Research Paper Outline Writing Guide — Write Your Outline Step by Step


Would you go to the woods without a map? Do you manage to catch up with all tasks without a plan? The process of writing a research paper is difficult to imagine without a pre-written outline, and that is why it is critical to learn how to prepare it. Some students ignore this stage as it requires time. But it is worth spending half an hour on this activity instead of getting stuck in the middle of your paper, having no idea how to move on.

Some students start by exploring the sample outlines, which is a good idea. It was proven millions of times that examples and research paper outline templates help to compose these academic assignments.

An outline predetermines the level of organization. An effective research paper should have a certain structure to follow. In the next sections, we will discuss how this element should look like and how to create it step-by-step.

Start Writing an Outline

Many students make a big mistake when they get to writing an outline without even reading the prompt. But we recommend starting with considering your topic. If the specific prompt is mentioned in the professor's requirements, study it carefully (read it several times and underline the buzzwords/keywords and the main idea or research questions to answer). In the prompt, you may also find a hint for your thesis statement (research question).

After that, take care of the information you're going to use to support your ideas. Collect and analyze relevant sources before you choose the topic (if it is not specified) and one more time — after having decided on the research question. Take notes while exploring the data sources and different materials. If you create a bullet-point list, you can come up with a research paper outline based on it, describing each section in more detail.

One more vital step is to define the target audience — it is the right time to choose the appropriate language. Experts recommend avoiding slang and jargon words unless you work on a paper for linguistics or philology. Stick to the single tone/writing style during the process.

The longest part of your work is the research process. Each time you study a new piece of literature, write down the basic information about it:

  • Full title
  • Author(s)
  • Publication date
  • Main discoveries/statements/ideas

If you do so while conducting a study, you won’t have to break your head against the wall trying to recall this information when it's time to include it in writing. You may organize important references at the beginning of your work.

Use a Research Paper Outline Example

Once you are done with all pre-writing activities, think about the preferred or required outline format. Such elements as the title page and list with references (bibliography) always depend on whether you write in MLA, APA, or another format. The style frequently depends on the subject or educational establishment as well.

After having collected the necessary evidence from different sources, it's time for you to write a research paper outline and organize all the information — in this article, we'll provide you with professional recommendations to follow.

Research Paper Outline — Step-by-Step Guide

It is time to talk about the peculiarities of this project. And, the primary element to start from is a research paper outline. Before crafting it, decide on the length of a project based on the required amount of words or pages (considering that one page double-spaced is approximately 275 words). Keep in mind that professors don't count appendices or works cited page.

Academic writing is a bit different from a scientific one — mind the nuances. We suggest analyzing similar papers published in scientific journals before developing a good plan. Then, the process of research paper outline developing should begin — here are the integral components to include in your assignment:

  • Title and authors
  • Abstract (no more than 300 words)
  • Table of contents (you can base it on an outline as they are similar, but add the exact page numbers)
  • Literature review (with a brief description of sources where you found the supporting information)
  • Introduction
  • Equipment and methods
  • Results
  • Discussion
  • Conclusions
  • References (to another piece of research, etc.)
  • Appendices

After analyzing a good research paper example, you’ll understand how to compose each of these sections and prepare an outline.

Sometimes, an outline may be prepared in the form of detailed information about every section. The main body will depend on your topic and subject matter, and here, we won't describe its role.

While creating this research paper element, you may notice some logical mistakes or structure issues. As a rule, such a project implies:

  • Survey of the relevant sources.
  • Synthesis of the relevant info and evidence.
  • Evaluation of the data collected by determining gaps in the existing knowledge base.
  • Analysis of the interconnection between the selected works and your own research project.

Ask yourself, does your outline cover those stages of your research paper writing?

Introduction and Conclusion

Introduction and Conclusion

What about an introduction? Some students prefer writing it apart from the outline. It is important to provide background information, explain the significance of the study, and offer a hypothesis or thesis statement. So, you may prepare it separately. This way, you'll be sure your subject matter is relevant for your academic level and class. Also, an introduction may mention the major stages of your work that won't let you omit them in your research paper outline.

As for the results, you may combine them with discussion or make them two separate parts — those are a synopsis of the statistics and facts. And, in a discussion section, a writer must list and explain the outcomes of the study: Have they influenced the issue of a subject matter? Can they be implemented efficiently?

You obviously have to mention the outcomes in the conclusion part. Try to summarize the results in a few paragraphs — you may end up by offering some forecasts for the future or development of the issue in question. Since you have worked with a research paper outline, check if all the points mentioned in it are covered appropriately. If you fail to research any specific aspect of a topic, it is better not to mention it.

As a final touch of your writing process, check your assignment for plagiarism and mistakes. Now, there are many online tools that will help you with content analysis, coherence, and correctness.