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Getting started with your research paper outline

what does a good research paper outline look like

The outline is the skeleton of your research paper. Simply start by writing down your thesis and the main ideas you wish to present. This will likely change as your research progresses; therefore, do not worry about being too specific in the early stages of writing your outline.

  • Levels of organization for a research paper outline

A research paper outline typically contains between two and four layers of organization. The first two layers are the most generalized. Each layer thereafter will contain the research you complete and presents more and more detailed information.

The levels are typically represented by a combination of Roman numerals, Arabic numerals, uppercase letters, lowercase letters but may include other symbols. Refer to the guidelines provided by your institution, as formatting is not universal and differs between universities, fields, and subjects. If you are writing the outline for yourself, you may choose any combination you prefer.

First level of organization

This is the most generalized level of information. Begin by numbering the introduction, each idea you will present, and the conclusion. The main ideas contain the bulk of your research paper 's information. Depending on your research, it may be chapters of a book for a literature review , a series of dates for a historical research paper, or the methods and results of a scientific paper.

I. Introduction

II. Main idea

III. Main idea

IV. Main idea

V. Conclusion

Second level of organization

The second level consists of topics which support the introduction, main ideas, and the conclusion. Each main idea should have at least two supporting topics listed in the outline.

If your main idea does not have enough support, you should consider presenting another main idea in its place. This is where you should stop outlining if this is your first draft. Continue your research before adding to the next levels of organization.

  • A. Background information
  • B. Hypothesis or thesis
  • A. Supporting topic
  • B. Supporting topic

Third level of organization

The third level of organization contains supporting information for the topics previously listed. By now, you should have completed enough research to add support for your ideas.

The Introduction and Main Ideas may contain information you discovered about the author, timeframe, or contents of a book for a literature review; the historical events leading up to the research topic for a historical research paper, or an explanation of the problem a scientific research paper intends to address.

  • 1. Relevant history
  • 2. Relevant history
  • 1. The hypothesis or thesis clearly stated
  • 1. A brief description of supporting information
  • 2. A brief description of supporting information

Fourth level of organization

The fourth level of organization contains the most detailed information such as quotes, references, observations, or specific data needed to support the main idea. It is not typical to have further levels of organization because the information contained here is the most specific.

  • a) Quotes or references to another piece of literature
  • b) Quotes or references to another piece of literature
  • Tips for writing a research paper outline

Tip: The key to creating a useful outline is to be consistent in your headings, organization, and levels of specificity.

  • Be Consistent : ensure every heading has a similar tone. State the topic or write short sentences for each heading but avoid doing both.
  • Organize Information : Higher levels of organization are more generally stated and each supporting level becomes more specific. The introduction and conclusion will never be lower than the first level of organization.
  • Build Support : Each main idea should have two or more supporting topics. If your research does not have enough information to support the main idea you are presenting, you should, in general, complete additional research or revise the outline.
  • Research paper outline template

By now, you should know the basic requirements to create an outline for your paper. With a content framework in place, you can now start writing your paper . To help you start right away, you can use one of our templates and adjust it to suit your needs.

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  • My research paper outline is complete: what are the next steps?

After completing your outline, you should:

  • Title your research paper . This is an iterative process and may change when you delve deeper into the topic.
  • Begin writing your research paper draft . Continue researching to further build your outline and provide more information to support your hypothesis or thesis.
  • Format your draft appropriately . MLA 8 and APA 7 formats have differences between their bibliography page, in-text citations, line spacing, and title.
  • Finalize your citations and bibliography . Use a reference manager like Paperpile to organize and cite your research.
  • Write the abstract, if required . An abstract will briefly state the information contained within the paper, results of the research, and the conclusion.
  • Frequently Asked Questions about a research paper outline

An outline is used to organize written ideas about a topic into a logical order. Outlines help us organize major topics, subtopics, and supporting details. Researchers benefit greatly from outlines while writing by addressing which topic to cover in what order.

The most basic outline format consists of: an introduction, a minimum of three topic paragraphs, and a conclusion.

You should make an outline before starting to write your research paper. This will help you organize the main ideas and arguments you want to present in your topic.

  • Consistency: ensure every heading has a similar tone. State the topic or write short sentences for each heading but avoid doing both.
  • Organization : Higher levels of organization are more generally stated and each supporting level becomes more specific. The introduction and conclusion will never be lower than the first level of organization.
  • Support : Each main idea should have two or more supporting topics. If your research does not have enough information to support the main idea you are presenting, you should, in general, complete additional research or revise the outline.
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what does a good research paper outline look like

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How Can You Create a Well Planned Research Paper Outline

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You are staring at the blank document, meaning to start writing your research paper . After months of experiments and procuring results, your PI asked you to write the paper to publish it in a reputed journal. You spoke to your peers and a few seniors and received a few tips on writing a research paper, but you still can’t plan on how to begin!

Writing a research paper is a very common issue among researchers and is often looked upon as a time consuming hurdle. Researchers usually look up to this task as an impending threat, avoiding and procrastinating until they cannot delay it anymore. Seeking advice from internet and seniors they manage to write a paper which goes in for quite a few revisions. Making researchers lose their sense of understanding with respect to their research work and findings. In this article, we would like to discuss how to create a structured research paper outline which will assist a researcher in writing their research paper effectively!

Publication is an important component of research studies in a university for academic promotion and in obtaining funding to support research. However, the primary reason is to provide the data and hypotheses to scientific community to advance the understanding in a specific domain. A scientific paper is a formal record of a research process. It documents research protocols, methods, results, conclusion, and discussion from a research hypothesis .

Table of Contents

What Is a Research Paper Outline?

A research paper outline is a basic format for writing an academic research paper. It follows the IMRAD format (Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion). However, this format varies depending on the type of research manuscript. A research paper outline consists of following sections to simplify the paper for readers. These sections help researchers build an effective paper outline.

1. Title Page

The title page provides important information which helps the editors, reviewers, and readers identify the manuscript and the authors at a glance. It also provides an overview of the field of research the research paper belongs to. The title should strike a balance between precise and detailed. Other generic details include author’s given name, affiliation, keywords that will provide indexing, details of the corresponding author etc. are added to the title page.

2. Abstract

Abstract is the most important section of the manuscript and will help the researcher create a detailed research paper outline . To be more precise, an abstract is like an advertisement to the researcher’s work and it influences the editor in deciding whether to submit the manuscript to reviewers or not. Writing an abstract is a challenging task. Researchers can write an exemplary abstract by selecting the content carefully and being concise.

3. Introduction

An introduction is a background statement that provides the context and approach of the research. It describes the problem statement with the assistance of the literature study and elaborates the requirement to update the knowledge gap. It sets the research hypothesis and informs the readers about the big research question.

This section is usually named as “Materials and Methods”, “Experiments” or “Patients and Methods” depending upon the type of journal. This purpose provides complete information on methods used for the research. Researchers should mention clear description of materials and their use in the research work. If the methods used in research are already published, give a brief account and refer to the original publication. However, if the method used is modified from the original method, then researcher should mention the modifications done to the original protocol and validate its accuracy, precision, and repeatability.

It is best to report results as tables and figures wherever possible. Also, avoid duplication of text and ensure that the text summarizes the findings. Report the results with appropriate descriptive statistics. Furthermore, report any unexpected events that could affect the research results, and mention complete account of observations and explanations for missing data (if any).

6. Discussion

The discussion should set the research in context, strengthen its importance and support the research hypothesis. Summarize the main results of the study in one or two paragraphs and show how they logically fit in an overall scheme of studies. Compare the results with other investigations in the field of research and explain the differences.

7. Acknowledgments

Acknowledgements identify and thank the contributors to the study, who are not under the criteria of co-authors. It also includes the recognition of funding agency and universities that award scholarships or fellowships to researchers.

8. Declaration of Competing Interests

Finally, declaring the competing interests is essential to abide by ethical norms of unique research publishing. Competing interests arise when the author has more than one role that may lead to a situation where there is a conflict of interest.

Steps to Write a Research Paper Outline

  • Write down all important ideas that occur to you concerning the research paper .
  • Answer questions such as – what is the topic of my paper? Why is the topic important? How to formulate the hypothesis? What are the major findings?
  • Add context and structure. Group all your ideas into sections – Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion/Conclusion.
  • Add relevant questions to each section. It is important to note down the questions. This will help you align your thoughts.
  • Expand the ideas based on the questions created in the paper outline.
  • After creating a detailed outline, discuss it with your mentors and peers.
  • Get enough feedback and decide on the journal you will submit to.
  • The process of real writing begins.

Benefits of Creating a Research Paper Outline

As discussed, the research paper subheadings create an outline of what different aspects of research needs elaboration. This provides subtopics on which the researchers brainstorm and reach a conclusion to write. A research paper outline organizes the researcher’s thoughts and gives a clear picture of how to formulate the research protocols and results. It not only helps the researcher to understand the flow of information but also provides relation between the ideas.

A research paper outline helps researcher achieve a smooth transition between topics and ensures that no research point is forgotten. Furthermore, it allows the reader to easily navigate through the research paper and provides a better understanding of the research. The paper outline allows the readers to find relevant information and quotes from different part of the paper.

Research Paper Outline Template

A research paper outline template can help you understand the concept of creating a well planned research paper before beginning to write and walk through your journey of research publishing.

1. Research Title

A. Background i. Support with evidence ii. Support with existing literature studies

B. Thesis Statement i. Link literature with hypothesis ii. Support with evidence iii. Explain the knowledge gap and how this research will help build the gap 4. Body

A. Methods i. Mention materials and protocols used in research ii. Support with evidence

B. Results i. Support with tables and figures ii. Mention appropriate descriptive statistics

C. Discussion i. Support the research with context ii. Support the research hypothesis iii. Compare the results with other investigations in field of research

D. Conclusion i. Support the discussion and research investigation ii. Support with literature studies

E. Acknowledgements i. Identify and thank the contributors ii. Include the funding agency, if any

F. Declaration of Competing Interests

5. References

Download the Research Paper Outline Template!

Have you tried writing a research paper outline ? How did it work for you? Did it help you achieve your research paper writing goal? Do let us know about your experience in the comments below.

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A Step-by-Step Guide to Crafting a Winning Research Paper Outline

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Creating a research paper outline is an essential step for organizing your ideas and research before you start writing. It can help you structure your arguments, spot gaps in your research, and ensure you include all important information. Speaking of which, this step-by-step guide is your opportunity to learn creating a good research paper outline , just like a professional paper writing service provider would do. So, without further ado, let’s get started.

Table of Contents

Crafting a Comprehensive Research Paper Outline – A Step-by-Step Guide

Crafting a Comprehensive Research Paper Outline A Step by Step Guide

Putting together a research paper can be intimidating, but it can get easier if you make a good outline. Here are a few simple steps to help you outline a thorough research paper.

Step 1: Pick a Topic and Conduct Research

The first thing you should do is pick a relevant, interesting topic with plenty of research material available. Do your research, take down notes, and document your sources so you can cite them in your bibliography later. 

1.1 Brainstorming and Narrowing Down the Topic

Think about a field that you’re passionate about or interested in, and brainstorm some related ideas. Once you have a few ideas, narrow down the list to the most interesting and relevant ones. How about  social media research paper topics ? 

For Example: Thinking about social media and mental health could give you a few ideas for topics like “How does social media affect depression?” or “What does social media do to our body image and self-esteem?”. Do some research and decide which one sparks your interest more. 

1.2 Preliminary Research

Once you have a topic in mind, do some digging to ensure you can find enough evidence for backing up your research. Check out some articles, studies, and books related to your topic.

Example:  Start your research by searching academic databases like Google Scholar or PubMed for peer-reviewed articles about your topic. You can also look for books and reports from reliable sources like the World Health Organization.

1.3 Refining Your Research Question

Based on your preliminary research, make your research question more precise and on-point. Doing this will help you figure out the main ideas and arguments you need to include in your paper.

For Example: What effect does using social media have on body image and self-esteem in teenage girls in the US? 

1.4 Gathering and Evaluating Sources

Once you have a refined research question, you must find and assess sources related to your topic. Using reliable and trustworthy sources to back up your points is essential.

For Example:  Look for sources like articles, books, and reports that focus on social media use among teenage girls. Check that these sources are relevant, trustworthy, and reliable.

1.5 Taking Detailed Notes and Keeping Track of Sources

Organize your research by taking detailed notes on the points each source makes so you know what to include in your paper. Keeping track of your sources is important too. You can try out a citation management tool like Zotero or Mendeley.

For Example:  Write down the main points of each article or report, along with the author, title, year and publisher details. That way, you’ll have a record of the key ideas and where they came from.

Step 2: Identify Key Ideas and Create a Thesis Statement

Once you’ve gathered info on your topic, the next step is determining the main points and arguments you want to put forward in your research paper. From this, create a clear and concise  thesis statement  summarizing your paper’s main point.

For Example:  If you are researching the impact of social media on mental health, you might have found that social media has both positive and negative effects. Your thesis statement could be: “While social media can have positive effects on mental health, its negative impact on mental health is a growing concern that needs to be addressed.” This statement conveys your main argument and sets the tone for the rest of the paper.

Step 3: Organize Your Ideas

Think about your thesis statement, and then group similar ideas to create an argument. Structure your ideas in a way that flows logically, and create subtopics that back up your main point. Put everything together in an orderly way.

For Example : You could break down the impact of social media on mental health into two groups: the good and bad. For each one, provide evidence and reasons to back it up.

Step 4: Create an Outline Structure

With your ideas organized, create a structure for your outline. Start with an introduction  that provides background information and states your thesis statement. Then, create a separate section for each subtopic, including supporting evidence and arguments. Finally, conclude with a summary of your findings.

Step 5: Review and Revise Your Outline

Look over your outline and ensure it’s thorough, well-structured, and helps prove your thesis. Tweak anything that needs to be changed to strengthen your argument and ensure your paper is straightforward and powerful.

Example:  You can review your outline and ensure it flows logically, includes enough supporting evidence, and addresses potential counterarguments.

Example of a Research Paper Outline 

Suppose you want to write a research paper on the effects of social media on our mental health. Here’s what your outline must look like: 

I) Introduction

  • Background information on social media and its prevalence in society
  • Research question: What is the impact of social media on mental health?
  • Thesis statement: While social media can have positive effects on mental health, its negative impact on mental health is a growing concern that needs to be addressed.

II) Literature Review

  • Overview of previous research on social media and mental health
  • Discussion of key findings, such as social media’s negative impact on self-esteem and its correlation with depression and anxiety
  • Identifying gaps in the literature, such as the need for more research on the relationship between social media use and specific mental health disorders.

III) Methods

  • Description of research design, such as a survey or experiment
  • Explanation of data collection methods, such as online surveys or interviews
  • Discussion of data analysis techniques, such as statistical analysis or content analysis.

IV) Results

  • Presentation of key findings, such as the percentage of respondents who reported negative mental health outcomes related to social media use
  • Analysis of results, such as the correlation between social media use and negative mental health outcomes
  • Discussion of results in relation to the research question, such as how the findings support or refute the thesis statement.

V) Discussion

  • Interpretation of results, such as the significance of the findings for mental health and social media use
  • Comparison of findings to previous research, such as how the current study’s results align with or differ from previous studies
  • Discuss limitations and implications for future research, such as the need for longitudinal studies to examine the long-term effects of social media use on mental health.

VI) Conclusion

  • Recap of key findings and their implications, such as the need for further research and public education on the impact of social media on mental health
  • Significance of research, such as the contribution to the understanding of the relationship between social media use and mental health
  • Suggestions for future research, such as examining the role of social media use on specific mental health disorders.

VII) References

List of sources cited in the research paper, such as academic articles and books on social media and mental health.

Different Types of Research Paper Outlines

Outlines for research papers can be categorized into various levels of detail, from one to four. Level one outlines list the main section titles or topics, while level four outlines provide more detailed breakdowns of each paragraph and sentence.

There are three different ways to set up an outline for a research paper – alphanumeric, full sentence, and decimal. We’ll detail each of these formats and give examples of how they look in an outline.

Alphanumeric outline 

This outline uses a mix of Roman numerals, letters and numbers to sort out ideas and data.

For example:


  • Background information
  • Thesis statement

Main idea 1

– Supporting detail 1

– Supporting detail 2

Main idea 2

III. Conclusion

  • Summary of main points
  • Restate thesis

Decimal outline 

This type of outline uses decimals to organize ideas and information. For example:

1.1 Background information

1.2 Thesis statement

1.1 Supporting detail

1.2 Supporting detail

2.1 Supporting detail

2.2 Supporting detail

3.1 Summary of main points

3.2 Restate thesis

Full-sentence outline

This outline uses full sentences to put across ideas and info. For example: 

  • Background information: social media is a prevalent aspect of modern society, with numerous implications for the mental health of its users.
  • Positive effects of social media on mental health: Social support and sense of community

Supporting detail:  Studies have shown that social media can provide a sense of belonging and support for individuals who may feel isolated.

  • Negative effects of social media on mental health: Anxiety and depression

Supporting detail:  Research has also shown that social media use can contribute to feelings of anxiety and depression in some individuals.

  • Summary of main points: Social media has positive and negative effects on mental health.
  • Restate thesis: Addressing the negative impact of social media on mental health is crucial for promoting overall well-being.

These are just a few examples of the different types of research paper outlines. It’s important to choose the type that works best for you and your research project.

Advantages of Creating a Research Paper Outline

Helps in the organization of your research paper.

Creating an outline for your research paper is a great way to organize your thoughts and ideas. It gives you a structure to follow and makes it easier to assemble a well-supported argument. Breaking down your paper into sections and subsections allows you to see how each piece of information fits into the bigger picture and contributes to your argument.

Improves Your Efficiency

An outline helps you avoid repeating yourself and keeps your paper on track. It also makes prioritizing the most important points easier and saves time by focusing on what matters most.

Saves Your Time

Outlining before you start writing your paper can save you much time. Planning out your paper in advance helps you stay focused and on track during the writing process, which means you’ll be able to write faster and more effectively. You’ll have a plan to follow and won’t be stuck or side-tracked.

Helps in Identifying Gaps

Outlining your research paper can help spot any potential weaknesses or gaps in your argument. This way, you can fill in any missing gaps before you start writing, which can make your paper much stronger. It’s a great way to ensure your research and arguments are as solid as possible.

Helps with Transitions

Having an outline can help you keep track of the different sections of your paper and ensure they all fit together nicely. It can help you create a logical flow between paragraphs and sections, making it easier for readers to understand how your points connect. Additionally, it can help you identify any areas that need extra transitions or explanations to help readers understand the links between your ideas.

Creating a great research paper outline is important to ensure that your paper is a success. With the right techniques and approach, you can make one that will help you stay focused and get your message across clearly and effectively. That’s what this article was all about, and we hope it was really helpful. Still, if you need help creating one, let  our writers  know, who are always available to handle your academic tasks.

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  • Manuscript Preparation

How to Write a Research Paper Outline

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Table of Contents

Getting started with your research paper can sometimes feel a little overwhelming. But, if you start with an outline, the rest of the paper almost completes itself. Even so, an outline can be difficult to wrap your head around as well. In this article, we’ll go over the fundamentals of a research paper outline, explaining exactly what it is, and how you can write it, step-by-step.

Research Outline

When it comes down to it, your research outline is like the frame of a house for your research paper. It is the framework on which everything else is built upon. The foundation of this framework is the thesis and main ideas of your research project. And, just like a house, there are multiple layers to complete the project. The same is true with your research paper. We start with general ideas and building a framework, and then we add information and detail as the outline comes into shape.

The key to understanding how to write an effective research paper is by comprehending what these different layers are, and in what order   you should address them. For example, you wouldn’t put your kitchen counters in a house, without first completing the interior walls and base cabinetry of the home. So, you build carefully and deliberately, step-by-step, in a way that makes it easy for your ideas to take shape.

Let’s take a look at those layers and stages.

Step-by-Step Research Paper Outline

Most research papers have several layers to their construction. In this section, we’ll cover the most basic construction principles. For additional information, talk with colleagues in your field to review their outlines and how they may have built a research paper that you find useful.

You’ll likely notice that each layer grows from general to more specific topics. Additionally, each layer is usually shown via Roman numerals, along with Arabic numbers, upper and lowercase letters. Some institutions actually look for a specific outline format, and formatting can also depend on your specific field and topic. Of course, if you’re just using an outline for your own purposes, you can use whatever format that works best for you.

First Level of Organization

This is the most basic core of your research paper; your introduction, each of your main ideas and your conclusion. The main ideas are where, of course, the majority of your information is going to be presented. If you think of your research paper like a book, your main ideas would be like chapters. Your main ideas may also read like specific dates for a historical literature review, or even specific methods and results for a scientific-based research paper.

I. Introduction/summary of the research

II. First main idea or date

III. Second main idea or date

IV. Third main idea or date

V. Conclusion

Second Level

At this level, we dig into the topics that support each of the ideas in the first level. For each main idea, you’ll want at least two to three details. If you can’t put that much detail into any of your main ideas, you might want to consider merging it with another main idea. Once you have the second level of your outline done, typically you’ll want to stop working on your outline, especially if this is just your first draft.

Continue with your research so that you can add details to the next layers and levels of your outline. Keep in mind, that depending on where your research leads you, your main ideas may even change, which is yet another reason why you won’t want to dig too deeply into your outline until your actual research is completed.

A. Background info

B. Hypothesis (or thesis)

A. First supporting idea or topic

B. Second supporting idea or topic

C. Third supporting idea or topic

V. Conclusion (don’t worry about this, at this stage of your outline)

Third and Fourth Level

With the third and fourth levels, you’ll add supporting data and information that’s related to your previously outlined topics. This is where your research “fills in the blanks.” For example, you might add to your introduction, or revise your main ideas, based on the research you’ve conducted. The fourth level is only used when further details are needed to describe the research or topic. For example, historical quotes, references, and the most specific data and information.

1. Reference One

2. Reference Two

1. Quote One

2. Quote Two

III. Conclusion (based on the culmination of your research project)

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An outline is a formal system used to develop a framework for thinking about what should be the organization and eventual contents of your paper. An outline helps you predict the overall structure and flow of a paper.

Why and How to Create a Useful Outline. The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University.

Importance of...

Writing papers in college requires you to come up with sophisticated, complex, and sometimes very creative ways of structuring your ideas . Taking the time to draft an outline can help you determine if your ideas connect to each other, what order of ideas works best, where gaps in your thinking may exist, or whether you have sufficient evidence to support each of your points. It is also an effective way to think about the time you will need to complete each part of your paper before you begin writing.

A good outline is important because :

  • You will be much less likely to get writer's block . An outline will show where you're going and how to get there. Use the outline to set goals for completing each section of your paper.
  • It will help you stay organized and focused throughout the writing process and help ensure proper coherence [flow of ideas] in your final paper. However, the outline should be viewed as a guide, not a straitjacket. As you review the literature or gather data, the organization of your paper may change; adjust your outline accordingly.
  • A clear, detailed outline ensures that you always have something to help re-calibrate your writing should you feel yourself drifting into subject areas unrelated to the research problem. Use your outline to set boundaries around what you will investigate.
  • The outline can be key to staying motivated . You can put together an outline when you're excited about the project and everything is clicking; making an outline is never as overwhelming as sitting down and beginning to write a twenty page paper without any sense of where it is going.
  • An outline helps you organize multiple ideas about a topic . Most research problems can be analyzed from a variety of perspectives; an outline can help you sort out which modes of analysis are most appropriate to ensure the most robust findings are discovered.
  • An outline not only helps you organize your thoughts, but it can also serve as a schedule for when certain aspects of your writing should be accomplished . Review the assignment and highlight the due dates of specific tasks and integrate these into your outline. If your professor has not created specific deadlines, create your own deadlines by thinking about your own writing style and the need to manage your time around other course assignments.

How to Structure and Organize Your Paper. Odegaard Writing & Research Center. University of Washington; Why and How to Create a Useful Outline. The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University; Lietzau, Kathleen. Creating Outlines. Writing Center, University of Richmond.

Structure and Writing Style

I.   General Approaches

There are two general approaches you can take when writing an outline for your paper:

The topic outline consists of short phrases. This approach is useful when you are dealing with a number of different issues that could be arranged in a variety of different ways in your paper. Due to short phrases having more content than using simple sentences, they create better content from which to build your paper.

The sentence outline is done in full sentences. This approach is useful when your paper focuses on complex issues in detail. The sentence outline is also useful because sentences themselves have many of the details in them needed to build a paper and it allows you to include those details in the sentences instead of having to create an outline of short phrases that goes on page after page.

II.   Steps to Making the Outline

A strong outline details each topic and subtopic in your paper, organizing these points so that they build your argument toward an evidence-based conclusion. Writing an outline will also help you focus on the task at hand and avoid unnecessary tangents, logical fallacies, and underdeveloped paragraphs.

  • Identify the research problem . The research problem is the focal point from which the rest of the outline flows. Try to sum up the point of your paper in one sentence or phrase. It also can be key to deciding what the title of your paper should be.
  • Identify the main categories . What main points will you analyze? The introduction describes all of your main points; the rest of  your paper can be spent developing those points.
  • Create the first category . What is the first point you want to cover? If the paper centers around a complicated term, a definition can be a good place to start. For a paper that concerns the application and testing of a particular theory, giving the general background on the theory can be a good place to begin.
  • Create subcategories . After you have followed these steps, create points under it that provide support for the main point. The number of categories that you use depends on the amount of information that you are trying to cover. There is no right or wrong number to use.

Once you have developed the basic outline of the paper, organize the contents to match the standard format of a research paper as described in this guide.

III.   Things to Consider When Writing an Outline

  • There is no rule dictating which approach is best . Choose either a topic outline or a sentence outline based on which one you believe will work best for you. However, once you begin developing an outline, it's helpful to stick to only one approach.
  • Both topic and sentence outlines use Roman and Arabic numerals along with capital and small letters of the alphabet arranged in a consistent and rigid sequence. A rigid format should be used especially if you are required to hand in your outline.
  • Although the format of an outline is rigid, it shouldn't make you inflexible about how to write your paper. Often when you start investigating a research problem [i.e., reviewing the research literature], especially if you are unfamiliar with the topic, you should anticipate the likelihood your analysis could go in different directions. If your paper changes focus, or you need to add new sections, then feel free to reorganize the outline.
  • If appropriate, organize the main points of your outline in chronological order . In papers where you need to trace the history or chronology of events or issues, it is important to arrange your outline in the same manner, knowing that it's easier to re-arrange things now than when you've almost finished your paper.
  • For a standard research paper of 15-20 pages, your outline should be no more than few pages in length . It may be helpful as you are developing your outline to also write down a tentative list of references.

Muirhead, Brent. “Using Outlines to Improve Online Student Writing Skills.” Journal on School Educational Technology 1, (2005): 17-23; Four Main Components for Effective Outlines. The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University; How to Make an Outline. Psychology Writing Center. University of Washington; Kartawijaya, Sukarta. “Improving Students’ Writing Skill in Writing Paragraph through an Outline Technique.” Curricula: Journal of Teaching and Learning 3 (2018); Organization: Informal Outlines. The Reading/Writing Center. Hunter College; Organization: Standard Outline Form. The Reading/Writing Center. Hunter College; Outlining. Department of English Writing Guide. George Mason University; Plotnic, Jerry. Organizing an Essay. University College Writing Centre. University of Toronto; Reverse Outline. The Writing Center. University of North Carolina; Reverse Outlines: A Writer's Technique for Examining Organization. The Writer’s Handbook. Writing Center. University of Wisconsin, Madison; Using Outlines. Writing Tutorial Services, Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning. Indiana University; Writing: Considering Structure and Organization. Institute for Writing Rhetoric. Dartmouth College.

Writing Tip

A Disorganized Outline Means a Disorganized Paper!

If, in writing your paper, it begins to diverge from your outline, this is very likely a sign that you've lost your focus. How do you know whether to change the paper to fit the outline, or, that you need to reconsider the outline so that it fits the paper? A good way to check your progress is to use what you have written to recreate the outline. This is an effective strategy for assessing the organization of your paper. If the resulting outline says what you want it to say and it is in an order that is easy to follow, then the organization of your paper has been successful. If you discover that it's difficult to create an outline from what you have written, then you likely need to revise your paper.

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How to Write an Outline for a Research Paper

Last Updated: December 18, 2020 References

This article was co-authored by Matthew Snipp, PhD . C. Matthew Snipp is the Burnet C. and Mildred Finley Wohlford Professor of Humanities and Sciences in the Department of Sociology at Stanford University. He is also the Director for the Institute for Research in the Social Science’s Secure Data Center. He has been a Research Fellow at the U.S. Bureau of the Census and a Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences. He has published 3 books and over 70 articles and book chapters on demography, economic development, poverty and unemployment. He is also currently serving on the National Institute of Child Health and Development’s Population Science Subcommittee. He holds a Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Wisconsin—Madison. There are 7 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. This article has been viewed 297,681 times.

Writing an outline for a research paper can seem like a time consuming task, and you may not understand the value of it if you have never written one before. Outlines can help you structure your research and your final paper in much more efficient ways, though, so it is a good idea that you learn how to write one. Here are a few things to keep in mind when doing so.

Sample Outlines

what does a good research paper outline look like

Outline Type and Structure

Step 1 Choose between a topic outline and sentence outline.

  • Topic outlines are usually used when your research deals with many different issues that can be arranged in different ways.
  • Sentence outlines are usually used if your research focuses on complex issues.
  • Some instructors will insist that you must not combine these two forms. Many others, however, offer one exception to this guideline by allowing the main section headings to be short phrases while the remaining subpoints are written as full sentences.

Step 2 Most outlines use an alpha-numerical structure.

  • The first level is represented by Roman numerals (I, II, III, IV, etc.), the second level is represented by capital letters (A, B, C, D, etc.), the third level is represented by numbers (1, 2, 3, 4, etc.), and the fourth level is represented by lowercase letters (a, b, c, d, etc.).

Step 3 Note capitalization issues.

  • One school of thought indicates that first level headings should be written in all capital letters while all remaining headings use standard sentence capitalization rules.
  • Another school of thought suggests that the first level headings should only have the first letter of each word capitalized, rather than the entire word. The remaining headings, again, use standard sentence capitalization rules.

Step 4 Keep matters of length in mind.

  • For a four to five page paper, you only need a single page outline.
  • For a 15 to 20 page paper, your outline will usually run no longer than four pages. [2] X Research source

Outline Levels

Step 1 Familiarize yourself with a one-level outline.

  • These headings are labeled with Roman numerals.
  • Note that you would not usually use this outline for a research paper, as it is not very specific or detailed. It can still be a good idea to start with this outline level, however, since you can use it to provide yourself with a general direction for your paper and expand upon it as the information flows in.

Step 2 Move onto a two-level outline.

  • In other words, your Roman numeral and capital letter sections are both present.
  • Each second-level subheading should discuss a primary supporting argument for the main idea it falls under.

Step 3 Progress to a three-level outline.

  • You use Roman numerals, capital letters, and standard numbers for this version.
  • Next to each third-level subsection, you should address the topic of a paragraph that falls under the corresponding second-level section or main idea above it.

Step 4 Use a four-level outline, when necessary.

  • The fourth-level subheadings should address supporting statements, citations, or ideas within each paragraph listed in the third-level sections.

Components of Effective Outlines

Step 1 Use parallelism.

  • This refers most obviously to the usage of "topic" versus "sentence" outline formats, as described in the "structure and type" section of the article.
  • Parallelism also refers to parts of speech and tense. If a heading starts with a verb, then the other headings must also start with a verb. Moreover, that verb must also be in the same tense (usually present tense).

Step 2 Coordinate your information.

  • Your major headings should identify major tasks or ideas.
  • Your subheadings should elaborate on the points addressed in your major headings.

Step 3 Employ effective subordination.

  • For instance, if you were writing about memorable experiences from your childhood, "Memorable Childhood Experiences" would be the heading and the subheadings might look something like, "Vacation at 8 years old," "Favorite birthday party," and "Family trips to the park."

Step 4 Practice division.

  • There is no limit on subheadings, but once you start forming a dozen or so subheadings under a single heading, you might find your outline looking cluttered and messy.

Organizing the Outline

Step 1 Identify the research problem.

  • From this research problem, you will derive your thesis statement. A thesis statement is a single sentence that sums up the entire purpose or argument of your research paper.
  • This thesis statement will usually be written above the outline itself or within the first "Introduction" heading of the outline.
  • Your research problem can also help you figure out a title.

Step 2 Identify your main categories.

  • The main points are details that support or address your research paper. They should be very general in nature.

Step 3 Consider the order.

  • Chronological arrangements generally only work if you have a topic that has some chronological history to it. For example, if you were researching the history of modern medicine, it would make sense that your paper and outline follow a chronological order.
  • If your research topic does not have a history, though, you will probably end up using a spatial structure. For instance, if you are researching the effects of television and video games on the adolescent brain, you probably would not follow the chronology of the research. Instead, you might describe the different contemporary schools of thought on the issue or otherwise follow some other spatial arrangement of ideas.

Step 4 Establish your major headings.

  • Some instructors will insist that you do not use the terms "Introduction" and "Conclusions," however. In these instances, you can usually skip these two sections altogether, but you will need to write your thesis statement separately and above the outline.

Step 5 Know what to include in your Introduction.

  • Note that these elements will usually be listed as subpoints, not as major headings. The major heading for the section will be "Introduction."

Step 6 Understand what the body of your outline will consist of.

  • As with the actual paper itself, this portion of your outline will hold all the significant content.
  • The main headings will correspond to the main categories briefly listed under a subheading of your “Introduction” section.
  • You can include only the main ideas and supporting details of those ideas (a two-level outline, as noted in the “Outline Levels” section of the article) or you could include information about specific paragraphs and supporting details within those paragraphs (three-level and four-level outlines, respectively).

Step 7 Arrange the Conclusions section.

  • Restate and rephrase your thesis.
  • If you drew any additional conclusions based on your research, list them here. Keep in mind that none of this information should be “new,” and all of it should have been addressed elsewhere in the paper.
  • If your research demands a “call to action”—a response that a reader should have in response or an action that should be done in response—include that under this section, as well. This will usually be your final point within the outline.

Expert Q&A

  • A good outline shows you what to address next in your paper, thereby limiting writer's block.
  • Outlines help maintain a coherent, orderly flow of ideas.
  • You can use an outline to check yourself as you write if you suspect that you are straying from the main topic.
  • Having a visual outline can help encourage you as you write your paper since you can tell how much you have left.
  • Outlines help you organize different ideas about the same topic and gain an understanding of how those ideas connect.

what does a good research paper outline look like

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what does a good research paper outline look like

How to Write a Research Paper Outline: Detailed Guide

what does a good research paper outline look like

In the vast landscape of academia, where ideas are the currency and knowledge the battleground, crafting a research paper isn't just a scholarly exercise—it's a narrative expedition. As you embark on this intellectual journey, consider this intriguing fact: did you know that Sir Isaac Newton's groundbreaking work, 'Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica,' which revolutionized our understanding of physics, was outlined meticulously before the ink touched the parchment? Much like Newton's meticulous planning, the success of your piece hinges on the blueprint you create—the outline.

In this guide, our research paper help will explore not only the conventional methods but also the avant-garde tips and examples for crafting an outline for a research paper that transforms your ideas into a compelling narrative, paving the way for academic excellence.

What is Research Paper Outline?

A research paper outline is essentially a systematic framework that streamlines the structure of your academic document. It's more than just a preliminary step; it's a practical tool designed to enhance the coherence and organization of your ideas. This skeletal structure acts as a guide, ensuring your paper unfolds logically, and your arguments build upon each other. Besides providing clarity for the writer, a well-crafted outline of a research paper also serves as a roadmap for your readers, helping them navigate through the complexities of your study. In essence, when we explore what is a research paper , it's crucial to recognize the outline as the strategic plan—the blueprint—highlighting key elements like the introduction, thesis statement, supporting evidence, and conclusion.

what is research paper outline

It's important to integrate several critical elements essential for the paper's effectiveness and coherence. The role of these components is significant in shaping your research and demands thorough attention during the initial stages of your work. In the sections that follow, we'll delve into the crucial components of an outline for your research paper and share insights to elevate your outlining process for a more robust and effective piece.

Title/Cover Page

It is the opening section to introduce the major details. The length of the recommended title is 60 characters. On the whole, do not miss this information on the title page:

  • Your full name
  • Professor’s name
  • Peers who took part in the investigation (if any)
  • Submission date

A summary is an integral part of the research paper. In college, they call it an abstract. The length of such text should not exceed 250-300 words (1/3 of an A4 page), and a student should include the basic findings, their significance, and a brief conclusion.


Experts recommend painstaking the entire research into the investigation’s background. Try to explain why the chosen problem is necessary to analyze and discuss. Mention the results you expected to obtain during the working process and state a hypothesis that should enclose the introduction (it would be the thesis). Also, don’t forget to mention the thesis statement or the topic of your research.


List the tools, equipment, & techniques used to carry out a study. This section should make it possible to replicate the investigation step-by-step. The goal of the section is to allow other scientists interested in the same research question to continue the investigation.

Results & Discussion (R&D)

In most cases, master paper writers combine results and discussion in one huge section. They are interrelated. Start with sharing the findings of the study. Go on interpreting the meaning of the results for the society and provide a short synopsis of the main components: figures and statistical examinations. While adding any visual elements for understanding (graphs, images, etc.), place the numbers next to each of them to provide details in the last section — Appendix.

In the Conclusion part, it is necessary to include:

  • A summary of the results
  • Paraphrased thesis statement
  • Value of the research paper
  • Ways to implement the findings
  • Some forecasts

Based on the chosen paper format, develop a full list of references. Each time you cite something, write the source’s details on a separate piece of paper. It will speed up the process in the end.

Structure of a Research Paper Outline

Crafting an effective academic piece is not just about having great ideas; it's about presenting them in a clear and organized manner. The structure of your research paper outline plays a pivotal role in achieving this goal. In this section, we'll explore three popular formats, each offering a unique approach to organizing your thoughts and arguments.

Alphanumeric research paper outline

The alphanumeric outline follows a hierarchical structure, using a combination of numbers and letters to denote different levels of information. For example:

I. Introduction

  • A. Background
  • B. Thesis statement
  • A. Main point 1
  • Supporting detail
  • B. Main point 2
  • III. Conclusion

Full-sentence research paper outline

This format requires complete sentences for each section and subsection. It provides a detailed preview of the content within each part of the outline. Example:

  • A. Provide background information.
  • B. Clearly state the thesis.
  • A. Present the first main point with supporting details.
  • B. Explore the second main point.

Decimal research paper outline

The decimal outline employs a numerical system, using decimals to indicate the hierarchy of information. Each level is a subcategory of the preceding level. For instance:

1.0 Introduction

  • 1.1 Background
  • 1.2 Thesis statement
  • 2.1 Main point 1
  • 2.1.1 Supporting detail
  • 2.1.2 Supporting detail
  • 2.2 Main point 2

3.0 Conclusion


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Research Paper Outline Formats: MLA and APA

Mla research paper outline.

The Modern Language Association (MLA) research paper format provides a standardized approach to documenting and formatting academic writing. Creating an MLA research paper outline is an essential step in organizing your thoughts and ensuring a cohesive structure for your scholarly work. Here's an in-depth guide to crafting an MLA outline:

MLA Research Paper Outline by EssayPro

  • A. Background information
  • C. Purpose of the study
  • A. First Main Point
  • Supporting detail or evidence
  • a. Sub-detail
  • b. Sub-detail
  • B. Second Main Point
  • C. Third Main Point (if applicable)

III. Counterargument (if applicable)

  • A. Acknowledge opposing views
  • B. Refute or address counterarguments

IV. Conclusion

  • A. Summarize main points
  • B. Restate thesis
  • C. Implications for future research

V. Works Cited

  • A. List of sources cited in the paper
  • Book citations
  • Journal article citations
  • Other relevant sources

Formatting Tips:

  • Ensure your research paper outline is double-spaced.
  • Use a legible 12-point font, such as Times New Roman.
  • Apply consistent formatting throughout the document, including indents and headings.
  • Follow MLA guidelines for citing sources both in the outline and the final paper.

Key Considerations:

  • Tailor your research paper outline to the specific requirements of your work.
  • Be concise and clear in writing your outline sections.
  • Consider including any necessary background information to provide context when you write an outline for a research.
  • Ensure that each main point and supporting detail aligns with the central thesis.

Need more info? Check our full guide - HOW TO CITE A RESEARCH PAPER USING MLA FORMAT .

APA Research Paper Outline

The American Psychological Association (APA) style is widely used in the social sciences, and creating an APA format research paper outline is crucial for maintaining a standardized structure. Here's a comprehensive guide to crafting an APA outline template for research paper.

 Template for Building an Outline in APA, from EssayPro

I. Title Page

  • A. Title of the research paper
  • B. Author's name
  • C. Institutional affiliation
  • D. Running head and page number (top right corner)

II. Abstract

  • A. Brief summary of the research paper
  • B. Keywords (optional)

III. Introduction

IV. Literature Review

  • A. Overview of relevant literature
  • B. Identification of gaps in existing research
  • C. Theoretical framework (if applicable)

V. Methodology

  • A. Participants
  • B. Procedure
  • C. Materials
  • D. Data analysis

VI. Results

  • A. Presentation of research findings
  • B. Use of tables and figures (if applicable)

VII. Discussion

  • A. Interpretation of results
  • B. Implications of the findings
  • C. Limitations and suggestions for future research

VIII. Conclusion

  • C. Practical applications or recommendations

IX. References

  • Use a 12-point, Times New Roman font.
  • Set 1-inch margins on all sides.
  • Double-space the entire document.
  • Create a running head in the header section.
  • Use transitions between sections for smooth reader navigation.
  • Integrate sources seamlessly, labeling each for reader guidance.
  • Seek feedback to refine the clarity and effectiveness of your APA outline for research paper.
  • Strategically employ APA heading levels for hierarchical organization.

By adhering to these guidelines, you'll master how to cite a research paper and ensure a standardized and professional presentation of your work in the social sciences. This meticulous approach not only enhances the clarity of your writing but also showcases your commitment to academic standards.

Goals and Benefits of a Research Paper Outline

Starting your paper without a roadmap is akin to setting sail without a compass—directionless and prone to drift. Crafting a well-structured research paper outline serves as a strategic tool with distinct goals and manifold benefits, transforming the daunting task of research writing into a purposeful journey.

research paper outline

Clarity in Purpose:

  • A well-crafted outline for a research paper establishes the groundwork for your study by clearly defining its purpose. It forces you to distill the essence of your research, ensuring that every section contributes meaningfully to the overarching goals of your paper.

Streamlined Organization:

  • One of the primary goals of an outline is to streamline the organization of your ideas. By delineating the key components—introduction, main points, evidence, and conclusion—it provides a systematic structure that prevents your paper from becoming a chaotic jumble of thoughts.

Enhanced Focus and Efficiency:

  • When you write an outline for a research paper, it acts as a focal point, directing your attention to the core objectives of your study. It serves as a roadmap, guiding you through each section with precision and efficiency, eliminating the risk of veering off course into tangential or irrelevant details.

Seamless Transitions:

  • Achieving a seamless flow from one section to another is a distinctive benefit of a well-crafted outline. It allows for the strategic placement of transitions, ensuring that your ideas connect coherently and enabling readers to follow your argument with ease.

Time Management and Planning:

  • Crafting an outline isn’t just a preparatory step; it's a time-management strategy. It compels you to allocate time effectively to each section, preventing procrastination and facilitating a more structured and manageable writing process.

Revision and Refinement:

  • The iterative nature of outlining allows for continuous revision and refinement. It enables you to assess the coherence of your research paper topics , identify gaps in logic, and refine your arguments before delving into the full paper, saving time and effort in the long run.

Thesis Alignment:

  • Perhaps most crucially, an outline ensures that every main point and supporting detail aligns harmoniously with the central thesis. This alignment not only strengthens the overall argument but also reinforces the thesis as the guiding force behind your research.

Research Paper Outline Example

Also, check the free research paper outline template example: Developing an Attention-Grabbing Resume! The example is written according to APA writing style guidelines - the rules of the game may be different for other formats.

Things to Remember

  • An outline is like an action plan which guides you through the writing process.
  • You need to write an outline if your research paper is more than 1000 words in length.
  • Basically, the outline contains three main sections: the Introduction, the Body, and the Conclusion.
  • The outline format depends on the type of academic assignment (MLA, APA), adapting to the specific guidelines relevant to all the ideas you'll present.
  • Before developing a research paper outline, read the latest version of the manual according to the chosen format of the research paper.


For those moments when you're unsure how to outline a research paper, and it feels like an unsolved maze, let our paper writing service be your academic GPS!

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How to Write an Outline in 5 Steps

Matt Ellis

An outline is an organizational tool you use to keep track of all the topics and points you plan to include in a piece of writing. Knowing how to make an outline is a great advantage when you’re doing any kind of writing, from research papers to creative writing. 

Still, many students and writers don’t know how to do an outline or understand the proper outline format. So below, we explain how to write an outline, with a step-by-step guide and a formal outline example. But first, let’s start with a simple question: What does it mean to “make an outline”?

Give your writing extra polish Grammarly helps you communicate confidently Write with Grammarly

What is an outline in writing?

An outline is like a blueprint for writing . Simple outlines list the topics you plan to cover and the order they will go in. Outlines are usually broken up by paragraphs along with their supporting details like statistical data or logical evidence. When it’s time to write the first draft, the writer simply follows the outline so they know what to write about and in what order. 

Why create an outline?

Topic outlines let you focus exclusively on the structure and fitting everything in the right place. That way, when you’re writing the first draft, you can focus on details like sentence structure and clarity without getting distracted by the big picture. 

Knowing how to write an outline for a paper is particularly important if you want to keep track of your prior research. When outlining, you can decide the best way to put your findings into sections and paragraphs. The outline not only organizes your research but also ensures you don’t forget anything when writing the first draft. 

Outline structure: What is the outline format?

Easy outlines are structured by paragraph : You list the topic of each paragraph along with a few bullet points about what goes into that paragraph. This allows you to easily rearrange the order of the paragraphs to find the perfect arrangement before you begin writing. 

The standard outline format uses an alphanumeric system, which alternates letters and numerals at the start of each section. 

  • Main topics like sections or chapters are listed as Roman numerals. 
  • Paragraphs are usually listed as capital letters.
  • Points and subtopics within a paragraph are listed as Arabic numerals.
  • Specific details are listed as lower-case letters.

The content of the outline is generally written in blurbs—you don’t need to use complete sentences, although if you’re working as a team, using full sentences can help other people understand your ideas better and vice versa. 

Standard outline format has a distinct indentation. Roman numeral lines are not indented, capital letter lines are indented once, Arabic numeral lines are indented twice, and lower-case letter lines are indented three times. 

So you can see what an outline should look like, here’s an example of a writing outline for this section of this article. 

III. Outline structure

A. Overview about outline structure 

1. explain basic structure of outline

2. reiterate how outlines help with paragraph order

B. Alphanumeric system

1. introduce the alphanumeric system

a. bullet list of each line in alphanumeric system

C. Content written in blurbs

1. exceptions for sharing with teams

D. Outline indentation

E. Outline example

1. example outline of this section

As you can see, you use only the lines you need—not every paragraph needs markers for subtopics, and not every subtopic needs specific details. 

It’s also worth noting that there is no official structure for outlining. For example, if you’re using longer paragraphs, you might want to use Roman numerals as the paragraph marker. The above example is simply the most common and easiest format to follow, but you’re free to structure your outline however seems most reasonable to you. 

Outline format example: What does an outline look like? 

Knowing how to create an outline for an essay or another piece of writing is impossible if you don’t know what an outline looks like. 

We’ve already written articles about essay outlines and argumentative essay outlines in particular, but that doesn’t cover everything. So below we’ve included an outline example of a five-paragraph essay comparing the pros and cons of social media. 

I. Does the harm of social media outweigh the benefits?

A. Introduction

1. briefly mention background of social media

a. specific examples like Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube

2. explain how social media is a major part of modern people’s lives

3. end with a teaser about whether or not social media is actually good

B. The advantages of social media

1. increased socialization

a. “Many respondents in this study used their social networks to make friends, chat with them, conduct research, and share news or information.” ( Awareness and Usage of Social Media study)

2. raise awareness of social issues

a. list causes that benefited from social media ( Maryville article ) 

3. entertainment value

C. The disadvantages of social media

1. negative effect on self-esteem

a. Facebook knowingly harming teenage girls ( Guardian article )

2. echo chamber effect

a.“Social media may limit the exposure to diverse perspectives and favor the formation of groups of like-minded users framing and reinforcing a shared narrative, that is, echo chambers.” ( The echo chamber effect on social media study)

D. It’s how you use it

1. research shows both good and bad effects

a. “. . . some research finds that SNS use and self-esteem are negatively associated, while some find that they are positively associated.” ( Social networking site use and self-esteem study)

2. ways to mitigate disadvantages

a. limit time on social media per day

b. choose only positive platforms

c. learn to recognize and avoid triggers

E. Conclusion

1. draw parallels to TV 

a. TV can also be positive or negative depending on usage

2. reiterate healthy methods for social media use

How to write an outline in 5 steps

Want to know how to create an outline for an essay, academic paper, or even a piece of creative writing? Here’s how to make an outline in five simple, easy-to-follow steps. 

1 Research and gather sources

The first step in any writing process is preparation. For academic writing , that involves researching and collecting evidence to back up your thesis. For creative writing , that means brainstorming and coming up with ideas. 

Once you know what you want to write about, you can start to plan your outline. You can always add new content later if inspiration strikes you, but generally the more content you prepare at the beginning, the smoother the rest of the writing process will go. 

2 Make a list of the topics you want to cover

When you know what you want to write, whether it’s a researched argument or creative content, the next step is to organize it. The most common and effective way to organize topics is by paragraph. 

Take all your research or creative ideas and group them into separate topics. Remember that each paragraph should deal with only one main topic, so be sure to group everything with their related themes. Don’t forget to connect details like statistical data to their most relevant paragraph topic. 

3   Consider the best order to discuss the topics

By now you should have a scattered list of topics, ideally divided by paragraph. Your next step is to decide the optimal order the paragraphs should go in. 

Consider whether a topic requires some background information or if the reader will understand it right away. Some topics should be discussed early to prepare the reader for more advanced topics later on. If you’re having trouble deciding, chronological order also works fine. 

Make the backbone of your outline by putting the topics in the order you think will work best. Think of this as the first draft of your outline—you’ll be able to move things around later if you don’t like how it’s organized. 

4 Fill in the details

When you’re satisfied with the structure of your paragraphs, you can start filling in supporting details like quotes and references to sources. As you may have noticed from the standard outline format example above, it’s helpful to include direct quotes and source material links directly in the outline. This makes it easier to find the source material when you’re writing the first draft—and gives you one less thing to worry about. 

After you create a working outline, you can review it for areas to improve. Sometimes, when you see your topics listed out, you recognize problematic areas. Maybe you don’t have enough evidence for certain points, or maybe your writing would flow better if the paragraph order was rearranged. 

It can be helpful to have someone else review the outline to notice things you haven’t, although that’s not always necessary. Sleeping on it, or taking a fresh look at your outline after a rest,  can also help you notice problems you missed before. 

Outline FAQs

What is an outline.

An outline is a supportive document for organizing all the topics in a piece of writing before the first draft. Think of an outline as a blueprint; a writer can simply follow the outline as they write so they don’t forget to include anything. 

When should you use an outline?

Outlines are useful for all forms of writing, from academic papers to creative writing. They help compartmentalize the stages of the writing process: When writing the outline, you can focus exclusively on the structure and big picture; when writing the first draft, you can focus on writing details without being distracted by organizational concerns. 

What are the parts of an outline?

Typically, outlines are broken up into sections and paragraphs, with the relevant points or evidence listed under their respective topics. This makes it easy for writers to rearrange the paragraph order if they decide to change the structure. 

what does a good research paper outline look like

what does a good research paper outline look like

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APA Research Paper Outline: Examples and Template

06 Mar 2022

Quick Navigation

❔Why Is Research Paper Format Necessary?

☝️Concept & Purposes of Research Paper Outline

📑Understanding the APA Outline Format

✒️The Basic APA Outline Format

📃APA Style Outline Template Breakdown

📌Full Sentence Outline Format

📝Decimal Outline Format

💡Tips for Writing an Outline: Organize Your Ideas

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Why Is Research Paper Format Necessary?

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  • APA paper outline discusses the study's core concepts.
  • The research paper outlines to define the link between your ideas and the thesis.
  • It provides you with manageable portions that you can handle.
  • The research paper's APA outline enables the detection of structural faults or gaps.
  • As shown in the example, it must clearly comprehend the subject at hand.

APA outline example

Understanding the apa outline format, apa paper outline example.

  • Headings & Subheadings
  • 1-inch margins on the top, bottom, left, and right.
  • The page number on the upper right corner.
  • Introduction

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  • Summarize your key arguments.
  • Explain how these concepts support your ultimate stance, as shown in APA outline example below.

The Basic APA Outline Format

Apa style outline template breakdown, full sentence outline format, apa research paper outline example, know how to structure your paper.

  • 12-point Times New Roman
  • 0" between paragraphs
  • 1" margin all around
  • double spaced (275 words/page) / single-spaced (550 words/page)
  • 0.5" first line of a paragraph

PapersOwl editors can also format your paper according to your specific requirements.

APA Paper Outline Format Example

Decimal outline format, first paragraph: hook and thesis.

  • The first paragraph is a sentence or two that introduces the central concept of your article.
  • Introduce your topic or subject of study where your research is applicable as a context for further research.
  • Explain why the mentioned issue is essential or relevant to the audience.
  • A thesis statement is a claim that you make throughout your whole essay.
  • The topic phrase is the first point in any writing to support a thesis statement.
  • Give an explanation or provide evidence to support your point.
  • Provide verifiable facts, figures, and/or citations from credible sources in your writing. It helps in the substantiating assertion.
  • Include as many supporting statements and related evidence in your decimal outline.

Decimal APA outline format example

Decimal apa outline format layout, tips for writing an outline: organize your ideas, a definite goal, parallelism, coordination, subordination, avoid redundancy, wrap it up in a good way.

  • Thesis statement
  • Techniques employed
  • Body of paper
  • Conclusions section
  • List of references

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what does a good research paper outline look like

How to Write a Research Paper Outline: The Complete Step-by-Step Guide

Crafting a research paper outline is a common, yet arduous part of a student’s life. It takes a great deal of effort and time to create a thorough, well-thought out research paper. Fortunately, is here to help.

A research paper has to reflect your position on the topic and persuade the readers in its accuracy and truthfulness. A research paper outline is a helpful point-by-point plan, which makes your research paper writing services  easier.

However, before proceeding to an outline you will have to take some pre-writing steps. They will be helpful in composing the best quality outline and, as a result, a great academic work.

Before Writing a Research Paper Outline

  • Select an appropriate topic . Selecting a topic is a crucial factor for a successful research paper. Whether you select a topic yourself or not, it should work to your strengths and not weaknesses. An appropriate topic should be interesting to you and appeal to or provoke readers. As to choosing the best essay topics  for your research paper, we have professional writers, who offer personalized help or even essay writing service if you need it.
  • State your argument . After selecting a topic, take some time to figure out what kind of argument you want to support. You need to understand why it is important to you and why it might be important to others. Ask yourself – what is the aim of my thesis statement? Can it provoke a meaningful discussion that might change the world? How can I build a research paper on this argument? As soon as you have answers for these questions, you are almost ready to create a good outline for a successful research paper.
  • Define the audience. Of course, most of the time only your professor will read a research paper you have created. However, you need to understand readers of your paper. Will the professor support your argument or will he have a counterargument? When defining your audience, you will comprehend what type of language is better to use: will the use of jargon be appropriate or is it better to stick with formal language? The overall style and tone of your research paper depend on the audience it is aimed at.
  • Conduct a research. There is no research paper without proper and thorough research. You will have to investigate a lot of resources in order to find effective evidence to support your argument. Firstly, you will have to find general information to support your thesis statement, then you will have to dig deeper. You will have to be aware of any counter arguments and evidence supporting them. This way you will master the topic and comprehend the pitfalls of your thesis statement better.
  • Organize references. References are the evidence of each of your arguments and the research you have conducted. You should prioritize them according to the importance and relevance to your thesis statement.

what does a good research paper outline look like

Writing a Good Research Paper Outline

When you are finished with pre-writing activities, created a good research paper topic, you are more than ready to make an effective research paper outline. An outline is a basement of your research paper from which you build up the whole paper. Each outline consists of three main parts the Introduction, the Body, and the Conclusion. For a successful and high-quality research paper, however, the more detailed outline you use, the better. There are many services that can do the research paper for you , but give a chance and try to make a good outline for your paper by yourself.

The simplest diagram of an outline looks like this:

  • Introduction
  • Research question.
  • Thesis statement.
  • An argument to support the thesis.
  • Summary of arguments.
  • Call to action.

A Research Paper Outline: a Step-by-Step Guide

The introduction is an important part of every academic work. It determines whether a reader is going to continue with your paper or just give it a rest. An introduction should be intriguing, engaging, and informative, although without giving away too much. There are three main points that make an impressive Introduction:

  • Hook. Depending on the overall volume of your research paper, a hook can be from one to five sentences long. This the part that persuades readers to read the paper. A hook should be interesting and provoking – you need your readers to want to read your research paper.
  • Research question.  In most cases, you’ll get the research question i.e. what exactly to research and create your paper about, but in other instances, you’ll have to do it on your own. Generally, the research question should be concise, on the point, and inform the reader what to expect throughout your work.
  • Thesis statement. Here you state your argument. You make a clear point about what you are going to discuss and why is it important. Your thesis statement should be clear and simple but never dull. You want the readers to read your paper, especially after the research you have conducted and the materials you have gone through.

elements of the introduction for research paper outline

Tips for Introduction

Here are some useful things to consider when writing a research paper introduction:

  • Although introductions of research papers can be somewhat longer than in regular essays, you should still try to keep it short. Don’t drag the introduction and take up half of a page or something. Rambling, lengthy introductions will quickly lose your reader’s interest. Plus, they are a sign of an unorganized thought.
  • The introduction isn’t a summarized version of the entire paper, it briefly introduces your work.
  • Never choose a thesis statement you can’t support with evidence.
  • Based on your research, include points or subtopics that you will delve into in the body of the paper.
  • Subtopics should be associated with the main subject and work to strengthen the importance and value of your thesis statement.
  • When writing the first draft, you can save the introduction for last (if you find it easier that way). By the time you finish the body and conclusion, you’ll get inspired and know what to include in the introductory part of your paper.
  • Take a notebook and write down different ideas to make an interesting, yet professional introduction. Separate good ideas from the bad ones, and think of your research question and thesis statement. Now, connect those ideas with sentences
  • Be precise, your introductions should be precise and specific and discuss only the idea you’ve researched and plan to elaborate on further, don’t stray away from the topic and write about stuff that you won’t even mention in the body.

The Body is the main part of the research paper outline you are writing. It has no volume limitation, as it is the biggest and main section of the paper. The quantity of paragraphs for this part depends on the overall requested volume of the research paper: the more arguments you have to support the bigger the Body section there should be.

All the evidence you have found during the research should go here. You state each idea and provide efficient evidence. Do not state something you have no way of proving! Each statement you give has to be backed up with proof. Do not forget about valid references and proper citations according to the required paper format.

You can mention counterarguments to your ideas and provide evidence why they are not correct. Opposing facts prove your deep knowledge of the topic and that you have really conducted thorough research. This will show your commitment to challenging tasks and create quite an impressive academic reputation.

Do not forget about the style and tone of your research paper, which you have stated in the introduction. The paper should be consistent from the beginning to the very end. The manner, pattern, and techniques should be the same throughout the paper. However, remember to be creative and use various language techniques to make your paper interesting to read. Take into consideration that there is a high chance that your professor knows everything about the subject. Nonetheless, your paper needs to be addressed to the reader unfamiliar with the topic and the thesis statement of your choice. This again will show your deep knowledge on the matter. Be sure to explain everything clearly without sounding too dull in the process.

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The conclusive part of the research paper has to summarize the arguments so the readers digest the main idea and remember it for a long time. The conclusion should not be long but should contain all the important parts to make the whole paper sink into readers’ memory.

  • Summary of arguments. In this short section, you again state your strongest arguments. There is no need to provide a deep explanation of your ideas or evidence to each of them. Nonetheless, you will have to give a general overview of the arguments you used in the research paper.
  • Call to action. This is the very end of your research paper and it should provoke your readers. Whether it is a call to a discussion or to an action, you need to choose what your final message to readers should be.

Example: Here’s how the general outline would look if we’re writing about Shakespeare.

  • Body – Shakespeare’s early life, marriage, works, later years
  • Early life, family, marriage to Anne Hathaway, references to his marriage in poems he wrote
  • Shakespeare’s works: tragedies, comedies, histories, sonnets, other poems
  • Later years: last two plays, retired to Stratford, death, burial, the epitaph on this tombstone

It is essential to bear in mind that every new idea, in this case, an aspect of Shakespeare’s life and work, requires a separate paragraph.

To simplify, use the following diagram when you have to work on a research paper.

research paper outline diagram

The purpose of a research paper outline is to help you think through your topic carefully and organize it logically before the writing process commences. Since I’ve already shown how to write the introduction, it’s time to give a few pointers for the body and conclusion of your work. So, here we go:

  • Assume that your reader isn’t familiar with the topic and start with basic info first. Imagine you’re reading a paper for a five-year-old. Give background, historical context, etc. You don’t have to go into the tiniest details, mentioning something useful, and memorable will do the trick too
  • It’s useful to research and include opinions of other, respected historical figures about your topic. For example, what other authors had to say about Shakespeare
  • Don’t forget about conflicting views e.g. some people didn’t like Shakespeare and thought he was a fraud, it’s useful to mention that as well. Regardless of the topic, there are always pro- and anti- opinions, mentioning both sides
  • Only include information you can support with reliable and trustworthy evidence. Don’t use Wikipedia, blogs, and such, go for journals, books, and respected websites, it all depends on the topic of course
  • Give credit where credit is due, don’t forget to cite your sources
  • The overall tone of your paper should be formal, don’t be scared to demonstrate your vast vocabulary skills
  • Avoid wordiness, sentences should be concise. Every word you use should only contribute to the overall meaning of a sentence. Don’t use “fluff” just meet the word count
  • When writing conclusions, briefly mention the most important arguments or research, and explain the importance of the subject and what we can learn from it.

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Remember that the main purpose of the research paper is to show your abilities to work by yourself and demonstrate the range of your knowledge on various topics. Creating a good outline is essential in further composing of your research paper. Make sure to take notes when conducting research, do not be afraid to ask for assistance, and read additional resources. Alternatively, you could choose to pay to write a research paper and save yourself the time and energy. In such a case, you should make sure to find a reliable and experienced writer who can deliver a high-quality paper.

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How to Write an Outline in APA Format

Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."

what does a good research paper outline look like

Amanda Tust is a fact-checker, researcher, and writer with a Master of Science in Journalism from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.

what does a good research paper outline look like

  • Before Starting Your Outline
  • How to Create an Outline

Writing a psychology paper can feel like an overwhelming task. From picking a topic to finding sources to cite, each step in the process comes with its own challenges. Luckily, there are strategies to make writing your paper easier—one of which is creating an outline using APA format .

Here we share what APA format entails and the basics of this writing style. Then we get into how to create a research paper outline using APA guidelines, giving you a strong foundation to start crafting your content.

At a Glance

APA format is the standard writing style used for psychology research papers. Creating an outline using APA format can help you develop and organize your paper's structure, also keeping you on task as you sit down to write the content.

APA Format Basics

Formatting dictates how papers are styled, which includes their organizational structure, page layout, and how information is presented. APA format is the official style of the American Psychological Association (APA).

Learning the basics of APA format is necessary for writing effective psychology papers, whether for your school courses or if you're working in the field and want your research published in a professional journal. Here are some general APA rules to keep in mind when creating both your outline and the paper itself.

Font and Spacing

According to APA style, research papers are to be written in a legible and widely available font. Traditionally, Times New Roman is used with a 12-point font size. However, other serif and sans serif fonts like Arial or Georgia in 11-point font sizes are also acceptable.

APA format also dictates that the research paper be double-spaced. Each page has 1-inch margins on all sides (top, bottom, left, and right), and the page number is to be placed in the upper right corner of each page.

Both your psychology research paper and outline should include three key sections:

  • Introduction : Highlights the main points and presents your hypothesis
  • Body : Details the ideas and research that support your hypothesis
  • Conclusion : Briefly reiterates your main points and clarifies support for your position

Headings and Subheadings

APA format provides specific guidelines for using headings and subheadings. They are:

  • Main headings : Use Roman numerals (I, II, III, IV)
  • Subheadings: Use capital letters (A, B, C, D)

If you need further subheadings within the initial subheadings, start with Arabic numerals (1, 2, 3), then lowercase letters (a, b, c), then Arabic numerals inside parentheses [(1), (2), (3)]

Before Starting Your APA Format Outline

While APA format does not provide specific rules for creating an outline, you can still develop a strong roadmap for your paper using general APA style guidance. Prior to drafting your psychology research paper outline using APA writing style, taking a few important steps can help set you up for greater success.

Review Your Instructor's Requirements

Look over the instructions for your research paper. Your instructor may have provided some type of guidance or stated what they want. They may have even provided specific requirements for what to include in your outline or how it needs to be structured and formatted.

Some instructors require research paper outlines to use decimal format. This structure uses Arabic decimals instead of Roman numerals or letters. In this case, the main headings in an outline would be 1.0, 1.2, and 1.3, while the subheadings would be 1.2.1, 1.2.2, 1.2.3, and so on.

Consider Your Preferences

After reviewing your instructor's requirements, consider your own preferences for organizing your outline. Think about what makes the most sense for you, as well as what type of outline would be most helpful when you begin writing your research paper.

For example, you could choose to format your headings and subheadings as full sentences, or you might decide that you prefer shorter headings that summarize the content. You can also use different approaches to organizing the lettering and numbering in your outline's subheadings.

Whether you are creating your outline according to your instructor's guidelines or following your own organizational preferences, the most important thing is that you are consistent.

Formatting Tips

When getting ready to start your research paper outline using APA format, it's also helpful to consider how you will format it. Here are a few tips to help:

  • Your outline should begin on a new page.
  • Before you start writing the outline, check that your word processor does not automatically insert unwanted text or notations (such as letters, numbers, or bullet points) as you type. If it does, turn off auto-formatting.
  • If your instructor requires you to specify your hypothesis in your outline, review your assignment instructions to find out where this should be placed. They may want it presented at the top of your outline, for example, or included as a subheading.

How to Create a Research Paper Outline Using APA

Understanding APA format basics can make writing psychology research papers much easier. While APA format does not provide specific rules for creating an outline, you can still develop a strong roadmap for your paper using general APA style guidance, your instructor's requirements, and your own personal organizational preferences.

Typically you won't need to turn your outline in with your final paper. But that doesn't mean you should skip creating one. A strong paper starts with a solid outline. Developing this outline can help you organize your writing and ensure that you effectively communicate your paper's main points and arguments. Here's how to create a research outline using APA format.

Start Your Research

While it may seem like you should create an outline before starting your research, the opposite is actually true. The information you find when researching your psychology research topic will start to reveal the information you'll want to include in your paper—and in your outline.

As you research, consider the main arguments you intend to make in your paper. Look for facts that support your hypothesis, keeping track of where you find these facts so you can cite them when writing your paper. The more organized you are when creating your outline, the easier it becomes to draft the paper itself.

If you are required to turn in your outline before you begin working on your paper, keep in mind that you may need to include a list of references that you plan to use.

Draft Your Outline Using APA Format

Once you have your initial research complete, you have enough information to create an outline. Start with the main headings (which are noted using Roman numerals I, II, III, etc.). Here's an example of the main headings you may use if you were writing an APA format outline for a research paper in support of using cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) for anxiety :

  • Introduction
  • What CBT Is
  • How CBT Helps Ease Anxiety
  • Research Supporting CBT for Anxiety
  • Potential Drawbacks of CBT for Anxiety and How to Overcome Them

Under each main heading, list your main points or key ideas using subheadings (as noted with A, B, C, etc.). Sticking with the same example, subheadings under "What CBT Is" may include:

  • Basic CBT Principles
  • How CBT Works
  • Conditions CBT Has Been Found to Help Treat

You may also decide to include additional subheadings under your initial subheadings to add more information or clarify important points relevant to your hypothesis. Examples of additional subheadings (which are noted with 1, 2, 3, etc.) that could be included under "Basic CBT Principles" include:

  • Is Goal-Oriented
  • Focuses on Problem-Solving
  • Includes Self-Monitoring

Begin Writing Your Research Paper

The reason this step is included when drafting your research paper outline using APA format is that you'll often find that your outline changes as you begin to dive deeper into your proposed topic. New ideas may emerge or you may decide to narrow your topic further, even sometimes changing your hypothesis altogether.

All of these factors can impact what you write about, ultimately changing your outline. When writing your paper, there are a few important points to keep in mind:

  • Follow the structure that your instructor specifies.
  • Present your strongest points first.
  • Support your arguments with research and examples.
  • Organize your ideas logically and in order of strength.
  • Keep track of your sources.
  • Present and debate possible counterarguments, and provide evidence that counters opposing arguments.

Update Your Final Outline

The final version of your outline should reflect your completed draft. Not only does updating your outline at this point help ensure that you've covered the topics you want in your paper, but it also gives you another opportunity to verify that your paper follows a logical sequence.

When reading through your APA-formatted outline, consider whether it flows naturally from one topic to the next. You wouldn't talk about how CBT works before discussing what CBT is, for example. Taking this final step can give you a more solid outline, and a more solid research paper.

American Psychological Association. About APA Style .

Purdue University Online Writing Lab. Types of outlines and samples .

Mississippi College. Writing Center: Outlines .

American Psychological Association. APA style: Style and Grammar Guidelines .

By Kendra Cherry, MSEd Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."

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Research Paper Guide

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Research Paper Writing - A Step by Step Guide

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Have you ever felt overwhelmed by the prospect of writing a research paper? Do complex guidelines and the sheer volume of work leave you feeling stuck?

The pressure to produce a well-researched paper can be daunting, often overshadowing the excitement of exploring new ideas.

But fret not! 

In this blog, we'll guide you through the research paper writing process with simplicity and clarity. We'll also provide you with step-by-step instruction and valuable insights to how to write an effective research paper.

Let’s get started.

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What is a Research Paper?

A research paper is a scholarly document that presents a systematic and structured exploration of a specific topic, issue, or question. 

It is a formal academic piece of writing that synthesizes existing knowledge, incorporates original research or analysis, and offers well-supported conclusions or insights. 

Research papers are typically written by students, academics, or researchers and serve to contribute to the body of knowledge in a particular field of study.

How Long Should A Research Paper be?

Generically,  a research paper typically falls within the range of 6,000 to 8,000 words, which is equivalent to approximately 15-20 pages double-spaced with standard formatting. 

However, for different academic levels, here is a general idea:

  • Undergraduate Research Paper : Around 10-15 pages (double-spaced).
  • Master's Thesis : 50-100 pages or more, depending on the institution and discipline.
  • Doctoral Dissertation : 150-300 pages or more, depending on the field and research depth.

How to Write a Research Paper?

Writing a research paper is a structured and methodical process that involves several essential steps. 

Following these guidelines will help you produce a well-organized and academically sound research paper.

How to Start a Research Paper?

A good research paper must follow a proper structure and format. The first important step in the writing process is to start your paper perfectly. 

1. Understand the Research Paper Requirements

To succeed in your research paper assignment, it's crucial to comprehend the topic and the paper's structure requirements fully. Here are key steps to enhance your understanding:

  • Read Instructions : Thoroughly read assignment instructions. Seek clarification from your professor if any parts are unclear.
  • Identify Purpose : Understand the main purpose of your research paper, whether it's informing or persuading readers.
  • Note Key Details: Take note of essential details, including the deadline, word count, submission method, and required formatting style.
  • List Key Points : Create a list of key points you need to cover in your paper.
  • Set a Timeline : Plan a schedule for starting, writing, and editing your research paper.

2. Consider the Target Audience

Consider your audience's knowledge and expertise level as it influences writing style, word choice, and the depth of information required:

  • For master's level research, expect an expert audience.
  • Undergraduate papers can cater to both general and expert readers.

3. Choose the Right Research Paper Topic

Selecting the right topic is crucial. If you have the option to choose, follow these steps:

  • Brainstorm Ideas : Generate ideas for your topic. Seek input from professors or specialists for a unique approach.
  • Freewrite : Use freewriting to narrow down a broad topic.
  • Review Research Work : Find inspiration in other research papers, especially in their discussion and recommendation sections.
  • Challenge and Interest : Choose a challenging research paper topic that piques your interest and can engage your audience.
  • Specificity : Avoid overly technical or general topics. Opt for an original, specific idea aligned with your research paper's criteria.

4. Conduct Thorough Research

Thorough research is vital for finding relevant ideas, focus, and direction. Ask these questions:

  • Gap in Research : Is there a gap in previous research on your topic?
  • Recent Developments : Are there recent developments in your subject?
  • Debates : Are there ongoing debates related to your topic?
  • Unique Perspective : Do you possess a unique perspective on the topic?

5. Developing a Strong Thesis Statement

After research, create a strong, concise thesis statement . It should serve as the central argument, stating the purpose and position of your paper. 

Support it with solid evidence and reasoning. Ensure your thesis is clear concise, and guides your writing throughout the research paper process.

Preparing a Research Paper Proposal

A research proposal is vital for framing your research project. To create an effective research proposal, address these key questions:

  • What is your research objective
  • Why is this research necessary
  • How will you approach it?

A well-structured research proposal includes these sections:

  • Table of contents
  • Introduction
  • Background and significance
  • Literature review
  • Research design and methods
  • Hypothesis and discussion

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Writing the First Draft

In the first draft, your focus is on:

  • Translating ideas into arguments
  • Adding detail and structureUnderstanding the paper's overall flow
  • Adhering to the research paper format
  • Maintaining clear organization
  • Properly explaining ideas and findings
  • Ensuring flexibility for future adjustments
  • Providing proper citations

1. Create a Research Paper Outline

An organized outline is crucial for planning your paper's structure and content. It serves as a roadmap for your writing process. Here are some components of an effective research paper outline :

  • Table of Contents
  • Literature Review
  • Bibliography

2. Writing an Abstract

The abstract is a concise summary of your paper. Keep it between 150 and 250 words, highlighting key points from each section.

3. Writing a Research Paper Introduction

The introduction should answer 'What,' 'Why,' and 'How' questions:

  • What : Clearly specify the topic, historical context, and key terms.
  • Why : Discuss the significance of your research.
  • How : Outline the main elements to be covered.

4. Crafting a Literature Review

In the literature review , discuss existing research on your topic. Locate and analyze scholarly articles, highlighting their relevance to your study. Present the past, present, and expected future of the issue.

5. Methodology

Methodology outlines how you conducted your research and collected data. It should be detailed enough that another researcher could replicate your study. In this section, you should include:

  • Study Design : Describe the type of study (e.g., experimental, observational, survey) and its rationale.
  • Participants : Provide information about the number, characteristics, and selection criteria of the participants.
  • Data Collection: Explain the instruments, tools, or techniques used to gather data. Include details such as questionnaires, surveys, interviews, or experiments.
  • Procedure : Describe the step-by-step process of your research, including how data was collected and any ethical considerations.
  • Data Analysis: Specify the statistical or analytical methods used to process and interpret the data.

The Results section presents the findings of your study. It should be factual and data-driven, without interpretation. Include:

  • Data Presentation: Use tables, figures, and charts to present your data clearly.
  • Descriptive Statistics : Report essential statistical measures like means, standard deviations, or percentages.
  • Inferential Statistics: Use appropriate statistical tests to analyze your data.
  • Textual Description : Summarize the key findings and refer to tables or figures where necessary.

7. Discussion

This is where you interpret your results, discuss their implications, and relate them to your research question. Include:

  • Interpretation : Explain the meaning and significance of your findings.
  • Comparison to Existing Research : Compare your results to previous studies and explain how they align or differ.
  • Limitations : Address the limitations of your study and potential sources of bias.
  • Future Research : Suggest areas for future research or improvements to your methodology.

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8. Writing a Research Paper Conclusion

In the conclusion:

  • Summarize your paper
  • Reiterate how you addressed the main idea and research questions
  • Avoid introducing new information
  • Suggest potential future research

9. Bibliography

The Bibliography (or References) section lists all the sources you cited in your paper. It should follow a specific citation style (e.g., APA, MLA, Chicago). Arrange your sources alphabetically and format them according to the style guidelines.

10. Appendix

The Appendix is an optional section where you can include supplementary material that supports your research but is too detailed or extensive to include in the main body of the paper. 

Examples of content for the appendix might include raw data, additional charts, questionnaires, or extended descriptions of methods.

Writing the Second Draft

Once you've roughly organized your thoughts in the first draft, proceed to craft the second draft of your paper. 

Consider the following aspects to perfect your second draft:

  • Effectively Address the Main Argument : Review your paper to ensure you've effectively addressed the main argument or thesis statement.
  • Identify Assumptions : Identify any assumptions that may need inclusion or clarification in your paper.
  • Logical Structure : Rearrange and structure your ideas logically to enhance the paper's flow.
  • Trim Irrelevant Ideas : Remove any outdated or irrelevant ideas from the first draft and introduce fresh, unique approaches.
  • Create a Work Cited List : Start compiling a list of works cited according to your chosen citation style guide.

Revising and Proofreading

The final step in the writing process involves revising and proofreading to ensure your paper is well-developed and error-free. 

Confirm the following aspects:

  • Meeting Requirements : Verify if your paper meets all the specified requirements.
  • Logical Paragraph Order : Check for a logical order of paragraphs and ideas.
  • Eliminate Irrelevant Details : Remove any irrelevant or extra details.
  • Grammar and Punctuation : Look for grammatical, punctuation, and spelling errors.
  • Sentence Structure : Identify and rectify any issues with sentence structures.
  • Consistency : Ensure consistency in font, headings, page numbers, and formatting throughout the paper.
  • Proper Referencing : Confirm that all sources are correctly referenced following the guidelines of your chosen citation style.

Research Paper Examples

Examples serve as valuable templates and guides, showcasing various formatting styles, organization, and approaches to research paper writing. 

In this section, we will provide you with research paper examples for your reference and a deeper understanding of how to structure and present your own research. 

Research Paper Example

Research Paper Sample

APA Style Research Paper

MLA Style Research Paper

If you want more examples for research papers, check out our blog about research paper examples !

Research Paper Writing Checklist

This stage often refers to the phase of conducting research for your paper. This checklist will help you ensure that you cover all the necessary steps during this phase:

In summary, this guide will assist you in writing a perfect research paper. However, we understand that it may be quite challenging for students who lack strong writing and research skills.

The above-mentioned complete guide will help you write a perfect research paper. However, we understand that it is quite difficult for students who lack good writing and research skills.

If you're in search of the best paper writing service , stands out as the prime choice. We are a legitimate writing service, where you can hire an expert writer for your research papers.

Feel free to contact us without hesitation to discuss your custom research paper requirements.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the main purpose of a research paper.

The main purpose of a research paper is to bring together different views, evidence, and facts from books, articles, and interviews. It will interpret the information into your own writing so that you can share these with other writers as well as an audience of readers. 

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What does a "good" outline look like? What does a full-sentence outline look like? How do I create one?

An outline is a tool used  to organize written ideas about a topic or thesis into a logical order. Outlines arrange major topics, subtopics, and supporting details.  Writers use outlines when writing their papers in order to know which topic to cover in what order.  Outlines for papers can be very general or very detailed. Check with your instructor to know which is expected of you.  Here are some examples of different outlines. You can also learn more by watching the short video below .

The most common type of outline is an alphanumeric outline , or an outline that uses letters and numbers in the following order:

I.      Roman Numerals

A.    I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, X, etc.

B.    Represent main ideas to be covered in the paper in the order they will be presented

II.    Uppercase Letters

A.   A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, etc.

B.    Represent subtopics within each main idea

III.       Arabic Numbers

   A.    1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, etc.

   B.    Represent details or subdivisions within subtopics

IV.    Lowercase Letters

   A.    a, b, c, d, e, f, g, h, i, j, l, m, etc.

   B.    Represent details within subdivisions

Outline with  main ideas, subtopics, subdivisions and details :

Thesis: Drugs should be legalized.  

I. Legalization of drugs would reduce crime rates

A. Prohibition  

1. Before Prohibition, crime rate related to alcohol were low-to-medium  

2. During Prohibition, crime rates related to alcohol were high

a. Arrests for drunkenness and disorderly conduct increase 41%  

b. Federal prison population increased 366%  

3. After Prohibition, crime rates related to alcohol were very low 

B. Amsterdam/Netherlands 

1. Before Amsterdam had legalized marijuana, drug-related crime rates were high

2. After Amsterdam had legalized marijuana, drug-related crime rates dropped

II. Legalization of drugs would benefit the economy

1. Local taxes 

2. State taxes 

3. Federal taxes

B. Business Owners

1. Drug production  

2. Drug quality testing  

3. Drug sales

III. Legalization of drugs would benefit public health

A. Quality of drugs would increase

1. Fake/dangerous drugs eliminated

2. Fake/placebo drugs eliminated

3. Amount of active ingredient standardized and stabilized

B. Drug users with addiction issues would get more help

1. Hospitals

3. Public health clinics

C. Your people would be less likely to start drugs

F ull-sentence outline :

  • Each roman numeral (I, II, III, IV…) indicates the start of a new paragraph. So I. is the first sentence of the introduction, II. is the first sentence of the first paragraph of the body, III. is the first sentence of the second paragraph of the body, and so on.
  •  Each capital letter (A, B, C, D…) indicates a main point within the structure of the paragraph. So in our introduction, A. is the attention getter, B. is another attention getter, C. describes a point that makes the topic personal, and D. is the thesis statement.
  • Each Arabic numeral (1, 2, 3, 4…) indicates a sentence or piece of supporting evidence for each main point. So in the first body paragraph (II.), point A. is a general statement that needs some additional support, so 1. provides a supporting statement of fact and the citation of where that information came from. 2. provides another sentence with supporting evidence, as does 3.

Example of a full-sentence outline:

Warming Our World and Chilling Our Future

Thesis Statement: Today I want to share what I have learned about global warming and its causes.

I. Global warming is alive and well and thriving in Antarctica.

      A. In winter 1995, an iceberg the size of Rhode Island broke off.

      B. In October 1998, an iceberg the size of Delaware broke off.

      C. All of us have a lot at stake.

            1. Now, I am what you call a “country mouse.”

            2. I love the outdoors.

            3. You can be a “city mouse,” and like clean air, good water, and not having to worry about sun.

      D. Today I want to share what I have learned about global warming and its causes.

II. Global warming is a gradual warming of the Earth from human activities (citation).

      A. It is characterized by a high concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

            1. Each year five tons of CO2 are pumped into the atmosphere (citation).

            2. The carbon dioxide traps heat.

            3. 1998 set temperature records (citation).

      B. Carbon pollutants also eat a hole in the ozone layer (citation).

            1. In 1998 this hole set a size record.

            2. This allows more ultraviolet radiation to reach Earth.

      C. If this problem is not corrected; we may see disastrous results (citation).

            1. There could be dramatic climate changes.

                  a. There could be drought in the middle of continents.

                  b. There could be many severe storms.

                  c. There could be rising sea levels that would destroy coastal areas.

            2. There could be serious health problems.

                  a. There could be an increase in skin cancer.

                  b. There could be an increase in cataracts.

                  c. There could be damaged immune systems.

      D. Now that you understand what global warming is and why it is important, let’s examine its major causes.

III. The loss of woodlands adds to global warming (citation).             …..

IV. Industrial emissions accelerate global warming (citation).             …..

V. Personal energy consumption magnifies global warming (citation).             …..

VI. In conclusion, if you want to know why we have global warming, listen for the falling trees, watch the industrial smokestacks darkening the sky, and smell the exhaust fumes we are pumping into the air.

        A. Gore told a story on how global warming can sneak up on us.

        B. Addressing the National Academy of Sciences, the vice president said, “If dropped into a pot of boiling water….”

        C. The more we know about global warming, the more likely we are to jump and the less likely we are to be cooked.

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  • Last Updated Jul 27, 2022
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Comments (41)

  • This is very helpful. Thanks a lot! by krystal on Apr 01, 2015
  • Very nice and very helpful. I mean my parents are making me do a outline about a state. by Zelda on Apr 09, 2015
  • Very helpful, it cleared things up a lot for me, so thanks! by Roxy on Oct 05, 2015
  • Very helpful! Thank You! (Thumbs up!!) by Mavis on Oct 14, 2015
  • Were very helpful Thanks! by annette on Oct 18, 2015
  • Thank you guys this helped me out big time! It's actually saving my English grade from dropping. ;) And I really didn't know how a 'good' outline was suppose to look like soo Thank you Thank you Thank you!!!!! by Tiffanie on Nov 16, 2015
  • Thanks so much! This is perfect, especially the way you've explained what each area should contain. It's something writers need to know but so often get wrong. by Tammy on Oct 28, 2016
  • Thank you!! This was very helpful, as I am a watch and do type of person! by Alisa on Mar 23, 2017
  • The hardest part in writing a paper is the outlining. this is real good and helpful. thanks very much. by Archie on Jul 25, 2017
  • You made outlining easy for me Am forever grateful by joana jewel on Oct 02, 2017
  • This is a great video, very helpful and easy to follow. by cvelez on Apr 25, 2018
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  • THIS!! Thank-you for taking the time to do this, I found it very helpful. by Lauren B. on Sep 22, 2018
  • After 45 minutes of surfing the web, this is the first helpful article I have come across in my attempt to find an outline example. Thank you. by Kate Metcalfe on Oct 10, 2018
  • Thank you so much. This was very helpful. The video and explanation was very easy to follow. by Linda Armstrong on Feb 18, 2019
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  • I found this video most useful. Thank you! by Ibironke on Sep 14, 2019
  • very helpful, its been a long time since I had to d this. This was by far the easiest to understand. Thanks, by Ms P on Apr 15, 2020
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  • Great video...... Thanks by Belle on Jun 17, 2020
  • This is a great tutorial! Thanks by Jeff on Jun 22, 2020
  • This is good to explain. regards Devansh Chaurasiya by Devansh Chaurasiya on Jun 26, 2020
  • Thank you. This is very helpful. More power!!! by Gina Fatawil on Aug 11, 2020
  • This was super effective for my English class thanks!! by Jackie B on Sep 11, 2020
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  • excellent explanations. by very helpful . Thanks on Sep 23, 2020
  • Very helpful, it makes me complete university assignment with ease by Manje on Nov 14, 2020
  • thank you ,my history teacher was making my class do outlines and i didn't know what to put in one thxs,thxs,and thxs by Maggie on Feb 17, 2021
  • Thanks just what I needed by Royce Castellanos on Apr 05, 2021
  • Thank you very much. This was really, really helpful. I had no idea how to do an outline and the other sites only says what it should be there, no examples. This was something that guided me and I could finish my outline fine. by Maria on Jun 25, 2021
  • This is wonderful, real. I have always been wondering, given a research title where do one get all the subtitles from but now I perfectly understand...Thank you. by Karen Mwangangi on Aug 09, 2021
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  • Very concise with with well thought-out examples. Thanks. by Definite on Mar 16, 2022

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How to write an outline: a step-by-step guide.

how to write an outline

If you want to write a great paper or essay, the first step is preparing a detailed outline. An outline is an excellent method of planning your research paper before starting to write it down.

However, it is never easy for most students, making some of them simply jump into writing their papers without a clear plan. This is one of the biggest mistakes that students make, but we are here to help you avoid it and prepare top-notch assignments.

This post is a step-by-step guideline on how to do an outline for your paper. We will also provide a sample research paper outline template and expert tips to help you make the paper structure outstanding.

What Is An Outline?

An outline for a research paper presents the actual picture of the primary ideas about a selected topic or subject. It entails preparing quick summary phrases or sentences on the points that are going to be covered in your paper. With the right paper outline, it becomes pretty easy to prepare your paper, ensuring the ideas flow seamlessly from the beginning to the end.

Note that a high quality outline does not just work for research papers, but for all types of writings. So, whether you are working on a speech, novel, book review, essay, or essay, starting it with an outline will be the best idea.

Importance Of Using A Proper Outline Format Gor Your Papers

Getting an answer to the question “what is an outline in writing?” is only the beginning. What is more important is determining why it is necessary. In some schools, the outline is likely to be part of the main requirements from your university lecturer. This way, the teacher will be able to assess whether you are on the right track and recommend changes.

Even if your school teachers do not require students to prepare paper outlines, it is still very important when preparing assignments.

As we have indicated, preparing a research outline can help you to stick to the main points. Take the example of an essay with a topic like “how to address global warming, which can have so many points. In such a case, the outline helps you to narrow down on the core points and prepare high-quality papers.

How To Write A Paper Outline

To write a great outline, you need to comprehensively read about the topic under consideration, pick the main ideas, and arrange them from start to end. Because we have already looked at the definition of outline in writing, let’s dig deeper into the main steps of crafting it.

The process of preparing a research paper outline can be broken down into four stages: Planning the outline, structuring it, organizing the main ideas, and finalizing.

  • Pick the Right Topic for Your Paper or Essay The first step in planning your outline is narrowing down your subject or topic. A research paper outline helps to organize ideas about a specific topic. Therefore, you need to pick the right topic for the paper by identifying an area of interest. Also, the topic should be broad enough so that you get ample materials to write about. If your teacher was specific about the topic, make sure to follow his/her recommendations.
  • Determine the Purpose of the Essay and Identify the Targeted Audience As we pointed out already, the purpose of preparing an outline can be for personal use, such as writing an essay, or as a separate assignment. If it is an assignment, the outline should be as detailed as possible because it will be read by your class teacher. However, an outline that will only be used for the paper under consideration can be prepared in a manner that works best for you. For example, you can prepare it in shorthand and expand on the points when preparing the research paper.
  • Assemble All the Materials that Will Be Required Before you can start preparing the outline, make sure to have all the materials that will be involved. These include quotes, statistics, paraphrased ideas, and personal experiences. It will be an excellent idea to brainstorm the ideas to ensure that everything that will be required in the paper is included. However, this does not lock out the need to enrich or add more supporting ideas along the way to improve the paper.

Most outlines use alphanumeric format, with each part being labeled with numbers or letters. So, you can opt to use Roman numerals, Arabic numerals, or capitalized letters, among others. The idea is to remain consistent with the numbering so that it is easy to know the main ideas and the supporting points.

Still on the structure of the outline format, you need to make the decision on the type of sentences to use. The most preferred options are short and full sentences:

  • Short sentences: These are recommended when you want to quickly organize the main points for an essay, and the outline is not a separate assignment for marking by your teachers.
  • Full sentences: This provides more details about the paper you are planning to work on. It requires you to have more information about each idea and works excellently when the outline is part of the class assignment.

The primary goal of an outline research paper format is to organize the core ideas so that it is easy to write for the student and understandable for the reader. In this stage, you need to cluster the main points together. For example, what ideas should go into the introduction, body, and conclusion? Here is a demonstration of how to arrange them:

Once you have selected the main ideas, go into further detail by capturing the supporting details. If you are writing an essay, such as “The Causes of Global Warming,” one of the main ideas might be “the release of greenhouse gasses (GHG) by industries.” Under this point, supporting information might be statistics about industrial emissions, scientific confirmations about industrial GHG, concerns raised by different parties, related quotes, and efforts adopted to stop the problem.

  • Put Together Your Outline Now that you have the main ideas and supporting points, it is time to stitch them together. Remember that the main ideas should also include the information for the introduction and conclusion of the paper. If you are using the outline to prepare a research paper or essay, make it flexible. This means new details about the topic you are working on should be easy to incorporate along the way.

What Does An Outline Look Like?

Below is a good research paper outline example to help you craft a better one for your research paper.

The Topic of Your Essay or Paper Introduction of the Paper The hook statement The background of the paper The thesis statement of the paper The first main idea of the essay Supporting information one. Supporting information two. Supporting information three. Supporting information four. The second main idea of the essay Supporting information one. Supporting information two. Supporting information three. Supporting information four. The third main idea of the essay Supporting information one. Supporting information two. Supporting information three. Supporting information four. Conclusion of the Paper Thesis restate and summary of the main points to be used in the paper.

Special Tips For Writing A Great Outline For Your Paper

Here are additional tips on how to write an outline for your research paper that can be a great term papers help when you need it.

  • Research your topic comprehensively to identify the best ideas for your paper.
  • Keep your eyes focused on the final paper that will be prepared using the outline.
  • Keep your mind open with the intention of enriching the outline and the paper if new information about the topic is found.
  • Reading through other research paper outlines can be very helpful in ensuring your format is more detailed.
  • Put a lot of focus on the flow of the main and supporting information from the beginning to the end.
  • No matter the topic under consideration, always follow your lecturer’s recommendations.
  • Make sure to edit the research paper outline before submitting it to your class teacher for marking.

Seek Expert Assistance When Writing Paper Outline

In this post, we have demonstrated how to write an outline, which should precede writing your paper or essay. So, do you find it easy to prepare now? If it is still challenging, know that you are not alone. A lot of students find it pretty complicated to prepare the outlines and their papers. Poor research skills, lack of ample time, and complex topics are some of the main challenges that make preparing good outlines and assignments hard nuts to crack.

The best way out is to work with our paper writing service. We have skilled writers that you can count on to prepare top-notch outlines and offer all the help you will need. They have handled similar tasks before and will easily clear your work on time to guarantee you the best grade. Even if you have multiple engagements and are wondering how to handle the assignments at hand, the expert writers are waiting online to help.

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  • Knowledge Base


  • How to Write a Literature Review | Guide, Examples, & Templates

How to Write a Literature Review | Guide, Examples, & Templates

Published on January 2, 2023 by Shona McCombes . Revised on September 11, 2023.

What is a literature review? A literature review is a survey of scholarly sources on a specific topic. It provides an overview of current knowledge, allowing you to identify relevant theories, methods, and gaps in the existing research that you can later apply to your paper, thesis, or dissertation topic .

There are five key steps to writing a literature review:

  • Search for relevant literature
  • Evaluate sources
  • Identify themes, debates, and gaps
  • Outline the structure
  • Write your literature review

A good literature review doesn’t just summarize sources—it analyzes, synthesizes , and critically evaluates to give a clear picture of the state of knowledge on the subject.

Table of contents

What is the purpose of a literature review, examples of literature reviews, step 1 – search for relevant literature, step 2 – evaluate and select sources, step 3 – identify themes, debates, and gaps, step 4 – outline your literature review’s structure, step 5 – write your literature review, free lecture slides, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions, introduction.

  • Quick Run-through
  • Step 1 & 2

When you write a thesis , dissertation , or research paper , you will likely have to conduct a literature review to situate your research within existing knowledge. The literature review gives you a chance to:

  • Demonstrate your familiarity with the topic and its scholarly context
  • Develop a theoretical framework and methodology for your research
  • Position your work in relation to other researchers and theorists
  • Show how your research addresses a gap or contributes to a debate
  • Evaluate the current state of research and demonstrate your knowledge of the scholarly debates around your topic.

Writing literature reviews is a particularly important skill if you want to apply for graduate school or pursue a career in research. We’ve written a step-by-step guide that you can follow below.

Literature review guide

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Writing literature reviews can be quite challenging! A good starting point could be to look at some examples, depending on what kind of literature review you’d like to write.

  • Example literature review #1: “Why Do People Migrate? A Review of the Theoretical Literature” ( Theoretical literature review about the development of economic migration theory from the 1950s to today.)
  • Example literature review #2: “Literature review as a research methodology: An overview and guidelines” ( Methodological literature review about interdisciplinary knowledge acquisition and production.)
  • Example literature review #3: “The Use of Technology in English Language Learning: A Literature Review” ( Thematic literature review about the effects of technology on language acquisition.)
  • Example literature review #4: “Learners’ Listening Comprehension Difficulties in English Language Learning: A Literature Review” ( Chronological literature review about how the concept of listening skills has changed over time.)

You can also check out our templates with literature review examples and sample outlines at the links below.

Download Word doc Download Google doc

Before you begin searching for literature, you need a clearly defined topic .

If you are writing the literature review section of a dissertation or research paper, you will search for literature related to your research problem and questions .

Make a list of keywords

Start by creating a list of keywords related to your research question. Include each of the key concepts or variables you’re interested in, and list any synonyms and related terms. You can add to this list as you discover new keywords in the process of your literature search.

  • Social media, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, TikTok
  • Body image, self-perception, self-esteem, mental health
  • Generation Z, teenagers, adolescents, youth

Search for relevant sources

Use your keywords to begin searching for sources. Some useful databases to search for journals and articles include:

  • Your university’s library catalogue
  • Google Scholar
  • Project Muse (humanities and social sciences)
  • Medline (life sciences and biomedicine)
  • EconLit (economics)
  • Inspec (physics, engineering and computer science)

You can also use boolean operators to help narrow down your search.

Make sure to read the abstract to find out whether an article is relevant to your question. When you find a useful book or article, you can check the bibliography to find other relevant sources.

You likely won’t be able to read absolutely everything that has been written on your topic, so it will be necessary to evaluate which sources are most relevant to your research question.

For each publication, ask yourself:

  • What question or problem is the author addressing?
  • What are the key concepts and how are they defined?
  • What are the key theories, models, and methods?
  • Does the research use established frameworks or take an innovative approach?
  • What are the results and conclusions of the study?
  • How does the publication relate to other literature in the field? Does it confirm, add to, or challenge established knowledge?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of the research?

Make sure the sources you use are credible , and make sure you read any landmark studies and major theories in your field of research.

You can use our template to summarize and evaluate sources you’re thinking about using. Click on either button below to download.

Take notes and cite your sources

As you read, you should also begin the writing process. Take notes that you can later incorporate into the text of your literature review.

It is important to keep track of your sources with citations to avoid plagiarism . It can be helpful to make an annotated bibliography , where you compile full citation information and write a paragraph of summary and analysis for each source. This helps you remember what you read and saves time later in the process.

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what does a good research paper outline look like

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To begin organizing your literature review’s argument and structure, be sure you understand the connections and relationships between the sources you’ve read. Based on your reading and notes, you can look for:

  • Trends and patterns (in theory, method or results): do certain approaches become more or less popular over time?
  • Themes: what questions or concepts recur across the literature?
  • Debates, conflicts and contradictions: where do sources disagree?
  • Pivotal publications: are there any influential theories or studies that changed the direction of the field?
  • Gaps: what is missing from the literature? Are there weaknesses that need to be addressed?

This step will help you work out the structure of your literature review and (if applicable) show how your own research will contribute to existing knowledge.

  • Most research has focused on young women.
  • There is an increasing interest in the visual aspects of social media.
  • But there is still a lack of robust research on highly visual platforms like Instagram and Snapchat—this is a gap that you could address in your own research.

There are various approaches to organizing the body of a literature review. Depending on the length of your literature review, you can combine several of these strategies (for example, your overall structure might be thematic, but each theme is discussed chronologically).


The simplest approach is to trace the development of the topic over time. However, if you choose this strategy, be careful to avoid simply listing and summarizing sources in order.

Try to analyze patterns, turning points and key debates that have shaped the direction of the field. Give your interpretation of how and why certain developments occurred.

If you have found some recurring central themes, you can organize your literature review into subsections that address different aspects of the topic.

For example, if you are reviewing literature about inequalities in migrant health outcomes, key themes might include healthcare policy, language barriers, cultural attitudes, legal status, and economic access.


If you draw your sources from different disciplines or fields that use a variety of research methods , you might want to compare the results and conclusions that emerge from different approaches. For example:

  • Look at what results have emerged in qualitative versus quantitative research
  • Discuss how the topic has been approached by empirical versus theoretical scholarship
  • Divide the literature into sociological, historical, and cultural sources


A literature review is often the foundation for a theoretical framework . You can use it to discuss various theories, models, and definitions of key concepts.

You might argue for the relevance of a specific theoretical approach, or combine various theoretical concepts to create a framework for your research.

Like any other academic text , your literature review should have an introduction , a main body, and a conclusion . What you include in each depends on the objective of your literature review.

The introduction should clearly establish the focus and purpose of the literature review.

Depending on the length of your literature review, you might want to divide the body into subsections. You can use a subheading for each theme, time period, or methodological approach.

As you write, you can follow these tips:

  • Summarize and synthesize: give an overview of the main points of each source and combine them into a coherent whole
  • Analyze and interpret: don’t just paraphrase other researchers — add your own interpretations where possible, discussing the significance of findings in relation to the literature as a whole
  • Critically evaluate: mention the strengths and weaknesses of your sources
  • Write in well-structured paragraphs: use transition words and topic sentences to draw connections, comparisons and contrasts

In the conclusion, you should summarize the key findings you have taken from the literature and emphasize their significance.

When you’ve finished writing and revising your literature review, don’t forget to proofread thoroughly before submitting. Not a language expert? Check out Scribbr’s professional proofreading services !

This article has been adapted into lecture slides that you can use to teach your students about writing a literature review.

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If you want to know more about the research process , methodology , research bias , or statistics , make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples.

  • Sampling methods
  • Simple random sampling
  • Stratified sampling
  • Cluster sampling
  • Likert scales
  • Reproducibility


  • Null hypothesis
  • Statistical power
  • Probability distribution
  • Effect size
  • Poisson distribution

Research bias

  • Optimism bias
  • Cognitive bias
  • Implicit bias
  • Hawthorne effect
  • Anchoring bias
  • Explicit bias

A literature review is a survey of scholarly sources (such as books, journal articles, and theses) related to a specific topic or research question .

It is often written as part of a thesis, dissertation , or research paper , in order to situate your work in relation to existing knowledge.

There are several reasons to conduct a literature review at the beginning of a research project:

  • To familiarize yourself with the current state of knowledge on your topic
  • To ensure that you’re not just repeating what others have already done
  • To identify gaps in knowledge and unresolved problems that your research can address
  • To develop your theoretical framework and methodology
  • To provide an overview of the key findings and debates on the topic

Writing the literature review shows your reader how your work relates to existing research and what new insights it will contribute.

The literature review usually comes near the beginning of your thesis or dissertation . After the introduction , it grounds your research in a scholarly field and leads directly to your theoretical framework or methodology .

A literature review is a survey of credible sources on a topic, often used in dissertations , theses, and research papers . Literature reviews give an overview of knowledge on a subject, helping you identify relevant theories and methods, as well as gaps in existing research. Literature reviews are set up similarly to other  academic texts , with an introduction , a main body, and a conclusion .

An  annotated bibliography is a list of  source references that has a short description (called an annotation ) for each of the sources. It is often assigned as part of the research process for a  paper .  

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