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A Guide on Preparing Research Paper Outline

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When you are writing research paper, there are so many things to do. If you have to conduct the research, filter the information, and then frame the content. During such times, checklists can be very helpful. The outline of a research paper plays the role of the checklist. Students often don’t follow the same, and this can lead to confusion as they progress through the process of writing a research paper. As a result, by the time they are midway through the process, their mind is completely confused, and from there the quality also keeps decreasing. Therefore, it’s essential to diligently adhere to the steps involved in writing a research paper to maintain clarity and ensure quality.

To avoid any such situation, prepare an outline before working on the paper full-time. If you have any confusion regarding the outline, read this blog to the end. You will have your answers.

Objectives of Creating an Outline

The three main objectives of creating an outline are –

1. It helps you have an idea of how the points will fit your research paper. This is very important. It is because, accordingly, you can make changes to enhance the quality of the paper.

Consider this situation where you have already started writing your draft without an outline and suddenly find that one set of information is very misfitting to your research. The only option you will be left with is entirely rework the assignment. But you can avoid this hassle if you have an outline.

2. An outline will show you how your ideas relate, how abstract/concrete your ideas are, how much support you have, and what the overall structure of your argument will be.

If you frame an outline, you’ll have a chance to compare all the information and arrange a logical flow for the same. In case you don’t do this prior to your writing, it can be extremely mind-boggling afterwards.

3. Outlines can stimulate new thoughts related to the topic. When you have an outline beforehand, you know what is there for you to present. Going through the same can give you ideas of how you can make it more interesting. This way, you’ll also have an idea if or not you need some new information.

Elements of a Well-Structured Outline

The elements of the research paper outline are –

The title page –

Here you have to include information like your name and the co-author’s name. Giving a proper title to the research paper is also very important. Decide the title at this stage only. Remember that the title should be informative as well as precise. Do not keep it for later because, in the end, you might not get the best of ideas.

Abstract –

This will give a glance of the paper to the readers. While you are preparing the outline, make sure to see examples of research abstracts and then create a blueprint on how you want to write it. Note down all the significant areas that must be a part of the abstract, like the aim of the paper, its objectives etc.

Introduction –

Here is where you present your thesis statement and introduce the topic of the research. Remember that background information about the topic is a necessary part of the introduction. Thus, include it in the outline. If need be, note down some important data in the outline itself. This will make the outline more compact and easier to follow.

Literature review –

Make a list of previously done works in the field that you want to refer to. This will make the task a lot faster for you. If you try to find the resources during writing the paper, it will get very confusing. Here keeps a note of the sources in the style mentioned by the university. This way, once you are done, you can just copy the exact references in the bibliography.

Methods –

This section of the research paper will say about the data collection and the analysis techniques used by you. Enlist all the possible methods in the outline and then chalk out the best among them. For this part alone, you may have to prepare more than one version of the outline. But that is not extra work. Rather it is the little extra effort on your end to make your paper flawless.

Results –

Assuming the exact results beforehand is difficult. But in case you have the slightest idea what the results can be, keep a note of it. Else you can also keep a note of how you want to present the results. As you already know what you want to achieve, make a rough draft of how you want to justify it to the readers.

Discussion –

In the research outline, there is nothing much you can do about this portion. But you can always keep a note of the extra points you want to add to make your research more valuable.  

Outline & Structure – What is the Format?

Outlines are structured by paragraphs. You list the topics of each paragraph along with some bullet points. These bullet points are supposed to describe what goes in that particular paragraph. This helps you in arranging the flow of the document and to find the perfect arrangement. The best part is that this is all done before you begin writing.

The most conventional format for a research paper outline, including research paper writing, is the alphanumeric format. This system alternates the use of letters and numbers at the start of each section, making it easy and convenient for outlining. Not only teachers but students have also agreed to the same.

While writing the content of the outline, you need not use complete sentences. But this is only if you are working alone on a project. In case it is teamwork, it is better to write complete sentences. It is because, in the latter case, it becomes easier for the other team members to decide what you want to say.

Remember that the outline need not be detailed. The sole purpose of the outline is to help you prepare the draft. Give only the specific and concise information that you need. Do not go for explanations. The use of subtopics in the outline is also subject to whether you need it or not.

There is no perfect stringent structure for the outline. You may make changes as per the need of your paper. But the points above will help you initially in the process.

Here is the general format for a research paper outline.

The example below provides a basic template for five-paragraph research papers.

I. Introduction

Introductory sentence
Supporting sentence, citation, or quote
Thesis—Most often, a thesis contains three points.

II. Body Paragraph 1

Topic sentence related to the first point of the thesis
Supporting sentence 1 or quote with an explanation
Supporting sentence 2 or quote with an explanation
Supporting sentence 3 or quote with an explanation

III. Body Paragraph 2

Topic sentence related to the second point of the thesis
Supporting sentence 1 or quote with an explanation
Supporting sentence 2 or quote with an explanation
Supporting sentence 3 or quote with an explanation

IV. Body Paragraph 3

Topic sentence related to the third point of the thesis
Supporting sentence 1 or quote with an explanation
Supporting sentence 2 or quote with an explanation
Supporting sentence 3 or quote with an explanation

V. Conclusion

Restate thesis in a new way
Supporting sentence 1
Supporting sentence 2
Final thoughts, including ideas for future research or additional questions

Here is an example of an outline for a research paper on – “Will the harm of social media outweigh its benefits?”

I. Does the harm of social media outweigh the benefits?

A.  Introduction

1. briefly mention the background of social media
a. specific examples like Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube.

2. explain how social media is a major part of modern people’s lives

3. end with a teaser about whether or not social media is actually good

B. The advantages of social media

1. increased socialization
a. “Many respondents in this study used their social networks to make friends, chat with them, conduct research, and share news or information.”

2. raise awareness of social issues
a. list causes that benefited from social media

3. entertainment value

C. The disadvantages of social media

1. Negative effect on self-esteem

2. Facebook knowingly harming teenage girls

3. Echo chamber effect

“Social media may limit the exposure to diverse perspectives and favor the formation of groups of like-minded users framing and reinforcing a shared narrative, that is, echo chambers.” (The echo chamber effect on social media study)

D. It’s how you use it

1. Research shows both good and bad effects
a. “. . . some research finds that SNS use and self-esteem are negatively associated; while some find that they are positively associated.

2. ways to mitigate disadvantages
a. limit time on social media per day
b. choose only positive platforms
c. learn to recognize and avoid trigger

E. Conclusion

How to Write a Research Outline?

If you want to create an outline for your research paper, the following 5 steps are your savior. Follow them to compile an outline very easily.

Research to gather sources

The first step in preparing an outline for the research paper is to do a primary study. This preparation is majorly needed for academic writing. During this phase, you are supposed to research the topic and collect enough evidence. This evidence will be used to back up your statements in the research work.

For different portions of the research paper, you may collect information from separate sources. In the outline, mention these as well. It is because this will lessen your work to a huge extent. By the time a student finishes the research work, many of them just forget about referencing their work. But once you have it in the outline, there is no chance you can forget it.

Make a list of the topics you want to cover

After you do the research, you already know what information you have. This will help you decide the portions you want to keep. In simple words, you know what to write. Therefore, the second step in outline-making is to organize it. Here try to follow the requirements provided by your professor. Outlining the assignment according to it is very significant.

In case you have to adjust some topics or make changes in the given structure, first discuss with your guide. This will lessen the chances of errors.

Decide on the best order

As you start framing the outline, you may or may not have more than one option in your mind. The best way to make the decision is to write it down on paper and see which serves the purpose of the research. There must be one among the many that reach the closest to the expectations. Thus, compare all of the orders and then make the final call.

When you decide on the order of the information, do check if you need any extra information to stick to that order. The order of the outline remains the same for most research papers. Usually, the changes are observed in the body section. Whatever changes you make must be befitting and should do justice to the topic.

Fill in the details

When you’re satisfied with the structure of your paragraphs, you can start filling in supporting details like quotes and references to sources. As you may have noticed from the standard outline format example above, it’s helpful to include direct quotes and source material links directly in the outline. This makes it easier to find the source material when you’re writing the first draft—and gives you one less thing to worry about.

5. Revise

After you’ve created a workable outline, go over it to see where you can improve. When you see your themes listed, you may notice troublesome regions. Perhaps you lack sufficient evidence for particular claims, or perhaps your work would flow better if the paragraph order was changed.

It can be beneficial to have someone else check the outline to catch errors you may have missed. However, this is not always necessary. Sleeping on it, or re-examining your outline after a break, can also help you spot flaws you overlooked previously.


Topic outlines allow you to concentrate solely on the structure and getting everything in the appropriate spot. As a result, when writing the initial draught, you may concentrate on minutiae-like sentence structure and clarity rather than getting sidetracked by the overall picture.

Knowing how to develop a paper outline is especially vital if you want to maintain track of your previous study. When you outline, you can determine how to organize your results into parts and paragraphs. The outline not only organizes your research but also ensures that nothing is overlooked when drafting the first draught.

Frequently Asked Questions By Students-

What is the purpose of a research paper outline?

Ans. The basic purpose of a research paper outline is to help you in the writing process. This gives you a structure to work on. Also, having an outline presents all the information in a very organized way. It is believed that a proper outline can make writing a research paper more efficient.

How can an outline benefit the overall organization of my research paper?

Ans. Outlines provide a means of organizing your information in a hierarchical or logical order. For research papers, a formal outline can help you keep track of large amounts of information.

Are there different outlining techniques I can use?

Ans. There are three types of research paper outlines: alphanumeric, full-sentence, and decimal. The distinctions are in formatting and writing style.

What are the key elements that should be included in a research paper outline?

Ans. A whole research paper reporting on experimental research would normally include a Title page, Abstract, Introduction, Methods, Results, Discussion, and References section. Many will also include figures and tables, as well as an appendix or appendices.

Are there specific outlining methods for different academic disciplines?

Ans. The generic outlining is always the same irrespective of the academic discipline. But at times, as per the topics, some chapters can be added as well. These special sections are often mentioned by the evaluator. But in case they aren’t, you can ask them separately about it.

How flexible should my outline be if my research is still evolving?

Ans. In a flexible research design, the information is usually non-numerical, and there are no restrictions during the data accumulation. The planning does not take so much time, and the aspects of the study are flexible. In case your research is still evolving, try to give it an exploratory stance. This is a more flexible approach and can be helpful in your case.

Is it necessary to include subheadings and subsections in the outline?

Ans. Not every paragraph or argument requires a subheading. Use subheadings within a larger section only if you have more than one point to communicate per heading level, and if subdividing the section makes the overall structure clearer.

How can I overcome writer’s block while outlining my paper?

Ans. The following can help you overcome writer’s block –

  • Find a comfortable place to write.
  • Don’t try to tackle everything all at once.
  • Switch back and forth between writing and editing.
  • Find inspiration in the work of others.
  • When you are unsure, seek feedback.

Should I create a separate outline for the introduction and conclusion of my paper?

Ans. When you prepare the outline of an essay, it already includes the introduction and the conclusion. So, you need not prepare an outline for introduction and conclusion separately. Also, if you want, you can keep noting the important points for each of these sections.

Can I reuse an outline for different research papers on similar topics?

Ans. Yes, you can reuse the outline until and unless you are not reusing the information already used.

Thomas Taylor

Hi, I am Thomas Taylor, an English essay writing expert at I have completed my MBA from Binghamton university. During my days at university, I experienced the hardships of juggling with academic stress and essay writing tasks. I closely examined all the problems that fellow students and I faced completing such tasks. Once I landed my dream job, I dedicated some of my time to freelance essay writing. As the years went by, my passion for writing grew stronger, and now I work as a full-time English essay writing expert. I love helping students, guiding them on how to write killer essays and grab those A grades. Apart from that, I love photography and bike racing. 

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