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How to Create a Structured Research Paper Outline | Example
Published on August 7, 2022 by Courtney Gahan . Revised on November 29, 2022.
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?
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
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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 .
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Research Paper Outline Examples
Below are examples of research paper outlines. Creating an outline is the first thing you should do before starting on your research paper.
This article is a part of the guide:
- Example of a Paper
- Write a Hypothesis
- Example of a Paper 2
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
Once you've decided what topic you will be writing about, the next thing you should pay attention to is the scope of your paper or what you will be including in your discussion . The broader your topic is, the more difficult it is to discuss the full details. This is why you should establish early on the scope and limitations of your paper which will provide the foundation for your research paper outline.
Basically, your outline will constitute three main sections: the Introduction, the Body and the Conclusion. But to make sure your paper is complete, consult your instructor for specific parts they wants to be included in your research paper . Sample outlines for research papers will follow. But first, let’s discuss the main sections of your paper and what information each should cover.
The introduction should contain your thesis statement or the topic of your research as well as the purpose of your study. You may include here the reason why you chose that particular topic or simply the significance of your research paper's topic. You may also state what type of approach it is that you'll be using in your paper for the entire discussion of your topic. Generally, your Introduction should orient your readers to the major points the rest of the paper will be covering, and how.
The body of your paper is where you will be presenting all your arguments to support your thesis statement. Remember the “Rule of 3” which states that you should find 3 supporting arguments for each position you take. Start with a strong argument, followed by a stronger one, and end with the strongest argument as your final point.
The conclusion is where you form a summary of all your arguments so you can arrive at your final position. Explain and reiterate why you've ended up with the said conclusion.
As mentioned earlier, here are some sample outlines for research papers:
Thesis Topic: A Study on Factors Affecting the Infant Feeding Practices of Mothers in Las Pinas City
- Statement of the Problem
- Definition of Terms
- Theoretical Framework
- Type of Research
- Review of Related Literature
- Scope and Limitations
- Significance of the Study
- Benefits of Breastfeeding
- WHO Recommendations
- The International Code of Marketing of Breast Milk Substitutes
- The Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative
- The Innocenti Declaration on the Protection, Promotion and Support of Breastfeeding
- National Situationer
- The Milk Code
- BFHI in the Philippines
- Milk Code Violations
- Formula Feeding
- Factors Influencing the Decision Regarding Infant Feeding Method
- Area Situationer
- Socio-economic Demographic Profile of Mothers
- Information Regarding Current (Youngest) Infant
- Exclusive Breastfeeding
- Mixed Feeding
- Previous Infant Feeding Practices
- Maternal Knowledge
- Correlation Tests
- Analytical Summary
- Thesis Reworded
Topic: Asbestos Poisoning
- Definition of Asbestos Poisoning
- Symptoms of Asbestos Poisoning
- Effects of Asbestos Poisoning
- How to Deal with Asbestos Hazards
Topic: Shakespeare Adapted from AResearchGuide.com .
- Life of Anne Hathaway
- Reference in Shakespeare's Poems
- Romeo and Juliet
- The Tempest
- Much Ado About Nothing
- Richard III
- Other Poems
- Last Two Plays
- Concluding Statement
- Psychology 101
- Flags and Countries
- Capitals and Countries
Explorable.com (Jan 6, 2009). Research Paper Outline Examples. Retrieved Mar 13, 2023 from Explorable.com: https://explorable.com/research-paper-outline-examples
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Example outline, introduction/context, thesis/purpose statement, major & minor points, outlining video, related resources.
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Outlining your first draft by listing each paragraph's topic sentence can be an easy way to ensure that each of your paragraphs is serving a specific purpose in your paper. You may find opportunities to combine or eliminate potential paragraphs when outlining—first drafts often contain repetitive ideas or sections that stall, rather than advance, the paper's central argument .
Additionally, if you are having trouble revising a paper, making an outline of each paragraph and its topic sentence after you have written your paper can be an effective way of identifying a paper's strengths and weaknesses.
The following outline is for a 5-7 page paper discussing the link between educational attainment and health. Review the other sections of this page for more detailed information about each component of this outline!
A. Current Problem: Educational attainment rates are decreasing in the United States while healthcare costs are increasing. B. Population/Area of Focus: Unskilled or low-skilled adult workers C. Key Terms: healthy, well-educated Thesis Statement: Because of their income deficit (cite sources) and general susceptibility to depression (cite sources), students who drop out of high school before graduation maintain a higher risk for physical and mental health problems later in life.
A. Historical Employment Overview: Unskilled laborers in the past were frequently unionized and adequately compensated for their work (cite sources). B. Historical Healthcare Overview: Unskilled laborers in the past were often provided adequate healthcare and benefits (cite sources). C. Current Link between Education and Employment Type: Increasingly, uneducated workers work in unskilled or low-skilled jobs (cite sources). D. Gaps in the Research: Little information exists exploring the health implications of the current conditions in low-skilled jobs.
III. Major Point 1: Conditions of employment affect workers' physical health.
A. Minor Point 1: Unskilled work environments are correlated highly with worker injury (cite sources). B. Minor Point 2: Unskilled work environments rarely provide healthcare or adequate injury recovery time (cite sources).
IV. Major Point 2: Conditions of employment affect workers' mental health
A. Minor Point 1: Employment in a low-skilled position is highly correlated with dangerous levels of stress (cite sources). B. Minor Point 2: Stress is highly correlated with mental health issues (cite sources).
V. Major Point 3: Physical health and mental health correlate directly with one another.
A. Minor Point 1: Mental health problems and physical health problems are highly correlated (cite sources). B. Minor Point 2: Stress manifests itself in physical form (cite sources)
VI. Major Point 4: People with more financial worries have more stress and worse physical health.
A. Minor Point 1: Many high-school dropouts face financial problems (cite sources). B. Minor Point 2: Financial problems are often correlated with unhealthy lifestyle choices such unhealthy food choices, overconsumption/abuse of alcohol, chain smoking, abusive relationships, etc. (cite sources).
A. Restatement of Thesis: Students who drop out of high school are at a higher risk for both mental and physical health problems throughout their lives. B. Next Steps: Society needs educational advocates; educators need to be aware of this situation and strive for student retention in order to promote healthy lifestyles and warn students of the risks associated with dropping out of school.
Your introduction provides context to your readers to prepare them for your paper's argument or purpose. An introduction should begin with discussion of your specific topic (not a broad background overview) and provide just enough context (definitions of key terms, for example) to prepare your readers for your thesis or purpose statement.
Sample Introduction/Context: If the topic of your paper is the link between educational attainment and health, your introduction might do the following: (a) establish the population you are discussing, (b) define key terms such as healthy and well-educated , or (c) justify the discussion of this topic by pointing out a connection to a current problem that your paper will help address.
A thesis or purpose statement should come at the end of your introduction and state clearly and concisely what the purpose or central argument of your paper is. The introduction prepares your reader for this statement, and the rest of the paper follows in support of it.
Sample Thesis Statement: Because of their income deficit (Smith, 2010) and general susceptibility to depression (Jones, 2011), students who drop out of high school before graduation maintain a higher risk for physical and mental health problems later in life.
After the initial introduction, background on your topic often follows. This paragraph or section might include a literature review surveying the current state of knowledge on your topic or simply a historical overview of relevant information. The purpose of this section is to justify your own project or paper by pointing out a gap in the current research which your work will address.
Sample Background: A background section on a paper on education and health might include an overview of recent research in this area, such as research on depression or on decreasing high school graduation rates.
Major points are the building blocks of your paper. Major points build on each other, moving the paper forward and toward its conclusion. Each major point should be a clear claim that relates to the central argument of your paper.
Sample Major Point: Employment and physical health may be a good first major point for this sample paper. Here, a student might discuss how dropping out of high school often leads to fewer employment opportunities, and those employment opportunities that are available tend to be correlated with poor work environments and low pay.
Minor points are subtopics within your major points. Minor points develop the nuances of your major points but may not be significant enough to warrant extended attention on their own. These may come in the form of statistics, examples from your sources, or supporting ideas.
Sample Minor Point: A sample minor point of the previous major point (employment and physical health) might address worker injury or the frequent lack of health insurance benefits offered by low-paying employers.
The rest of the body of your paper will be made up of more major and minor points. Each major point should advance the paper's central argument, often building on the previous points, until you have provided enough evidence and analysis to justify your paper's conclusion.
More Major and Minor Points: In this paper, more major points might include mental health of high school dropouts, healthcare access for dropouts, and correlation between mental and physical health. Minor topics could include specific work environments, job satisfaction in various fields, and correlation between depression and chronic illness.
Your conclusion both restates your paper's major claim and ties that claim into a larger discussion. Rather than simply reiterating each major and minor point, quickly revisit your thesis statement and focus on ending the paper by tying your thesis into current research in your field, next steps for other researchers, your broader studies, or other future implications.
Sample Conclusion: For this paper, a conclusion might restate the central argument (the link between lack of education and health issues) and go on to connect that discussion to a larger discussion of the U.S. healthcare or education systems.
Note that this video was created while APA 6 was the style guide edition in use. There may be some examples of writing that have not been updated to APA 7 guidelines.
- Prewriting Demonstrations: Outlining (video transcript)
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How To Write A Research Paper Outline Correctly
25 Sep 2021
❔Definition of a Research Paper Outline
✍️A Research Paper Outline Writing
📑Formatting a Research Paper Outline
✅Example of a Research Paper Outline
Writing a college research paper outline won’t be the most difficult task you are going to face in your life, but it certainly will be important for your grades.
It is essential to understand how you should approach your essay as early in the writing process as possible. A research paper outline for college students is especially critical because it will make it much easier for you to tackle the rest of the assignment in a structured way.
Papers Owl has developed a guide that will help you create a well-structured research paper outline.
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What Is a Research Paper Outline?
A college paper outline is a plan that dictates the structure of your writing project. Your outline should be comprehensive and include all the necessary information about your topic. This includes a detailed description of the data you will be using as well as a discussion of the methodology used to analyze that data.
A college research paper outline template can be tailored to fit the specific needs of each student. This way, they can focus on what they need to do rather than wasting time trying to figure out how to write a research paper. They can be complicated for students to write, so it is important for them to have all the information necessary to create a successful essay.
Research outlines include specific sections for each part of the paper:
It should be written in a logical order that makes sense to the reader. By organizing your ideas into a clear structure, you can avoid confusing readers and help them understand your argument. You can also use an outline to keep track of all the sources you cite in your essay.
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How to Write a Research Paper Outline?
The first step in knowing how to begin a research paper outline is to decide what you want to write about. The next step is to identify the main questions that you will answer. From there, you can begin to structure your research paper outline.
The research paper outline consists of the following parts:
Introduction: A brief overview of the topic, a brief summary of the results from previous research studies, a statement of the main conclusions that you plan to draw from this study (thesis statement), and an explanation of how your proposed study will contribute to existing knowledge.
Body: Develop the topic by providing strong arguments for your opinions (preferably three for each idea, moving to the strongest one).
- Conclusion: Restate the thesis, proving that your study is important and relevant and the mission has been accomplished.
This basic outline can be expanded and modified as necessary. A good way to begin is by outlining the introduction section. Then, go through each of the other sections, in turn filling in any gaps as you go along. You may also want to consider including an executive summary at the end of your paper. This is typically only one-page long and should include an overview of all of the main points that you want to make.
How to Format a Good Research Paper Outline?
Prepare a draft, add a list of cited works, abstract, and other parts if they are listed in the professor’s requirements. In a research outline, mention only milestones. This is a plan for future work, a template you are going to fill with the appropriate information. At this stage, note the most important ideas that will guide you from a draft version to the final version.
Although a good outline structure features only three main elements, there is more to keep in mind when you learn how to write a research paper outline.
The best research paper writers will use the following components:
- Title page: features a title, author’s name, educational establishment, and publication date.
- Abstract: Abstracts should present the key findings of the research, as well as explain how these findings relate to previous research in the field. Abstracts should be concise and focused on the main ideas presented in the research.
- Introduction: Background information that leads to the thesis statement.
- Main body: Consists of several parts, including methods, materials, results, and discussion.
- References/bibliography: List of cited works, which includes both literature quoted directly and paraphrased sources. Stick to an assigned formatting style – MLA, APA, Harvard, or another style indicated in the requirements. The APA paper outline template is the most common research paper format for college students.
- Additional materials: Tables, charts, figures, terminology, etc.
Research essay outlines can be formal (submitted to a professor at the early stage of writing) and informal (drafts, where students note their ideas). The way information is arranged differs based on the required formatting style.
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Example of a Research Paper Outline
A research paper outline college is a list of key points and sub-topics that you want to cover in your writing. It will help you structure your essay and ensure that you cover all the information that you need to include.
In order to put this all into practice, here is a short college research paper outline example on psychology:
Topic: The influence of anxiety disorders on an individual’s social skills.
Thesis: Anxiety disorders have become more common among young people, affecting their social skills and personalities. Understanding how to tackle diverse anxiety disorders helps improve the quality of life and avoid serious psychological issues.
One of the most important things to remember when creating an outline for your research paper is that it should be as detailed as possible. This means including all the necessary information, such as any relevant background information, references, and other facts or details.
However, don’t overdo it by making your outline too long or complicated. It should be simple enough so that it can be quickly read and understood, especially when compared to the length of your paper itself.
If you still have some hesitations or doubts regarding your writing skills, PapersOwl pros will be glad to assist with research paper writing help . Get your “A” today by using this article as an example (and maybe inspiration) for your future research papers.
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How to Do Research: A Step-By-Step Guide: 4b. Outline the Paper
- Get Started
- 1a. Select a Topic
- 1b. Develop Research Questions
- 1c. Identify Keywords
- 1d. Find Background Information
- 1e. Refine a Topic
- 2a. Search Strategies
- 2d. Articles
- 2e. Videos & Images
- 2f. Databases
- 2g. Websites
- 2h. Grey Literature
- 2i. Open Access Materials
- 3a. Evaluate Sources
- 3b. Primary vs. Secondary
- 3c. Types of Periodicals
- 4a. Take Notes
- 4b. Outline the Paper
- 4c. Incorporate Source Material
- 5a. Avoid Plagiarism
- 5b. Zotero & MyBib
- 5c. MLA Formatting
- 5d. MLA Citation Examples
- 5e. APA Formatting
- 5f. APA Citation Examples
- 5g. Annotated Bibliographies
For research papers, a formal outline can help you keep track of large amounts of information.
Thesis: Federal regulations need to foster laws that will help protect wetlands, restore those that have been destroyed, and take measures to improve the damange from overdevelopment.
I. Nature's ecosystem
A. Loss of wetlands nationally
B. Loss of wetlands in Illinois
1. More flooding and poorer water quality
2. Lost ability to prevent floods, clean water and store water
II. Dramatic floods
A, Cost in dollars and lives
1. 13 deaths between 1988 and 1998
2. Cost of $39 million per year
B. Great Midwestern Flood of 1993
1. Lost wetlands in IL
2. Devastation in some states
C. Flood Prevention
1. Plants and Soils
2. Floodplain overflow
III. Wetland laws
A. Inadequately informed legislators
2. Interconnections in natural water systems
B. Water purification
IV. Need to save wetlands
A. New federal definition
B. Re-education about interconnectedness
1. Ecology at every grade level
2. Education for politicians and developers
3. Choices in schools and people's lives
Example taken from The Bedford Guide for College Writers (9th ed).
How to Create an Outline
To create an outline:
- Place your thesis statement at the beginning.
- List the major points that support your thesis. Label them in Roman numerals (I, II, III, etc.).
- List supporting ideas or arguments for each major point. Label them in capital letters (A, B, C, etc.).
- If applicable, continue to sub-divide each supporting idea until your outline is fully developed. Label them 1, 2, 3, etc., and then a, b, c, etc.
NOTE: EasyBib has a function that will help you create a clear and effective outline.
How to Structure an Outline
- << Previous: 4a. Take Notes
- Next: 4c. Incorporate Source Material >>
- Last Updated: Sep 30, 2022 10:32 AM
- URL: https://libguides.elmira.edu/research
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.
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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 (184.108.40.206).
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 .
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How to Write a College Research Paper Outline
Table of contents
Picture this: your room is a mess, and you have a meeting to run to in the next 30 minutes. How do you pick an outfit or think straight with all that mess right in front of you?
You can pick the first (crumpled) shirt you see or take a moment to clean that mess. The latter is a better option.
What has this got to do with college research paper writing, you ask? Everything.
If there’s one element of research paper writing most students take for granted, it’s outlining.
Outlining brings direction, it helps you make sense of your fragmented thoughts and create a research paper that is not only well-written but also well-structured.
In this article, you’ll learn more about how to write a college research paper outline, along with its key components and an outline example.
5 Key Components of a College Research Paper Outline
Look at an outline as the skeleton of your research paper. It gives it form while letting you organize your thoughts and ensure you’re not missing out on anything crucial.
Before we understand how to write a college research paper outline, it’s important to know what the key components of a research paper (or outline) are.
An abstract is a short summary of your research paper. The purpose of this section is to communicate what your research paper is about, ranging from the main argument to the research methodology and findings.
You are expected to explain the gist of your entire paper in 150-200 words here.
While developing an outline, it’s important to mention what you plan to include in the abstract. It’s a good idea to come to this at the end once you’ve gotten a better idea about the rest of the sections.
The introductory paragraph is the first section of your research paper. It needs to introduce readers to the topic along with the necessary background information to offer context.
An introduction is composed of the following:
- Introduce the research question
- Background information
- Thesis statement
As it’s the first read portion, introductions need to engage and capture readers’ attention which is why having a strong essay hook is of prime importance.
Basis your research, you’d also want to highlight the relevant background information you want to mention while creating the outline. It’s important to pick the highly relevant details that pertain to your topic and main argument to stay within the word limit and not go off-track.
Here comes the longest and most elaborate section of the research paper -- the body paragraph. Consisting of a minimum of three paragraphs, this section is broken down into smaller sections.
This is where you need to take the readers through the research methodology, and findings and discuss what you learned from the research. Your argumentative claim needs to be backed up with supporting evidence and examples.
The outline needs to be created such that you make provisions for each of these essential elements.
By the time students reach this section, they’re mostly exhausted and are wondering what they can write in the concluding paragraph.
This is why creating a college research paper outline is so important. Once you’ve jotted down what you plan to include in this stage, it gets easier to frame coherent sentences and write a strong conclusion paragraph .
You’re expected to reinstate your thesis statement in the conclusion paragraph. Make sure you don’t add any new information or repeat what you’ve said before. The trick is to summarize the paper while highlighting the core idea or thesis statement.
As you know, the bibliography needs to include all the sources you’ve referred to in your research paper. Not only does this save you from unintentional plagiarism , but it also adds credibility to your essay.
So, from print and magazine articles to journals and credible websites, ensure every source is included in the bibliography.
Instead of scrambling to find the sources at the last moment, it helps you note them down while researching. This saves you time while ensuring you’ve not missed out on anything.
College Research Paper Outline in 5 Steps
The purpose of an outline is to help you organize and keep track of your points. Once you’re done with your comprehensive research, that’s when you need to start creating the research paper outline.
There is no hard-and-fast rule on the outlining format -- what’s important is creating an outline that makes sense to you and aids your writing process.
1. Craft the thesis statement
The thesis statement is possibly the most important part of your research paper as it states the main idea of your paper. If an outline is a skeleton, the thesis statement is the glue that holds your research paper together.
It’s important to start with writing the thesis statement, so you know where you’re headed with the paper, enabling you to write an appropriate outline before you begin the writing process.
Even though the thesis statement is a one to two-line sentence, it needs to be taken very seriously. So, don’t worry about writing the perfect thesis statement at this stage. You can always come back to polish it once you’re done writing the entire research paper.
2. Enlist the ideas that support the thesis
While doing research, you’re bound to be shaping your arguments and being filled with ideas. Always make it a point to brainstorm and enlist all ideas that support your thesis statement.
All you need to focus on here is doing a brain dump. Some ideas might get through; others won’t. What’s important is listing each of them down, so you have all your ideas in front of you.
A useful brainstorming hack you can use for this is a mind map tool such as Mind Meister or MindMup . These tools help you build upon your ideas and organize them.
Here’s an interesting video by Jodi Brandon on how to brain-dump your ideas
3. Group-related ideas
By this time, you’ll be left with a host of arguments and supporting ideas. This calls for the next step, which is grouping related ideas and putting them under their respective buckets.
This serves two purposes -- it prevents the overlap of the same ideas and helps you organize your writing, making your writing clearer and not repetitive.
4. Arrange them in a logical order
Your writing needs to flow in logically while smoothly transitioning from one idea to the other. The reading experience needs to be seamless.
Logical flow is an indicator of clarity of thought -- one of the aspects you will be graded on.
Believe it or not, the only way to maintain a logical sequence in writing is by developing a college research paper outline.
So, arrange your grouped ideas in a logical order such that they appear unified and coherent. The last thing you want is to spot inconsistencies while proofreading or editing your research paper.
5. Write subheadings and expand
The last step in developing an outline is writing subheadings and expanding on those ideas.
So, focus on elaborating on those ideas and making them more specific such that this whole process of outlining is of help to you when you’re actually writing the paper.
Write a College Research Paper Outline: The Takeaway
By the end of the outlining process, you will be left with a full-fledged outline that you can refer to while writing the research paper.
If you’re someone who’s never spent time creating an outline, we urge you to try it once, and you’re sure to see a huge difference in the final outcome. Not only does it give you greater clarity, but it also makes you stress less and write your paper with complete peace of mind.
Even though the outline is an internal document, make sure you keep it organized because the more you spend time perfecting the college research paper outline, the easier it gets to transform those ideas into sentences and write with lucidity.
Considering how time-consuming essay writing is, we at Writers Per Hour are here to help you write high-quality essays written from scratch. From developing outlines to writing the entire paper -- our expert research paper writers are just an email away.
Last edit at Dec 24 2022
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