How Can You Create a Well Planned Research Paper Outline
You are staring at the blank document, meaning to start writing your research paper . After months of experiments and procuring results, your PI asked you to write the paper to publish it in a reputed journal. You spoke to your peers and a few seniors and received a few tips on writing a research paper, but you still can’t plan on how to begin!
Writing a research paper is a very common issue among researchers and is often looked upon as a time consuming hurdle. Researchers usually look up to this task as an impending threat, avoiding and procrastinating until they cannot delay it anymore. Seeking advice from internet and seniors they manage to write a paper which goes in for quite a few revisions. Making researchers lose their sense of understanding with respect to their research work and findings. In this article, we would like to discuss how to create a structured research paper outline which will assist a researcher in writing their research paper effectively!
Publication is an important component of research studies in a university for academic promotion and in obtaining funding to support research. However, the primary reason is to provide the data and hypotheses to scientific community to advance the understanding in a specific domain. A scientific paper is a formal record of a research process. It documents research protocols, methods, results, conclusion, and discussion from a research hypothesis .
Table of Contents
What Is a Research Paper Outline?
A research paper outline is a basic format for writing an academic research paper. It follows the IMRAD format (Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion). However, this format varies depending on the type of research manuscript. A research paper outline consists of following sections to simplify the paper for readers. These sections help researchers build an effective paper outline.
1. Title Page
The title page provides important information which helps the editors, reviewers, and readers identify the manuscript and the authors at a glance. It also provides an overview of the field of research the research paper belongs to. The title should strike a balance between precise and detailed. Other generic details include author’s given name, affiliation, keywords that will provide indexing, details of the corresponding author etc. are added to the title page.
Abstract is the most important section of the manuscript and will help the researcher create a detailed research paper outline . To be more precise, an abstract is like an advertisement to the researcher’s work and it influences the editor in deciding whether to submit the manuscript to reviewers or not. Writing an abstract is a challenging task. Researchers can write an exemplary abstract by selecting the content carefully and being concise.
An introduction is a background statement that provides the context and approach of the research. It describes the problem statement with the assistance of the literature study and elaborates the requirement to update the knowledge gap. It sets the research hypothesis and informs the readers about the big research question.
This section is usually named as “Materials and Methods”, “Experiments” or “Patients and Methods” depending upon the type of journal. This purpose provides complete information on methods used for the research. Researchers should mention clear description of materials and their use in the research work. If the methods used in research are already published, give a brief account and refer to the original publication. However, if the method used is modified from the original method, then researcher should mention the modifications done to the original protocol and validate its accuracy, precision, and repeatability.
It is best to report results as tables and figures wherever possible. Also, avoid duplication of text and ensure that the text summarizes the findings. Report the results with appropriate descriptive statistics. Furthermore, report any unexpected events that could affect the research results, and mention complete account of observations and explanations for missing data (if any).
The discussion should set the research in context, strengthen its importance and support the research hypothesis. Summarize the main results of the study in one or two paragraphs and show how they logically fit in an overall scheme of studies. Compare the results with other investigations in the field of research and explain the differences.
Acknowledgements identify and thank the contributors to the study, who are not under the criteria of co-authors. It also includes the recognition of funding agency and universities that award scholarships or fellowships to researchers.
8. Declaration of Competing Interests
Finally, declaring the competing interests is essential to abide by ethical norms of unique research publishing. Competing interests arise when the author has more than one role that may lead to a situation where there is a conflict of interest.
Steps to Write a Research Paper Outline
- Write down all important ideas that occur to you concerning the research paper .
- Answer questions such as – what is the topic of my paper? Why is the topic important? How to formulate the hypothesis? What are the major findings?
- Add context and structure. Group all your ideas into sections – Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion/Conclusion.
- Add relevant questions to each section. It is important to note down the questions. This will help you align your thoughts.
- Expand the ideas based on the questions created in the paper outline.
- After creating a detailed outline, discuss it with your mentors and peers.
- Get enough feedback and decide on the journal you will submit to.
- The process of real writing begins.
Benefits of Creating a Research Paper Outline
As discussed, the research paper subheadings create an outline of what different aspects of research needs elaboration. This provides subtopics on which the researchers brainstorm and reach a conclusion to write. A research paper outline organizes the researcher’s thoughts and gives a clear picture of how to formulate the research protocols and results. It not only helps the researcher to understand the flow of information but also provides relation between the ideas.
A research paper outline helps researcher achieve a smooth transition between topics and ensures that no research point is forgotten. Furthermore, it allows the reader to easily navigate through the research paper and provides a better understanding of the research. The paper outline allows the readers to find relevant information and quotes from different part of the paper.
Research Paper Outline Template
A research paper outline template can help you understand the concept of creating a well planned research paper before beginning to write and walk through your journey of research publishing.
1. Research Title
A. Background i. Support with evidence ii. Support with existing literature studies
B. Thesis Statement i. Link literature with hypothesis ii. Support with evidence iii. Explain the knowledge gap and how this research will help build the gap 4. Body
A. Methods i. Mention materials and protocols used in research ii. Support with evidence
B. Results i. Support with tables and figures ii. Mention appropriate descriptive statistics
C. Discussion i. Support the research with context ii. Support the research hypothesis iii. Compare the results with other investigations in field of research
D. Conclusion i. Support the discussion and research investigation ii. Support with literature studies
E. Acknowledgements i. Identify and thank the contributors ii. Include the funding agency, if any
F. Declaration of Competing Interests
Download the Research Paper Outline Template!
Have you tried writing a research paper outline ? How did it work for you? Did it help you achieve your research paper writing goal? Do let us know about your experience in the comments below.
Downloadable format shared which is great. 🙂
Rate this article Cancel Reply
Your email address will not be published.
Enago Academy's Most Popular
- Reporting Research
Research Recommendations – Guiding policy-makers for evidence-based decision making
Research recommendations play a crucial role in guiding scholars and researchers toward fruitful avenues of…
- Promoting Research
Concept Papers in Research: Deciphering the blueprint of brilliance
Concept papers hold significant importance as a precursor to a full-fledged research proposal in academia…
8 Effective Strategies to Write Argumentative Essays
In a bustling university town, there lived a student named Alex. Popular for creativity and…
- Diversity and Inclusion
- Language & Grammar
Language as a Bridge, Not a Barrier: ESL researchers’ path to successful research and publishing
The landscape of academic research has witnessed a remarkable shift in recent years with the…
- AI in Academia
Disclosing the Use of Generative AI: Best practices for authors in manuscript preparation
The rapid proliferation of generative and other AI-based tools in research writing has ignited an…
Setting Rationale in Research: Cracking the code for excelling at research
Mitigating Survivorship Bias in Scholarly Research: 10 tips to enhance data integrity
The Power of Proofreading: Taking your academic work to the next level
Facing Difficulty Writing an Academic Essay? — Here is your one-stop solution!
Sign-up to read more
Subscribe for free to get unrestricted access to all our resources on research writing and academic publishing including:
- 2000+ blog articles
- 50+ Webinars
- 10+ Expert podcasts
- 50+ Infographics
- 10+ Checklists
- Research Guides
We hate spam too. We promise to protect your privacy and never spam you.
I am looking for Editing/ Proofreading services for my manuscript Tentative date of next journal submission:
What support would you need for successful conference participation?
- Write Paper
- Social Anxiety
- Research Paper >
Research Paper Outline
The research paper outline is essential for any article or term paper. The outline may make a great difference on how your work is interpreted.
This article is a part of the guide:
- Outline Examples
- Example of a Paper
- Write a Hypothesis
Browse Full Outline
- 1 Write a Research Paper
- 2 Writing a Paper
- 3.1 Write an Outline
- 3.2 Outline Examples
- 4.1 Thesis Statement
- 4.2 Write a Hypothesis
- 5.2 Abstract
- 5.3 Introduction
- 5.4 Methods
- 5.5 Results
- 5.6 Discussion
- 5.7 Conclusion
- 5.8 Bibliography
- 6.1 Table of Contents
- 6.2 Acknowledgements
- 6.3 Appendix
- 7.1 In Text Citations
- 7.2 Footnotes
- 7.3.1 Floating Blocks
- 7.4 Example of a Paper
- 7.5 Example of a Paper 2
- 7.6.1 Citations
- 7.7.1 Writing Style
- 7.7.2 Citations
- 8.1.1 Sham Peer Review
- 8.1.2 Advantages
- 8.1.3 Disadvantages
- 8.2 Publication Bias
- 8.3.1 Journal Rejection
- 9.1 Article Writing
- 9.2 Ideas for Topics
Writing a research paper is as important as performing the actual research or experiment itself and can appear to be a very daunting task.
It does not matter what conclusions you arrived at or how perfect your experimentation was, if you put no effort into writing a good report then your study will not be taken seriously.
If you break report writing down into its constituent parts, it is not as complex as it seems and there is no reason to be worried. Scientific reports, for the vast majority of disciplines, are all structured in the same way; if you follow this structure then you cannot go far wrong.
It is useful to note that every scientific discipline, every university and even supervisors can have their own preferred methods of constructing reports; with this in mind, do not be afraid to ask for advice on the best research paper format for your report.
Layout and Length
For most assessed reports you will be told how long it should be, generally by the number of words.
This is generally only a guide and is not set in stone; in most cases this limit does not include appendices and citation pages .
If you plan to write for a specific journal , a good advice is to check the research paper outline of some of the articles to get a better idea on how to write your article . Here are a few outline samples .
If your report is complex and strays over this limit, there should be no problem, as long as you have not repeated yourself or filled your work with irrelevant information. It is good practice to bear in mind that the appendix is there for any information that you feel could be omitted from the report without affecting the clarity.
Your report can be shorter than the advised word limit if everything that needs to be included is there. This is preferable than trying to pad out the report in order to fulfill some ‘word count' facility on the computer, risking being penalized for irrelevance.
For longer reports, it is useful to break each section down into subsections, to make your report more reader friendly and easier to navigate.
The vast majority of scientific reports can be broken down into the following constituent parts.
- Title - Author(s)
- Table of Contents
- Equipment and Methodology
- Results AND Discussion
- References and Citations
Title and Authors
Although the title is the shortest page of your report, it is often the most difficult to write.
It is important to make clear to a researcher everything that needs saying but without the title being overlong and unwieldy. It does not have to be the first section written because, in many cases, the final title will not occur to you until you have finished writing the report.
Nowadays, most research establishments have a database to search titles by keyword so try to make sure that your title contains these. This is doubly important if your research is likely to be published on the internet.
The authors section should include your name, as the main writer of the report, alongside the name of your supervisor. In the case of working as part of a team, you should usually include the other members of your group here.
The abstract is the most crucial part of the report because anybody searching for your research on a database or in a journal will usually read only the abstract. Therefore, it must summarize your research, results and conclusions in less than 200 words.
Sometimes it is good to think of it as a sample of your research rather than a review ; it should inform the researcher that your article contains the information they need.
There are a few ideas on how to write your abstract but the best advice is that you look at some journals relevant to your research and try to format your abstract in a similar way.
This section and is merely a breakdown of sections and subsections by page number.
For a short and straightforward paper it may not be necessary to include a contents page .
This is not mandatory for a research paper.
This section of your report is where you will document all the painstaking research into the background of your experiment.
The main thing to bear in mind, when writing the introduction , is that a scientist who is unfamiliar with your exact subject matter may be reading the article.
It is important, therefore, to try and give a quick and condensed history of the research leading to your experiment, with correct citations .
You should also give a little background on why you chose to do this particular experiment and what you expect to find. It is a little ‘old-fashioned' to hypothesis statement at the beginning of the report but the reader should be aware of exactly what you are trying to prove.
For this portion of your report you must describe the methods used when performing the experiment. This should include, if relevant, the location and times of sample collection, what equipment was utilized, and the techniques used.
The idea behind the methodology section is that another researcher can exactly replicate your experiments without having to guess what equipment and what techniques should be used.
Scientific articles are peer reviewed and this includes the possibility that other researchers may try to replicate your results.
There have been many high profile scientific breakthroughs over the years whose results were unable to be repeated; these experiments were disregarded. For field studies you should give an exact map reference and time as well as including a map in the appendix .
If you used complex machinery or computer programs in the course of your experiment, to avoid breaking the flow of your report, you should give only the main information and refer to the exact technical specifications in the appendix.
These should be a quick synopsis of the facts, figures and statistical tests used to arrive at your final results.
You should try to avoid cluttering up your report and insert most of your raw data into the appendix.
It is far better to stick with including only tables and graphs that show clearly the results. Do not be tempted to insert large numbers of graphs and figures just for the sake of it; each figure and graph should be mentioned, referred to and discussed in the text.
Try to avoid putting in tables and graphs showing the same information; select the type that shows your results most clearly. It is usually preferable to use graphs and relegate the tables to the appendix because it is easier to show trends in graphical format.
Figures and graphs should be clear and occupy at least half a page; you are not a magazine editor trying to fit a small graph into an article.
All such information must be numbered, as diagrams for graphs and illustrations, and figures for tables; they should be referred to by this number in the body of the report.
You do not need to put the full breakdown of the calculations used for your statistical tests; most scientists hate statistics and are only interested in whether your results were significant or not. Relegate the calculations to the appendix.
The results section of your report should be neutral and you should avoid discussing your results or how they differed from or compared with what was expected. This information belongs in the next section.
This is the pivotal section of your hard work in obtaining and analyzing your results.
In your discussion you should seek to discuss your findings, and describe how they compared and differed from the results you expected. In a nutshell, you are trying to show whether your hypothesis was proved, not proved or inconclusive.
You must be extremely critical of yourself in this section; you will not get marked down for mistakes in experiment design or for poor results, only for not recognizing them.
Everybody who has written a dissertation or thesis has had to give a presentation to a room full of fellow students, scientists and professors and give a quick synopsis. These people will tear your report apart if you do not recognize its shortcomings and flaws.
Very few experiments are 100 per cent correct in their design and conception so it is not really important what your results were, only that you understand their significance .
Usually you will have had some promising results and some that did not fit with what you expected. Discuss why things may have gone wrong and what could be done to refine the results in future. Suggest what changes in experimental design might improve the results; there is no right or wrong in science, only progress.
Finally, you can discuss at the end ideas for further research, either refining the experiment or suggesting new areas. Even if your paper was a one off, somebody may come along and decide that they find your research interesting and that they would like to continue from where you left off.
Summary and Conclusion
This is really just a more elaborate version of the abstract .
In a few paragraphs you should summarize your findings . Your abstract will do most of this for you but, as long as you do not get carried away, especially for longer reports, it can help the reader absorb your findings a little more.
Include all of your direct references here, even if you only found a couple of sentences.
In the case where somebody referred to an original source, reference that too, but if you did not manage to get hold of it, try to rewrite so that you will not have to reference (or use "referred in"-citation).
Here it is polite to acknowledge anybody who helped you with this report, although do not go overboard; it is not an Oscar speech.
Your supervisor is a good start, as well as others who helped. If a landowner gave you permission to take samples then it is good practice to acknowledge them and give them a summary of your results, if permitted.
Appendices are very useful because they give you a place to dump raw data and calculations. They must still be laid out correctly; the data must be relevant and referred to in the main report.
If you have a lot of relevant photographs of sample sites and methods then they belong here. It is also useful to insert a Google map plan to show from where you took samples.
Hopefully this will have given you a good oversight into writing that perfect report. It is not as daunting as it seems and if you do your research and listen to your supervisor then all should be well and you can get a good grade.
- Psychology 101
- Flags and Countries
- Capitals and Countries
Martyn Shuttleworth (Mar 14, 2008). Research Paper Outline. Retrieved Dec 03, 2023 from Explorable.com: https://explorable.com/research-paper-outline
You Are Allowed To Copy The Text
The text in this article is licensed under the Creative Commons-License Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) .
This means you're free to copy, share and adapt any parts (or all) of the text in the article, as long as you give appropriate credit and provide a link/reference to this page.
That is it. You don't need our permission to copy the article; just include a link/reference back to this page. You can use it freely (with some kind of link), and we're also okay with people reprinting in publications like books, blogs, newsletters, course-material, papers, wikipedia and presentations (with clear attribution).
Want to stay up to date? Follow us!
Check out the official book.
Learn how to construct, style and format an Academic paper and take your skills to the next level.
(also available as ebook )
Save this course for later
Don't have time for it all now? No problem, save it as a course and come back to it later.
- Subscribe to our RSS Feed
- Like us on Facebook
- Follow us on Twitter
- Oskar Blakstad Blog
- Oskar Blakstad on Twitter
- Manuscript Preparation
How to Write a Research Paper Outline
- 4 minute read
- 19.9K views
Table of Contents
Getting started with your research paper can sometimes feel a little overwhelming. But, if you start with an outline, the rest of the paper almost completes itself. Even so, an outline can be difficult to wrap your head around as well. In this article, we’ll go over the fundamentals of a research paper outline, explaining exactly what it is, and how you can write it, step-by-step.
When it comes down to it, your research outline is like the frame of a house for your research paper. It is the framework on which everything else is built upon. The foundation of this framework is the thesis and main ideas of your research project. And, just like a house, there are multiple layers to complete the project. The same is true with your research paper. We start with general ideas and building a framework, and then we add information and detail as the outline comes into shape.
The key to understanding how to write an effective research paper is by comprehending what these different layers are, and in what order you should address them. For example, you wouldn’t put your kitchen counters in a house, without first completing the interior walls and base cabinetry of the home. So, you build carefully and deliberately, step-by-step, in a way that makes it easy for your ideas to take shape.
Let’s take a look at those layers and stages.
Step-by-Step Research Paper Outline
Most research papers have several layers to their construction. In this section, we’ll cover the most basic construction principles. For additional information, talk with colleagues in your field to review their outlines and how they may have built a research paper that you find useful.
You’ll likely notice that each layer grows from general to more specific topics. Additionally, each layer is usually shown via Roman numerals, along with Arabic numbers, upper and lowercase letters. Some institutions actually look for a specific outline format, and formatting can also depend on your specific field and topic. Of course, if you’re just using an outline for your own purposes, you can use whatever format that works best for you.
First Level of Organization
This is the most basic core of your research paper; your introduction, each of your main ideas and your conclusion. The main ideas are where, of course, the majority of your information is going to be presented. If you think of your research paper like a book, your main ideas would be like chapters. Your main ideas may also read like specific dates for a historical literature review, or even specific methods and results for a scientific-based research paper.
I. Introduction/summary of the research
II. First main idea or date
III. Second main idea or date
IV. Third main idea or date
At this level, we dig into the topics that support each of the ideas in the first level. For each main idea, you’ll want at least two to three details. If you can’t put that much detail into any of your main ideas, you might want to consider merging it with another main idea. Once you have the second level of your outline done, typically you’ll want to stop working on your outline, especially if this is just your first draft.
Continue with your research so that you can add details to the next layers and levels of your outline. Keep in mind, that depending on where your research leads you, your main ideas may even change, which is yet another reason why you won’t want to dig too deeply into your outline until your actual research is completed.
A. Background info
B. Hypothesis (or thesis)
A. First supporting idea or topic
B. Second supporting idea or topic
C. Third supporting idea or topic
V. Conclusion (don’t worry about this, at this stage of your outline)
Third and Fourth Level
With the third and fourth levels, you’ll add supporting data and information that’s related to your previously outlined topics. This is where your research “fills in the blanks.” For example, you might add to your introduction, or revise your main ideas, based on the research you’ve conducted. The fourth level is only used when further details are needed to describe the research or topic. For example, historical quotes, references, and the most specific data and information.
1. Reference One
2. Reference Two
1. Quote One
2. Quote Two
III. Conclusion (based on the culmination of your research project)
Elsevier Author Services , support you throughout your publication journey with a suite of products and services that help improve your manuscript before submission, including editing, translation, scientific illustration services, and more.
- Research Process
Quality in Qualitative Research: Enhance Data to the Next Level
- Publication Recognition
How to Submit a Paper to a Conference
You may also like.
How to Write Clear and Crisp Civil Engineering Papers? Here are 5 Key Tips to Consider
The Clear Path to An Impactful Paper: ②
The Essentials of Writing to Communicate Research in Medicine
Changing Lines: Sentence Patterns in Academic Writing
Path to An Impactful Paper: Common Manuscript Writing Patterns and Structure
How to write the results section of a research paper
What are Implications in Research?
Differentiating between the abstract and the introduction of a research paper
Input your search keywords and press Enter.
Have a language expert improve your writing
Run a free plagiarism check in 10 minutes, generate accurate citations for free.
- Knowledge Base
- Research paper
How to Create a Structured Research Paper Outline | Example
Published on August 7, 2022 by Courtney Gahan . Revised on August 15, 2023.
A research paper outline is a useful tool to aid in the writing process , providing a structure to follow with all information to be included in the paper clearly organized.
A quality outline can make writing your research paper more efficient by helping to:
- Organize your thoughts
- Understand the flow of information and how ideas are related
- Ensure nothing is forgotten
A research paper outline can also give your teacher an early idea of the final product.
Table of contents
Research paper outline example, how to write a research paper outline, formatting your research paper outline, language in research paper outlines.
- Definition of measles
- Rise in cases in recent years in places the disease was previously eliminated or had very low rates of infection
- Figures: Number of cases per year on average, number in recent years. Relate to immunization
- Symptoms and timeframes of disease
- Risk of fatality, including statistics
- How measles is spread
- Immunization procedures in different regions
- Different regions, focusing on the arguments from those against immunization
- Immunization figures in affected regions
- High number of cases in non-immunizing regions
- Illnesses that can result from measles virus
- Fatal cases of other illnesses after patient contracted measles
- Summary of arguments of different groups
- Summary of figures and relationship with recent immunization debate
- Which side of the argument appears to be correct?
A faster, more affordable way to improve your paper
Scribbr’s new AI Proofreader checks your document and corrects spelling, grammar, and punctuation mistakes with near-human accuracy and the efficiency of AI!
Proofread my paper
Follow these steps to start your research paper outline:
- Decide on the subject of the paper
- Write down all the ideas you want to include or discuss
- Organize related ideas into sub-groups
- Arrange your ideas into a hierarchy: What should the reader learn first? What is most important? Which idea will help end your paper most effectively?
- Create headings and subheadings that are effective
- Format the outline in either alphanumeric, full-sentence or decimal format
There are three different kinds of research paper outline: alphanumeric, full-sentence and decimal outlines. The differences relate to formatting and style of writing.
An alphanumeric outline is most commonly used. It uses Roman numerals, capitalized letters, arabic numerals, lowercase letters to organize the flow of information. Text is written with short notes rather than full sentences.
- Sub-point of sub-point 1
Essentially the same as the alphanumeric outline, but with the text written in full sentences rather than short points.
- Additional sub-point to conclude discussion of point of evidence introduced in point A
A decimal outline is similar in format to the alphanumeric outline, but with a different numbering system: 1, 1.1, 1.2, etc. Text is written as short notes rather than full sentences.
- 1.1.1 Sub-point of first point
- 1.1.2 Sub-point of first point
- 1.2 Second point
To write an effective research paper outline, it is important to pay attention to language. This is especially important if it is one you will show to your teacher or be assessed on.
There are four main considerations: parallelism, coordination, subordination and division.
Parallelism: Be consistent with grammatical form
Parallel structure or parallelism is the repetition of a particular grammatical form within a sentence, or in this case, between points and sub-points. This simply means that if the first point is a verb , the sub-point should also be a verb.
Example of parallelism:
- Include different regions, focusing on the different arguments from those against immunization
Coordination: Be aware of each point’s weight
Your chosen subheadings should hold the same significance as each other, as should all first sub-points, secondary sub-points, and so on.
Example of coordination:
- Include immunization figures in affected regions
- Illnesses that can result from the measles virus
Subordination: Work from general to specific
Subordination refers to the separation of general points from specific. Your main headings should be quite general, and each level of sub-point should become more specific.
Example of subordination:
Division: break information into sub-points.
Your headings should be divided into two or more subsections. There is no limit to how many subsections you can include under each heading, but keep in mind that the information will be structured into a paragraph during the writing stage, so you should not go overboard with the number of sub-points.
Ready to start writing or looking for guidance on a different step in the process? Read our step-by-step guide on how to write a research paper .
Cite this Scribbr article
If you want to cite this source, you can copy and paste the citation or click the “Cite this Scribbr article” button to automatically add the citation to our free Citation Generator.
Gahan, C. (2023, August 15). How to Create a Structured Research Paper Outline | Example. Scribbr. Retrieved December 4, 2023, from https://www.scribbr.com/research-paper/outline/
Is this article helpful?
Other students also liked, research paper format | apa, mla, & chicago templates, writing a research paper introduction | step-by-step guide, writing a research paper conclusion | step-by-step guide, what is your plagiarism score.
Reference management. Clean and simple.
Getting started with your research paper outline
The outline is the skeleton of your research paper. Simply start by writing down your thesis and the main ideas you wish to present. This will likely change as your research progresses; therefore, do not worry about being too specific in the early stages of writing your outline.
- Levels of organization for a research paper outline
A research paper outline typically contains between two and four layers of organization. The first two layers are the most generalized. Each layer thereafter will contain the research you complete and presents more and more detailed information.
The levels are typically represented by a combination of Roman numerals, Arabic numerals, uppercase letters, lowercase letters but may include other symbols. Refer to the guidelines provided by your institution, as formatting is not universal and differs between universities, fields, and subjects. If you are writing the outline for yourself, you may choose any combination you prefer.
First level of organization
This is the most generalized level of information. Begin by numbering the introduction, each idea you will present, and the conclusion. The main ideas contain the bulk of your research paper 's information. Depending on your research, it may be chapters of a book for a literature review , a series of dates for a historical research paper, or the methods and results of a scientific paper.
II. Main idea
III. Main idea
IV. Main idea
Second level of organization
The second level consists of topics which support the introduction, main ideas, and the conclusion. Each main idea should have at least two supporting topics listed in the outline.
If your main idea does not have enough support, you should consider presenting another main idea in its place. This is where you should stop outlining if this is your first draft. Continue your research before adding to the next levels of organization.
- A. Background information
- B. Hypothesis or thesis
- A. Supporting topic
- B. Supporting topic
Third level of organization
The third level of organization contains supporting information for the topics previously listed. By now, you should have completed enough research to add support for your ideas.
The Introduction and Main Ideas may contain information you discovered about the author, timeframe, or contents of a book for a literature review; the historical events leading up to the research topic for a historical research paper, or an explanation of the problem a scientific research paper intends to address.
- 1. Relevant history
- 2. Relevant history
- 1. The hypothesis or thesis clearly stated
- 1. A brief description of supporting information
- 2. A brief description of supporting information
Fourth level of organization
The fourth level of organization contains the most detailed information such as quotes, references, observations, or specific data needed to support the main idea. It is not typical to have further levels of organization because the information contained here is the most specific.
- a) Quotes or references to another piece of literature
- b) Quotes or references to another piece of literature
- Tips for writing a research paper outline
Tip: The key to creating a useful outline is to be consistent in your headings, organization, and levels of specificity.
- Be Consistent : ensure every heading has a similar tone. State the topic or write short sentences for each heading but avoid doing both.
- Organize Information : Higher levels of organization are more generally stated and each supporting level becomes more specific. The introduction and conclusion will never be lower than the first level of organization.
- Build Support : Each main idea should have two or more supporting topics. If your research does not have enough information to support the main idea you are presenting, you should, in general, complete additional research or revise the outline.
- Research paper outline template
By now, you should know the basic requirements to create an outline for your paper. With a content framework in place, you can now start writing your paper . To help you start right away, you can use one of our templates and adjust it to suit your needs.
- My research paper outline is complete: what are the next steps?
After completing your outline, you should:
- Title your research paper . This is an iterative process and may change when you delve deeper into the topic.
- Begin writing your research paper draft . Continue researching to further build your outline and provide more information to support your hypothesis or thesis.
- Format your draft appropriately . MLA 8 and APA 7 formats have differences between their bibliography page, in-text citations, line spacing, and title.
- Finalize your citations and bibliography . Use a reference manager like Paperpile to organize and cite your research.
- Write the abstract, if required . An abstract will briefly state the information contained within the paper, results of the research, and the conclusion.
- Frequently Asked Questions about a research paper outline
An outline is used to organize written ideas about a topic into a logical order. Outlines help us organize major topics, subtopics, and supporting details. Researchers benefit greatly from outlines while writing by addressing which topic to cover in what order.
The most basic outline format consists of: an introduction, a minimum of three topic paragraphs, and a conclusion.
You should make an outline before starting to write your research paper. This will help you organize the main ideas and arguments you want to present in your topic.
- Consistency: ensure every heading has a similar tone. State the topic or write short sentences for each heading but avoid doing both.
- Organization : Higher levels of organization are more generally stated and each supporting level becomes more specific. The introduction and conclusion will never be lower than the first level of organization.
- Support : Each main idea should have two or more supporting topics. If your research does not have enough information to support the main idea you are presenting, you should, in general, complete additional research or revise the outline.
- Related Articles
- Affiliate Program
- UNITED STATES
- 台灣 (TAIWAN)
- TÜRKIYE (TURKEY)
- Academic Editing Services
- - Research Paper
- - Journal Manuscript
- - Dissertation
- - College & University Assignments
- Admissions Editing Services
- - Application Essay
- - Personal Statement
- - Recommendation Letter
- - Cover Letter
- - CV/Resume
- Business Editing Services
- - Business Documents
- - Report & Brochure
- - Website & Blog
- Writer Editing Services
- - Script & Screenplay
- Our Editors
- Client Reviews
- Editing & Proofreading Prices
- Wordvice Points
- Partner Discount
- Plagiarism Checker
- APA Citation Generator
- MLA Citation Generator
- Chicago Citation Generator
- Vancouver Citation Generator
- - APA Style
- - MLA Style
- - Chicago Style
- - Vancouver Style
- Writing & Editing Guide
- Academic Resources
- Admissions Resources
How to Write a Research Paper Outline with Examples
You sometimes have to submit an essay outline or a research proposal checklist for a research project before you do most of the actual research to show that you have understood the assignment, defined a good research question or hypothesis, and contemplated the structure of your research paper. You can find various templates and examples for such outlines, which usually begin with “put your thesis statement/research question at the top” and then ask you to decide whether to add your supporting ideas/points in “alphanumeric,” “decimal,” or “full-sentence” style.
That is certainly one useful (if not overly formalized) way of using outlining to prepare to draft an academic text. But here we want to talk about how to make an outline after you have done a research project or thesis work and are not quite sure how to put everything together into a written thesis to hand in or a research paper manuscript to submit to a journal.
What is a research paper outline?
Creating a research project outline entails more than just listing bullet points (although you can use bullet points and lists in your outline). It includes how to organize everything you have done and thought about and want to say about your work into a clear structure you can use as the basis for your research paper.
There are two different methods of creating an outline: let’s call these “abstract style” and “paper style.” These names reflect how briefly you summarize your work at this initial point, or show how extensive and complicated the methods and designs you used and the data you collected are. The type of outline you use also depends on how clear the story you want to tell is and how much organizing and structuring of information you still need to do before you can draft your actual paper.
Table of Contents:
- Abstract-Style Outline Format
- Paper-Style Outline Format
Additional Tips for Outlining a Research Paper in English
Abstract-style research paper outline format.
A research paper outline in abstract style consists, like the abstract of a research paper , of short answers to the essential questions that anyone trying to understand your work would ask.
- Why did you decide to do what you did?
- What exactly did you do?
- How did you do it?
- What did you find?
- What does it mean?
- What should you/we/someone else do now?
These questions form the structure of not only a typical research paper abstract but also a typical article manuscript. They will eventually be omitted and replaced by the usual headers, such as Introduction/Background, Aim, Methods, Results, Discussion, Conclusions, etc. Answering these key questions for yourself first (with keywords or short sentences) and then sticking to the same structure and information when drafting your article will ensure that your story is consistent and that there are no logical gaps or contradictions between the different sections of a research paper .
If you draft this abstract outline carefully, you can use it as the basis for every other part of your paper. You reduce it even more, down to the absolute essential elements, to create your manuscript title ; you choose your keywords on the basis of the summary presented here; and you expand it into the introduction , methods , results , and discussion sections of your paper without contradicting yourself or losing the logical thread.
Research Paper Outline Example (Abstract style)
Let’s say you did a research project on the effect of university online classes on attendance rates and create a simple outline example using these six questions:
1. Why did you decide to do what you did?
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, many university courses around the world have been moved online, at least temporarily. Since students have been saving time on commuting, I wondered if attendance rates have increased overall.
2. What exactly did you do?
I compared attendance scores for courses that were taught both before (offline) and during (online) the COVID-19 pandemic at my university.
3. How did you do it?
I selected five popular subjects (business, law, medicine, psychology, art & design) and one general course per subject; then I contacted the professors in charge and asked them to provide me with anonymized attendance scores.
4. What did you find?
Attendance did not significantly change for medicine and law, but slightly dropped for the other three subjects. I found no difference between male and female students.
5. What does it mean?
Even though students saved time on traveling between their homes and the campus during the COVID-19 pandemic, they did not attend classes more consistently; in some subjects, they missed more classes than before.
6. What should you/we/someone else do now?
Since I do not have any other information about the students, I can only speculate on potential explanations. Next, I will put together a questionnaire to assess how students have been coping with online classes and how the experiences from this time can benefit university teaching and learning in general.
Note that you could have made the same outline using just keywords instead of full sentences. You could also have added more methodological details or the results of your statistical analysis. However, when you can break everything down to the absolute essentials like this, you will have a good foundation upon which to develop a full paper.
However, maybe your study just seems too complicated. So you look at these questions and then at your notes and data and have no idea how to come up with such simple answers. Or maybe things went in a completely different direction since you started writing your paper, so now you are no longer sure what the main point of your experiments was and what the main conclusion should be. If that is how you feel right now, then outlining your paper in “paper style” might be the right method for you.
Paper-Style Research Paper Outline Format
The purpose of a paper-style outline is the same as that of an abstract-style outline: You want to organize your initial thoughts and plans, the methods and tools you used, all the experiments you conducted, the data you collected and analyzed, as well as your results, into a clear structure so that you can identify the main storyline for your paper and the main conclusions that you want the reader to take from it.
First, take as much space as you need and simply jot down everything in your study you planned to do, everything you did, and everything you thought about based on your notes, lab book, and earlier literature you read or used. Such an outline can contain all your initial ideas, the timeline of all your pilots and all your experiments, the reasons why you changed direction or designed new experiments halfway through your study, all the analyses you ever did, all the feedback and criticism you already got from supervisors and seniors or during conference presentations, and all the ideas you have for future work. If this is your thesis or your first publication, then your first outline might look quite messy – and that is exactly why you need to structure your paper before trying to write everything up.
So you have finally remembered all you have done in your study and have written everything down. The next step is to realize that you cannot throw all of this at the reader and expect them to put it together. You will have to create a story that is clear and consistent, contains all the essential information (and leaves out any that is not), and leads the reader the same way the abstract outline does, from why over what and how to what you found and what it all means .
This does not mean you should suppress results that did not come out as intended or try to make your study look smoother. But the reader does not really need to know all the details about why you changed your research question after your initial literature search or some failed pilots. Instead of writing down the simple questions we used for the abstract outline, to organize your still messy notes, write down the main sections of the manuscript you are trying to put together. Additionally, include what kinds of information needs to go where in your paper’s structure.
1. Introduction Section:
What field is your research part of?
What other papers did you read before deciding on your topic?
Who is your target audience and how much information do your readers need to understand where you are coming from?
Can you summarize what you did in two sentences?
Did you have a clear hypothesis? If not, what were the potential outcomes of your work?
2. Methods Section:
List all the methods, questionnaires, and tests you used.
Are your methods all standard in the field or do you need to explain them?
List everything chronologically or according to topics, whatever makes more sense. Read more about writing the Methods section if you need help with this important decision.
3. Results Section:
Use the same timeline or topics you introduced in the method section.
Make sure you answer all the questions you raised in the introduction.
Use tables, graphs, and other visualizations to guide the reader.
Don’t present results of tests/analyses that you did not mention in the methods.
4. Discussion/Conclusion Section:
Summarize quickly what you did and found but don’t repeat your results.
Explain whether your findings were to be expected, are new and surprising, are in line with the existing literature, or are contradicting some earlier work.
Do you think your findings can be generalized? Can they be useful for people in certain professions or other fields?
Does your study have limitations? What would you do differently next time?
What future research do you think should be done based on your findings?
5. Conclusion Statement/Paragraph:
This is your take-home message for the reader. Make sure that your conclusion is directly related to your initial research question.
Now you can simply reorganize your notes (if you use computer software) or fill in the different sections and cross out information on your original list. When you have used all your jotted notes, go through your new outline and check what is still missing. Now check once more that your conclusion is related to your initial research question. If that is the case, you are good to go. You can now either break your outline down further and shorten it into an abstract, or you can expand the different outline sections into a full article.
If you are a non-native speaker of English, then you might take notes in your mother language or maybe in different languages, read literature in your mother language, and generally not think in English while doing your research. If your goal is to write your thesis or paper in English, however, then our advice is to only use your mother language when listing keywords at the very beginning of the outlining process (if at all). As soon as you write down full sentences that you want to go into your paper eventually, you can save yourself a lot of work, avoid mistakes later in the process, and train your brain (which will help you immensely the next time you write an academic text), if you stick to English.
Another thing to keep in mind is that starting to write in full sentences too early in the process means that you might need to omit some passages (maybe even entire paragraphs) when you later decide to change the structure or storyline of your paper. Depending on how much you enjoy (or hate) writing in English and how much effort it costs you, having to throw away a perfectly fine paragraph that you invested a lot of time in can be incredibly frustrating. Our advice is therefore to not spend too much time on writing and to not get too attached to exact wording before you have a solid outline that you then only need to fill in and expand into a full paper.
Once you have finished drafting your paper, consider using professional proofreading and English editing service to revise your paper and prepare it for submission to journals. Wordvice offers a paper editing service , manuscript editing service , dissertation editing service , and thesis editing service to polish and edit your research work and correct any errors in style or formatting.
And while you draft your article, make use of Wordvice AI, a free grammar checker that identifies and fixes errors in punctuation, spelling, and grammar in any academic document.
How to Write a Research Paper Outline In 7 Steps
A research paper outline is a supporting document that lists all the topics to include in a paper in the intended order, usually divided by paragraphs. The typical outline of a research paper also consists of other details like subtopics and evidential sources to help the writer stay organized. Some even have individual sentence topics and early ideas for phrasing.
Want to know how to write a research paper outline? This guide explains step by step what to include and how to write one yourself, including research paper outline examples.
Give your writing extra polish Grammarly helps you communicate confidently Write with Grammarly
What is a research paper outline?
The outline is an integral part of how to write a research paper . The main purpose of a research paper outline is to structure the topics, data, and all other inclusions in the paper (like direct quotes) so you stay organized and don’t forget anything.
Conventionally, writers compose outlines after choosing a thesis statement and sourcing research evidence, but before writing the first draft . Making structural changes is far more efficient in the outlining phase than after you write the first draft; you can remove certain topics early on without wasting time writing them and add new topics before the drafting phase so you can write everything all at once.
The typical outline of a research paper is broken up into sections and paragraphs , listing each paragraph’s topic and the related evidence or data to include therein. The depth of detail can change depending on your writing style or the requirements of the paper, as we explain below.
Are there different kinds of research paper outlines?
In short, you decide what details to include in your research paper outline, although the requirements of the assignment influence what’s necessary. For example, a basic college research paper outline for a one-page assignment might contain only a list of four or five paragraph topics, whereas a formal research paper for a scientific study might outline each sentence in all five parts of a research paper: introduction, review of literature, methods, results, and discussion.
Research paper outlines can be one level, two level, and so on, depending on their intricacy. One-level outlines display just the section headings or main topics, while four-level outlines get very detailed with paragraph and sentence breakdowns.
There are three popular formats for research paper outlines: alphanumeric , full sentence , and decimal . Below, we’ll explain the details of each and illustrate their differences with the research paper outline examples, focused on the same topic: “Michael Jordan vs. LeBron James: Who’s the Best Basketball Player?”
Alphanumeric research paper outline
Alphanumeric is the most common outline format—with main topics listed as Roman numerals, subtopics as capital letters, specific points for each subtopic as Arabic numerals, and further details for individual points as lowercase letters.
You would write the information in quick blurbs—just a few words—instead of complete sentences.
Alphanumeric research paper outline example
I. Michael Jordan
A. Career Highlights
1. Six NBA Championships
a. Six NBA Finals MVP
2. US Olympics Basketball Team
a. 1984 Gold Medalist
b. 1992 Gold Medalist
3. Fourteen NBA All-Star Game selections
a. Three NBA All-Star Game MVP Awards
1. Record-holder scoring average
a. Regular season (30.12 points per game)
b. Playoffs (33.45 points per game)
2. Other accolades
a. 1996 Space Jam
b. Owner of Charlotte Hornets
II. LeBron James
1. Four NBA Championships
a. Four NBA Finals MVP
a. 2008 Gold Medalist
b. 2012 Gold Medalist
3. Eighteen NBA All-Star Game selections
a. LeBron James Family Foundation
b. Social activism
a. 2021 Space Jam
b. First player to accumulate $1 billion as an active player
III. Analysis and Discussion
A. Of course, Michael Jordan is better
Full-sentence research paper outline
Full-sentence research paper outlines have the same organization as alphanumeric outlines—with main topics listed as Roman numerals, subtopics as capital letters, subtopic points as Arabic numerals, and details for each point as lowercase letters.
However, the significant difference is that you would write the information in incomplete sentences instead of quick blurbs. The advantage is that your outline is more specific and easier to share with colleagues when working as a team. The disadvantage is that it takes a little longer to write.
Full-sentence research paper outline example
I. Michael Jordan is often considered the greatest basketball player of all time.
A. Jordan’s career in basketball is full of accomplishments and accolades.
1. During his career, Jordan won six NBA Championships.
a. Jordan was named NBA Finals MVP all six times he was eligible.
2. Jordan twice played for the US Olympics Basketball Team.
a. Jordan’s first Olympics was in 1984 when he won the gold medal.
b. Jordan won a second gold medal as part of the 1992 “Dream Team.”
3. Jordan was selected to play in the NBA All-Star Game fourteen times.
a. Jordan won the NBA All-Star Game MVP Award three times.
B. Jordan’s legacy encompasses achievements on and off the court.
1. Jordan still holds a couple of significant records in the NBA.
a. Jordan holds the record for the highest average of points per game during the regular season (30.12 points per game).
b. Jordan also holds the record for the highest average of points per game in the playoffs (33.45 points per game).
2. Jordan has notable success even when not playing basketball.
a. Jordan starred in the original 1996 film Space Jam.
b. Today, Jordan owns the Charlotte Hornets.
II. LeBron James is often considered Jordan’s strongest rival for the greatest basketball player.
A. James’s career mimics, and in some cases surpasses, that of Jordan’s career.
1. During his career, James won four NBA Championships.
a. James was named NBA Finals MVP all four times he was eligible.
2. Like Jordan, James twice played for the US Olympics Basketball Team.
a. James won the 2008 gold medal as part of the US basketball team.
b. James won the gold medal again in 2012.
3. James was selected to play in the NBA All-Star Game eighteen times.
a. James won the NBA All-Star Game MVP Award three times.
B. James has a rich life outside of basketball as well.
1. More than Jordan, James is known for his philanthropic work.
a. James started the LeBron James Family Foundation charity.
b. James fearlessly took public stances on controversial social issues.
2. Aside from charity, James has a few other distinctions from his lifetime.
a. James starred in the 2021 Space Jam remake.
b. James is the first NBA player to accumulate $1 billion as a player.
III. Considering the highlights of both athletes’ careers, who is better?
A. Of course, Michael Jordan is better.
Decimal research paper outline
Decimal research paper outlines forgo the alphanumeric system and instead use a system of numbers with increasing decimal points—with main topics listed as whole numbers (1 or 1.0), subtopics with one decimal point (1.1), points under a subtopic with two decimal points (1.1.1), and further details with three decimal points (18.104.22.168).
Each new piece of information uses the subsequent number (1.1.1, 1.1.2, etc.), so you always know where you are in the outline. You would write the content for each line in quick blurbs, just like the original alphanumeric formal.
Decimal research paper outlines are the most thorough but can get complicated. They’re recommended for writers who prefer technical precision or for lengthy outlines with many topics and subtopics.
Decimal research paper outline example
1 Michael Jordan
1.1 Career Highlights
1.1.1. Six NBA Championships
1.1.2 US Olympics Basketball Team
1.1.3 Fourteen NBA All-Star Game selections
1.2.1 Record-holder scoring average
1.2.2 Other accolades
2 LeBron James
2.1 Career Highlights
2.1.1 Four NBA Championships
2.1.2 US Olympics Basketball Team
2.1.3 Eighteen NBA All-Star Game selection
2.2.2 Other accolades
3 Analysis and Discussion
3.1 Of course, Michael Jordan is better
7 steps to follow when outlining a research paper
1 choose your thesis and gather sources.
Your outline is not the first step in writing a research paper. Before that, you first need to choose a thesis and then gather primary and secondary sources to back it up.
Your thesis is essentially what the research paper is about. Your thesis is given to you in some assignments, but sometimes, as with independent research, you’ll have to develop one on your own.
Once you’ve settled on a thesis, you’ll need evidence to support it. Collect all the relevant sources and data early on so that you know what to write about. Researching often reveals new aspects of your topic that you hadn’t known about before. It may dispel any misinterpretations you have—better to find out you’re wrong sooner rather than later. For help on how to cite your sources, use our free Citation Generator .
Keep in mind that the outline is just one part of writing a research paper. If you want to read more advice, take a look at our full guide on how to write a research paper .
2 Make a list of all the topics, subtopics, and points you want to cover
Go through your research and note each topic, subtopic, and supporting point. Be sure to keep related information together. Remember that everything you discuss in your paper should relate to your thesis, so omit anything that seems tangential.
If you’ve highlighted any specific passages or quotes from your sources, feel free to include them too. They aren’t necessary for all research paper outlines, but they save you time when you’re in the middle of writing your first draft.
3 Choose the best type of research paper outline for the assignment
Choose the type of research paper outline that best matches your topic, the assignment’s length, and the complexity of your paper. Simple papers only require simple outlines, but more advanced topics with lots of research can benefit from more detailed outlines.
Consider whether you’re sharing your outline with other team members or whether you’re writing it solo. Likewise, consider the length and amount of topics. The decimal format can help organize long papers, but feel free to stick with alphanumeric if it makes you comfortable.
4 Consider the structure and sequence of your topics
Before actually writing the research paper outline, think long and hard about the order in which you present your topics. What is the most logical sequence? What structure would communicate most clearly to your readers, who may be unfamiliar with these topics?
Keep in mind that some topics only make sense if they come after other topics. Before presenting new findings or revelations, you may want to add background or contextual information first. All other factors being equal, a chronological sequence is often the most logical structure.
5 Create the framework for your outline
Rather than writing your research paper outline entirely at once, start with just the framework. Try putting the main topics in order without yet including any subtopics or supporting points.
Starting with the framework gives you a clear look at the backbone of your research paper. Now would be a good time to rearrange the order if there’s a problem or add a new topic if you find something is missing. It’s never too late to go back and conduct more research to flesh out the areas you feel are lacking.
6 Add in more details
After you’re satisfied with the framework, go ahead and add the details. Most research paper outlines benefit from including the paragraph structure , so feel free to add lines about your topic sentence, development/support sentences, and conclusion for each paragraph.
If you want to get meticulous, you can add a few notes about sentence structure . Be careful of getting too detailed, though—otherwise, you’re writing a first draft instead of an outline!
7 Revise to improve structure
Finally, check your completed outline to see if there’s room for improvement. This is your last chance before you begin the first draft.
Double-check that all your topics are presented in the optimal order for your reader. Also, look over your research notes again to see if you’ve forgotten anything. Once your outline is the way you want it, it’s time to begin writing your research paper.
Research paper outline FAQs
What is a research paper outline.
A research paper outline is a supporting document that defines the structure of a research paper. The author creates the outline before the first draft to stay on track when writing .
How is a research paper outline structured?
Research paper outlines are generally divided into sections, paragraphs, and individual sentences or points. The amount of detail in a research paper outline varies depending on the writer’s style, the assignment requirements, and the complexity of the topic.
What are the different formats of research paper outlines?
Three popular formats for research paper outlines are alphanumeric , full sentence , and decimal .