How do I Write a Research Paper Outline?

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  • Written By: Joe Dyton
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 05 November 2019
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Writing a research paper outline is a great way to organize what could become a complex project. The outline basically is the research paper’s blueprint. It will display the paper’s most vital information, show how it will be organized and what order the topics will follow. To write a research paper outline, you will need to determine all of your topics and subtopics, organize them, then put them in a standard outline format.

The first step is to figure out what information is going to go in your paper. Think of it like the ingredients you would need to prepare a meal. Consider which topics will be your main topics, then consider any subtopics that are included in the main topics. Creating a list of topics, no matter how large or small, then organizing them by importance or category can be helpful. After your topics have been organized, you can put them in outline form.

Begin your outline with your thesis statement. Your thesis is the backbone of your research paper. It usually is a theory that you want to prove in your paper. By putting the thesis on top of your research paper outline, you will always have a reference point for the direction of your paper and its components.


The standard format for a research paper outline is a vertical list that has main topics that are labeled with Roman numerals. Underneath each topic are subtopics that are labeled with capital letters. Depending on the length of your research paper, each topic could comprise the contents of one paragraph, a page or many pages. The remainder of your research paper outline would follow this format.

One key to remember is that you should never have just one subtopic under a topic. In other words, if you have an “A” under a subtopic, you have to have at least a “B” under that subtopic too. Also, if you have more details to include in a subtopic, you can add subsections under the subtopic and label them with numbers. Again, there should never be just one subsection. If any of these subsections have their own subsections under them, you can label those with lowercase letters.

The main thing to remember when crafting a research paper outline is that it is for you. Be sure that it’s constructed so that you can understand it, and it will make writing your actual paper much easier. In many cases, the stronger your outline is, the better your paper will be.


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Putting together an outline of what you plan to write your research paper about is a great way to make the entire process easier and more organized. The research paper outline format can be done in a way that correlates with the various section of your paper. As you follow the outline, you will find that thoughts and ideas for your research paper will flow more easily than if you were writing it without this guidance.

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