How to Write a Research Paper Outline

by Sidney Thompson 10 min read
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Academic writing can be daunting, but having a well-crafted plan can make the write-up process much more manageable. An outline of a research paper is a roadmap that guides the direction and content of your essay. It will help you stay organized, focus your effort, and produce a polished final document.

In this article, we will discuss the importance of outlining and teach you how to make an outline for a research paper step-by-step. We will also provide some examples that you can use to come up with your own roadmap.

Research Paper Explained

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A student writing notes in a notebook

Before diving into outlining, let's briefly review what a research paper is and what it involves.

At its core, it is a written document that presents and analyzes the results of studying a particular topic. You need to gather relevant data, analyze that data, and draw conclusions based on your findings to create it.

A successful research paper will typically include the following components:

  • An introduction that states the purpose of your writing and the main findings,
  • A methods section that specifies the methodologies used,
  • A results section that showcases the information collected,
  • A discussion section that explores how your findings fit into the wider context,
  • A conclusion that summarizes your main points and suggests areas for further studying.

What Is an Outline for a Research Paper?

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Now, let's move on to outlining. Understanding what an outline is and why it is important can help you produce better content.

An outline of a research paper is essentially a plan for what you will write in your essay. An outline for research paper works is a list of the topics and arguments to include. It typically comprises of the major sections along with brief descriptions of what each section will cover. All the necessary facts and evidence that support your main points should be present in your plan.

Why Make an Outline for Research Paper?

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Now that we know what an outline is, let’s see why it is so important to create a detailed outline for research paper.

Keeping you organized

Writing a research paper outline can help you keep track of the main components of your writing. It also serves as a reference point to check if you have included all the ideas to uncover your topic.

Focusing your research

When writing a paper outline, you can use it to focus your research. Having a list of points to cover, you won’t miss any key information when gathering data. By the way, you can find a good sample of outlines for research papers to have a better idea.

Improving the flow

A plan can help you ensure that your document has a proper structure. By organizing all the ideas in advance, you can easily see how different sections and points link together. Thus, you can improve the flow of your writing and make it easier to read and comprehend.

Making the writing process easier

Finally, crafting an outline can help speed up the writing process. With all the major components of your document planned out, you can sit down and get writing quickly.

How to Do a Research Paper Outline in 7 Steps

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Now, it is time to proceed to the practical part — how to do an outline for a research paper. Of course, there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to creating outlines for research papers. Still, these basic steps can help you get started.

Step 1: choose a topic

The first step in writing an outline for a research paper is to choose a topic. Select a subject that interests you and has enough information available on it. Pick a topic that is narrow enough to be manageable but broad enough to explore ideas.

Step 2: conduct research

Once you have your topic, start gathering relevant data to support your ideas. Use various sources, such as books, journals, and online databases to find useful materials. Read through the sources and take notes of all the important information.

Step 3: identify your audience

Next, think about who you are writing for and the type of information they need. Understanding your audience will help you decide on the structure of your document and what points to include.

Step 4: brainstorm ideas

Now, it is time to brainstorm ideas related to your topic. Think about the points you want to make and what evidence will be most effective in supporting them. Generate a list of all the ideas and points that you can think of. Brainstorming will help you design each section of your document.

Step 5: develop your thesis statement

After determining the main ideas, develop a thesis statement. Your thesis statement is the main argument of your writing. It should be a concise summary of the work you have performed and the conclusions you have drawn.

Step 6: make an outline of research paper

Once you have a list of concepts, you can move to the fun part — writing an outline. Begin with your thesis statement and a brief overview of what you will be discussing in the paper. Then, move on to listing out all the key ideas and evidence you want to use to support your points. You can also include the sub-points that you want to address in each section of your paper.

Step 7: review and revise

Now that you have come up with the plan, take time to review and revise it. Make sure that all the points look logical, and that there is a clear flow from one point to the next. Check if all the evidence you have included is relevant and up-to-date. See if your outline adheres to the requirements of your instructor or professor (if any).

Research Paper Outline Templates

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A pile of papers and books on a table

When outlining your writing, a research paper outline template would come in handy. It can help you organize your thoughts, structure the paper logically, and make sure that all points link back to the main argument.

There are several types of plans you can use when crafting a research paper. Let’s look through the common examples of a research paper outline.

📄 Alphanumeric Outline Format for Research Papers

An alphanumeric outline of a research paper uses letters and numbers to organize the main ideas and sub-points. This type of outline is good for writing longer papers, such as essays or dissertations. It helps to keep track of all the important points in an organized manner.

The alphanumeric format consists of two parts:

  • The main headings (lettered)
  • Subheadings (numbered)

Each heading may include keywords related to its content so readers can quickly identify what each section will discuss. This outline paper example allows for easy rearrangement if needed during the writing process.

What does a research paper outline look like in the alphanumeric format? Here is the basic structure:

I. Introduction

  • Background Information
  • Thesis Statement

II. Body Paragraphs

  • Point 1 (Main Idea)

1. Supporting Evidence A

2. Supporting Evidence B 

  • Point 2 (Main Idea)

1. Supporting Evidence A

2. Supporting Evidence B 

III. Conclusion

  • Summary of Main Points
  • Restatement of Thesis Statement

📄 Decimal Research Paper Outline Format

The decimal outline format assumes using decimal numbers to structure the main ideas and sub-points of a paper. It consists of a single number followed by a period, the main idea (or heading), and the subheadings that come after it. Just like in an alphanumeric research outline sample, you can use relevant keywords in all headings.

A decimal research paper outline template is particularly useful for longer papers. When used for dissertations or theses, it allows for easy navigation to different sections and subsections.

Here is a decimal sample outline for research papers:

1. Introduction

  • Background Information
  • Thesis Statement

2. Body Paragraphs

  • Point 1 (Main Idea)

1. Supporting Evidence A

2. Supporting Evidence B 

  • Point 2 (Main Idea)

1. Supporting Evidence A

2. Supporting Evidence B 

3. Conclusion

  • Summary of Main Points
  • Restatement of Thesis Statement

📄 Full-Sentence Research Paper Outline Format

A full-sentence outline of a research paper uses complete sentences to list the main ideas and sub-points of writing. Such an outline of a research paper follows a logical flow from one point to the next. 

A full-sentence outline works well for longer papers, such as courseworks and dissertations. It is also suitable for shorter papers that call for more structure but don’t need the same rigorous formatting requirements. 

Here is an example of a full-sentence format:                                                                                                                                                                                               

I. Introduction

  • Background Information

The topic of my writing is…

  • Thesis Statement

My research paper will argue that…

II. Body Paragraphs

  • Point 1 (Main Idea)

1. Supporting Evidence A

Evidence shows that… 

2. Supporting Evidence B 

Studies suggest that…

  • Point 2 (Main Idea)

1. Supporting Evidence A

Experts agree that… 

2. Supporting Evidence B 

Results show that…

III. Conclusion

  • Summary of Main Points

My research paper has shown that…

  • Restatement of Thesis Statement 

My research paper has argued that…

A Basic Research Paper Outline Example

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A woman writing in a notebook in front of a monitor

Want an outline example for research paper writing that you can use as a reference? Here you go — a college research paper outline dedicated to the benefits of exercise.

I. Introduction

  • Background Information

This study focuses on the benefits of exercise.

  • Thesis Statement

Regular exercise can provide health benefits for individuals of all ages and backgrounds.

II. Body Paragraphs

  • Point 1 (Main Idea) – Physical Benefits of Exercise 

1. Supporting Evidence A 

Physical activity helps to reduce the risk of chronic illnesses like heart disease and type 2 diabetes. It improves health markers such as blood pressure levels, weight control, and cholesterol levels in adults. 

2. Supporting Evidence B    

Regular physical activity helps improve bone density. As a result, the risk of osteoporosis reduces (especially for women).

  • Point 2 (Main Idea) – Mental & Emotional Benefits of Exercise

1. Supporting Evidence A 

Exercise can be effective at reducing stress, anxiety, depression, and other negative emotions. It can also promote a sense of well-being through natural endorphin release.

2. Supporting Evidence B    

Regular exercise can improve cognitive function and memory. Thus, physical activity is good for improving focus and concentration.

III. Conclusion

  • Summary of Main Points

Regular physical activity can have many physical, mental, and emotional benefits. Individuals of all ages and backgrounds can experience these positive effects.

  • Restatement of Thesis Statement 

Regular exercise can have positive effects on health and well-being.

Summary

Creating an outline for writing a research paper is crucially important. It helps you to organize your thoughts and ensure you have strong arguments to back your position.

Now that you know how to write an outline for a research paper, you are all set to craft your content with confidence. Use the outline samples for research papers we have shared in this article as a guide for writing your own. With an outline in hand, you will ensure a clear flow of ideas and a logical structure for your argument.

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