Writing a Research Paper Outline: Full Guide for a Student

A lot of students feel that paper outlines are not important, and with short essays, an outline is, indeed, an optional step. Still, when working on complex and lengthy assignments, such as research papers, an outline is essential for everyone who wants to get a high grade. Remember that a solid research paper is a very logical, properly structured academic assignment, based on factual evidence.

So, outlining your work is critical if you don’t want to get lost in the writing process. It helps you come up with a logical, convincing structure and organizes your ideas in the most comprehensive manner. A proper outline highlights all major points of your research, provides scientific evidence, and ensures easy-to-follow logic. It’s true that coming up with a good skeleton for a paper takes time and effort. Still, it saves a lot of time when you finally get down to writing the actual research. Besides, students who have a detailed plan at hand, feel more relaxed and avoid any kind of writing block. So, writing a research paper with an outline usually takes less time than improvising over a blank sheet — if we take into account the whole time spent.

Below, we will show you exactly how to come up with a good ‘skeleton’ for your research — it does not have to be as challenging and time-consuming as some students believe.

How to Structure a Research Paper Outline

When drafting an outline for yourself, there are no strict rules — just make any notes you’re comfortable with. Sometimes, however, a professor will ask students to submit a research paper outline before the actual research paper; in this case, you will have to be more careful and pay more attention to details (because your outline will be evaluated, along with an actual paper).

Any research paper outline should have the following parts:

  •  Research paper title
  •  Thesis statement
  •  Important arguments
  •  Supporting evidence for each argument
  •  Conclusion

As you can see, those are the bare essentials any academic paper should have, so this structure is the same for any topic and educational level — from high school to university. Obviously, your final research paper will also have all of these elements. Of course, when writing this paper, you will need to pay attention to other details and add more sections. In particular, a detailed research paper structure should look like this:

Title page



Main sections:

  1.  Literature overview
  2.  Methods
  3.  Analysis
  4.  Results
  5.  Discussion


References and bibliography

At this point, this structure probably seems simple and logical. In practice, when most students get to any of these parts, they get frustrated. What seems simple at first, becomes a bit more challenging later — mostly because each part stands separately from the others; and yet, ultimately, they all wind up into a single academic work. So, let’s pay more attention to each of these important sections (except the title page, which should be easy enough).

An abstract is a part you should write when the rest of your paper is finished. This is a very brief description of your work (usually, within 150-200 words) that gives the gist of your whole paper. It states your thesis, enumerates main arguments and lists the results. It should give readers all the essential facts and conclusions — so, think of it as the summary of your work.

Then, comes the introduction, which is one of the most important chapters of your work. It should introduce your topic, explain its relevance, and highlight the main aspects you are going to analyze in your work. The most important part of any introduction is a thesis statement — which is, essentially, the main argument you are going to prove in your research.

The largest and the most critical part of any paper is, certainly, its body. A research paper will have several sections (depending on the topic and your paper length, those could turn into entire chapters). The first one, Methodology, describes all scientific approaches you are going to use in your research.

Another essential part of any research is Literature Overview. Here, writers are to list every source they used during the research phase and give a brief summary of these sources and their authors (usually, some background info and experience in a particular subject). Obviously, you can’t just use any references here — you need relevant scientific articles directly related to your topic.

Analysis is a part where writers present collected data and, obviously, analyze it. After that, you need to state the results you came to. Depending on the length of your paper, a body section may also include Discussion chapter, which will pose new questions and lay ground for further research. Besides, Discussion can be seen as a critique of your own writing — if you missed something, or if some findings can be analyzed differently, you have to mention it in the discussion part.

Finally, there comes your conclusion. It restates the thesis and enumerates the main findings of your paper. While a conclusion should not deal with any new information, it can also lay ground for further research on this topic.

Research Paper Formatting Requirements

Another thing any student should bear in mind is an academic format specified by your professor or educational establishment. Most research papers are written in APA style, even though MLA is an acceptable alternative for humanities. Once you’re done with the paper contents, we recommend consulting the latest manual of style to make sure every little detail, from page numbers to final references, is in the right place. These seemingly minor details affect your grade, so do not ignore them.

Here, we will give you a quick summary of the formatting requirements — but once again, to make sure your paper does not lose any precious points on formatting, you will have to double-check with the latest referencing style edition.

MLA Research Paper Template

  •  The first page has student’s and professor’s names, course, and date
  •  Page numeration in the upper right corner
  •  Research paper subheadings highlighted in italics
  •  Endnotes, if any, come before Works Cited page
  •  Subheadings are numbered in Arabic numerals

Things to remember about MLA format

  •  Source reference is obligatory for MLA style, but the exact logic will differ depending on the actual source. Books, articles, online publications — they all have different formatting guidelines.
  •  Most of the time, you will not need a title page when working with MLA format. The info about your name and class goes in the top left corner of your first page. You only write a separate title page if the professor specifies so.
  •  You need to consult the latest MLA guidelines (available online) to make sure your research takes every little requirement into account.

APA Research Paper Template

  •  A separate title page with your name, professor’s name, course, educational institution, and date
  •  Running head on a title page is a must
  •  Paper headers include title and page number (starting page 2)
  •  Most of the time, you need an abstract (comes after the title)
  •  Any sources you’ve used are listed alphabetically, in the References section

Useful Advice on research paper writing

A research paper is a very complicated academic assignment, so don’t expect to come up with it in a couple of hours. The sooner you start, the better. First, you’ll probably need to analyze a lot of material. In some cases, you will also need to narrow down your topic to make the paper more relevant and interesting to read.

As you read through other authors’ articles on the subject, we recommend making notes. Later on, when you think of your own argumentation, you will easily look through them and find the evidence you need. We also suggest drafting an outline for your paper — even if you do not have to show it to your professor. Once you’ve researched enough material, drafting a skeleton for your work will not be that hard or time-consuming.

Below are some practical suggestions on how a research paper outline should look like. Use them to your advantage, but remember that those are only templates. You cannot copy paste and submit those to your professor: first of all, because everything you submit is run through a plagiarism check; and second — because any topic has to be tailored to your needs and academic requirements.

TOPIC: Impact of the Internet on children’s education and social skills

THESIS STATEMENT: While the Internet is highly beneficial for education, its influence on children’s social skills is often far from positive.


  1.  Quick introduction of the topic and its relevance
  2.  Scientific approaches and research methods used in this paper
  3.  Thesis statement
  4.  Literature review (if requested by your professor)

Main body

  •  Detailed explanation of the problem
  1.  Background info on the history of Internet
  2.  First mention of the Internet’s impact on people’s lives
  3.  General assumptions about the influence of Internet on child development, including education and social skills
  •  Positive influence of Internet on education
  1.  A variety of online resources that can be used for self-education
  2.  Specialized platforms aimed at education
  3.  Examples of positive impact, supported by scientific evidence
  •  Negative impact of the Internet on education
  1.  Games, movies, and other distractions with potentially violent or age-inappropriate content
  2.  Examples of negative impact, supported by scientific evidence


  1.  Quick summary and analysis of all data mentioned in the paper
  2.  Thesis statement rephrased
  3.  Thesis statement proved right or wrong

TOPIC: Causes and effects of abortion

THESIS STATEMENT: Even though constitutional rights cannot prohibit abortions on a national level, adverse effects of an interrupted pregnancy on a woman’s health are too hazardous and require thorough investigation before each operation.


  1.  Short introduction of the topic and its relevance
  2.  Medical terms explained
  3.  Methodology used in the research and data analysis
  4.  Thesis
  5.  Literature review (if requested by your professor)

Main body

  •  Detailed explanation of the problem
  1.  Background information on abortion, its history, and its causes in the modern world (religious concerns, government regulations, financial matters, medical issues)
  2.  Position of the government and church on abortion
  3.  General overview of abortion effects, supported by scientific evidence and medical data
  •  Alternatives to deal away with unwanted pregnancy
  1.  Possible alternatives to abortions
  2.  Pros of each alternative
  3.  Cons of each alternative
  •  Abortion pros and cons
  1.  Abortion pros, supported by scientific evidence and medical data
  2.  Abortion cons, supported by evidence and medical data


  1.  Quick summary and analysis of all data mentioned in the paper
  2.  Thesis statement rephrased
  3.  Thesis statement proved right or wrong

TOPIC: Overpopulation and its management

THESIS STATEMENT: Even though mortality rate in developed countries is higher than the birth rate, developing countries, on the contrary, are experiencing rapid overpopulation, which has to be managed.


  1.  Quick overview of the problem and its background
  2.  Introduction of the problem and its relevance
  3.  Thesis
  4.  Literature review

Main body

  •  Detailed explanation of the problem
  1.  Definition of the overpopulation and its detailed history
  2.  Potential hazards of overpopulation on society and environment
  3.  Explaining why managing overpopulation is essential
  •  Possible ways to manage overpopulation and challenges associated with any approach
  1.  Promoting the necessity of childbirth
  2.  Providing government help packages and other social benefits for the children
  3.  Educating about the problem and attracting social attention to the issue
  4.  Space exploration as a potential way to make new settlements
  5.  Exploring renewable resources of food and energy on Earth
  •  Main challenges that make managing overpopulation impossible on a global scale
  1.  Social prejudice and religious taboos that contradict the notion of contraceptives and other means of birth control, in general
  2.  Lack of education and social awareness on this subject
  3.  Violation of human rights
  4.  Expenses associated with space exploration and search of renewable sources on Earth


  1.  Quick summary and analysis of all data mentioned in the paper
  2.  Thesis statement rephrased
  3.  Thesis statement proved right or wrong
  4.  Suggestions for further research and other potential ways of solving this problem

This is a more or less acceptable template for a research paper, even though you might have to come up with a more detailed plan before you actually sit down to writing. As we already mentioned, we suggest making notes on the go, as you research the topic. This way, you’re going to come up with a more detailed plan that will keep you focused while writing.

If however, you still feel that coming up with a solid research paper outline (not to mention the final paper) is too challenging for you, feel free to contact our professional writing team. Our writers can handle any research — on any topic and for any educational level. If you don’t have the time to write the paper yourself, we’ll take it off your hands. Our team has completed thousands of 100% original, meaningful research papers for students in need.

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