Step-by-Step Guide to Writing a Research Paper Outline

Everyone makes plans – or, at least, most people do. Whether you’re traveling, or it’s the start of a new year, month, week, or day. We all need plans to keep track of our progress and our goals. If you have written any research paper before, you’d discover that outlines are like plans – you need to write one if you want to write a great research paper. However, if you haven’t written a research paper before or don’t know how it works, you won’t enjoy the benefits. But, fortunately, we’d be addressing that in this piece. So, let’s get started, shall we?

What is a paper outline?

A paper outline is an organization of your ideas. An outline is a framework for the main written work. It helps you organize your thoughts properly and rank them. A research paper outline, when correctly done, will make writing easy.

What is a research paper outline?

A research paper outline is a sketch. It is a list of all the topics you intend to have in your paper the way you want them to appear. It could also contain subtopics and sources. It is a document that helps you stay organized and not forget important details.

Typically, a paper outline is divided into sections and paragraphs. A college research paper outline should be detailed, making it easy to write the project. Even though this may not be the most challenging aspect of college research, it could determine your grades.

Sample research paper outline

The template of your outline usually depends on the type of paper and the specific demands of the paper. It is expected that before one begins to write an outline, there is already a thesis statement. This guides the outline. Here is a paper outline template you could follow for your own:

Topic: The Impact of Malaria on Africans

Thesis: It is believed that malaria kills a lot of people than lions and other wild animals do. Knowing how to prevent this can significantly reduce the number of people who die of malaria in Africa.


  1. Introduction: give background information. You could include statistics if necessary.
  2. Body: list your arguments. It is expected that, at this point, you have done some review of the literature. Your arguments should be listed under the body. Writing the source of your argument might be necessary so that you do not forget when writing the main work.
  • Suggest possible ways of preventing and treating malaria.
  • Proven methods of prevention and cure of malaria. You could also include the statistics of the methods.
  • Personal findings, if any.
  1. Conclusion
  2. Briefly summarize
  3. State your thesis again
  4. Citations

Guide on how to outline a paper

When writing a research paper outline, there are steps you need to follow. Some of these steps include

  1. Have a topic

The first step in writing anything at all is to have a topic. Your topic determines the content of your writing.

  1. List all your ideas

The next thing is to list everything you want to write. You don’t need to pay attention to the organization at this point, so you do not forget your ideas.

  1. Eliminate redundant ideas

After listing your ideas, go through and eliminate repetitive or redundant ideas. You might also need to merge some ideas.

  1. Put your ideas in order

Order your ideas according to hierarchy. Write your ideas the way you want them to be in the main work according to their importance.

Types of research paper templates

Research paper templates have to do with structure. They determine how your paper will be structured after creating your outline. There are different research paper templates.

  • Alphanumeric template: in this case, significant topics are written in Roman numerals. Subtopics and specific points are listed in capital letters and Arabic numerals, respectively. Additional details are listed with letters in lowercase.
  • Full-sentence style: this has the same way of numbering ideas as the alphanumeric style. The difference is that you write in dependent clauses rather than writing in phrases. This is better in the sense that it is easy to share. It is easy for others to understand what you have written though it might take longer to write.
  • Decimal style: this is more thorough but complicated. It is recommended when you have a lengthy outline that has many subtopics. You usually see numbers like 1.1, 1.1.1, and so on.

4 Things to note when writing an outline

When writing a research paper outline, there are four things you should pay attention to. They include.

  • Parallelism: there is a need to be consistent in the grammatical forms used for the topics and subtopics.
  • Coordination: each subtopic and sub-point should have the same weight as others on the same level.
  • Subordination: general topics should be distinct from specific topics. Subheadings should be broad, while sub-points should be specific.
  • Division of subheadings: don’t forget that your writing will be done in paragraphs. You do not want too many subheadings, but you should have at least two subtopics under each subheading.


A research outline is not so difficult to do. However, it could affect the writing of the main paper if it is not done correctly. Ensure that your outline is not too detailed so that it becomes difficult to read. At the same time, ensure you have included all necessary details. This is so as not to forget anything when you get down to actual writing.