How to Write an Outline for a College Research Paper

Think about it for a minute; can you cook a meal for the first time without a step-by-step guide? Of course not, you can easily get lost! Similarly, you will need an outline to guide you as you write your research paper.

The outline is a skeleton of your paper, which will provide a structure you can follow to create a well-thought paper.

In this article, I will discuss what to do before proceeding to an outline, how your research paper outline should look like, and how to write a good research paper outline

What to do Before Writing Your Research Paper Outline

1. Select a Topic

To ace your research paper, you need to select an appropriate topic. Ensure that the topic you choose should work to your strengths. Ideally, your topic should be interesting and appeal to your readers.

2. Read Your Assignment Instructions

The first step to writing your research essay outline is to understand the type of essay you’re writing, how many arguments you’ll use, and the length of your essay.

You may know all these by answering the question, “what’s the purpose of my research paper?”

Do you intend to persuade, inform, or entertain your readers? When you know your paper’s goal, you’ll be able to determine the thesis of your research paper and the writing techniques you should use.

outline for a college research paper

3. Identify Your Audience

Although you’re writing your research paper for your prof, you have to think outside the box and consider the audience that would benefit from your research. This can be your classmates, professionals, or strangers.

To do this, consider how much your ideal audience knows about the topic and determine whether they will agree with your thesis.

4. State Your Thesis

Your thesis sentence will guide you to make an outline for your research paper. Preferably, the thesis should be arguable and hook your readers so that they want to read the rest of your paper.

For this reason, it’s important to determine the kind of argument you would want to support.

To do this, first, ask yourself – what’s the goal of your thesis statement? Will it provoke a meaningful discussion amongst your readers?

How can you build a strong research paper based on the argument? When you answer these questions, you will be ready to create a research paper outline.

5. Research

You’re writing a research paper, and it won’t be complete without thorough research. Begin by using several reliable sources that support your thesis statement and then dig deeper.

outline for a college research paper
Outline for a college research paper

It’s important that you familiarize yourself with any counter-arguments and the available evidence supporting them. This will help you to master the research question and potential pitfalls of your thesis statement.

6. Identify and Organize Your References

References act as supporting evidence to your arguments and research. Prioritize your references according to their relevance to your thesis statement.

What Does a Research Essay Outline Look Like?

Your college research paper outline will typically contain two to four layers of organization. In most cases, the first two layers are general, and the other layers contain research to be completed, and they are more detailed because they contain research information.

The layers in your research paper outline template are represented by Roman numerals, Arabic numerals, and they may contain a combination of other symbols. However, if you haven’t been provided with a format, you can choose the most suitable combination.

First Level

As noted earlier, this is the most general level of information. Ideally, you should begin by numbering your introduction, the ideas you intend to present, and the conclusion of your college research paper.

Because your research paper will contain the bulk of your paper’s information, the first level will include chapters for literature review, or a series of dates, or methods and results of your paper, depending on the type of research paper you’re writing. Below is a good example:

  1. Introduction
  2. Main idea
  3. Main idea
  4. Main idea
  5. Conclusion

Second Level

Like the first level, the second level will also include general information on topics that support your introduction, main ideas, and conclusion.

Remember that your main ideas should have a minimum of two supporting topics in your outline. In case you find that your main idea doesn’t have enough supporting topics, you may want to replace it with a different main idea.

In such a case, you should stop drafting your outline and conduct more research before you proceed to the next levels.

  1. Introduction
    1. Background information
    2. Thesis
  2. Main idea
    1. Supporting topic
    2. Supporting topic

Third Level

This level contains more specific supporting information for the topics you listed. However, coming up with level three supporting topics will require that you complete enough research that will support your ideas.

For example, if you’re writing a historical research paper, the introduction and main ideas will contain general information you gathered about an author, contents of the book for literature review, and historical events.

On the other hand, if you’re writing a scientific research paper, you will explain the problem your paper will address.

  1. Introduction
    1. Background information
      1. Relevant history
      2. Relevant history
    2. Thesis
      1. Clearly state the thesis
  2. Main idea
    1. Supporting topic
      1. A description of the supporting information
      2. A description of the supporting information
    2. Supporting topic
      1. A description of the supporting information
      2. A description of the supporting information

Fourth Level

This level contains the most specific information, which means you’ll not need additional levels. For this reason, this should be your last level of organization. Typically, it will include specific details such as quotes, observations, references, and data you use to support your main ideas.

  1. Introduction
    1. Background information
      1. Relevant history
      2. Relevant history
        1. Quotes or references to pieces of literature
    2. Thesis
      1. Clearly state the thesis
        1. Quotes or references to pieces of literature
  2. Main idea
    1. Supporting topic
      1. A description of the supporting information
        1. Quotes or references to pieces if literature
        2. Quotes or references to pieces of literature
    2. A description of the supporting information
      1. Supporting topic
        1. A description of the supporting information
        2. A description of the supporting information

How to Write a Research Paper Outline: The Process

The most common detail that bothers those asking how to structure a science research paper outline is the process itself. By now, you know that the ideal APA outline format should include all the key points you intend to include in your paper.

While the process may seem simple, it is challenging for most students. Additionally, your professor may ask you to submit a psychology research paper outline for their review; that’s why outlining a research paper is important.

I. Choose the Most Appropriate Outline

After looking at the research paper outline template above, you now have a general idea of how to structure yours. While we only used an alphanumeric structure, you can also choose to use a decimal structure.

Additionally, you can choose between complete sentences or brief phrases for the different sections of your research paper outline.

However, if you have to submit your draft outline to your professor, you may want to use full sentences as it will help them understand your arguments.

II. Structure of a Research Paper Outline

Generally, your outline will consist of the following five parts:

1. Introduction

The first line of your introduction will be your thesis, and the rest of the introduction will cover the goals, importance, and overview of your research paper.

2. Methods

This includes the scope and analysis of the methods you use in your research, which can be qualitative or quantitative. In case you use both, ensure that you discuss them separately.

3. Results

This is the part where you discuss the results for the research method(s) you use. For example, if you conducted some experiments, you should explain how you conducted them.

For quantitative research methods, your results should be mathematically correct. On the other hand, qualitative research methods should answer all underlying questions.

4. Discussion

In this section, you discuss how your results have contributed to the topic and the importance of each result. You may also include citations from references you used to support your ideas.

5. Conclusion

Provide a summary the objectives of your research paper by listing your findings, implications, and recommendations for further research. You can also present how your research can be used for further research.

When it comes to the references, you should note that you don’t have to include them in your outline. Depending on the writing style (APA, MLA, Chicago, or Harvard), you can choose between footnotes or in-text citations from your sources.

Bottom Line

After reading this detailed guide on how to structure your research paper outline, you can now create a good one.

Keep in mind that your outline should show your abilities to demonstrate your knowledge on the topic. If you’re not confident that you can come up with a great outline to help you compose your research paper, do not be afraid to ask for assistance from us.

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