informative research paper from WiseEssays, our writers will prepare an outline for you and send it as a draft upon your request. Whether you need to do an assignment for sociology, history, human resources, legal studies, nursing, psychology, social science, global warming, or else - you will always find a professional writer and researcher in one face on our site. We'll take care of every section that should be in your project!

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what is an outline for research paper

Research Paper Outline

The research paper outline is essential for any article or term paper. The outline may make a great difference on how your work is interpreted.

This article is a part of the guide:

Browse Full Outline

Writing a research paper is as important as performing the actual research or experiment itself and can appear to be a very daunting task.

It does not matter what conclusions you arrived at or how perfect your experimentation was, if you put no effort into writing a good report then your study will not be taken seriously.

If you break report writing down into its constituent parts, it is not as complex as it seems and there is no reason to be worried. Scientific reports, for the vast majority of disciplines, are all structured in the same way; if you follow this structure then you cannot go far wrong.

It is useful to note that every scientific discipline, every university and even supervisors can have their own preferred methods of constructing reports; with this in mind, do not be afraid to ask for advice on the best research paper format for your report.

what is an outline for research paper

Layout and Length

For most assessed reports you will be told how long it should be, generally by the number of words.

This is generally only a guide and is not set in stone; in most cases this limit does not include appendices and citation pages .

If you plan to write for a specific journal , a good advice is to check the research paper outline of some of the articles to get a better idea on how to write your article . Here are a few outline samples .

If your report is complex and strays over this limit, there should be no problem, as long as you have not repeated yourself or filled your work with irrelevant information. It is good practice to bear in mind that the appendix is there for any information that you feel could be omitted from the report without affecting the clarity.

Your report can be shorter than the advised word limit if everything that needs to be included is there. This is preferable than trying to pad out the report in order to fulfill some ‘word count' facility on the computer, risking being penalized for irrelevance.

For longer reports, it is useful to break each section down into subsections, to make your report more reader friendly and easier to navigate.

what is an outline for research paper

Basic Structure

The vast majority of scientific reports can be broken down into the following constituent parts.

Title and Authors

Although the title is the shortest page of your report, it is often the most difficult to write.

It is important to make clear to a researcher everything that needs saying but without the title being overlong and unwieldy. It does not have to be the first section written because, in many cases, the final title will not occur to you until you have finished writing the report.

Nowadays, most research establishments have a database to search titles by keyword so try to make sure that your title contains these. This is doubly important if your research is likely to be published on the internet.

The authors section should include your name, as the main writer of the report, alongside the name of your supervisor. In the case of working as part of a team, you should usually include the other members of your group here.

The abstract is the most crucial part of the report because anybody searching for your research on a database or in a journal will usually read only the abstract. Therefore, it must summarize your research, results and conclusions in less than 200 words.

Sometimes it is good to think of it as a sample of your research rather than a review ; it should inform the researcher that your article contains the information they need.

There are a few ideas on how to write your abstract but the best advice is that you look at some journals relevant to your research and try to format your abstract in a similar way.

This section and is merely a breakdown of sections and subsections by page number.

For a short and straightforward paper it may not be necessary to include a contents page .

This is not mandatory for a research paper.

This section of your report is where you will document all the painstaking research into the background of your experiment.

The main thing to bear in mind, when writing the introduction , is that a scientist who is unfamiliar with your exact subject matter may be reading the article.

It is important, therefore, to try and give a quick and condensed history of the research leading to your experiment, with correct citations .

You should also give a little background on why you chose to do this particular experiment and what you expect to find. It is a little ‘old-fashioned' to hypothesis statement at the beginning of the report but the reader should be aware of exactly what you are trying to prove.

For this portion of your report you must describe the methods used when performing the experiment. This should include, if relevant, the location and times of sample collection, what equipment was utilized, and the techniques used.

The idea behind the methodology section is that another researcher can exactly replicate your experiments without having to guess what equipment and what techniques should be used.

Scientific articles are peer reviewed and this includes the possibility that other researchers may try to replicate your results.

There have been many high profile scientific breakthroughs over the years whose results were unable to be repeated; these experiments were disregarded. For field studies you should give an exact map reference and time as well as including a map in the appendix .

If you used complex machinery or computer programs in the course of your experiment, to avoid breaking the flow of your report, you should give only the main information and refer to the exact technical specifications in the appendix.

These should be a quick synopsis of the facts, figures and statistical tests used to arrive at your final results.

You should try to avoid cluttering up your report and insert most of your raw data into the appendix.

It is far better to stick with including only tables and graphs that show clearly the results. Do not be tempted to insert large numbers of graphs and figures just for the sake of it; each figure and graph should be mentioned, referred to and discussed in the text.

Try to avoid putting in tables and graphs showing the same information; select the type that shows your results most clearly. It is usually preferable to use graphs and relegate the tables to the appendix because it is easier to show trends in graphical format.

Figures and graphs should be clear and occupy at least half a page; you are not a magazine editor trying to fit a small graph into an article.

All such information must be numbered, as diagrams for graphs and illustrations, and figures for tables; they should be referred to by this number in the body of the report.

You do not need to put the full breakdown of the calculations used for your statistical tests; most scientists hate statistics and are only interested in whether your results were significant or not. Relegate the calculations to the appendix.

The results section of your report should be neutral and you should avoid discussing your results or how they differed from or compared with what was expected. This information belongs in the next section.

This is the pivotal section of your hard work in obtaining and analyzing your results.

In your discussion you should seek to discuss your findings, and describe how they compared and differed from the results you expected. In a nutshell, you are trying to show whether your hypothesis was proved, not proved or inconclusive.

You must be extremely critical of yourself in this section; you will not get marked down for mistakes in experiment design or for poor results, only for not recognizing them.

Everybody who has written a dissertation or thesis has had to give a presentation to a room full of fellow students, scientists and professors and give a quick synopsis. These people will tear your report apart if you do not recognize its shortcomings and flaws.

Very few experiments are 100 per cent correct in their design and conception so it is not really important what your results were, only that you understand their significance .

Usually you will have had some promising results and some that did not fit with what you expected. Discuss why things may have gone wrong and what could be done to refine the results in future. Suggest what changes in experimental design might improve the results; there is no right or wrong in science, only progress.

Finally, you can discuss at the end ideas for further research, either refining the experiment or suggesting new areas. Even if your paper was a one off, somebody may come along and decide that they find your research interesting and that they would like to continue from where you left off.

Summary and Conclusion

This is really just a more elaborate version of the abstract .

In a few paragraphs you should summarize your findings . Your abstract will do most of this for you but, as long as you do not get carried away, especially for longer reports, it can help the reader absorb your findings a little more.

Include all of your direct references here, even if you only found a couple of sentences.

In the case where somebody referred to an original source, reference that too, but if you did not manage to get hold of it, try to rewrite so that you will not have to reference (or use "referred in"-citation).


Here it is polite to acknowledge anybody who helped you with this report, although do not go overboard; it is not an Oscar speech.

Your supervisor is a good start, as well as others who helped. If a landowner gave you permission to take samples then it is good practice to acknowledge them and give them a summary of your results, if permitted.

Appendices are very useful because they give you a place to dump raw data and calculations. They must still be laid out correctly; the data must be relevant and referred to in the main report.

If you have a lot of relevant photographs of sample sites and methods then they belong here. It is also useful to insert a Google map plan to show from where you took samples.

Final Thoughts

Hopefully this will have given you a good oversight into writing that perfect report. It is not as daunting as it seems and if you do your research and listen to your supervisor then all should be well and you can get a good grade.

Martyn Shuttleworth (Mar 14, 2008). Research Paper Outline. Retrieved May 08, 2023 from

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what is an outline for research paper

Research and Writing Guides

Writing a paper? Don't get lost.

Getting started with your research paper outline

what is an outline for research paper

The outline is the skeleton of your research paper. Simply start by writing down your thesis and the main ideas you wish to present. This will likely change as your research progresses; therefore, do not worry about being too specific in the early stages of writing your outline. The most important part is done by now, we are just going to extend and organize it.

A research paper outline typically contains between two and four layers of organization. The first two layers are the most generalized. Each layer thereafter will contain the research you complete and presents more and more detailed information.

The levels are typically represented by a combination of Roman numerals, Arabic numerals, uppercase letters, lowercase letters but may include other symbols. Refer to the guidelines provided by your institution, as formatting is not universal and differs between universities, fields, and subjects. If you are writing the outline for yourself, you may choose any combination you prefer.

This is the most generalized level of information. Begin by numbering the introduction, each idea you will present, and the conclusion. The main ideas contain the bulk of your research paper's information. Depending on your research, it may be chapters of a book for a literature review, a series of dates for a historical research paper, or the methods and results of a scientific paper.

The second level consists of topics which support the introduction, main ideas, and the conclusion. Each main idea should have at least two supporting topics listed in the outline. If your main idea does not have enough support, you should consider presenting another main idea in its place. This is where you should stop outlining if this is your first draft. Continue your research before adding to the next levels of organization.

The third level of organization contains supporting information for the topics previously listed. By now, you should have completed enough research to add support for your ideas.

The Introduction and Main Ideas may contain information you discovered about the author, timeframe, or contents of a book for a literature review; the historical events leading up to the research topic for a historical research paper, or an explanation of the problem a scientific research paper intends to address.

The fourth level of organization contains the most detailed information such as quotes, references, observations or specific data needed to support the main idea. It is not typical to have further levels of organization because the information contained here is the most specific.

By now, you should know the basic requirements to create an outline for your proposed paper. With a content framework in place, you can now start writing your paper. To help you start right away, you can use one of our templates and adjust it to suit your needs.

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Keep a record of your references to avoid plagiarism. Ensure you use footnotes or endnotes - your institution's guidelines will tell you which you need.

Your bibliography will begin on its own page at the end of your research paper.

Title your research paper. This is an iterative process and may change when you delve deeper into the topic.

Begin writing your research paper draft. Continue researching to further build your outline and provide more information to support your hypothesis or thesis.

After the draft is complete, format it accordingly. MLA 8 and APA 6th ed formats have differences between their bibliography page, in-text citations, line spacing, and title.

Write your final paper. APA requires a title page and abstract. An abstract will briefly state the information contained within the paper, results of the research, and the conclusion.

An outline is used to organize written ideas about a topic into a logical order. Outlines help us organize major topics, subtopics, and supporting details. Researchers benefit greatly from outlines while writing by addressing which topic to cover in what order.

The most basic outline format consists on: introduction, a minimum of three topic paragraphs, and a conclusion.

You should make an outline before starting to write your research paper. This will help you organize the main ideas and arguments you want to present in your topic.

what is an outline for research paper

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There are two main types of a research paper: analytical and argumentative papers.

Doing research papers can be quite fun and not that hard if you follow the basic steps and helpful tips in writing one. The first step in writing a research paper will have to be choosing your topic. Some professors or teachers give their students the freedom to choose their own particular topics to pursue within a general topic or theme. As much as possible, try to choose a topic which is closest to your interests. In this way, researching will not be such a drag and will in fact be very exciting and interesting for you because you will learn something new.

In addition to pursuing a topic of interest to you, make sure your research topic is also ?do-able? so to speak. You should take into consideration your limitations before deciding so you not only finish your research paper but arrive at significant results as well.

Although a research paper is way simpler than a dissertation or thesis, it is more or less like a mini-thesis. Think of your research paper writing experience as a prelude to your thesis writing. And so, just like thesis writing, one can get lost along the process of doing a research paper. In order to narrow your research, it is important to refine your topic and define your thesis statement or research question. The thesis statement or research question will define the ultimate objective of your research paper and will guide the whole research process and the actual writing of the draft. Keep in mind however that your research question or thesis statement could still change along the research process.

After choosing your topic and defining your thesis statement or research question, the next step in doing your research paper is to do a review of literature. The review of literature basically means gathering all the significant studies and paper on your topic.

Next step would have to be data gathering. Primary and secondary sources can be used. Tools such as interviews, surveys, focus group discussions, direct observation, textual analysis etc. can be employed in order to collect the necessary information for the research paper. After, these data are analyzed to answer the research question or to support or disprove the thesis statement.

The last part of the research paper would have to be the presentation of the findings followed by the limitation of the study and recommendations for future studies on the topic.

Again, one has to face the reality that sooner or later, you will be forced to write a research paper. So getting acquainted with the format and steps of writing one will prove beneficial.

The first step towards writing a research paper is to pick a topic. It is important to choose a research paper topic that matches your interest. Your approach towards the topic will directly reflect on the effort that you put in writing your research paper.

Once a research paper topic is selected, start gathering research that supports, your thesis. Your main aim should be to start looking for the required information based on the selected topic ? Library would be the first ideal place where you can start researching for your required information. There are other sources such as internet, magazines and encyclopedias that act as a source of information related to your research. While gathering information, ensure that you are making a note of the source of all the material that you will use for writing the research paper.

After you gather all the necessary information for writing your research paper, the next baest thing that you need to do is prepare an outline. By writing an outline, you will be able to get your thoughts in order. Thus, you can start creating the structure of your concerned research paper.

Writing a rough draft is a nice way to start pouring your thoughts onto the paper without worrying about making it perfect. As you are preparing your draft, you can also start writing the introduction and conclusion paragraphs. You can do this after writing a body paragraphs. You will find it easy to write your research paper, if you follow this way of writing.

You must then start reviewing your rough draft and make the necessary changes or corrections before you get involved in writing the final copy of your research paper.

Once you have finished writing the final copy concerning your research paper, you should go for a final check up. Ensure that you have everything in order. You wouldn't want your hard work to go down the draw. Hence, ensure that you proof read each and every word carefully.
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How to Write an Outline for a Research Paper

Now your research paper is beginning to take shape. The next step is to turn those piles of  notes  you’ve taken into an outline for a research paper. With a good outline, you are better able to write a logical, well-organized paper. You may even start to feeling that your paper can practically write itself!

What is an Outline?

Identifying your thesis, identifying topics and arguments, form of an outline, jotted outline, working outline, rules for outlining.

  • Equal Ranking
  • Parallel Ranking
  • Topic Outline
  • Sentence Outline
  • Paragraph Outline
  • Decimal Outline

How to Choose an Outline Format

How to Write an Outline for a Research Paper

An outline is an ordered list of the topics covered in a research paper. It is useful to both writer and reader. The writer who writes from an outline is less likely to stray from the point or to commit a structural error—overdeveloping one topic while skimping on another, for example. The reader, in turn, benefits from the outline in the form of a complete and detailed table of contents.

Why Creating an Outline?

Some instructors will require you to submit a formal outline with your research paper. These instructors understand that an outline serves as a preview tool that allows them to grasp your thesis and organization at a glance. It explains the scope and direction of your paper as well. Whether or not you’re required to submit an outline with your final paper, making an outline is a superb way to help you construct and classify your ideas. In addition, an outline serves as a final check that your paper is unified and coherent. It helps you see where you need to revise and edit your writing, too.

Moving From Notes to Outline

The way you organized your note cards gives you a good idea of how to organize your outline. While outlining is not difficult, it can be challenging to get started. The following these 10 steps can make the task easier:

  • First, arrange your notes in a logical order that you can follow as you write. If you’re having difficulty seeing an order, look for clues in the sequence of your ideas. You can make a diagram, such as a flowchart, to help you visualize the best order to use.
  • Jot down major headings.
  • Sort the material to fit under the headings. Revise the headings, order, or both, as necessary.
  • Look for relationships among ideas and group them as subtopics.
  • Try to avoid long lists of subtopics. Consider combining these into related ideas. In nearly all cases, your paper will be better for having linked related ideas.
  • If you can’t decide where to put something, put it in two or more places in the outline. As you write, you can decide which place is the most appropriate.
  • If you’re not sure that an idea fits, write yourself a reminder to see where it belongs after you’ve written your first draft.
  • If an important idea doesn’t fit, write a new outline with a place for it. If it’s important, it belongs in the paper.
  • Accept your outline as a working draft. Revise and edit as you proceed.
  • After you finish your outline, let it sit for a few days. Then look back at it and see what ideas don’t seem to fit, which points need to be expanded, and so on. No matter how carefully you construct your outline, it will inevitably change. Don’t be discouraged by these changes; they are part of the writing process.

The thesis is arguably the most important sentence in the paper, but, at this point, it is still a work in progress. You will change it to focus it and make it stronger when you write your draft. You will change it again as you revise and refine it in the editing process. The purpose of producing a working thesis for an outline is to get you started, to jumpstart your thinking.

This working thesis should be different from the subject, or topic, of your paper. It must do more than simply state “This paper is about …” A good thesis includes the most important information your reader should know. It may identify key themes or state a position, hypothesis, theory, opinion, or point of view that the paper is designed to defend, advocate, or argue. The type of paper you are writing will determine what the thesis should address:

  • A thesis for a summary, such as a book report, should highlight the most important theme, opinion, or point of the reading.
  • A thesis for a narrative, or story, should set the mood, state the theme, or identify the purpose in telling the tale.
  • A thesis for a description or process paper should state the purpose and outcome of the process or experiment that is about to be described and highlight what was surprising or significant about it.
  • A thesis for a persuasive paper should present the opinion or point of view that you want the reader to adopt.

It is always tempting to begin on a note that everyone can agree with, but this is not what you want to do when presenting research. A thesis should always be to the point. Make it as specific as possible and avoid making general statements or obvious observations. Your audience wants a thesis that will show them why they should read the paper. What will they learn? What makes it important? The thesis is usually presented in a single sentence that appears near the end of the introduction, the first paragraph of your paper. The body of the paper, the paragraphs that follow, will present the evidence that “proves” the thesis or, in the case of summaries and descriptions, completes a picture for the reader.

The thesis must also do more than simply restate or summarize the background you were given in the assignment. It should reveal the most important thing you learned from your research. You should avoid referencing yourself in the thesis (using personal pronouns such as I,me, or my). A good thesis is  not just an opinion; it states what you concluded from the research you conducted.

Tips for Writing Successful Thesis Statements

  • The thesis should make a strong point about your topic; it should not simply name a topic.
  • The thesis should express a proposition, opinion, or point of view. It should not simply repeat facts or summarize findings.
  • The thesis should be specific. It should avoid vague or universal statements and avoid absolute or all-inclusive words such as “everyone,”“everything,”“good,” or “successful.”
  • The thesis should show readers why they should care about the subject. It should catch their interest and encourage them to read to the end.

The body of a research paper contains evidence that supports the thesis and shows why it is correct. In a persuasive paper, that evidence often takes the form of “arguments” aimed at convincing a reader to accept the opinion the writer expressed in the thesis. Arguments in a persuasive paper are not like quarrels you have with another person. There is no place for name-calling and personal attacks in a research paper. The arguments must be supported by what you uncovered in your research.

Just as you identified the arguments in other writers’ work when you were doing your research, you must now identify the arguments you will use to support your thesis as you assemble your outline. Just as you looked for logical, emotional, and ethical arguments when you researched others’ work, you must now create them to make your own research paper convincing:

  • Your logical arguments should be presented in a rational order to make the thesis convincing. Logical arguments are usually based on facts, examples, and data that support the outcome that is predicted or advocated by the thesis.
  • Your emotional arguments should appeal to readers’ feelings. Emotional arguments are often based on examples or stories and anecdotes that move readers to support the thesis.They typically use vivid descriptions to help readers personally relate to the thesis.
  • Your ethical arguments should establish the authority of your research by identifying and quoting or paraphrasing experts on the subject.

Outlines are written in a specific form, observing specific rules. The following section shows this format.

Model Outline Template

Thesis statement : Write your thesis statement here.

I. Major topics or paragraphs are indicated by Roman numerals. These are made by using the capitals I,V, or X on your keyboard.

A. Subheads are indicated by capital letters.

1. Details are indicated by numbers, followed by a period.

a. More specific details are indicated with lower-case letters.

b. These are written a, b, c, and so forth.

2. Begin each entry with a capital letter.

B. You can have as many entries as you like, but there must be at least two in each category.

1. You cannot have a I without a II.

2. You cannot have an A without a B.

3. You cannot have a 1 without a 2.

4. You cannot have a lower case a without a lower case b.

II. Entries should be in parallel order.

A. Entries may be word entries.

B. Entries may be phrase entries.

C. Entries may be sentence entries.

Types of Outlines

There are several types of outlines, two of which are discussed below: jotted outlines and working outlines.

A jotted outline is a sketch of an outline, a list of the major points you want to cover. A jotted outline is a useful way to organize your thoughts because you can see what you’re including at a glance. Here’s a model of a jotted outline:

Sample Jotted Outline

Thesis: Since cigarette smoking creates many problems for the general public, it should be outlawed in all public places.

I. Harms health

A. Lung disease

B. Circulatory disease

II. Causes safety problems

A. Destroys property

B. Causes fires

III. Sanitation problems

A. Soils the possessions

B. Causes unpleasant odors

IV. Conclusion

A working outline, in contrast, is more fully fleshed out than a jotted outline. Expanded and divided into topics and subtopics, it helps you create a map as you draft your research paper. An effective working outline has the following parts:

  • Introduction
  • Major topics and subtopics
  • Major transitions

Usually, the entries are written as sentences. Here’s a model of a working outline, expanded from the previous jotted outline. Note that the entries are written as complete sentences.

Sample Working Outline

I. Cigarette smoke harms the health of the public.

A. Cigarette smoke may lead to serious diseases in nonsmokers.

1. It leads to lung disease.

a. It causes cancer.

b. It causes emphysema.

2. It leads to circulatory disease in nonsmokers.

a. It causes strokes.

b. It causes heart disease.

B. Cigarette smoke worsens other less serious health conditions.

1. It aggravates allergies in nonsmokers.

2. It causes pulmonary infections to become chronic.

3. It can lead to chronic headache.

II. Cigarette smoking causes safety problems.

A. Burning ash may destroy property.

B. Burning cigarettes may cause serious fires.

III. Cigarette smoke leads to sanitation problems.

A. Ash and tar soil the possessions of others.

B. Ash and tar cause unpleasant odors and fog the air.

IV. Conclusions

A. Cigarette smoking injures people’s health and so should be banned in all public places.

B. Cigarette smoking damages property and so should be banned in all public places.

The model outline follows certain rules. The following 5 rules can help you write an outline that leads to a well-organized paper:

  • Use Roman numerals to indicate main topics.
  • Use capital letters to indicate subtopics.
  • Use Arabic numbers to indicate details.
  • Include at least two main topics. (Our example has three.)
  • Include least two entries at each level. In other words, have at least two main topics. Under each main topic, include at least two subtopics. And under each subtopic, have at least two details.

Why do these rules matter? They matter because when you draft your research paper, the main topics become paragraphs, and the subtopics become sentences. You need more than one paragraph to make a paper, you need more than one sentence to make a paragraph, and you need more than one detail to support an idea.

In general, a standard high school or college research paper should have no more than four or five main points. This means you shouldn’t have more than four or five Roman numerals in your outline. If you have too many ideas, your paper will either be too long or more likely, vague and overly general.

Conventional Research Paper Outline Format

The conventions of formal outlining require that main ideas be designated by Roman numerals (I, II, III, IV, and so on). Sub-ideas branching off from the main ideas are designated by capital letters (A, B, C, D, and so on). Subdivisions of these sub-ideas are designated by Arabic numerals (1, 2, 3, 4, and so on). And minor ideas are designated by lowercase letters (a, b, c, d, and so on). Here is an example of the proper form of an outline:

I. Main idea

A. Sub-idea

B. Sub-idea

1. Division of a sub-idea

2. Division of a sub-idea

a. Minor idea

b. Minor idea

II. Main idea

The presumption behind this arrangement is obvious: You do not merely generalize; you support your contentions and propositions with examples and details. Indeed, that is exactly what you are expected to do—to make assertions that are supported by concrete examples and specific details. If you have not been diligent in gathering specific facts about your topic, this deficiency will now be painfully obvious. Notice that every subdivided category must have at least two sections because it is impossible to divide anything into fewer than two parts. An outline that divides the subject into three or four levels—that is, down to examples or details—generally is adequate for most college research papers. If further subdivisions are necessary, the format is as follows:

The basic principle remains the same: Larger ideas or elements are stacked to the left, with smaller ideas or elements to the right.

Equal Ranking in the Outline

The logic of an outline requires that each entry be based on the same organizing principle as another entry of equal rank. All capital-letter entries consequently must be equivalent in importance and derived from the same organizing principle. Notice the absence of equal ranking in the following example:

I. Rousseau gave the people a new government to work toward.

A. It would be a government based on the general will.

B. The new government would serve the people instead of the people serving the government.

C. The people tore down the Bastille.

Entry C is out of place because it is not of equal rank with entries A and B. A and B are sub-ideas that characterize the new government proposed by Rousseau; C is a statement that describes the revolt of the French people against the old government.

Parallel Ranking in the Outline

The clarity and readability of an outline are improved if its entries are worded in similar grammatical form. Notice the lack of parallelism in the following outline:

I. The uses of the laser in the military

A. For range finding

B. For surveillance

C. To illuminate the enemy’s position

Entries A and B consist of the preposition “for” followed by a noun, whereas entry C is worded as an infinitive phrase. C should be reworded to make it grammatically like entries A and B:

C. For illuminating the enemy’s position

The outline now is easier to read because its entries are parallel.

Research Paper Outline Formats

The three main types of outlines are the topic outline, the sentence outline, and the paragraph outline. Never mix or combine the different formats in a research paper: use one type of outline exclusively.

The Topic Outline Template

The topic outline words each entry as a phrase, breaking down the subject into major subheadings. Topic outlines are particularly useful for outlining relatively simple subjects. Here is a topic outline of the paper on Grigori Rasputin:

Grigori Rasputin’s Other Side

Thesis : After six decades of being judged a demoniacal libertine, Rasputin now deserves to be viewed from another point of view–as a man who was intensely religious, who passionately desired peace, and who was deeply devoted to his family and friends.

I. The ambiguity of the real Rasputin

A. His birth

B. Popular historical view

1. His supporters

2. His detractors

II. Rasputin’s religious feelings

A. His vitality and exuberance

B. His simple peasant faith

III. Rasputin’s desire for peace in Russia

A. His concern for the Russian underdog

1. His loyalty to the peasantry

2. His opposition to anti-Semitism

B. His opposition to all wars

IV. Rasputin’s gentle, compassionate side

A. His kindness to the Romanovs

B. His love for family

Notice that the thesis of the research paper is a separate entry immediately after the title. It is also customary to omit introduction and conclusion entries.

The Sentence Outline Template

The sentence outline uses a complete sentence for each entry. Some instructors allow the entries to be worded as questions, but most prefer declarative sentences. Sentence outlines are especially well suited for complex subjects. Here is a sentence outline of the research paper on Grigori Rasputin:

I. The real Rasputin is difficult to discover.

A. The birth of Rasputin coincided with a shooting star.

B. The popular historical view of Rasputin portrays him as primarily evil.

1. Supporters called him a spiritual leader.

2. Detractors called him a satyr and charged that his depraved faithful were merely in awe of his sexual endowments.

II. Rasputin had intense religious feelings.

A. He was both vital and exuberant.

B. He had a simple peasant faith in God.

III. Rasputin’s passionate desire for peace in Russia revealed itself in several ways.

A. He was concerned for the Russian underdog.

1. He wanted a tsar who would stand up for the peasantry.

2. He spoke out boldly against anti-Semitism.

B. Because of his humanitarian spirit, he was opposed to all wars.

IV. Rasputin had a gentle, compassionate side.

A. He showed great kindness to the Romanovs.

B. Maria Rasputin tells of her father’s love for his family.

The Paragraph Outline Template

The paragraph outline records each entry as a complete paragraph, in effect producing a condensed version of the research paper. This form is useful mainly for long papers whose individual sections can be summarized in whole paragraphs; it is seldom recommended by instructors for ordinary college papers. Here is the Rasputin paper in the form of a paragraph outline:

I. Rasputin himself always attached great significance to the fact that at the time of his birth, a shooting star was seen streaking across the horizon. He considered the phenomenon to be an omen that he was fated to have influence and special powers. The popular historical view of Rasputin paints him primarily as evil. In his day, however, he attracted numerous supporters, who thought of him as their spiritual leader. But he also had many detractors who called him a satyr and accused his followers of sexual depravity.

II. Rasputin had intense religious feelings. He was so filled with vitality and exuberance that he could stay awake until the early hours of the morning, dancing and drinking in frenzied religious fervor. He did not have the theology of a sophisticated church cleric; instead he expressed his religion in the simple terms of a Russian peasant.

III. Rasputin’s passionate desire for peace in Russia revealed itself in several ways. For instance, he was concerned for the Russian underdogs, for the peasants and the Jews, always encouraging the tsar to protect these unfortunate groups. And, his humanitarian and pacifist nature made him a determined opponent of all wars.

IV. Rasputin had a gentle, compassionate side. He was completely devoted to the tsar’s family and was known to have had a calming influence on the hemophiliac son of the tsar. Maria Rasputin gives a glowing report of her father’s kindness and love.

The Decimal Outline Template

Other outline forms use various methods of indenting, labeling, and spacing. One form that has been gaining favor in business and science is the decimal outline. Based on the decimal accounting system, this outline form permits an unlimited number of subdivisions through the simple addition of another decimal place. Here is the body of the Rasputin research paper notated in the decimal outline form:

Thesis: After six decades of being judged a demoniacal libertine, Rasputin now deserves to be viewed from another point of view–as a man who was intensely religious, who passionately desired peace, and who was deeply devoted to his family and friends.

1. The ambiguity of the real Rasputin

1.1. His birth

1.2. Popular historical view

1.2.1. His supporters

1.2.2. His detractors

2. Rasputin’s religious feelings

2.1. His vitality and exuberance

2.2. His simple peasant faith

3. Rasputin’s desire for peace in Russia

3.1. His concern for the Russian underdog

3.1.1. His loyalty to the peasantry

3.1.2. His opposition to anti-Semitism

3.2. His opposition to all wars

4. Rasputin’s gentle, compassionate side

4.1. His kindness to the Romanovs

4.2. His love for family

Notice that the decimal outline form uses the same indentation pattern as other outlines, with larger ideas stacked to the left and smaller ideas to the right.

Which kind of outline should you use? If you are a beginning writer, and if your research has uncovered much detail on your subject, don’t hesitate: Use a detailed sentence outline. Develop it at least down to the third level—the level of Arabic numerals. In doing so, you actually erect a kind of scaffolding for the paper. To write the rough draft, you simply transcribe from the outline, fill in the blanks, insert transitions and connectives—and you have a research paper. The main entries of a sentence outline should be the topic sentences of various paragraphs. Its details should be exactly the kind you intend to use to support the topic sentence.

Not all instructors require a formal outline for a research paper. Indeed, not all writers would benefit from making one. Some writers compose organically and do not like to be hemmed in by a predefined plan. Others like to have a visible scaffolding for their papers. The point is, if your instructor does not require an outline and you do not feel you would benefit from making one, then simply sit down and begin writing the paper. On the other hand, if an outline would help you write a paper but is not required, go ahead and outline to your heart’s content. If given a choice between outlining and not outlining, do what suits you. The idea is to write the best paper you can, not the best outline.

Finally, we don’t want to leave you with the impression that the movement from thesis to outline to final paper is always neat, predictable, and certain. It is anything but. Writing, as we’ve said before, is a messy business. It leaves behind a litter of scrawled-over papers and almost never proceeds in a straight, unbroken line. For example, you could begin by drafting an outline and find to your dismay that the actual paper you write turns out to be considerably different from what you outlined. If that should happen to you, simply change the outline while being comforted by the thought that it has happened at one time or another to every writer. In fact, it is a healthy sign: It shows that once inspired, you were smart enough to write freely, that you weren’t hog-tied by misplaced loyalty to an outline. When it comes to writing, almost nothing occurs in an ideal way, and every paper is accompanied by a good deal of fumbling, false starts, dead ends, and unexpected departures from plans. Expect complications, and your outlook as you tackle your paper will be healthily realistic.

See  research paper outline examples .

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what is an outline for research paper


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