How Do You Write an Outline for a Research Paper: Guide

When writing an essay or any form of research paper, getting an outline ready is a critical step. It is usually the tell-tale difference between outstanding research and an average one.

Outlines for different kinds of papers often vary. An outline for an essay, for instance, would be different from that of a dissertation. Aside from that, you can have slightly different outlines depending on your approach to writing a research paper. However, the key question is, how do you write a research paper outline?

We’ll discuss that in detail and provide many more tips associated with how to do a research paper outline. Do read on, and let’s get right to it!

Outline in research paper

Before we get right into how to outline a research paper, we should discuss the concept of an outline and a research paper individually.

Can you imagine using an appliance you’ve never seen before without reading the setup instructions? Or can you prepare a meal from scratch for the first time without its recipe already put down? The answers are no. Just like you would be lost without these guides, you will be lost without a structure of research paper outline.

An outline is a written instruction or step-by-step marker and guide that helps you track your progress while carrying out any activity. You can have an outline for your assignments, chores, work schedule, and many more.

A research paper, on the other hand, is pretty self-explanatory. They are papers usually written at various institutions with a higher level of education for further research into specific fields.

Once a student has filtered through several research topics available and selected one, the next appropriate step is outline development. Now placing these two terms together, a research paper outline is a guide written by the author, providing a pathway to its completion. You could call it an action plan or the academic version of a to-do list.

The outline for a research paper can vary based on elements like topics, field, methodology, and even institution. For example, a science research paper outline can be very different from an art research paper outline.

At the same time, the structure of a research paper outline can slightly differ even if they are established from the same fields. Some institutions may have different recommendations when it comes to structuring the conclusion or even some parts of the body of a paper. What’s important, however, is knowing the right kind of outline to develop based on your research field and the requirements of your institution.

Standard research paper outline template

Now that we’ve got the hang of what research paper outlines are, let’s take a look at sample outlines for research paper.

Outline of research paper middle school

For an outline of a research paper in middle school, you need just a few pointers to get started. Papers typically written at this level are simple and easy to structure.

High school research paper outline

For a high school research paper outline, you’ll need a proper outline having an introduction, a body of information, and then a conclusion.

College research paper outline

For a college research paper outline, you need a more detailed outline. You have the title or cover page, also the opening chapter, to introduce key details. Then you have the abstract, the summary of the entire paper. It contains findings, their significance, and a quick conclusion.

Afterward, you have the proper introduction, then the methodology. This describes the methods, tools, and techniques used for the research. Next, you have the results and discussions section, where you share your findings and interpret the meaning. You may need to add visual elements like charts, graphs, and figures.

Lastly, you have the conclusion, a summary of the results, a concise thesis statement, the importance of the paper, references, and many more.

Best tips on how to write a research paper outline

To begin your research paper outline, follow these steps:

  • Choose a topic for your paper

To start an outline, you need a topic. Without a topic, you have no basis or identity for an outline.

  • Make a list of all the concepts you wish to include or debate

Record your main points, potential findings, and any other ideas you want to address in the main research paper.

  • Sort similar concepts into sub-groups

When writing out the main points and ideas you have, you’re bound to see similarities between them. To make a proper outline, sort similar ideas into smaller groups to make it easier to go back to them when writing the main paper.

  • Make a hierarchy of your ideas

What should readers discover first when they read your paper? What matters the most? Which concept will help you finish your paper more naturally? When you ask yourself these questions, you can determine the order of importance.

  • Make good headers and subheadings

Headers and subheadings are key when writing outlines. You must ensure they’re well-written on the outline to avoid mistakes on the main paper. More often, these headings or subheadings translate into your research paper’s main points or even headings.


Writing an outline can be very straightforward when you have your topic and fully understand the ideas behind your arguments. Follow the general outline structure used by your field and institution when crafting your outline. Afterward, use these tips above, and you’ll be ready to craft your first research paper outline.

Leave a Reply