How to Write an Outline for a Research Paper

The basis of the proposed method is the logic of writing a scientific article, which highlights the main elements that are universal for most scientific works in a high school or a college. So, how to write a good outline for a research paper?

Getting started, the author must answer several important questions:

  • What is the general problem of the study?
  • What conclusions did the previous researchers come to?
  • What sources should be studied, what is new to know and why, how to apply the results?

Answers to these questions allow the author to get an idea about the topic of upcoming work, to build its general concept, to determine the object, subject, purpose, and hypothesis of the study.

Below is the most common algorithm for planning the process of writing a scientific text.

Preparing For Making An Outline

When you have selected a topic, try to figure out what kind of argument you would like to support. It is important to understand why it may be important to you and the readers. It will be better if you ask yourself – what is the purpose of my thesis? Could it trigger a meaningful debate that will bring some changes and can I use this thesis to build a whole research work on it? When you will answer these questions, you will be prepared to start writing an outline for your research paper. This will have you clarify the purpose.

Your professor will be the only person who will read (most of the time) your research paper when it’s completed. But it’s better to try to define your audience. Will the professor support your thesis, or he/she will discuss it and will have a counterargument? When you will understand your readers you will know what language you can use in your paper: whether the use of slang is appropriate or best to stick with formal language? The overall style and tone of your research work depend on the target audience.

Research work wouldn’t be called so without meaning a proper and thorough research. You will be required to explore many resources in order to find effective evidence to support your thesis. In the beginning, you will have to investigate the general information about your thesis and then get deeper into it. But make sure you don’t forget about all possible counterarguments and evidence. It is important for you to study your arguments and comprehend all the pitfalls of your thesis in order to have a clear idea of what is missing.

The links and references are proof of each of your arguments and studies that you have conducted. You need to arrange them according to the importance and relevance of your thesis.

After the finding out the topic, thesis statement, completing all the pre-writing activities are done, you must outline the plan and methodology of the research paper.

Research paper outline is its content, built logically in the following sections: introduction, the main part, conclusion/conclusions. In a research paper, sections are allocated conditionally. In larger works, it can be parts, chapters, paragraphs. The structure of the research paper may also include an abstract, a list of sources and, if necessary, an Appendix.

Constituents Of Research Paper Outline

So, basic and classic, the structure of research paper outline looks like this:

  • Introduction
  • Hook
  • Define the audience
  • Thesis statement
  • Body
  • A few arguments to support the thesis
  • Conclusion
  • Summary of arguments
  • Call to action

The introduction

States the general thesis of the research, substantiates its relevance, describes the purpose, problem, objectives, and methods of research, theoretical and practical significance. In this part should be informative, intriguing and engaging.

The main body

This is the most important part of your research paper, here you will be presenting your evidence and arguments to support your thesis and, in accordance with the rule of “3”, you will have to provide three arguments to support your position/thesis. It’s better to start with the strong evidence and continue with stronger and strongest ones.


In this part you will be summarizing the arguments you have provided in the main body and arriving at the final position, providing solutions to the issues mentioned in the whole paper.

That is how the work should look. Although this task is much more complex than an argumentative essay or other academic works, following a good template should make it a bit easier!

Here’s the example of a good research paper outline

Title: Frederick Douglass

Thesis: Frederick Douglass played a crucial role in securing the abolition of slavery and equality of African-American rights through his actions, ideas, and efforts as a lecturer, author/publisher, and politician.

Below is a sample structure.


  1. Thesis;
  2. Roles/Arguments;

Douglass as Lecturer:

  1. History as slave and acquisition of education;
    • He “experienced slavery”;
    • Literacy allowed expression;
  1. Early lectures, including initial speech before Garrison;
    • Success of initial speech;
    • Goals for future speeches;
  1. Effect of lectures on society;
    • Open eyes;
    • Encourage activism;

Douglass as Author/Publisher:

  1. Narrative’s success and effect;
    • Springboard for paper;
  1. Goals/hopes for paper;
  2. Garrison set-back and significance;
  3. Significance of Paper;

Douglass as Politician:

  1. Key trait for success;
  2. Goal of political activism;
  3. Efforts for Republican party;
    • Significance of efforts;
  4. Black soldier enlistment crusade;
  5. Joining of Republican party;
    • Significance of efforts;


  1. Summarize arguments and efforts.

Some Useful Advices

  • Plan your speech and distribute it by minutes.
  • The appearance and overall style of the paper plays an important role — it promotes not only the aesthetic pleasure of the reader but the correct understanding is written.
  • The essence of any work is determined by the degree of originality – the more a new book, textbook or article is similar to the pre-existing, the less interest will be experienced by the reader.

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