Research Paper Outline

Research Paper Outline

A research paper outline refers to a formal system for developing the framework of thinking about the content of a research paper and its organization. By viewing an outline, you should be able to predict the flow and overall structure of your research paper. Writing an outline for a research paper before you start writing your paper is very important because it makes organizing ideas, thoughts and information possible and easy. With a good outline, you can have your research paper broken down into parts and information presented in a hierarchical manner. This makes the overall format of a research paper easy to see.

Importance of a research paper outline

The main purpose of an outline is to enable you to establish the structure of the research paper that you intend to write. It creates a way of demonstrating your main argument or thesis statement, your main points or the topic sentence and the main supporting evidence that you will present in the paper before you start writing it. Additionally, a good outline indicates how the stated thesis statement is connected to the topic sentences that you will present in the body of your research paper. Generally, an outline enhances the organization of a research paper while showing how ideas in a paper relate. It acts as a research paper writing plan.

It is always advisable that you write an outline for a research paper before you start writing it because this enables you to think about your research topic in a clearer manner. A good outline enables you to reach the evaluation and synthesis level of learning. It can also enable you to determine whether your research paper will make an argument that will convince readers or not before you spend your time struggling to use correct grammar, word choice, transitional sentences and sentence structure.

Structure of a research paper outline

An outline for a research paper has a simple structure.

This structure is as follows:

  1. Introduction
  2. Thesis statement: This is a statement that gives an overview of the points of the argument and your position on the topic of your research paper.
  3. First body paragraph 1: First topic sentence
  4. Supporting evidence: This can be a quote or a paraphrase of a statement from a source and in-text citation.
  5. Explanation or elaboration of the stated supporting evidence’s meaning.
  6. Explanation of how the provided evidence supports the thesis statement and the claim of the topic sentence.
  • Second body paragraph: Second topic sentence
  1. Supporting evidence
  2. Explanation of the clear meaning of the supporting evidence
  3. Answer to the so what question or explanation of the relationship of the evidence and the topic sentence or the thesis statement of the research paper.
  4. Supporting evidence
  5. Explanation of the meaning of the evidence.
  6. Explanation of how the evidence supports or relate to the topic sentence or thesis statement.
  7. Conclusion
  8. Restatement of thesis
  9. Summary of the main points or supporting evidence.
  10. Final thought or a call to action.

Remember that the structure of an outline can vary depending on the topic, requirements of a research paper assignment and the writing style that you choose. It is also possible to have an outline that indicates the sections of your research paper explicitly.

Such an outline is as follows:

  1. Introduction
  2. Motivation or the importance of the research paper
  3. Thesis statement/goals/ objectives of your research paper.
  4. Overview of the organization of your research paper
  5. Literature Review
  6. Heading for the first topic area
  7. Heading for the second topic area
  8. Heading for the third topic area
  9. Heading for the fourth topic area
  • Analysis of what you did or the approach
  1. Heading that describes the scope of your analysis
  2. Heading that describes the methods that you used for your first activity.
  3. Heading that describes the methods that you used for your second major activity.
  4. Heading that describes the method that you used for your third major activity.
  5. Results or what you found (this is sometimes combined with discussion)
  6. Heading that describes the results of your first major activity or the results of the first topic area.
  7. Heading that describes the findings of your second major activity or results of the second topic area.
  8. Heading that describes the findings of your third major activity or results of your third topic area.
  9. Discussion or a description of the contribution made by your research in your study field or a comparison of the work with other works in the field.
  10. Heading that describes the discussion of the first contribution or comparison
  11. Heading that describes the discussion of the second contribution or comparison.
  12. Heading that describes the discussion of the third contribution or comparison.
  13. Conclusions
  14. Summary of the approach and objectives of your research paper.
  15. Major findings of your research paper.
  16. Vital implications of the findings of your research paper such as for policy making.
  17. Suggestion for a future study on the topic.

Note that a research paper outline has parent headings such as I, II, III, IV, V and VI which represent the general topics of a research paper with subheadings under them. The subheadings or sublevels such as A, B, C, and D should provide more details of the parent headings that they fall under. The topics that fall at the same level should have similar importance. Each section or even subsection of the outline ought to have a minimum of two parts. A good practice is to employ parallel structures grammatically for the headings that fall into the same level.

Steps to follow when creating an outline for a research paper

  1. Identify the topic of your research paper

This can be given by the instructor or you may be allowed the freedom to choose a topic for your paper. If you are allowed to choose a topic, choose a topic that you find interesting to you.

  1. Identify your research problem

A research problem or a thesis statement refers to a focal point where your outline should flow from. It should sum up the main points of the research paper in a single phrase or sentence. Your thesis statement can also determine the title to give your research paper.

  1. Identify your main categories

This entails identifying the main points that you intend to analyze. The main points of your research paper should be described by its introduction. You can develop these points in the other sections of the research paper.

  1. Create your first category

Your first category should indicate the first main point that you want to present to your readers. For instance, if you are writing a paper on a complicated concept, you can start by defining or explaining that concept to your readers. If you are writing a research paper on a given theory, start by providing background information about that theory to your readers.

  1. Create subcategories

Establish points under the main points that support or elaborate the main points. Make sure that your categories are numbered on the basis of the amount of the information that will be covered.

Things to bear in mind while creating a research paper outline

  • Use Arabic and Roman numerals as well as small and capital letters in your outline. Arrange them consistently and in a rigid sequence especially if you must present your outline to the instructor before writing your research paper.
  • No specific rule that dictate the best approach for creating an outline. However, after creating an outline for your research paper make sure that you stick to it.
  • Despite having a rigid format, an outline should not make you rigid while writing your research paper. If the direction of your research paper changes as you conduct research and analyze information, consider adding new sections and reorganizing the outline.
  • If necessary or appropriate, organize your main points chronologically especially if you want to trace the chronological or history of issues or events in your research paper.
  • If you are writing a standard paper of between 15 and 20 pages, limit the outline to four pages.
  • While developing the outline for your research paper, consider jotting down a list of your references.
  • Use a research paper outline sample if you encounter difficulties while writing your outline. A good research paper sample will give you hints on how to organize ideas or points in your outline. Click here for samples of outlines for research papers.

Get online help with your outline for a research paper

If you encounter difficulties while trying to write an outline for your research paper, get in touch with us immediately for professional help. Visit the homepage of our website for additional information about out our professional writing services. You can also continue reading for more tips and guidelines on how to write a research paper outline as well as sample outlines on our blog.