How to Write an Effective Research Paper Outline

research paper outline

The outlines of the research papers and essays are often considered unnecessary. The majority of the students don’t consider spending time on creating an outline and rather start the writing process. This approach makes trouble for them as they move ahead in the writing process.

A research paper or a research proposal being started without any outline can prove to be a great disaster. The writer has to face writing blocks due to unorganized ideas and undefined structures. A writing process without an outline can prove to be sheer frustration.

So if you want to make your writing process smooth and organized, never start it without an outline.

What is a Research Paper Outline? H2

A research paper outline can be defined as a structured distribution of ideas related to the topic. A research paper outline can also be considered as a literary tool to make the writing process smoother, and more organized.

An outline can make your writing well structured. It helps to organize your thoughts. An outline will also help in the uniform distribution of ideas. The research paper outline is a brief overview of your paper with the main points of your writing presented in bullets or in one line.

The outline of a research paper usually contains the following elements:


  • Bulleted distribution of introductory points.e.g. Definitions.


  • Bulleted distribution of explanatory points.


  • Concluding points of your research.

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How to Write a Research Paper Outline?

Writing a research paper outline involves the following steps:

  • 1. Select the Topic of the Paper
  • The first thing you need to do before starting writing an outline for a research paper is to decide the research paper topic on which you have to write the outline. Sometimes a topic may be given to you by your supervisor or teacher. But other times you have to decide on your own.

    This choice itself can be quite tricky so be very careful. Go for the topics which are familiar and you have a good grip on them. The right selection of the topic can make your writing process quite convenient.

    If you have selected the topic on which you have a strong grip, good background knowledge, and conceptual clarity. Crafting an outline for such a topic can be quite easier. You can easily discuss such topics, can make appealing subheadings, and write convincing bullet points.

  • 2. Brainstorm and Write Down the Relevant Ideas
  • After choosing a suitable subject or title for your paper now brainstorm all the possible perspectives and ideas regarding the subject. You can list down your own ideas and can also find some from the internet.

    After listing down all the ideas, evaluate them on the basis of relevancy and your ability to explain them. After finalizing the ideas you want to discuss in your paper, list them down separately.

  • 3. Organize Your Ideas
  • Now combine the relevant ideas and group them in the subcategories. List the subcategories of the ideas under the main category. Define hierarchies for your ideas and decide which point you want your reader to read first.

    Put the introductory points in the beginning. Then list the most important reasons, explanations, or discoveries. Then state the points that will most effectively conclude your paper.

    Organize your ideas coherently and don’t let your readers feel that they are reading chunks of texts. Your text should be coherent enough to convey your point effectively.

  • 4. Write Compelling Headings and Subheadings
  • Keeping in view the ideas you have listed and finalized. Create appealing headings from these ideas. This will help you grab your reader’s attention and keep them reading.

  • 5. Format your Outline Well
  • There are a number of outline formats available for the outline. Depending on the hierarchy of your outline you can choose either a numeric, alphanumeric, full sentence, or decimal format. Also include all relevant sections according to the format like abstract, literature review, etc.

    Following is a quick overview of different outline formats:

  • Alphanumeric Format
  • This is one of the most commonly used outline formats. Roman numerals, Arabic numerals, capitalized letters, and lower-case letters to arrange the flow of information. In the Alphanumeric outline, the text is written in brief points rather than long sentences.

    Following is an example of an alphanumerically formatted outline:

    • Introduction
      • A. Main Point
        • 1. Sub-Point
          • a. Subpoint of (1)
  • Full Sentence Format
  • This format is very similar to the alphanumeric format with the difference that in this format the points are written in full long sentences.

    • Introduction of the Research Paper
      • B. Main Point of the Introduction
        • 2. Sub-Point of the main point of the introduction
          • b. Subpoint of (1)
  • Decimal Format
  • Except for the numbering system the decimal format is almost similar to the alphanumeric format. The text is written in the form of brief points in this format as well.

    Following is an example of a decimal formatted outline.

    • 1. Introduction of the Research Paper
      • 1.1 Main Point of the Introduction
        • 1.1.1 Sub-Point of the main point of the introduction
        • 1.1.2 Subpoint of (1.1.1)
      • 1.2 Next Point of the Introduction
        • 1.2.1 Sub-Point of the main point of the introduction
        • 1.2.2 Subpoint of (1.2.1)
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Research Paper Outline Samples

Following are some research paper outline examples and samples to help you write an effective outline for your research paper.

Research Paper Outline Sample

Research Paper Outline Sample

Research Paper Outline Template APA

Research Paper Outline Template APA

Research Paper Outline Template MLA

Research Paper Outline Template MLA

College Research Paper Outline

College Research Paper Outline

Hope the blog has answered the majority of your queries regarding writing a research paper outline. But if something is still ticking in your mind don’t hesitate to reach our essay writer for all your answers and best outlines for your papers.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the five Sections of Outline?

Following are the 5 sections of an outline:

  1. Abstract
  2. Introduction
  3. Methodology
  4. Results
  5. Discussion

What are the 4 types of outlines?

Following are the four types of outlines:

  1. Classic Outlines
  2. Summary Outline
  3. Index Card Outline
  4. Clustering