How to Write an Outline for a Research Paper

How to Write an Outline for a Research Paper

If you want to always write a great and organized research paper, you should know how to write an outline for a research paper. A research paper outline is a plan or a blueprint of the paper- It makes organizing arguments and thoughts in the paper easy. When you have a good outline, even conducting research and writing the paper becomes efficient and easy. Using an outline to write a research paper enables you to depict logical ordering and hierarchical relationship of information. An outline enables you to track voluminous information while writing a research paper.

A step by step guide on how to write an outline for a research paper

  • Determine the topic of your research paper

Whether you want to write an informative or reflective research paper, you must have a topic that describes your work. Your topic can be broad but not overly broad. The topic that you choose for your research paper should enable you to cover the issues that you will be writing about within a specified length of the paper. Make the topic the title of your outline.

  • Determine the purpose of your paper

Determining the purpose of the research paper that you want to write will not only enable you to determine if the topic that you choose is ideal for it but also give your chosen topic and the paper direction. It will also enable you to come up with the most appropriate structure for the paper. Your paper must fulfill its purpose in order to be relevant to the target audience. For instance, you could be writing a paper that compares and contrasts things. You could also be analyzing a particular concept in the paper. This knowledge will enable you to come up with an outline that will make writing your research paper easier.

  • Come up with a thesis statement for the paper

A thesis statement should summarize the purpose of your paper. Narrow down your topic to make a thesis statement. Your thesis statement should be included in the introduction of the outline.

  • Gather relevant supporting materials

These could be statistics, images, quotes, personal reflections or plot points. The choice of supporting materials should depend on the kind of a research paper that you are writing. Ensure that the materials that you gather support your work. If there are conflicting ideas, come up with an outline that will enable you to address them instead of avoiding or ignoring them-

  • Decide whether to use a topic outline style or sentence outline style

A topic outline has short phrases. A sentence outline has a complete sentence for every point. You can choose any style if your teacher or professor has not specified the style to use.

  • Decide on the order of your research paper

How you order the information that you include in the outline shows whether you really know how to write an outline for a research paper. In fact, your outline indicates how you will order the information that you will present in your research paper. Start with the strongest points and evidence and organize all main points and supporting evidence in an effective manner. The order of the information should make ideas and information flow naturally.

  • Identify main categories

Depending on the size of the paper and the kind of evidence that you want to present in the paper, determine the most appropriate way of breaking down your larger topic into categories. These categories will be the first level of the outline. Traditionally, main categories are labeled using Roman numerals.

  • Include sub-categories for each main category

The sub-categories should be the sub-points of your paper. These should be the second level of the outline. Traditionally, English alphabet letters are used to label sub categories in a research paper. While breaking down the topic into main categories and sub-categories, remember that your outline should break down various parts of your thesis in a hierarchical and clear manner to enable you and the readers to see the entire format of the paper-

Sample of a research paper outline

Using a sample outline for a research paper will enable you to know how to write an outline for a research paper with ease. This is because a sample outline acts as your writing guide.

Here is a sample outline for a research paper that you can use as your writing guide:

Title: Federal Regulations Should Foster Laws for Protecting Wetlands and Restoring the Destroyed Wetlands

  • Introduction

Thesis: Federal regulations should foster laws for protecting wetlands and restoring the ones that are already destroyed while taking measures for improving development.


  1. Literature Review
  2. Studies indicate massive wetlands loss nationally.
  3. Reports of wetlands loss in Illinois
  4. Poor quality water supply and more flooding
  5. Inability to control floods.
  • Analysis
  1. Dramatic floods
  2. Analysis of the deaths caused by floods from 1988 to 1998.
  3. Analysis of the value of the property damaged by floods every year.
  4. Great flood in Midwestern in 1993
  5. Analysis of the caused devastation
  6. Analysis of the lost wetlands
  7. Results
  8. Floods cause loss of lives and properties
  9. Prevention measures are necessary
  10. Recommendation
  11. Wetland laws
  12. Legislatures are inadequately informed about floods and wetlands and re-education is therefore necessary.
  13. Laws for protecting wetlands sufficiently are lacking and therefore they should be legislated.
  14. Flood prevention measures
  15. Interconnecting natural water ways
  16. Restoring watersheds
  17. Save wetlands with new federal laws
  18. Conclusion

This study has shown that wetlands should be protected and the damaged wetlands restored to prevent further loss of properties and lives when flooding occurs. Appropriate policies for mitigating flood impacts should be formulated and implemented. Further research should be conducted on other measures of mitigating the impacts of floods.

More on how to write an outline for a research paper

  • Break down your outline in three sections

An outline for a research paper can be broken down into three major sections. These are the introduction, the body and the conclusion. The introduction as indicated in the above sample states the thesis statement. This statement describes the content of the research paper. The body includes literature review, analysis, results and discussion as well as recommendation. The conclusion summarizes what can be learnt from the research and major findings while calling for future research. It also includes a restatement of the thesis statement.

  • Ensure proper organization

The organization of an outline for a research paper is very important because it determines how you organize information in the research paper. The overall organization depends on the topic or subject of the research paper that you intend to write. For instance, if you are writing a research paper on a historic event, come up with an outline whose organization indicates how events occurred in a series. A chronological organization is ideal for an outline of such a paper.

If a chronological organization cannot work for your paper, take a spatial approach. With this approach, you make a general statement that relates to your thesis statement the first piece or item in the research paper’s body. Other additional points of the body are less general or more specific. However, all ideas that you generated or the materials that you gathered in your research should be grouped together in the outline-

  • Ensure clarity in the outline

Your outline should be straightforward and concise. Although you do not have to make your outline perfect, make sure that it gets the points across. Do not fear eliminating information that you find irrelevant while conducting further research on your topic. Make sure that the final outline that you come up with narrows down your topic and the area that you will be focusing on while writing the research paper.

  • Use appropriate wording

The words that you use can easily tell someone if you know how to write an outline for a research paper or not. Your outline should be your memorization tool that reminds you the main concepts while writing the paper. It should be a guide that enables you to organize ideas in your mind and in the paper. Therefore, use words and phrases that will trigger your memory to recall certain concepts or ideas.

  • Include references

In the last section of the outline of a research paper, include all sources that you used to conduct research before writing the paper- Including references enables you to avoid leaving them out while writing the paper. References are important because they enhance the credibility of your research.

Get help with your research paper

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