How to write an outline for a research paper

If the prospect of writing a research paper gives you the cold sweats, you are not alone. One trick to simplifying the writing process is knowing how to create an outline for a research paper. If you can begin writing an outline, the task of drafting the research paper will quickly become more manageable.


Like most large projects, writing a research paper can be accomplished by breaking it down into smaller, more manageable tasks. Think about writing your research paper in steps:

  1. Choose a topic
  2. Create your thesis statement, your main purpose for writing the paper
  3. Do research to gather your data
  4. Create an outline for the research paper
  5. Create your first draft
  6. Revise and revise again

Writing Your Outline

Once you have gathered all of your data, the next step is to create a rough draft of your research paper. This process can be made easier if you start with writing the research paper outline. The process of writing an outline for your research paper is explained in The Research Project: How to Write It by Ralph Berry.

Berry said, “This is the most intellectually exacting part of the whole process. Order must be imposed upon chaos, and it is at this precise point that the forces of chaos and order meet. Some two or three hours of uninterrupted thought should be set aside to consider the matter; it is not to be tackled in a stray half-hour; once the material has been set into a form, the mould will be hard to break and harder to alter.”

The Outline Process

Your research paper outline can be broken down into smaller components consisting of:

  • Introduction: states and explains your thesis statement and describes briefly what you are going to be covering in your research paper
  • Body: list three to five main arguments to support your thesis statement and under each argument list your supporting data for that argument
  • Conclusion: restate your thesis statement and summarize your arguments then state your conclusion and why you have come to this particular conclusion discussed the finer points of creating an outline in the article titled, “Research Paper Outline Format.” Regarding the introduction, the article said, “You need to explain how you are going to approach your topic. You should explain what type of research or report it is, for instance, whether it is based on actual facts, or is it a book review, a comparison, or an analysis of a problem.”

The Body of Your Outline

The body of your research paper is where you develop your topic and the arguments that support your thesis statement. Here again, the task can be made easier by breaking the process down into more manageable steps. provided useful Research Paper Outline Examples and said, “The body of your paper is where you will be presenting all your arguments to support your thesis statement. Please be reminded of the ‘Rule of 3’ where you should find 3 supporting arguments for each position you take. Start with a strong argument, followed by a stronger one, and end with the strongest argument as your final point.”

Patterns of Organization

The best choice for the overall organization of your outline depends on the subject of your research paper. If your topic is related to a historic event or you are writing about a process that takes place in a series of steps, then a chronological approach might work best. In a chronological outline, the body of the outline will progress from one event to the next.

If your topic does not lend itself to a chronological approach, then a spatial approach might work best. In a spatial approach, the first item in the body of your outline will be a general statement related to your thesis. Then, each additional point in your outline body will become less general and more specific.

There are several possible patterns that you can use to structure the presentation of information in your outline and in your paper. You can find several examples at Writing a research paper does not have to be a struggle. You can do a great job of writing your next paper if you learn how to do it step-by-step.

25 replies
    • Questia says:

      That’s terrific news, Delanie! We’re so glad we could help you out. Please feel free to let us know if there are any other challenging topics you’re interested in us tackling.

  1. Perez says:

    Thanks for your informing and educating works. I am having a challenge of outlining my project topic on ‘the impact of digital music technology on the development of music and musician in Nigeria’

  2. fragilistic says:

    awesomeness this thing ROCKS! Its like chillin my bones man…. I only lived by the sweetness of this,,, LOVE YOLL!!!! thnks man

    • Questia Staff says:

      Hi Dautey,

      We’re sorry to hear that. Is there any other specific information we can help you find regarding your research paper outline?

      We’d love to try and help!

      Questia Staff

  3. namo says:

    Hello,i want someone to write me an outline about”A comparative study between structuralism and functionalism” Please send it to my E-mail.I need it in 5 days.

    • Nicole Reinard says:

      I think we can all agree that completing an outline for a research paper is one of the toughest things to do! One amazing way to teach you how to get through the basics of outline drafting is to check out Questia’s blog, and skim through articles that are of relevance to what you’re aiming to do. To see the results for “how to write an outline”, these articles can be found by clicking HERE.

  4. Anonymous says:

    I really need some help how to write an outline for this topic “Is Society Becoming Less Violent?” please help this is not getting to my brains at the moment

    • Claire Moore says:

      If you’re having trouble, it may be that you haven’t done enough reading on the subject. You might also think about narrowing the subject down so that you concentrate on violence in the US, violence against women, or children.

      Also concentrate on a particular time period, for example, the past five or ten years. Questia has over 5000 books and articles on the topic of violence in society.

      #AskQuestia we can help!
      Can you help me choose a topic? #AskQuestia
      How can I avoid plagiarism? #AskQuestia
      What requires a citation? #AskQuestia
      What is a thesis statement? #AskQuestia
      How do I know where to start? #AskQuestia
      Choose your platform, we can help: FB Twitter or G+


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.