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How to Make an Outline for Research Paper: Detailed Guide

research paper outline

Are you struggling to write a paper outlines? Don't worry - we're here to help. In this blog post, we'll give you a step-by-step guide to creating an outline for your essay. We'll also provide some tips and examples to help you start writing. So what are you waiting for? Let's get started!

However, if you have no time or desire to work on a paper, our online essay writers can create the best outline for a research paper. Find out more about our research paper help.

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Goals and Benefits of a Research Paper Outline

When beginning any academic paper, it is important to have a clear understanding of what the finished product should look like. The same is true when starting to plan and write an outline for an essay. This guide will detail what an outline for an essay is, how to create one, and tips on how make it useful in the scientific paper.

What is an outline and why does it matter? A research paper outline is a plan written by the author to avoid stucking in the middle of the process. Call it an action plan. This part reveals the primary ideas of the study. Once you are done with the list of research paper topics to explore, it is necessary to dedicate some time to the outline development before you begin writing.

What is the difference between learning how to write a paper outline and how to make a table of contents for research papers? Well, an outline is not that detailed, and there is no need to put numbers of pages next to each section. An outline allows the amalgamation and review of the study. A writer will not repeat their words; he will stick to the logical flow with the help of an outline. Also be sure to learn how to cite a research paper.

The assignment's prompt may not say to write an outline. However, if a project is more than 1000 words in length, a professor utilizes a research paper outline by default. For example, a 5-paragraph essay requires an outline. It will not be possible to develop a 10,000-word coursework or dissertation without having a plan. An outline structure depends on the type of academic assignment and its format.

A paper outline also has a goal – to help keep the writer on track while writing and ensure that all key points are included. To achieve this goal, the following elements are typically included in an essay outline: thesis, main ideas, and supporting evidence/details in the body paragraph. The thesis statement is usually placed at the end of the introductory paragraph and provides a brief overview of what will be discussed in the essay body paragraphs. Each topic sentence corresponds with a main point that supports the thesis statement and introduces the evidence/details and supporting topics that will be used to further explain this point.

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How to Format a Paper Outline

There are various ways to format an essay outline, but one common method is listing Roman numerals for each main point followed by capital letters for sub-points and Arabic numerals and lowercase letters for sub-sub-points (e.g., I. A. 1.). No matter which format you choose, there are a few essential tips to keep in mind when writing your outline:

  • Be sure to include all required elements (e.g., thesis, topic sentences, etc.).
  • Keep your language concise yet clear – avoid using too much jargon or technical language that could lose your reader’s attention.

Make sure everything flows smoothly from one point to the next – logical order and transitions will help ensure your argument makes sense overall.


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MLA Research Paper Outline

MLA is the easiest and most frequently met research paper format, so we should start explaining how to write an outline for a research paper on this example. The Modern Language Association proposed this guide a long time ago. It is used to cite works by the students and professionals from the following fields:

  • Comparative literary analysis
  • Cultural studies
  • History & Anthropology
  • English Composition
  • Literature
  • Foreign language & literature
  • Literary criticism

Use MLA outline when working on the papers from these fields. Start with the primary headings (“Intro” and “Method”) using the upper-case Roman numerals. If the paper is long, with many different subsections, the student should use letters and numbers for the various levels of subheadings.

In a draft of a paper outline, arrange the things in the proper order. Do not go into details until starting the final version of the research paper outline. This part defines how the writer will come up with other integral parts (example: Literature Review).

Here are some tips on how to write a great MLA research paper outline:

  1. Start with a catchy introduction
    Your introduction should make your readers want to read more. Try to start with something interesting or provocative, such as a quote or an anecdote.
  2. Make sure your main argument is clear and concise
    Your main idea should be the main point of your essay. It should be arguable, and it should be clear what evidence you will use to support it. Be sure to include your thesis in your outline so that you don't forget it when you're writing your final paper.
  3. Organize your ideas clearly
    Each section of your paper outline should have a clear purpose, and each point should support your main idea. Make sure that each section flows logically into the next one. If you get stuck, try using a mind map or other brainstorming tool to organize your ideas before you start writing your outline. The main idea should be kept through the whole text.
  4. Use specific examples and evidence to support your points
    Specific examples and evidence will make your essay more convincing. Be sure to make an additional research and include detailed information so that your reader can understand what you're trying to say. But don't include so much detail that your essay becomes bogged down in minutiae. Complete additional research to add the relevant information.
  5. Make sure everything ties together logically
    When you're finished writing your outline, check to make sure that everything ties together logically. All the ideas should flow smoothly into the next one, and the overall structure of your essay should make sense. If something doesn't seem quite right, go back and revise your outline until it feels right
mla outline

Need more info? Check our full guide - HOW TO CITE A RESEARCH PAPER USING MLA FORMAT

Mastering APA Research Paper Outline

An APA is a most frequently used format when it comes to writing a paper, and it is more complicated than MLA. The American Psychological Association has established it. Students and professionals use APA essay format in these fields:

  • Psychology
  • Social sciences
  • Humanities
  • Healthcare & nursing
  • Education

The representatives of other fields apply APA paper format from time to time too. We have prepared a tasty infographic with an APA outline example, which is based on the 6th edition of the manual.

outline in apa

Let’s view that structure in details.

A Detailed Outline

There are several critical elements you should  consider in your research paper:

Title/Cover Page

It is the opening section to introduce the major details. The length of the recommended title is 60 characters. On the whole, do not miss this information in the title page:

  • Your full name
  • Professor’s name
  • Peers who took part in the investigation (if any)
  • Submission date

A summary is an integral part of the research paper. In college, they call it an abstract. The length of such text should not exceed 250-300 words (1/3 of an A4 page), and a student should include the basic findings, their significance, and a brief conclusion.


Experts recommend painstaking the entire research into the investigation’s background. Try to explain why the chosen problem is necessary to analyze and discuss. Mention the results you expected to obtain during the working process, and state a hypothesis that should enclose the introduction (it would be the thesis). Also, don’t forget to mention the thesis statement or the topic of your research.


List the tools, equipment, & techniques used to carry out a study. This section should make it possible to replicate the investigation step-by-step. The goal of the section is to allow other scientists interested in the same research question to continue the investigation.

Results & Discussion (R&D)

In most cases, master paper writers combine results and discussion in one huge section. They are interrelated. Start with sharing the findings of the study. Go on interpreting the meaning of the results for the society and provide a short synopsis of the main components: figures and statistical examinations. While adding any visual elements for understanding (graphs, images, etc.), place the numbers next to each of them to provide details in the last section — Appendix.


In the Conclusion part, it is necessary to include:

  • A summary of the results
  • Paraphrased thesis statement
  • Value of the research paper
  • Ways to implement the findings
  • Some forecasts
  • References

Based on the chosen paper format, develop a full list of references. Each time you cite something, write the source’s details on a separate piece of paper. It will speed up the process at the end. Don't forget to read about expository essay and how to write it correctly.

Things to Remember

  • An outline is like an action plan which guides you through the writing process.
  • You need to write an outline if your assignment is more than 1000 words in lenght.
  • Basically, the outline contains three main sections: the Introduction, the Body and the Conclusion.
  • The outline format depends on the type of academic assignment (MLA, APA).
  • Before developing a research paper outline, read the latest version of the manual according to the chosen format of the research paper.

Research Paper Outline Example

Also, check free research paper outline template example: Developing an Attention-Grabbing Resume! The example is written according to APA writing style guidelines - the rules of the game maybe be different for other formats.

Research Paper Outline Template
Research Paper Outline Template

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