How to Write an Outline for a Research Paper


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How to Write an Outline for a Research Paper

It’s that time of the semester when you’re given research to carry out. For the bigger percentage of students, writing and conducting research isn’t exactly the typical walk in the park: most students actually abhor this period since they end up flanking in their research papers. This is due to insufficient knowledge on how to write out their research. Some of them actually get to carry out in-depth research that should earn them extra credits but alas! The story is still the same at the end of the day which ends up being really frustrating. You’ve probably been taught how to conduct proper research but you find most lecturers actually assuming you automatically know how to write it out.

You don’t have to find yourself in this limbo anymore. It’s about time you got to really understand how to come up with the ideal research paper outline. A well written down research paper outline goes a long way to guide you in conducting the research as well as noting down the findings later on. The research paper outline gives you a directed path in which you can accomplish your objectives.

Structure of a Research Paper Outline

Before we take a look at an example or two of an outline for a research paper, it’s important to understand the general concept of what’s required. A research paper has three general parts that summarize the rest. It has an introduction, a body and a conclusion.

First things first, you need to understand exactly what you are researching about. Having a full understanding of the topic in question prevents you from going against the scope you’re expected to cover in the research paper outline. Once you have established the foundation of your research paper outline, you can go a step further and affirm the scope of research with your instructor to prevent you from gravitating outside the scope of the study. This also makes things easier for you if you’re hoping to see less red marks on your research paper. Remember that for any research carried out, the ability to hit the topic head-on earns you the most marks.

The Introduction

I still remember my project during my senior year in campus: I was to carry out a research on the political conditions of the country and how it inter-relates with the economic conditions and also assess how the political air at the time affected people’s living conditions economically. I’m not about to bore you with the particulars of that research, but I still remember my instructor’s words, ‘Nothing makes a bigger impression than a first solid impression as well as making a final impact.’ She always insisted on starting on a high note, and it’s only later on that I came to see sense in all she said.

Your introduction gets whoever’s reading your research in the mood: you can either win them here or desperately lose their focus and attention. This is where you bring in your thesis statement where you summarize your whole research in a statement(s). This is the part of your research paper outline where you clearly define the purpose of the study. Here, you give the reader reasons to get interested in your particular research as you elaborate the significance of your research paper.

It is important for you to define the methodology used or the type of approach used for the entire paper. You can cover the main points of your research paper outline here in short detail. This acts as an overview of the whole thing.

Covering the Body

If the reader has come this far to the body part, it means you really got their attention. You don’t want to lose that: use the ‘Rule of 3’ when covering the body. Since the body includes your main points and arguments, you want to present them in a form that will have your reader fully absorbed and indulged. The Rule of 3 suggests that you start with a strong argument followed by a stronger one as you conclude with your strongest point.

This calls for a meticulous assessment of what it is you are presenting. Get to understand your reader’s intent in seeking out your research. Once you’ve understood their psychology, you can easily determine which points will keep them scrolling on and which ones will have them on the edge in their seats.

Finishing Strong

A strong finish will also do your research paper outline a ton of good. Summarize all your arguments in a tantalizing manner as you reach your final conclusion. Also get to clearly explain and reiterate exactly why you came upon that conclusion. This is basically where you give full support to your research paper outline as you convince whoever’s reading why they too should give consent to your you reflect on your position on the given topic; you get to sway readers to see the truthfulness and accuracy of your research work.

Tips to Keep in Mind

Since we’re going to look at an example of an outline for a research paper, you ought to keep these tips in mind as you get down to drafting your own research paper outline:

  • Find a topic that gets your blood boiling. You need to be excited about the topic of discussion you choose. As long as they work to boosting your strengths, you can rest assured of having a pretty easy time.

  • Do thorough research. It would be totally pointless and meaningless to cover a research paper outline example if you’re not planning to dig deep in supporting your thesis statement. This can only be done through valid research where you get to draw your findings. This way, anyone else seeking to conduct similar research will probably use the same methodology and reach upon the same conclusions.

  • Stating the arguments should come from your thesis statement. Can you form meaningful arguments and questions that can at least change the world from your thesis? If yes, you’re almost ready to go and start the hard work.

  • Understand your audience. Are you only writing the research for your professor or will there be a larger audience accessing your research paper? Will such an audience understand jargons used or would you benefit them by using a formal language throughout? Your audience should also shed light and guide you on the overall tone and style to be used.

  • Have legitimate references. These tend to back up your arguments and also proves the legitimacy of your work. These also need to be prioritized in accordance with the relevance and importance of the thesis statement.

An Example of an Outline for a Research Paper

Research papers can be written in different formats. The most commonly used formats accepted by most institutions are APA and MLA writing techniques.

APA Research Paper Outline Example


  1. Introduction

  2. How radios work

    1. Radio waves

    2. The difference of PM and AM waves

      1. AM waves

      2. PM waves

  3. Radio Industry

    1. Different ways of assigning call letters

      1. Old stations

      2. New stations

    2. Radio station licensing

    3. Careers in broadcasting

      1. The organizational structure of stations

      2. On-air personalities

        1. Training

        2. Responsibilities

  4. Uses

    1. Two-way radio

      1. Play

      2. Police

      3. Military

    2. Amateur

      1. Private use

      2. Business

    3. Broadcasting

      1. News

      2. Advertisement

      3. Entertainment

      4. Talk shows

      5. Education

    4. Famous talk shows

      1. Old

        1. Abbott and Costello

        2. Dragnet

      2. New

        1. Donut Holes

        2. Rush Limbough

  5. Conclusion

The above research paper outline example covers a few areas on radio and one interested in the topic can surely pick up a thing or two. Not only is the writer guided when compiling the research, but they are also able to stay within the scope of the study. This is how a properly written outline for a research paper could work to your advantage.

The following research paper outline example uses MLA writing style. The style to be used mostly depends on what the professor wants or is usually comfortable with. If instructions don’t specify the style to be used, you can ask the instructor, and if they are comfortable with any style, the ball’s in your court.

MLA Research Paper Outline Example

#Draft Outline for a Statistics Workshop

  1. Introduction

  2. Why statistics? Where are they useful? How often should you look and record?

    1. How do you know you’ve met your goals?

    2. Show the value of a library to government and other officials.

    3. Useful in grant writing,

    4. Also in setting goals.

    5. The frequency of evaluating and recording.

      1. It all depends. Monthly is most ideal for cataloging and circulation of statistics, but an annual review of the public library statistics is also a brilliant idea.

      2. If the library isn’t automated, certain statistics can be taken bi-annually.

  3. Relational databases and means to structure the database for simpler retrieval of statistics.

    1. Relational database mostly uses tables to find connections between data.

    2. Data structuring tips:

      1. Realize what you need to collect.

      2. Make use of automated systems for easier data retrieval.

        1. Example, use categories or item types for juvenile and adult to obtain data for public library report.

      3. For un-automated systems, catalogue physical items based on statistics you want to collect.

  4. Evaluating and effectively utilizing statistics.

    1. Staff and board need to be involved in monthly and annual reviews of stats.

    2. Compare trends across one period to the next.

    3. Ask relevant questions:

      1. Is there a certain trend(s) that has some months busier than others?

      2. What about usage from year to year?

      3. Did circulation rise or decline?

    4. Reflect on statistics.

      1. If there was a fall in circulation, what went wrong and how can it be rectified?

    5. Set goals for the next period.

      1. Do you want circulation to see a steady rise? By how much and what steps will you take based on your reflections?


Now that you know how to go about writing your research paper outline, certain misdeeds might work to your disadvantage. Try not to lengthen your paper unnecessarily or even go way over the word count. You are also getting marks on following such instructions as the word count and it’s imperative that you observe them. Your reasons for carrying out the research should also not be absurd as this paints a negative picture about you. Try not to misrepresent yourself in the process or even include answers for questions not asked. Observe these and you should have fun writing down your research paper. Don’t forget to read through a research paper outline sample, it will help you really get how to go about writing your own.