Writing a research paper pt 3: How to write an outline, draft the paper and add citations

Taking the extra step to write an outline before you begin writing your research paper will save you more time in the long run.

Taking the extra step to write an outline before you begin writing your research paper will save you more time in the long run.

Now that you’ve chosen a topic and collected notes, it’s time to begin writing a research paper. In this article we’ll cover how to write an outline, create a rough draft of your paper and how to add citations. There’s a lot to cover, so let’s dive right in.

How to write an outline

When taking notes, many experts suggest that you write them on individual index cards. Then, you can place the cards on a table and rearrange them to create the flow for your paper. This flow will become your outline.

Be sure to write your notes in your own words. Don’t just copy and paste from your sources. An example of a good note taking technique can be found at Study Guides and Strategies site in an article titled, “Organizing research with note cards.”

The authors also suggest that you “Keep a separate set of cards with the complete information of books, magazines, films, etc. These will be used for entering footnotes and endnotes, and when compiling the bibliography.”

When it comes to tracking your sources, you might also like to try the research tools on Questia where you can read full-text books and articles on thousands of topics. You’ll be able to highlight, save text, take notes, bookmark, create citations and save your work into a project folder for easy organization.

Outline patterns

All outlines follow a basic flow:

  • Introduction
  • Body
  • Conclusion

It is the body of your paper where you will develop your main topic and flesh out your thesis statement. It’s a good idea to limit yourself to anywhere from three- to five topics that you’ll address in the body of your paper.

The body of your research paper outline will follow a certain design based on how you decide to approach your topic. Examples of outline patterns were presented by Evelyn Zent, a professor at the University of Washington Tacoma in an article titled, “Patterns of Organization.”

According to Zent, some possible patterns for organizing the body of your outline include:

  • Problem-solution: often used in persuasive writing when the writer wants to convince the reader to change their opinion or behavior
  • Chronological: arranges information according to a progression of time; topics of a historical nature
  • Cause-effect: used for various conditions

It may seem like extra work to write an outline before writing your paper, but you will save yourself a lot of time and stress by working out your ideas before you actually start writing.

Writing the first draft of your research paper

The introduction to your paper comes first but you don’t have to write it first. In fact, you might want to wait until you’re done with the body of your paper to write both the introduction and the conclusion to your paper.

So, at this point, concentrate on the body of your paper. Follow your outline and keep in mind that everything in your paper must tie back – and relate to – your thesis statement.

Rather than throwing your ideas onto the page, you will want to link each idea and paragraph to the next. The folks at Empire State College described the steps in “Building the Essay Draft.”

Some ways to connect paragraphs include:

  • Using linking words such as: “also,” “moreover” or “in addition”
  • When the next idea is the logical result of the one preceding it use words such as: “therefore,” “consequently” or “as a result”
  • To show that you’ve come to your strongest point use a phrase such as: “most importantly”

Citing sources

As you write, you’ll want to add your citations. By giving credit to those authors who provided you the ideas and information to use in your paper, you will avoid committing the academic crime of plagiarism. Be aware that many professors have tools that they can use to check your paper for plagiarism, so don’t think copying someone else’s work will go unnoticed.

Examples of what your citations will look like appear in a PDF created by California State University Dominguez Hills, University Library titled, “How To Cite Your Sources In A Research Paper.”

According to the folks at CSU Dominguez Hills, “To avoid having to track down at the last minute any missing information needed for your bibliography or list of works cited, be sure to record the necessary information (on file cards or in a computer file) about every source you consult as you are doing your research.”

If you need a refresher of parts one and two of the research paper series, you can click here for the first part and here for the second part.

Remember that Questia will help you to retrieve the information you need to create your citations.

What types of research papers have you written before and how did you go about writing them? Tell us about it in the comments below.

15 replies
  1. Rabab says:

    Reallt thank you for these important articles. but i wanna ask you is u could please send me URL …for having an account in Questia libraries.
    Thanks in advance


    I am a phD student writing my theses on the political economy of international financial institutions conditionalities and human (in)security in the post- cold war Africa.I will like to find out which research questions and research methods will be appropriate for such a theses topic

    • Claire Moore says:

      When developing questions for your research you must first read all you can find in the existing research. Then you look for areas that have not yet been covered fully in that research.

      The introduction to any dissertation will mention the existing research and explain how your paper will add to that body of research by exploring an area that has not been covered before or has only been addressed in a minimal way.

      You can start your search with a free trial at Questia.


  3. hashim Adam says:

    thank you for your valuble information . you are really helping alot of people allover the world. go on . huminity needs more positive contribution. if i might request, pleaase supply my e-mail with some free research papers on sociolinguistics, particularly on the field of ethnography of communication as iam interested in understanding the role of culture in efl learning.


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