Home Blog Writing A Research Paper - A Step by Step Guide Research Paper Outline - A Complete Writing Guide

Research Paper Outline - A Complete Writing Guide

Research Paper Outline - A Complete Writing Guide

A research paper is a compulsory academic writing task. It is an important activity to check the writing and research abilities of students. However, it takes time to write a good research paper, so you need to create a plan before you start writing.

It is a bit tricky and hard to write an outline. You need to write it carefully, or the ideas will get mixed up. But after you do, it will be worth the work.

What is a Research Paper Outline?

A research paper outline is basically a blueprint for a complete subject. It serves as a mindmap and a plan of action that most students follow throughout the writing process.

The following are the benefits of creating a well-structured outline.

  • It organizes all the thoughts and ideas in one place.
  • It provides a detailed structure for your future research work.
  • It demonstrates your understanding and vision of a particular topic.
  • The outline helps to avoid any possible mistakes by shaping a topic.
  • It helps not to skip any important points.
  • It gives an idea for the future headings of the paper.
  • It provides an understanding of the flow of information and how ideas are related.
  • It gives the audience a clear idea of what is included in the paper.

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How to Write a Research Paper Outline?

steps for a research paper outline

The following is a detailed explanation of the steps to write a college research paper outline.

Cover or Title page

A paper should have the title in it. It should discuss what the paper is about and how it will help in proving the arguments. This section includes the following elements.

  • Student’s full name
  • Name of the instructor
  • Course title and code
  • Submission date


The abstract is a short summary of your paper. It should be five to six sentences long and includes the main information. It comes after the title page and mainly focuses on:

  • The main arguments
  • The research methods
  • The subject matter
  • Participants
  • Outcomes

Ensure the abstract should not exceed the ⅓ of the page, i.e., about 150 to 200 words.

You can also take help from our detailed guide about writing a research paper abstract.

Table of Contents

The table of contents will summarize the chapters and sections in an organized manner. It also includes the title and descriptions of the headings and subheadings.

This section provides readers with a complete overview of the document’s contents. It is good to have a table of contents. It helps you know what is in your research paper, and it allows the audience to go directly to a specific section.

Research Paper Introduction

The introduction is the most important part of any research paper. It should present the topic and answer the research question. Similarly, it must also explain the importance of the subject matter for the audience.

The central aim is to grab the reader’s attention with the help of strong arguments. Thus, this section must be engaging and interesting enough.

Below are the four main elements to write a compelling introduction:

  • A Hook - An engaging start to persuade the readers to read more. It is about 1 to 2 sentences in length.
  • Background Information - It presents the historical background of the topic along with the general information for better understanding.
  • Thesis Statement - It explains the major points of your paper that discuss why the topic is of great importance. Thus, it must be clear, specific, and to the point.
  • Define the Audience - Understand and define your target audience. Explain the reasons why they are interested in reading your content.

Research Paper Body

The body is the main section of your research paper. It consists of several paragraphs that include the relevant information, examples, and evidence to support your argument.

You can also provide counterarguments and opposing facts. Such factors help the reader to get an idea about your understanding of the topic.

Make sure the paper should remain consistent from the beginning to the end. The style, tone, and citation should be according to the required format.

Literature Review

This section will explain how the literature you used to support your theory has influenced and helped guide your research. It also identifies the research gaps in the existing data.


Here, you will present the techniques and types of equipment that you have employed to carry out the research work. Keep in mind that the methods can vary according to the subject matter.

Thus, you need to give a detailed explanation of how you have conducted the research.


A good research paper has facts and figures to justify the argument. In this section, you will focus on the findings of your paper. Make sure to add as many facts, statistics, and numbers as possible.

Use tables and graphs to be more precise and structured. Remember to tell the audience how the outcome has contributed to the field of study as a whole.


Most students get confused between the results and discussion. There is a simple line that separates both.

Results focus on facts and figures. However, in the discussion section, a writer makes sure whether the expected results are achieved or not.

Research Paper Conclusion

The conclusion is the final part of your research work that summarizes the main arguments.

It also restates the thesis, goals, and methods used to achieve the results.

There is no need to provide a detailed explanation. Instead, just give a general overview. Also, formulate the prospect for future research and a call to action to provoke the readers.

Keep in mind; the conclusion should not be longer than the abstract.

Bibliography and Appendix

Mention all the sources that you have used in your text in the bibliography section. Similarly, add facts, tables, images, and charts in Appendix, but in some formats, the appendix is not required.

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Research Paper Outline Format

When you are writing a paper, certain elements must be included. To make the formatting easier for yourself and your readers, creating an outline is important.

The format of each research work can vary based on preference or institution, so it's best to find what works best for you. It is obvious that the APA format paper will be different from the MLA format.

Just create a list of elements for your paper and properly section them into categories. You can even label each part in Roman numerals for easy understanding.

Below is a detailed description of two commonly used outline formats.

MLA Format Outline

The research paper outline according to MLA format includes the following elements.

  1. The student and professor’s name, class, and date appear on the first page.
  2. The header contains the page numbers in the upper right corner.
  3. All titles are to be written in italics.
  4. A complete list with endnotes before cited works.
  5. Subheadings are written with Arabic numerals and in lowercase letters.

Check out the below-given MLA outline template for better understanding.

Research Paper Outline MLA (PDF)

APA Format Outline

Here are the main characteristics of the APA research paper outline.

  1. It must include a separate cover page.
  2. The cover page features the title, name of the author, university, and running head.
  3. The header contains page numbers and the title of the paper.
  4. APA format usually requires to include Abstract.
  5. A list of cited sources entitled "References."

Have a look at the below given APA research paper outline template.

Research Paper Outline APA (PDF)

It is of great help to follow an example. Thus, you can further go through the outline examples in APA and MLA format by reviewing the research paper examples.

Standard Research Paper Outline Format

The following is the standard research paper outline format. It is the basis for creating a successful, more detailed, and high-quality research paper.


  • Hook statement.
  • Define the audience.
  • A strong Thesis statement.

Body Paragraphs

  • Arguments to support your thesis statement.


  • Summary of arguments.
  • Call to action.

Below is a template for a standard research paper outline.

Research Paper Outline Template (PDF)

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Sample Outline for Research Papers

Below you can find an example of an outline for a research paper to understand and create an outline for your own paper clearly.

Research Paper Outline (PDF)

Research Paper Outline Example (PDF)

Research Paper Outline Sample (PDF)

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The above guide will help you to start writing an outline for your research paper. However, some students lack good writing skills and prefer to seek professional help.

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