How To
12 min read

How to Write a Research Paper Outline With Easy, Step-By-Step Instructions

William Ellis

October 21, 2022

When you are writing a research paper, it is important to stay as organized as possible. Research papers rise and fall on the gathering and organization of facts. One of the most crucial ways a writer can keep their research paper on track is by using an outline. Here you will learn what an outline is, how it benefits your paper, and finally, how to create an outline that will yield a successful research paper.

While there are many outline formats, each is unique and addresses specific purposes, such as outlines for essays or blog posts. Today, we’re going to do a deep dive into developing outlines for research papers.

What is an outline for a research paper?

An outline is a document made before the writing stage of creating a research paper. The outline is created after conducting research and compiling sources and information that is pertinent to the thesis of the research paper.

The outline gives you a series of research paper guideposts to follow during your writing process.

What are the benefits of an outline for a research paper?

An outline offers a level of organization that you would not have if you were to make the mistake of trying to write your research paper entirely free form. Think of your outline as a map that guides your writing process.

When you are writing your paper from an outline, you are setting up the order in which you will write each segment. You know which paragraph goes where in your research paper because of its placement in the outline. This cuts out any second-guessing or additional work that must be done in the writing process.

An outline's greatest advantage is that it breaks the paper down into sections, allowing you to break the writing process into more manageable pieces. It also allows you to tie the paper together coherently and satisfactorily.

Research paper outline structure


Now that you understand the benefits of having an outline for your research paper, you need to learn the structure of a research paper outline.

It needs to be said that while this structure is a neat and clean way to gather your thoughts and information for your paper, you should know there is no singular correct way to fill each section. You can write parts of your outline that will translate exactly to your paper, or you can simply place the general idea of each section and write from there. The outline serves your process and writing style, not the other way around.

Introduction

The introduction of your paper is where you present the thesis statement, or main point, of the paper itself. This is where you present the core problem, argument, or statement at hand that you wish to address. 

There are three components to writing a good introduction for a research paper.

Introductory sentence

With the introductory sentence, you should set out to grab the reader's attention. You can lead in with a question, or present the underlying problem or situation your thesis pertains to.

Supporting sentences

Supporting sentences reinforce the importance of the underlying scenario. Your supporting sentences further intrigue the reader into continuing to read the document.

research paper outline introduction

Image Source

Thesis statement or hypothesis

Finally, this is where you present your thesis statement or hypothesis. Here, the reader learns about the overall main idea of the paper. After this point, your paper's purpose will support your statement or hypothesis.

Do not worry about trying to support your thesis in the introduction. That is what the body of your paper is for. Instead, ensure that your thesis is understood and that your introduction segues into the body.

Body paragraphs

The body paragraphs are what will house the evidence and supporting statements of your thesis. You can be as in-depth with the writing in the body paragraphs as you would like, so long as the primary point of each paragraph is made clear for when you begin the writing process in earnest.

Topic sentence

Every paragraph in your paper will need some form of a topic sentence. This is just a quick indicator of what the paragraph contains. The best part about topic sentences is that they provide the perfect segue and can help you transition between different ideas and statements. Use them like vehicles to glide the reader through the paper.

Supporting sentences

Another way of saying the body of the paragraph, the supporting sentences are the columns that hold up the idea that you laid out in your topic sentence. They should illustrate and provide proven support to your topic sentence and your overall thesis. 

Make sure that each supporting point proves your topic sentence and lets your topic sentences prove your thesis. It's a layered process, but by using a good outline, you'll be able to make it coherent and help convince the reader of your point.

Conclusion

Don't underestimate your conclusion. Your research paper conclusion is the neat bow that will close your paper out and tie everything together. You will use this section to restate your thesis, gloss over your supporting points, and hopefully end the paper by leaving the reader feeling like having learned something. A good conclusion can make or break your research paper.

research paper outline conclusion

Image Source

Reiterate your thesis or hypothesis

By choosing to wait until your conclusion to restate your thesis, you allow plenty of room for your supporting ideas to do their job effectively and tie the end of your paper to the beginning. You'll want to restate your thesis in the first sentence and make sure to use different wording than you did the first time to avoid redundancy.

Supporting sentences

Use the main portion of your conclusion to re-gloss over the key points that you used in the main body of the paper and simplify them into a bite-sized blurb. This helps to show how they support your thesis in the grand picture and show more of the paper's overall point.

Closing

Use the last few lines of your conclusion to wrap things up. Connect any points you haven't so far so as not to leave the reader with more questions, and then make your concluding thoughts. Keep it professional, but leaving the last sentences to clearly state the overarching theme helps to finish it off concisely.

How do you write an outline for a research paper?

Now that you know the different parts of a research paper's outline, you need to start writing down your outline. Because there are separate, yet connected, parts to an outline, it only makes sense that you should break down your outline into a process.

Here are the steps you can take to write an outline for a research paper.

1. Choose your research topic

It makes sense that before you start to write your outline that you should know what topic your outline will be about. If your research paper is for a school assignment, then it is likely that your topic has already been chosen for you. If that is the case, then one of the harder parts of the outlining process has been done for you.

If you are developing your research paper for any other purpose, then at the very least you should choose a topic that will interest you. Nothing is more likely to tank the quality of your research paper than a lack of interest in your subject. 

Choose something that you feel you have something to say about, or that you feel has not been talked about enough. If the topic cannot hold your interest, it will likely not hold a reader's interest.

2. Brainstorm ideas and points to include

Once you have chosen your topic, you need to begin to brainstorm your points or angles on the topic that you feel you can explore. Find an area of the topic that you feel is an unturned stone of sorts.

Part of the brainstorming process is also thinking about where you will be doing your actual research. Consider potential sources that will be particularly knowledgeable about the topic that you are working on. Think of any sources that would be beneficial, but make sure that they are sources that are considered reputable.

3. Start researching and gathering notes

When you start researching your topic, you need to remind yourself that while Google and Wikipedia can help you find good reference points, you should not consider Google and Wikipedia as sources.

Google's results are always fluctuating and Wikipedia's status as being openly edited by its users makes it a dubious source. It does not mean they cannot be part of the research process, but they should be used sparingly as a starting point and never cited.

Do your best to get first-hand knowledge of your topic and always utilize credible sources. Take meticulous notes that you find are important or of particular interest.

Also, make sure you are giving credit to the original source. If you find a blog post that mentions a statistic, it doesn’t mean they should be credited. Look for a link near the statistic you want to use to find the original source. Sometimes you may need to dig more by searching online to find who should be credited as the source.

4. Organize your notes and create a hierarchy

After you have taken notes, you need to start organizing them and creating a hierarchy of their importance. The best way to organize them is in relation to where they will appear in the paper itself. Once you have organized them that way, you need to highlight the notes you consider the most important.

5. Write and revise your headings and subheadings

Once you have your notes laid out where you need them, it is time to start writing the headings and subheadings that make up your paper. Your headings and subheadings should simply be indicators of the type of information that will be contained in the paragraphs they precede.

6. Finalize your research paper outline

After you have created your headings and subheadings, you are ready to put it all together. Work from your notes and reference materials and the order you wish to place them in and pair them with the corresponding headings and subheadings. Treat each segment as a miniature essay of sorts and ensure that each segment has the information you wish to put into the final paper.

Tips for writing a research paper outline

Stay organized

keep an organized outline

Image Source

When you are compiling the information and sources for your outline, it can be easy to get disorganized. When you get disorganized in the outlining process will hurt your end product. Keep a notebook or folders with bookmarks and use them to stay organized, ensuring that the information you gather goes where it needs to be. You do not have to have a perfect organization system, so long as it works for you and your writing style.

Keep a consistent style and tone

While some would argue that a research paper must be totally serious, it ultimately does not matter what tone you choose, so long as it makes sense within the context of your presentation. Having said that, it is important to pick a style and tone and stick with or it will cause your paper to be a jarring reading experience.

Consider AI as a potential tool for your research paper

In recent years there have been more and more tools that feature artificial intelligence to help writers when they feel stuck, whether it's on generating title ideas or coming up with topics. 

The proper way to use AI tools is to think of them as a springboard for ideas by creating the ideas for you. You can even use it to help write out your ideas and supporting sentences, which you can tweak to personalize it to cover your main points properly. 

Copy.ai is a tool that can help you brainstorm ideas, outline your main points, and get your writing started with the help of AI. Give it a free trial today!

Research paper outline FAQs

How can an outline improve a research paper?

Writing an outline can help you streamline the writing process. When you create an outline, you have a more clear and more concise model to create your paper. It also cuts out any writing clutter that tends to accumulate when you attempt to write free form.

What is an effective way of organizing info in a research outline?

The best way to organize information would be to divide it into different levels of importance, (with the most important points at the top) especially in how it pertains to your thesis statement.

You can also organize your information by dividing it into the sections that you intend to place it. Ultimately, you should choose an organizational system that you feel will best help you.

How do you start a research paper outline?

The best way to get started is to choose your topic and then dive into the research. From there, you merely follow the process and place the information you gather into the respective sections you feel will work best.

How do you format a research paper outline?

The typical research paper outline follows APA or MLA standards, with each heading using a Roman numeral, with each subheading using letters of the alphabet, followed by numbered points. 

Final thoughts on writing an outline for a research paper

When you write your research paper outline, you are not creating the first draft of your paper. You are creating a framework that your paper will be forged from. If you find during the development process that you need to deviate from the outline to better serve the paper itself, then that is what you should do.

Hopefully, this has given you a decent guideline to structure your outlines, how to write an outline, and tips along the way so you can create better outlines that lead to great essays.

How To
12 min read

How to Write a Research Paper Outline With Easy, Step-By-Step Instructions

William Ellis
October 21, 2022

When you are writing a research paper, it is important to stay as organized as possible. Research papers rise and fall on the gathering and organization of facts. One of the most crucial ways a writer can keep their research paper on track is by using an outline. Here you will learn what an outline is, how it benefits your paper, and finally, how to create an outline that will yield a successful research paper.

While there are many outline formats, each is unique and addresses specific purposes, such as outlines for essays or blog posts. Today, we’re going to do a deep dive into developing outlines for research papers.

What is an outline for a research paper?

An outline is a document made before the writing stage of creating a research paper. The outline is created after conducting research and compiling sources and information that is pertinent to the thesis of the research paper.

The outline gives you a series of research paper guideposts to follow during your writing process.

What are the benefits of an outline for a research paper?

An outline offers a level of organization that you would not have if you were to make the mistake of trying to write your research paper entirely free form. Think of your outline as a map that guides your writing process.

When you are writing your paper from an outline, you are setting up the order in which you will write each segment. You know which paragraph goes where in your research paper because of its placement in the outline. This cuts out any second-guessing or additional work that must be done in the writing process.

An outline's greatest advantage is that it breaks the paper down into sections, allowing you to break the writing process into more manageable pieces. It also allows you to tie the paper together coherently and satisfactorily.

Research paper outline structure


Now that you understand the benefits of having an outline for your research paper, you need to learn the structure of a research paper outline.

It needs to be said that while this structure is a neat and clean way to gather your thoughts and information for your paper, you should know there is no singular correct way to fill each section. You can write parts of your outline that will translate exactly to your paper, or you can simply place the general idea of each section and write from there. The outline serves your process and writing style, not the other way around.

Introduction

The introduction of your paper is where you present the thesis statement, or main point, of the paper itself. This is where you present the core problem, argument, or statement at hand that you wish to address. 

There are three components to writing a good introduction for a research paper.

Introductory sentence

With the introductory sentence, you should set out to grab the reader's attention. You can lead in with a question, or present the underlying problem or situation your thesis pertains to.

Supporting sentences

Supporting sentences reinforce the importance of the underlying scenario. Your supporting sentences further intrigue the reader into continuing to read the document.

research paper outline introduction

Image Source

Thesis statement or hypothesis

Finally, this is where you present your thesis statement or hypothesis. Here, the reader learns about the overall main idea of the paper. After this point, your paper's purpose will support your statement or hypothesis.

Do not worry about trying to support your thesis in the introduction. That is what the body of your paper is for. Instead, ensure that your thesis is understood and that your introduction segues into the body.

Body paragraphs

The body paragraphs are what will house the evidence and supporting statements of your thesis. You can be as in-depth with the writing in the body paragraphs as you would like, so long as the primary point of each paragraph is made clear for when you begin the writing process in earnest.

Topic sentence

Every paragraph in your paper will need some form of a topic sentence. This is just a quick indicator of what the paragraph contains. The best part about topic sentences is that they provide the perfect segue and can help you transition between different ideas and statements. Use them like vehicles to glide the reader through the paper.

Supporting sentences

Another way of saying the body of the paragraph, the supporting sentences are the columns that hold up the idea that you laid out in your topic sentence. They should illustrate and provide proven support to your topic sentence and your overall thesis. 

Make sure that each supporting point proves your topic sentence and lets your topic sentences prove your thesis. It's a layered process, but by using a good outline, you'll be able to make it coherent and help convince the reader of your point.

Conclusion

Don't underestimate your conclusion. Your research paper conclusion is the neat bow that will close your paper out and tie everything together. You will use this section to restate your thesis, gloss over your supporting points, and hopefully end the paper by leaving the reader feeling like having learned something. A good conclusion can make or break your research paper.

research paper outline conclusion

Image Source

Reiterate your thesis or hypothesis

By choosing to wait until your conclusion to restate your thesis, you allow plenty of room for your supporting ideas to do their job effectively and tie the end of your paper to the beginning. You'll want to restate your thesis in the first sentence and make sure to use different wording than you did the first time to avoid redundancy.

Supporting sentences

Use the main portion of your conclusion to re-gloss over the key points that you used in the main body of the paper and simplify them into a bite-sized blurb. This helps to show how they support your thesis in the grand picture and show more of the paper's overall point.

Closing

Use the last few lines of your conclusion to wrap things up. Connect any points you haven't so far so as not to leave the reader with more questions, and then make your concluding thoughts. Keep it professional, but leaving the last sentences to clearly state the overarching theme helps to finish it off concisely.

How do you write an outline for a research paper?

Now that you know the different parts of a research paper's outline, you need to start writing down your outline. Because there are separate, yet connected, parts to an outline, it only makes sense that you should break down your outline into a process.

Here are the steps you can take to write an outline for a research paper.

1. Choose your research topic

It makes sense that before you start to write your outline that you should know what topic your outline will be about. If your research paper is for a school assignment, then it is likely that your topic has already been chosen for you. If that is the case, then one of the harder parts of the outlining process has been done for you.

If you are developing your research paper for any other purpose, then at the very least you should choose a topic that will interest you. Nothing is more likely to tank the quality of your research paper than a lack of interest in your subject. 

Choose something that you feel you have something to say about, or that you feel has not been talked about enough. If the topic cannot hold your interest, it will likely not hold a reader's interest.

2. Brainstorm ideas and points to include

Once you have chosen your topic, you need to begin to brainstorm your points or angles on the topic that you feel you can explore. Find an area of the topic that you feel is an unturned stone of sorts.

Part of the brainstorming process is also thinking about where you will be doing your actual research. Consider potential sources that will be particularly knowledgeable about the topic that you are working on. Think of any sources that would be beneficial, but make sure that they are sources that are considered reputable.

3. Start researching and gathering notes

When you start researching your topic, you need to remind yourself that while Google and Wikipedia can help you find good reference points, you should not consider Google and Wikipedia as sources.

Google's results are always fluctuating and Wikipedia's status as being openly edited by its users makes it a dubious source. It does not mean they cannot be part of the research process, but they should be used sparingly as a starting point and never cited.

Do your best to get first-hand knowledge of your topic and always utilize credible sources. Take meticulous notes that you find are important or of particular interest.

Also, make sure you are giving credit to the original source. If you find a blog post that mentions a statistic, it doesn’t mean they should be credited. Look for a link near the statistic you want to use to find the original source. Sometimes you may need to dig more by searching online to find who should be credited as the source.

4. Organize your notes and create a hierarchy

After you have taken notes, you need to start organizing them and creating a hierarchy of their importance. The best way to organize them is in relation to where they will appear in the paper itself. Once you have organized them that way, you need to highlight the notes you consider the most important.

5. Write and revise your headings and subheadings

Once you have your notes laid out where you need them, it is time to start writing the headings and subheadings that make up your paper. Your headings and subheadings should simply be indicators of the type of information that will be contained in the paragraphs they precede.

6. Finalize your research paper outline

After you have created your headings and subheadings, you are ready to put it all together. Work from your notes and reference materials and the order you wish to place them in and pair them with the corresponding headings and subheadings. Treat each segment as a miniature essay of sorts and ensure that each segment has the information you wish to put into the final paper.

Tips for writing a research paper outline

Stay organized

keep an organized outline

Image Source

When you are compiling the information and sources for your outline, it can be easy to get disorganized. When you get disorganized in the outlining process will hurt your end product. Keep a notebook or folders with bookmarks and use them to stay organized, ensuring that the information you gather goes where it needs to be. You do not have to have a perfect organization system, so long as it works for you and your writing style.

Keep a consistent style and tone

While some would argue that a research paper must be totally serious, it ultimately does not matter what tone you choose, so long as it makes sense within the context of your presentation. Having said that, it is important to pick a style and tone and stick with or it will cause your paper to be a jarring reading experience.

Consider AI as a potential tool for your research paper

In recent years there have been more and more tools that feature artificial intelligence to help writers when they feel stuck, whether it's on generating title ideas or coming up with topics. 

The proper way to use AI tools is to think of them as a springboard for ideas by creating the ideas for you. You can even use it to help write out your ideas and supporting sentences, which you can tweak to personalize it to cover your main points properly. 

Copy.ai is a tool that can help you brainstorm ideas, outline your main points, and get your writing started with the help of AI. Give it a free trial today!

Research paper outline FAQs

How can an outline improve a research paper?

Writing an outline can help you streamline the writing process. When you create an outline, you have a more clear and more concise model to create your paper. It also cuts out any writing clutter that tends to accumulate when you attempt to write free form.

What is an effective way of organizing info in a research outline?

The best way to organize information would be to divide it into different levels of importance, (with the most important points at the top) especially in how it pertains to your thesis statement.

You can also organize your information by dividing it into the sections that you intend to place it. Ultimately, you should choose an organizational system that you feel will best help you.

How do you start a research paper outline?

The best way to get started is to choose your topic and then dive into the research. From there, you merely follow the process and place the information you gather into the respective sections you feel will work best.

How do you format a research paper outline?

The typical research paper outline follows APA or MLA standards, with each heading using a Roman numeral, with each subheading using letters of the alphabet, followed by numbered points. 

Final thoughts on writing an outline for a research paper

When you write your research paper outline, you are not creating the first draft of your paper. You are creating a framework that your paper will be forged from. If you find during the development process that you need to deviate from the outline to better serve the paper itself, then that is what you should do.

Hopefully, this has given you a decent guideline to structure your outlines, how to write an outline, and tips along the way so you can create better outlines that lead to great essays.

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