Outline Example For Research Papers

Research papers typically take extensive time and effort. If you go about it in a haphazard way, you’re only extending the amount of time and energy required to complete the paper or essay. Instead of taking shots in the dark, why not use a valuable time-saving tool to gather your thoughts before you kick off your writing?

That’s where an outline comes in. After you’re looked into the general research question of your paper, you can create a good outline that helps you cover your major points as well as your thesis. Not only does this ease the writing process in general, it helps you avoid plagiarism by restating the ideas of others in your own words.

Does that sound good? If so, keep reading. We’ve got you covered with a basic overview of how the outline methodology helps the writing process, as well as an outline example for research paper purposes. We will also discuss how to brainstorm while creating a research paper outline and the basic elements thereof, plus the best way to keep track of your sources.

Why Use An Outline?

There are many benefits to outlining one’s paper before you start writing it. While jumping right in may seem like a faster means to an end, it isn’t. Rather, it’s a good way to tangle up your thoughts or write a meandering and ultimately meaningless piece of work.

Drafting an outline is like giving yourself a template or step by step guide for writing your paper that avoids the above. By collecting your paper topic, research question, and key points all in one place, you accomplish a number of things:

  • It’s easier to research when you know which points to support
  • Outlines provide a more cohesive structure and promote a better flow throughout
  • It’s easier to write when you drafted your thoughts in advance
  • You are more aware of any potential counterpoints you might need to address while making your argument
  • You can keep track of your sources all along the way
  • Outlining and writing ideas in your own words helps you to avoid accidental plagiarism
  • Your introductions and conclusions will clearly account for the paper’s main points

Taken together, these benefits help ensure a paper that is cogent, effectively road-mapped from beginning to end, and correctly cited throughout.

How To Create An Outline

It might be tempting to use an article rewriter tool to create a basic paper structure, then go from there. Not only is that unethical and in many cases illegal, it also just doesn’t lead to your best work. If your goal is to stretch your mind, you need to explore all the content that exists surrounding your topic.

Okay, maybe not all the content, but enough so that you have a basic idea of your arguments and the possible arguments that might be made against them. The basic approach includes:

  • Picking a subject
  • Doing the necessary background research
  • Writing down your main ideas
  • Reorganizing them to put like topics together
  • Formatting groups of ideas so that they flow logically from one to the next
  • Forming a topic sentence or thesis
  • Choosing an interesting introduction and meaningful conclusion

Pick a Brainstorm Process

While the above list might look neat and tidy, the actual reality of research is sometimes messy. Making your peace with that is critical. Dismiss the idea of trying to outline from beginning to end; your outline is there to ensure your writing proceeds that way. Instead, the outlining process makes room for mess and brainstorming.

In the early stages, dump your ideas all in one place and then start to organize them. You might jot down ideas in a Word doc and rearrange them later. You can write your thoughts on notecards and then lay them out on the floor for reorganization, something even famous authors do. Or you can use a tool like Scrivener that helps you organize your work by section.

All of these approaches work for any style of essay, such as oratory, persuasive, or compare and contrast.

Elements of an Outline

Regardless of what your brainstorm process looks like, most outlines usually include the following important elements:

  • An introduction with a thesis statement or topic sentence: This describes the overarching point you want to make, whether that’s a compare and contrast, a for or against argument, or a statement of opinion.
  • Sections for main points: Each section covers one main pillar of your argument, with its own mini topic sentence or “thesis,” if you will, to kick off the paragraph.
  • Supporting ideas: These are critical for making a strong argument that will resonate with your reader. List all supporting ideas in the same sections as the major points they support.
  • A conclusion that restates the thesis and closes the argument: This section should summarize the thesis and the general gist of the body paragraphs, using a full sentence for each.

Again, outlines may change their shape somewhat depending on the type of assignment you’re completing, but the overall elements should be there. The basic ingredients for a good essay or argument stay the same even if you are an experienced professional, after all.

Let’s now turn our attention to what an outline actually looks like.

Research Paper Outline Example

The following outline is a good template for getting started. Depending on the type of research paper involved, you may of course employ more or fewer sections based on what fits with your content, your number of arguments, your professor or boss’s requests, and so on.

Each outline should include a thesis statement and the major points, as well as any subheadings or subtopics that spring to mind. You should outline as a way of organizing your background information and supporting ideas, but also as a way of creating the structure you’ll use when writing. That includes an introduction and conclusion in the outline format.

Note that it’s a good idea to keep track of your sources from the start. Each section in the outline should include resources to check as well as resources you will use. Once you’ve determined that a source has a place in your paper, write down enough information to find it again. Depending on the type of source, that could include a URL, a journal DOI number, a book title and author, or any other pertinent information. You can format it correctly later, but noting where your research comes from is the best way to avoid plagiarism now.

Note that some people choose to outline with bullets, as below, while others use Arabic (1, 2, 3) and Roman numerals (I, II, III). It’s really up to you. The basic structure is as follows:

  • Introduction
    • Thesis statement
  • 1st Major Point
    • Main arguments supporting this point
    • Main arguments against this point
    • My thoughts on this point
    • Resources to check
  • 2nd Major Point
    • Main arguments supporting this point
    • Main arguments against this point
    • My thoughts on this point
    • Resources to check
  • 3rd Major Point
    • Main arguments supporting this point
    • Main arguments against this point
    • My thoughts on this point
    • Resources to check
  • (Optional) Counterpoint Rebuttal
    • Main arguments supporting the counterpoint
    • Arguments against the counterpoint
    • My thoughts on this point
    • Resources to check
  • Conclusion
    • Restatement of thesis statement
    • Restatement of each major point
    • My final thoughts/personal conclusions based on the research provided

Learning to outline does involve a bit of a learning curve, but by the end, you will have created a system so thorough and reliable that you’re unlikely to go without it ever again.

Closing Thoughts

Remember that an outline can be essential for providing structure and guidance before writing a paper. However, it isn’t everything. There are also crucial steps that should be taken following the research paper writing process that help ensure you submit your best work, as well as avoid ethics violations.

That’s where a plagiarism checker comes in. These ensure that you’ve neatly credited all sources used, be that in APA, MLA or Chicago Style. If you find missing sources, you can quickly replace them and either write out the needed citations yourself, or build them effortlessly using a citation generator.

With these three tools – a plagiarism checker, citation generator and outline – you’ll take your work to the next level instantly and enjoy watching it improve over time. Don’t wait!