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Write a Research Paper Outline Step by Step - Complete Guide with Examples

Mar 21, 2019

As many other assignments, a research paper is your golden ticket to the magical factory that will help you improve your knowledge of a specific area, prove the competence in a subject matter, or make a contribution to the overall field. You have to either buy research paper to guarantee an excellent result or do it yourself. To materialize an adequately structured and acceptable project, one should know all its requirements and guidelines. In this article, we won't do everything for you and show you how to write a material that will win you an "A". On the contrary, we will expound on the primary objectives and purposes of this task, talk about the main demands that should be fulfilled, and take a closer look at specific component parts of this project - an outline.

Purpose and Requirements

Let's look at the basics first. We hope it's clear that you will have to cope with an investigation, but what are the specifications? The topic of your research and the methods needed to be applied always depend on the educational level, your subject matter, and the list of specific requirements given by your professor.

But, such projects have several academic standards that are the same for all of them (that's why some tasks might look like a term paper). One of the reasons for misconception is that the purpose of these similar assignments is often one and the same. That is, to focus on one scientific question or problem and study it with the help of thorough data analysis. You can put forward a hypothesis and then prove it. Or, you can conduct profound research to try to find new perspectives on an issue that has been unresolved for a while.

Also, be ready to meet several expectations of you as a competent student.

  • Awareness of the relevant currents in a particular area
  • A clear and reasonable expression of thoughts
  • Proper and profound work with information sources
  • Following only the approved standards (style, format, etc.)

Approaching the Project

We were students once, too, and we learned first-hand that at least 50% of academic success depends on how well you are prepared. Your primary task here is to lay the groundwork for the project ahead. That implies formulating the topic, constructing a good thesis statement, and jotting down a well-formed research paper outline, which is a "map" leading you to the desired goal - the A-grade treasure!

Before embarking on the actual research, you should always create a detailed outline. When doing so, you need to consider the main steps of the investigation and arrange them in the form of the major headings and subpoints (i.e., your table of contents section).

How to Prepare an Outline

To highlight the main steps of the study, you need to spot them first. We hope you already have an extensive research pool of information that you have gathered and studied attentively.

Many scholars underscore the importance of making detailed notes while working with a lot of data. This way, you will be able to pinpoint the general well-known factors and those that need to be emphasized.

To show you what an outline for a real research paper looks like, we'll study its every element separately and give you an outline template you can focus on.

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An Outline for Research on Existing Information

You can take a structural approach in your research paper, building it around the information you already have. Pick the topic and the issues in it that you want to study. The basis of your outline might me the data you've gathered by going through various informational storages. These sources can become the foundation for the evidence in the research paper. It's much simpler to follow such a path than it is trying to dig something new because it always comes with its own risks. But, by using the approach we've offered, you can formulate an outline similar to the following:

  • Introduction.

    Here, you snatch the main point of gold out of the researched mud and briefly and brilliantly describe what you're going to scientifically rant about.

  • Body or the "meat" of the research.

    Here, you logically structure the data in topics and subtopics by highlighting different aspects of the research.

  • Conclusion.

    This part can be a confirmation or disproval of the claim you stated in the introduction or an answer to the main question posed at the beginning.

Since this scheme is very generalized and looks like a simple essay, let's look through the following outline example. If by any chance you're a student of a literature class who was assigned to prepare a research paper on Charles Dickens, you might actually use it.

  1. Charles Dickens as a hero of English literature
  2. Dickens' Early Years, Works and Influence, Private Life, Later Years
    1. Early Years
      • Journalism and first literature pieces
      • First trip to the US
    2. Impact on the Literature
      • Literary style
      • Specificity of characters
      • Autobiographical elements
      • Prominent works
      • Reception in society
      • Influence on the literature
    3. Dickens' life and beliefs
      • Marriage and family
      • Dickens' philanthropy
      • Religious beliefs and their impact on the novels
    4. Last years
      • Second trip to the US
      • Last writings
      • Farewell reading sections
      • Death
      • Dickens' legacy
  3. Conclusions
    1. Summary of the investigation conducted
    2. Concluding statements

Project with Contribution to the Science

You can also face a project whose primary purpose will be to conduct a real investigation with all the particularities needed for profound research. Here, you'll prove a high level of your competence in the area. This type of academic investigation can result in contributing to science or challenging the already stated ideas. In this case, the outline will cover the following particularities.

  • Introduction.

    Present your argument after identifying your target audience. A good introduction should include a topic sentence with a central idea, the paragraph explaining the relevance of the study for a certain area, and provide an insight into the background of your investigation. This way, your audience will understand the reasons for conducting the study and whether the entire research is reasonable.

  • Methods.

    It's a section where you describe all specific features of the research: its participants, environment, methods, approaches, tools, data sources, etc. Here, you should mention only methods effective for your investigation.

  • Findings and their interpretation.

    It is a part where you reassess the main stages of the research and describe the findings you've got. Those can be presented in various infographic material like tables, statistics, charts, etc.

  • Conclusions.

    It's the final part of the paper, and its role is to analyze different ways the obtained findings can be applied to a certain field. Also, consider how the results resonate with the central you've written in the introduction.

  • References.

    In your paper, there should be a list called "References" represented by the list of all the sources and materials used to prepare the research. Don't forget to present it in an appropriate style (MLA or APA outline format, etc.).

  • Appendix.

    That is a part of the paper where you mention any information about the assignment that is too detailed.

Now, when all the basics of such an investigation are recalled, look through the following example (this level is for Psychology project).

  1. Mass media as an influencing factor of human behavior
    • Mass media is the most harmful factor of influence nowadays
  2. Mass media affects teenagers' behavior and lifestyle dramatically
    • Previous studies on the media's importance
    • Role of the media in the modern world
    • Interconnection of the media and changes in teenager's behavior
  3. Teenagers' attitude to the mass media nowadays
    • The process of a poll conducted amongst teenagers
    • Analysis of the collected answers and results (statistics, tables, etc.)
    • Summing up the results to make up a general image
  4. Conclusions
    • Results have shown that teenagers are vulnerable to media promotions
    • Ways for teenagers to avoid any harmful consequences of a media influence

If you want, you can use the provided sample or modify it to fit the requirements for your assignment.

Useful Tips for a Good Outline

There could be specific guidelines from your professor, but there are several relevant suggestions that you may apply to any outline. Here, we would like to share them with you.

  • Any outline is represented in the form of a list/table of content.
  • Define the audience to understand whether it will be appropriate to use any specific terms.
  • Your major headings and subpoints are to be written according to the sentence capitalization rules.
  • Check if each major heading is rather general and subheadings are more precise.
  • Keep in mind that by reading the outline, the audience should understand your topic.
  • After finishing your outline, write a draft of the paper so that you can see if the outline was organized appropriately.

We have explored the issue of requirements for a successful research paper outline from A to Z, and we hope our guide will be helpful. Follow our recommendations, and your outline will be perfect!

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