Outlining A Research Paper: The Inside-Out Guide

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Blog / How to Write a Research Paper Outline: Steps and Examples

Outlining a research paper is an important part of the writing process. Never skip this part if you don’t want your paper look disorganized. The outline will also help you establish the scope and limitations of the research paper, thereby providing you with a foundation upon which ideas and arguments will be built. The article details the process of outlining the research paper and offers valuable examples.

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What Is a Research Paper?

Prior to embarking on the discussion of the outlining process, it is important to determine what a research paper is. Fresh college students are not exactly familiar with this type of academic assignment, which calls for some clarification.

A research paper is a highly-structured piece of academic writing that analyzes a perspective, discusses an idea, or argues a point by drawing on primary and secondary sources.

Example: A medical student might explore the effectiveness of placebo treatment for alleviating psychosomatic disorders.

How to Write a Research Paper?

Go through the following steps to write a research paper:

Don’t wait until the last day to start your work on the assignment.

Choose a topic that will be of interest to your readers and you.

Find relevant, up-to-date sources and study them carefully.

Keep reading to find out how to write a well-structured outline.

Follow the structure of your outline when crafting the first draft.

Don’t forget to edit the first draft of your research paper.

Create a full list of sources used in the paper.

Research Paper Outline: What Is It?

A research paper outline is an action plan developed by a student to guide them through the writing process. A paper outline is similar to a table of contents in that it reflects the main points of the paper. An outlined is a roadmap for content that helps the student to structure their ideas and properly link them together, thereby preventing them from engaging in repetition.

An outline is helpful in developing a research paper that is at least 1000 words long. If you’ve been tasked with writing a lengthier paper, an outline becomes indispensable. Therefore, you should know how to write an outline.

Here’s a structure of a typical research paper outline:

How to Develop an Outline in MLA Format

MLA is a popular formatting style that has been developed by the Modern Language Association. The specific requirement to the use the format is commonly given to students of History, Literature, Sociology papers, and some humanitarian classes.

When developing an outline in MLA format, you are expected to type first-level headings using the upper-case Roman numerals – I, II, III, and so on. If there is a need to add subsections, it can be done with capitalized letters for the second-level headings, Arabic numerals for the third-level headings, and lowercase letters for the fourth-level headings.

The first version of the outline shouldn’t include excessive details. They can be added as your progress through the research paper.

Use these tips to ensure that your outline follows the MLA format:

  1. Check whether different heading levels in the outline correspond to those in the body of the paper. Don’t forget to follow the proper order of headings – I, A, 1, and a.
  2. Keep several drafts of the outline to track the progress on your paper.
  3. Familiarize yourself with the latest edition of the MLA formatting guide.

How to Develop a Detailed Outline for a Research Paper

Title Page

A title page of a research paper should have the following elements:

Try and come up with an original title for your paper. The title’s length shouldn’t exceed 60 characters; however, it must convey the basic idea of your research problem.


An abstract is basically a summary of the paper’s contents. It shouldn’t be longer than 200 words or approximately one-third of a page. The aim of your abstract is to convince the readers that your paper is worth their time. Therefore, try keeping it brief and interesting.


An introduction should provide concrete reasons for conducting research. It has to put your research problem in a larger context and show its importance. Also, don’t forget to include a thesis statement in your opening paragraph.


Use this section to familiarize your readers with the methods, tools, equipment, and approaches used for conducting the research. The main idea behind detailing research methods is to make it reproducible.


The Results section is needed to list findings of research. Include the main facts and figures without discussing them in detail. Note that raw data, tables, and graphs shouldn’t be a part of this section. Instead, put them into the Appendices section.


Here you can discuss the results of your research in as much detail as needed. Don’t forget to mention whether the findings meet your expectations and connect them to your thesis.


This is the section to provide a brief summary of your findings, share your thoughts about implications of the research, and discuss the possibility for future experiments. Basically, it is an extended version of the abstract.

Reference List

Here you should list the sources used in the paper. Carefully follow the required citation format (MLA, APA, Harvard, etc.). Also, make sure to check the in-text citations. Note that the reference list/bibliography is not included in the total word count for the paper.


The Appendices section of the paper should contain supplemental materials such as tables, graphs, images, and figures. By placing additional information into this section, you will provide your readers with a greater understanding of the issue while not making the paper’s body too cumbersome. Don’t forget to arrange all appendices sequentially and mention them in the text.

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