Guide to Writing a Research Outline for Your Paper

Research paper writing is a meticulous process that should not be taken lightly. Having a solid outline is the first step to making the paper unique. However, many people neglect research paper outline and end up with subpar work. In this article, you will uncover the importance of a research outline and find details about how to write one effectively.

What is a research paper outline?

A research outline is a roadmap of all the points you intend to make in a paper, from topic to conclusion. It is a vital part of the research that provides an overview of the content of your research. Irrespective of academic fields, research papers tend to have the same structure. It is usually divided into paragraphs based on topics and subtopics.

Outline for a research paper template

The perfect research paper outline must contain a few vital elements in a particular order to ensure a logical flow in your main paper. Make sure you have all your research materials first before you make your outline. However, your outline should always come before your first draft.

  • Write a thesis statement

After you choose a topic, the next thing you need to do is write a thesis statement for that topic. This thesis statement can appear in your research paper outline after the title. It should be attention-grabbing and straightforward. A single sentence summarizing the central point of the essay is satisfactory. However, the statement’s tone will depend on the type of essay you are writing.

  • Make a list of key topics and subtopics

Most research paper outline examples contain lists. The preliminary list is similar to a table of content for books. It should include the main points of the paper in the order you intend to write them. There are different ways to make lists for research paper outlines, and the one you choose will depend on the type of outline you are writing.

The outline list can be decimal, full-sentence, or alphanumeric. When you opt for a decimal research paper outline, your primary lists should be regular numbers, but your subtopics should be in decimals. Endeavor to maintain consistency throughout the outline. For example:

  1. George Bush

1.1. Early life of George Bush

1.2. Early political career of George Bush

  1. The Bush Administration

2.1. Successes of the Bush administration

2.2. Failures of the Bush administration

If you opt for an alphanumeric listing, it would be slightly different. The primary points on your outline template for research paper will be in roman numerals. However, the sub-topics will be in traditional alphabets, and the topics under subtopics will be numbered. For example:

  1. Capitalism
  2. History of Capitalism
  3. Capitalism in modern America
  4. Compare and contrast

Full sentence research outlines have the same listing style as alphanumeric outlines. However, it covers more details, hence the name full sentence. Rather than short sentence fragments, you will write complete sentences, providing a clearer picture of what the paper contains. However, each topic or subtopic should only have one sentence.

  • Make sure the topics appear sequentially

Your research outline should reflect the points as they appear in your paper. This is why you should always prepare your outline first and use the outline for a research paper template to create the body of your work. For example, points should be 1,2,3,4 on your outline and 1,2,3,4 in the body, not 1,4,3,2. Otherwise, the work will lack logical flow.

  • Stick to the recommended length

The length of your research outline will vary depending on the instructions and the length of the paper. An outline could be one page for shorter papers or five pages for longer ones. For example, one or two pages are ideal for a 15-page paper. If the paper is up to 30 pages, you may need an outline of 5 pages.


Now you know how to do a research paper outline, remember that the outline must not provide any unnecessary details. Dive into the necessary details in the body of the work, not in the outline. You can start practicing research outline writing immediately.

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