How to Write a Research Paper Outline

How to Write a Research Paper Outline

If you don’t have the slightest clue on how to write a research paper outline, it is time you got some ideas. The research paper is an important part of your academic year. You are supposed to demonstrate you have clearly understood the material covered through the course. Therefore, having an outline will help determine whether or not you deliver impressive work.

Decide on a topic

The first thing you need to do is decide what topic to write about. Once you have done this, start paying attention to the scope of the paper or what you intend to include in the discussion. A broader topic means you will have a difficult time discussing the topic in details.

Therefore, it is important beforehand to determine the limitations and scope of the paper as this will set the foundation for your paper outline.

Tips on how to write a research paper outline

  • The structure and type of outline

Make a choice between a sentence and topic outline. In the case of topic outline, sub-points and headings should be given short phrases or single words. With an outline, all the sub-points and headings should be in completed sentences.

  • Often, topic outlines are used when the research is on different issues that need to be arranged in varying ways
  • Sentence outlines on the other hand are used when the research is focused on issues that are complex
  • You can either combine these outlines or use one depending on the guidelines provided by your instructor.

Most of the outlines tend to use alpha-numerical structure. This kind of structure relies on a series of numbers and letters that arrange and identify different section levels.

  • Roman numerals are used to represent the first level (I, II,III etc.), capital letters are used for the second level (A, B, C etc.), numbers are used for the third level (1, 2, 3 etc.) while lowercase letters are used for the fourth level (a,b,c etc.).

Before you write a research paper outline there is one important aspect you need to remember which is the issue of capitalization. In headings, sentence outlines and points, it is important to follow the appropriate capitalization rules. However, this is not the case when it comes to topic outlines.

  • There is a school of thought indicating first level headings are supposed to be written in capital letters while the other headings use standard sentence capitalization rules.
  • Another school of thought says first level headings are supposed to have the first letter of every word capitalized and not the whole word. The headings that remain are supposed to use standard capitalization sentence rules.

While at it, it is also important to keep length matters in mind. The outline you come up with should not be long than one-quarter to one-fifth of the total estimated size of your research paper.

  • For a 4 to 5 page research paper, a single page outline is enough
  • For a fifteen to twenty page research paper, the outline should not be more than 4 pages

Find samples on how to write a research paper outline here.

What constitutes the outline?

When writing a research paper outline, you should note it has 3 main parts which include; introduction, the body and conclusion.


The introduction is supposed to carry your thesis statement or research topic and the purpose of the study. You might also include the reason you selected that specific topic or significance of the research paper topic.

You might also want to indicate the kind of approach you intend to use in the paper for the discussion of the topic. This means your introduction is supposed to briefly state all major points regarding your topic to the readers.

  • Do not write the introduction fully yet. It is advisable to wait until you begin the actual writing process to write the full introduction
  • For now, you can write just a placeholder outline. Often, introductions start with broad statement and they narrow down to the thesis statement. You should have a couple of bullet points on where to start and at the same time, include the thesis statement.


In the body of your research paper you are supposed to present arguments that support the thesis statement. Therefore, it is imperative that you find at least 3 supporting arguments for every position you decide to take. Begin with a solid argument, follow it up with a stronger one and end with the strongest argument as the final point.

Every main heading in the body of the outline should be labeled by a short sentence or phrase that states the major category of the research paper. This is one important part that should not miss when writing a research paper outline.

  • This section of the outline is supposed to contain significant content
  • Main headings are supposed to correspond with main categories briefly listed under subheading of the “Introduction” section
  • You should consider including main ideas and some supporting details of such ideas. Alternatively, you can include information regarding specific paragraphs and some supporting details in the paragraphs.


This is where you are supposed to present a summary for your arguments as well as state your final stand. You have to explain your reasons for ending with your preferred conclusion. In the conclusion you are supposed to:

  • Rephrase and restate the thesis
  • If you had any additional conclusions based on research, you are supposed to list them here as well. Bear in mind you should not have any “new” information in the conclusion since such is addressed in other parts of the paper.
  • If your research paper demands “call to action” make sure that you include it in this section. Note that this is the final point of your research paper outline.

Click here, for a sample to help you know more on how to write a research paper outline. It is always advisable to review these samples before you commence with the writing as it gives you an idea of what is expected from you.

Steps to follow as you write your outline

Lay the groundwork

You should start by reviewing the assignment in order to be clear on the format and requirements. If you have queries about the paper, ask your instructor. You should not wait till the last minute to email a question regarding the paper.

Choose a topic

You might have been assignment a topic or given the freedom to choose one. Though you might have been assigned a general topic, you have to decide on the kind of “angle” to approach it. Identify the purpose of the paper as well before you get started.

Do proper research

Most of the research papers require a lot of research. Therefore, it is important that you begin gathering materials before you begin the outline. As you work on the outline, you might come across likely gaps that need deeper research. However, you can never be sure of what to say unless you have carried out preliminary research. Always pick reliable sources and make sure that you keep track of the same as well.

Develop the topic

Before you begin organizing the paper, take time to generate some ideas regarding your topic. You might find that exercises of prewriting help you in getting started. For instance, you can try free writing where you spend five to ten minutes writing anything that come to your mind regarding the topic. Also, you can try clustering which is some sort of mind-mapping that helps you connect ideas.

Write your working thesis

The thesis statement is supposed to revolve around the topic of your research paper. Therefore, it is imperative to have a working thesis which will serve as the central point or goal of your paper. Knowing how to write a research paper outline is easy so long as you follow these simple guidelines listed below:

Begin early

Usually, research papers tend to be long compared to other assignment. Additionally, this kind of paper demands a lot of research and work. You should never till the last minute to begin working on your research paper outline.

  • It is advisable to work in stages. Give yourself time in between every stage in order to come up with fresh ideas.

Find additional samples to help you know how to write a research paper outline that is impressive at


Do you need help to complete your academic papers such as essays, term papers, research papers, dissertations among others. We offer the best academic writing services online. You have a lot on your plate and we understand that which is why we also offer dissertation editing and writing services at affordable rates.

To enjoy any of our services, you need to get in touch with us here or visit our homepage to see in what other manner we can be of assistance to you. You might also be interested in reading more of our academic paper samples. To accomplish this, visit this blog  where you will also find academic sample papers available in diverse disciplines.