Research paper outline

How to Write a Research Paper Outline

A research paper outline is a document that provides direction for the writing of a research paper. Outlines are often created before researching to guide the researcher’s thinking about what they should write about in their paper.

Creating an outline will provide a road map for writing a logical, coherent, and organized paper. Outlines contain research papers’ major points making their writing process easier.

An outline does not have to be lengthy or complicated. It comprises the introduction, literature review, methods (or research design), results (or data analysis), and discussion (or conclusion).

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The Introduction

A research paper introduction comprises the background information about the topic, why it is important, and what will be discussed in the rest of the document.

The introduction should be relevant to the research topic, provide key points to be discussed in the paper, and a thesis statement. The writer will need to identify the relevant literature, state what they already know about the topic, and establish its importance.

The introduction should also provide an opening statement that will be used in the literature review.

The Literature Review

The literature review explains what has been done about the topic and what gaps remain in the research. It should be done after the introduction is written to build on its statements.

Parts of the literature review are:

The problem/background

This section aims to come up with a research question that forms the basis of the research. It is used to identify gaps in current literature and provide a focus for the rest of the paper. The background of the study also includes the theoretical framework that will be used in the study.

The purpose of the research

It should be a sentence or a phrase that answers, “Why this study?” The theoretical framework may also be introduced in this section.

The purpose of the study may also be put this way: “This study will answer the following research question–“

Research questions or hypotheses

A research question should answer the research problem. It is usually answered with a “yes” or “no.” Research hypotheses are used to test specific questions about the research problem.

The research questions/hypotheses should be included in this section to guide the writer about what will be answered in the paper.

An example of a research hypothesis is: “I predict that age will affect leadership styles.”

Research paper arguments are strengthened by using hypotheses to make specific predictions, which can be either proved or disproved.

Historical background

This part of the literature review provides a chronological review or summary of significant events related to the topic. It is used as a reference in the section that follows.

Relevant theories and models.

The most important theories and models included in this section are those related to the research problem.

Methods or Research Design

In this part of the literature review, the researcher presents an overview of what was done in the research. This part is crucial because it provides a detailed plan for writing the rest of the paper.

This section should include:

The research design

The research questions or hypotheses to be answered in this study and how it will be done.

The sampling procedure/method

It is the procedure to select participants or units of analysis. It includes how they will be selected, how many will be chosen, and the criteria that will be used to select them.

The data collection methods

It can be easily remembered as the “where” and the “how.” This section explains how data will be gathered.

Examples of data collection methods are:

  • Questionnaires
  • Focus group discussion
  • Field observation
  • Interview
  • Archival research.

This section is also where ethical considerations are mentioned for those researchers who use human participants.

The data analysis methods

This section explains how the data will be analyzed. It may include statistical models to be used, how they are computed, and the criteria for interpreting them.

The most common statistical tests to use in this section are:

  • Descriptive tests (frequency distributions, measures of central tendency, and measures of dispersion)
  • Inferential tests (chi-square tests, t-tests, correlations, and regression techniques)

Different data analysis methods provide different results. The researcher must choose the most appropriate method for the type of data and research questions or hypotheses.

For example, Pearson’s correlation coefficient is used when the data are continuous. Spearman correlation coefficient is used on ordinal data.

Deciding which analysis methods will work best for your study requires familiarity with the different tests and assumptions. Understanding is gained by experience in working with the tests.


This section provides descriptive findings of the study.

It should include:

  • Key results to significant questions/hypothesis
  • Substantive implications of the results, if any.
  • Limitations, if any.

The findings should support your argument and lead you to conclude.

The Conclusion

It is where the writer summarizes their findings and how they contribute to the field.

In this section, it is important to address:

  • The purpose and significant findings of the study.
  • The problems that were encountered in conducting the research and how to overcome them next time should also be included here.
  • The implications of the findings for future research.


The references should be alphabetical by the author’s name, publication date, and the pages cited. In referencing, the author’s last name and date of publication should be used for all sources, not just the first source. It is important to use examples in a research paper outline. They help the writer become familiar with a specific assignment’s writing style

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Types of Research Paper Outlines

There are 3 main types of research paper outlines namely: Decimal, Alphanumeric and full sentence.


Uses decimals to number the sub-sections


1 Body paragraph

1.1 point one

1.1.1 Sub-point to point one

1.2 point two

1.2.1 Sub-point to point two


Uses romans, capital letters and numbers with short points for each section.


  1. First paragraph

A. Point one

1. Sub-point of point one

a. Sub-point of sub-point one

Full sentence

It’s more like the alphanumeric, only that this style has the sub-headings written as full sentences and not short points.

I. Body paragraph one of the paper

A. Point one of the evidence supporting the major argument

1. The first sub-point expounding the evidence point A.

a. Another sub-point concluding the evidence sub-point introduced in A.

The Benefits of a Research Paper Outline

• It helps increase the ability to synthesize and analyze information
• An outline gives a clear idea of how to organize the paper. It enables you to decide what points to include and in what order.
• It gives a solid foundation to build ideas upon
• A research paper outline helps correct any possible errors or mistakes before it is too late
• It saves time and energy. It is easier to write a paper once the structure of the paper has been outlined. Everything will be in the proper order, from the introduction to the conclusion. Everything flows in a way that is easier to understand and follow.
• An outline can be invaluable when writing reports, especially if the writer is new to the subject.

The Step-by-step Process of Creating a Research Paper Outline

Developing a research paper outline is a beneficial study and writing technique that all students can benefit from. Below are the main steps in creating a winning outline:

  1. Divide your paper into the three main sections namely introduction, body and conclusion. This first step makes it easier to work on the entire paper in an organized way.
  2. After dividing your paper into three main parts, it is time to add the points that will be discussed in each section. This part requires a bit of brainstorming on what information you would like to include in each section.
  3. After listing the points, start writing a draft of your outline. As you go along, you may find that some points should be rearranged. If this occurs, do not worry since this isn’t the final copy and you have room for adjustments.

Also, your outline might change as new information is discovered or as your writing improves. This shows that the outline was not necessarily created in stone, but it’s a guide for you to follow.

  • Writing the draft should take some time, but it does not need to be perfect. An outline is meant to guide you through your research paper.
  • After completing the draft, you may need to add some transitions from one paragraph to the next. Transitions are used to show how one paragraph relates to the next and how one point leads logically to the next point. They make your outline flow as you want it to and help you connect your ideas and thoughts.

Take Away

A research paper outline is a plan of your ideas and how you will build upon them to construct and organize the paper. The outline guides you in writing the research paper by providing an overall structure for your work.

It helps prevent writer’s block by giving you a clear idea of your paper before writing it. The outline sample provided in this article will guide you as you write your paper.

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