A Step by Step Guide to Write A Research Paper Outline

Written by

Katy Grace

8 mins read
research paper outline

Are you starting to feel overwhelmed with the thought of writing a research paper? Don't worry; you’re not alone. Many students find this one of the most challenging tasks they will face during their academic careers.

Structuring a research paper can be confusing, but luckily, there's a process for doing it.

In our step-by-step guide, we'll walk you through the process of creating a research paper outline. We'll show you how to organize your thoughts and ideas, and we'll provide tips for formatting your outline.

With a little bit of effort, you can create an outline that will help you stay on track while writing your paper. So let's get started!

What is a Research Paper Outline?

The research paper outline is a plan of action that all students follow throughout the writing process. It serves as a mind mapping tool for those who need help organizing their thoughts on a topic.

The following are some of the benefits you can reap from creating an outline.

  • In this way, the brain can easily access all of your thoughts in one place.
  • The outline structure provides a roadmap for future research work.
  • It is beneficial to avoid skipping any important points.
  • It shows your comprehension and vision of a specific topic.
  • It provides inspiration for the paper's future headings.
  • It provides the audience with a clear understanding of what is included in the paper.
  • It explains the flow of information and how ideas are related to one another.
  • By shaping a topic, the outline helps to avoid any potential errors.

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How to Write a Research Paper Outline?

Take a look at this step-by-step guide to writing a research paper outline.

Here is a detailed description of every step involved in creating a research paper outline.

  1. 1. A Title Page or Cover
  2. A paper should have the title in it. It should discuss what the paper is about and how it will help prove the arguments. This section includes the following elements.

    A paper should have the title in it. It should explain what the paper is about and how it will help to prove your arguments.

    The following elements are included:

    • Student’s full name
    • Instructor name
    • Course title and code
    • Submission date
  3. 2. Abstract
  4. The abstract is a concise summary of your research paper. It must be five to six sentences long and includes the main information. It usually comes after the title page and mainly focuses on:

    • The main arguments
    • The research methods
    • The subject matter
    • Participants
    • Outcomes

    Ensure the abstract should not exceed the ⅓ of the page, i.e., about 150 to 200 words.

    You can also take help from our detailed guide about writing a research paper abstract.

    To avoid excessive length, it is important that the abstract not exceed the ¼th of a page. This means you have around 150-200 words maximum when writing your research paper's abstract.

  5. 3. Table of Contents
  6. The table of contents is a great way to summarize the research paper quickly. It includes headings and subheadings that organize all relevant information about each chapter, making it easy for you to find what you’re looking for.

    This table of contents will help you navigate through the entire document. It provides readers with a complete overview of the document’s contents. It is good to have a table of contents.

    The outline tells you what's in your research paper and allows the audience to access any section they want easily.

  7. 4. Research Paper Introduction
  8. The introduction is the most important part when writing any research paper. It should introduce and summarize what's going on in this document. It should also answer a research question and explain the significance of the subject matter.

    The central aim is to keep your reader engaged with the help of strong arguments. This means that this section must be interesting and engaging enough for them!

    There are four main elements to write a compelling introduction:

    • A Hook - The purpose of a hook is to captivate the reader and convince them that read more. It should only take up 1-2 sentences in length, so it doesn't get too dry or overwhelming for readers' attention spans!
    • Background Information - Provide detailed historical background and general information with an in-depth understanding of the topic at hand.
    • Thesis Statement - With the help of a thesis statement, you can make your paper both interesting and easy to understand. The point is clear without being too broad or long-winded; it must be specific enough so that people know exactly what they are reading.
    • Define Your Target Audience - The key to writing for your target audience is understanding their interests and needs.
  9. 5. Research Paper Body
  10. The body of your research paper is where you list relevant information, examples, and evidence to support your argument.

    You can also present counterarguments and opposing facts. Such factors help the reader to get an idea about your understanding of a subject, which they would not know otherwise!

    Make sure to keep your paper consistent from the beginning until it's finished. The style, tone, and citations should be according to the required format for a well-written research paper.

  11. 6. Literature Review
  12. This section will explain how the literature you used to support your theory has influenced and helped guide my research. It also identifies any gaps in data, which are helpful for future efforts towards understanding this field better.

  13. 7. Method
  14. The research work for this project involved examining various techniques and types of equipment. The methods vary depending on the subject matter, so be sure to give an informative description of how you've conducted your research.

  15. 8. Results
  16. A good research paper has facts and figures to justify the argument. In this section, you will focus on how your findings support a particular point of view or theory with as many statistics/numbers as possible.

    Tables and graphs can make a more precise and structured argument. Remember that you are telling your audience how this research contributes to the field as a whole, so use it wisely!

  17. 9. Discussion
  18. The discussion part is an integral component of the paper. It allows you to make your thoughts and ideas clear while also supporting them with sources. Whether or not the writer expects to achieve their desired result is determined in this section.

  19. 10. Research Paper Conclusion
  20. The conclusion is the final part of your research work that summarises the main arguments. It also restates the thesis, goals, methods used to achieve results.

    The general overview provides a brief description of the topic without getting into too many details. A call-to-action should be included to motivate readers and want more information on this subject matter.

    Make sure that you do not make your introduction longer than the abstract.

  21. 11. Bibliography and Appendix
  22. Mention all the sources you used in your text, including pictures and charts. Plus, add any extra information like tables or images for further clarity!

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Research Paper Outline Format

When you need to write a paper, some important elements must be included. To make the formatting easier for yourself and your readers, creating an outline is essential.

The formats of research papers vary depending on the preference or institution. It's best to find what works for you, as there are many different styles that can be used in this way - including APA and MLA ones!

Just create a list of elements for your paper and properly section them into categories. Label each part in Roman numerals so you can easily understand the structure.

Here is a description of two commonly used outline formats.

MLA Format Outline

The research paper outline according to MLA format includes the following elements. This is a list of things you need for your document:

  1. The student’s and professors’ name, class, and date appear on the first page.
  2. The page numbers are located in the upper right corner of the header.
  3. Italics are required for all titles.
  4. A comprehensive list with endnotes preceding cited works.
  5. Subheadings are written in lowercase letters and Arabic numerals.

For a better understanding, use the MLA outline template provided below.

Research Paper Outline MLA (PDF)

Research Paper Outline MLA

APA Format Outline

The APA research paper outline is the standard for most academic writing. It includes elements such as:

  • It must have its own cover page.
  • The title, author's name, university, and running head are featured on the cover page.
  • The header includes page numbers and the paper's title.
  • An abstract is usually required in APA format.
  • "References" is a list of cited sources.

Examine the APA research paper outline template provided below.

Research Paper Outline APA (PDF)

Research Paper Outline APA

It is of great help to follow an example. Thus, you can further go through the outline examples in APA and MLA format by reviewing the research paper examples provided here for your convenience!

Standard Research Paper Outline Format

The standard research paper outline is a great way to start your writing. It sets the foundation and ensures that you do all of this basic work to create an engaging, more detailed final paper!


  • Hook statement.
  • Define the audience.
  • A strong Thesis statement.

Body Paragraphs

  • Arguments to support your thesis statement.


  • Summary of arguments.
  • Call to action.

Here is a template for a standard research paper outline.

Research Paper Outline Template (PDF)

Research Paper Outline Template

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Sample Outline for Research Papers

This research paper outline will help you create an outline for your own work.

Research Paper Outline (PDF)

Research Paper Outline

Research Paper Outline Example (PDF)

Research Paper Outline Example

Research Paper Outline Sample (PDF)

Research Paper Outline Sample

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