How to write a research paper outline

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Outlines allow you to organize your material in a hierarchical or logical format. Research paper outlines, regardless of length or complexity, assist you in managing your thoughts. Investing effort in developing this skill will pay off in the long run, both in school and in some professions.

A good outline can help you write your research paper way faster by simulatenously allowing you to:

Research paper outline example

Title: Microsoft’s Communication Strategy

Microsoft has succeeded in establishing an efficient communication strategy that has increased the company’s impact around the globe. The company’s communication strategy has been critical in helping it to expand its horizons and enhance efficiency through internal communication.

Consider ways to pique the reader’s interest in the first paragraph. How can you present all of the essential details while still making the paper sound interesting?

Use particular titles that highlight the paragraph’s subject in addition to essential titles like “Introduction” and “Conclusion.

In comparison to its competitors, Microsoft has been able to communicate more efficiently. (Dividing your data into sub-points depending on the hierarchy is a good idea. Sub-points at each level should become more specific.)

Give a summary of your points, a decisive solution to the question, or a conclusion to the subject.

Types of a research paper outline

Alphanumeric, full-sentence, and decimal are the three types of research paper outlines. The variations are in the formatting and writing style.

Alphanumeric outline

See the following example:

I. BODY PARAGRAPH 1

        A. First point

               1. Sub-point

                      a. Sub-point of sub-point 1

Full-sentence outline

A full-sentence outline is essentially the same as the alphanumeric outline, but instead of short points, the text is typed in whole phrases.

See the following example:

I. First body paragraph of a research paper

    A. First point of evidence to support the main argument

          1. Sub-point discussing evidence outlined in point A

              1.1. Additional sub-point to conclude the discussion of point of evidence introduced in point A

Decimal outline

The format of a decimal outline is identical to that of an alphanumeric outline, but the numbering scheme is different: 1, 1.1, 1.2, and so on. Instead of whole sentences, the text is provided as small notes.

See the following example of decimal outline:

1. Body paragraph one    

       1.1 First point        

           1.1.1 Sub-point of the first point

               1.1.2 Sub-point of the first point

1.2 Second point

Levels of a research paper outline

An outline for a research paper usually has two to four layers of arrangement.

First level of organization

This is the most general level of your outline.

See the following example:

I. Introduction

    II. Main idea

       III. Main idea

          IV. Main idea

V. Conclusion

Second level of organization

The following are the key criteria for writing in Chicago style:

Following is an example of a second level organization:

I. Introduction

    A. Background information

      B. Hypothesis or thesis

II. Main idea

    A. Supporting topic

      B. Supporting topic

Third level of organization

Supporting information for the previously stated subjects will be found at the third level of organization. By this point, you should have done enough research to back up your claims.

See the example of a third level organization:

I. Introduction

   A. General information

     1. Historical context

       2. Historical context

B. Hypothesis or thesis

      1. A well-expressed theory or thesis

Fourth level of organization

The most precise elements, such as quotes, references, observations, or precise facts, need to support the primary argument.

An example of a fourth level organization:

II. Main idea

    A. Supporting topic

      1. Short explanation of the supporting evidence

         a) Quotes or references to other works of literature

            b) Quotes or references to other works of literature

       2. Short explanation of the supporting evidence

    B. Supporting topic

      1. Short explanation of the supporting evidence

      2. Short explanation of the supporting evidence

Tips on writing a research paper outline

For each header, state the topic or write a few phrases. Avoid doing both.

The higher the level of organization, the broader it is presented, and the more particular each supporting level gets. The introduction and conclusion will never be organized below the first level.

There should be two or more supporting subjects for each main idea. Suppose your study lacks sufficient evidence to support the major point you’re expressing. In that case, you should conduct extra research or revise your plan.

What should I do if my research paper outline is complete?

Frequently Asked Questions

There are several ways to write a research paper outline; it might be decimal, alphanumerical and few other numbering styles. It can also have several levels which gets more specific each time. These all depend on the length of your research paper.

The most detailed outline for a research paper is the fourth level of organization. In this level, you would specify each sub-heading and also include the examples that you will talk about in every separate heading briefly.

Outlines allow you to organize your material in a hierarchical or logical format. Research paper outlines, regardless of length or complexity, assist you in managing your thoughts. Investing effort in developing this skill will pay off in the long run, both in school and in some professions.

The outline of your research paper is depends only on the length and type of your paper. If you will write an APA style paper, only thing you need to look for when writing your outline is properly citing the sources that you use on your outline. 

Thank you for reading. If you need further information, feel free to have a look at our essay samples or contact us at live chat.

Ibrahim Akturk
Ibrahim Akturk
Content editor at Tamara Research. Translation major, huge coffee and baking nerd. Addicted to good music and great articles.

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