Barbara P
Barbara P

Research Paper Outline: A Step-by-Step Guide & Examples

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Published on: Apr 19, 2023

Last updated on: Jun 19, 2023

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You don’t have any other choice when it comes to writing academic assignments. Whether you’re a college or university student, you have to write tough assignments like a research paper.

Writing a research paper can be very difficult. But do you know you have to write an outline for it first? If not, don't worry!. Writing an outline for a research paper or any other essay writing can be as hard as writing and conducting the research.

This blog is written to deal with your writing needs and helps you to create a perfect research paper outline with samples. So, let’s get this started!

What is a Research Paper Outline?

The research paper outline will help you stay on track and organize your thoughts in an engaging way.

The outline is the key to writing a paper that not only flows well, but also makes sense. It's helpful when you need all of your ideas in order so they can be analyzed or discussed properly without any confusion.

It also serves as a template for your whole paper and works as a guide to remind you of adding every detail in your paper.

Research papers are lengthy and include a lot of information. It can be confusing for a writer to add and arrange everything that makes sense. For this reason, an outline is really important for a writer.

Your research paper loses its charm if it is complicated and the quality of your paper is seriously affected. So, it’s important to create an outline to write a winning and effective research paper.

How to Write a Research Paper Outline?

A research paper outline helps you stay focused, organized, and divide your work in an easy-to-understand manner. For example, if you’re writing a research paper or an essay, split it into different paragraphs, e.g., introduction, body, and conclusion.

The division will minimize the risk of missing important data and information in the content. Also, this breakdown will make the writing process of the research paper less overwhelming for you.

Before forming an outline for your paper, it is very important to take some prior steps that are mandatory. Without taking these steps, you cannot move further to draft an outline.

The following are some mandatory steps and major points you need to consider.

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1. Choose a Topic

If you do not have a topic, what will you write about? Choosing a topic, a good topic is the first step.

To make your research paper interesting and readable for everyone, choose an engaging topic to grab your reader’s attention and to make the writing process easier and amusing for yourself.

To select an interesting topic, you can think of things you are passionate about. If you love a topic, you will do everything to write it well. Choose what interests you and you know will interest your readers as well.

Secondly, after selecting a topic of interest, check if enough information is available. For example, your topic should have enough information on the internet, books, journals, newspapers, or publications to help you conduct your research.

The last thing to be careful about is to think if you can provide a different perspective on the topic. You don’t want to be monotonous and just present obvious things to readers.

2. Find sources

The basic source of information today for every student is the internet. But, unfortunately, half of the information you get online is not correct. You need credible information to make your research strong and authentic for your research paper.

Make sure that your information source is credible if you want your paper to be winning.

3. Outline Format

Every college and university uses a specific structure to write their research papers. For example, some college research paper outline follow APA while others use the MLA format.

Be clear about the research paper outline format your instructor has given and write accordingly.

Elements of Research Paper Outline

Now that you have your topic, source of information, and format, move on to the next step, deciding which components to add to the research paper.

Certain things should be present in your research paper. The following are a few necessary things that should be there in the research paper outline.

Here is a detailed description of each element necessary to write a research paper.

Cover or Title Page

A title page is the first page with the title or topic of the research paper containing 60 characters.

Along with this, a title page has the writer’s name, date, instructor’s name, institution’s name, and a few other details. A neat cover page will add clarity and make your research paper visually appealing.


An abstract of the research paper is written to give your readers a clearer picture of what they will read. It contains a summary of the key points of the research and a description of the thesis statement.

When drafting an abstract of your research paper, make sure not to reveal extra information. Instead, just give a hint to your readers by not giving detailed descriptions.

Briefly explain the main points, some findings, and the results. Then, to make your abstract strong, connect your background information to the main research topic.

Table of Content

A table of content is present in the outline as it organizes all the headings and subheadings, giving your research paper a more professional and clean look. Make sure to write the subheading and sections in roman numerals.

You can write your table of contents in both alphanumeric and decimal formats.

Research Paper Introduction

An introduction to a research paper is similar to the introduction you write for all your academic assignments.

The opening paragraph includes a thesis statement or the problem statement and a description of the key terms. An introduction also contains the main ideas of the research.

If your introduction is strong and engaging, your half work is done. A good introduction will instantly grab the reader’s attention, making them read your whole paper with interest and understanding.

A strong introduction has a catchy opening full-sentence line, which is called a hook. It can be in any form, depending on the research topic. For example, a hook can be a quotation, question, statistics, fact, funny or sarcastic statement, etc.

Following the hook comes the background information of your research topic. But, again, make sure to give just the gist and not the whole story.

The third and the most important part of an introduction is the thesis statement or the main argument you make in your research paper.

Research Paper Body

The body of your research paper summarizes, introduces, and supports all the relevant information. This includes examples that help prove or illustrate what's being said in each point, along with any evidence to back it up.

In this part, you should provide counterarguments and opposing facts to help the reader understand a topic.

Make sure you keep a consistent tone throughout your paper. The style, tone, and citation are all according to what's required in the format.

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Literature Review

This section will identify how the literature you used to support your theory has influenced and helped guide your research. It also identifies gaps in existing data that need filling before we can come up with a more accurate conclusion about this topic!


There is a method to conduct all research. Every research type follows a different method. For example, research related to scientific subjects follows a quantitative method of data collection while subjects related to humanities and social sciences take the qualitative method.

Choose the method for your research according to your field of study. Then, explain the method you chose as well.


This section analyzes the main arguments of the research and its results. Again, do not add every piece of information—just the gist.

There is a basic pattern in which the findings and results are given. The pattern includes:

  • The main idea of your research paper.
  • Its background information
  • Key claims and arguments
  • Supporting evidence
  • Conclusion


This part often confuses students. People assume that finding and discussion are similar things. Whereas, findings are based on facts and analysis of the key ideas while discussion talks about whether the expected results are obtained or not.

Research Paper Conclusion

The conclusion section contains a paragraph or more which states the rephrased thesis statement, goals of the research paper, and the methods used to gather information.

A strong conclusion is shorter than an abstract and connects the last paragraph with the introduction to prove the point made earlier.

When writing an abstract, keep it brief. The conclusion shouldn't be longer than your introduction!

Bibliography and Appendix

This is the reference section presented at the end of the paper. This section includes all the sources you used in your research. Proper citation is done here to provide all the references to avoid plagiarism.

All the tables, charts, and images added in the research paper fall under the appendix section. It depends on the format as well, as in some formats the appendix is not required.

While creating an outline, add these elements and components to make it strong and explicit. Your instructor will surely appreciate these elements.

Research Paper Outline Format

Certain elements must be included when you are writing a research paper. To make the formatting easier, it is important to create an outline before starting work on any given project. It will save you lots of trouble by giving your thoughts a direction before writing anything down.

The choice of research paper format often depends on the preference or institution. For example, some people find APA better, while others prefer MLA-style papers. Both styles have advantages and disadvantages, so it's important to choose the one that works best for your paper!

It is important to create a list of elements for your paper and properly section them into categories. You can even label each part in Roman numerals so that it's easy to understand how everything fits together!

Here is a detailed description of two commonly used outline formats. Also, experts have provided the research paper sample outline of both the APA and MLA formats for your convenience.

MLA Format Outline

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

  1. The student and professor’s names should be included on the first page, along with their class and date.
  2. Every title must be written in italics.
  3. The page numbers are located in the upper right corner of the header.
  4. A comprehensive list with endnotes before cited works.
  5. Subheadings are written in lowercase letters and Arabic numerals.

Look at the MLA research paper outline template provided below for complete understanding.

APA Format Outline

The APA research paper outline template below can be used as a guide while writing a research paper. Here is the list of main features of APA format:

  • Include a separate cover/title page.
  • The title, author's name, university, and running head are featured on the cover page.
  • The header includes page numbers and the research paper's title.
  • An abstract is usually required in APA format.
  • A list of cited sources entitled "References."

Take a look at the APA research paper outline PDF template below to become familiar with this format.

Following an example is a great way to learn how to format research papers. You can further go through the outline examples in APA and MLA format by reviewing our research paper samples.

Standard Research Paper Outline Format

The following standard research paper outline format will help you create a successful and more detailed work.


  • Write an interesting hook statement.
  • Define the target audience.
  • Include a strong thesis statement.

Body Paragraphs

  • State arguments to support your thesis statement.


  • Add a summary of your arguments.
  • Include a call to action.

Below is a template for a standard research paper outline.

Research Paper Outline Examples

Check out the following sample outline for a research paper to get a complete idea.

College Research Paper Outline

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Research Paper Outline Sample

Writing a detailed outline is essential for your research paper. Therefore, always give time to the outline part to write a quality outline and paper.

If you are unsure how to start writing your paper or format and style, always ask for your instructor’s help. In addition, there are now online services like that can provide expert guidance for research papers and college essays, and your help do my essay.

To get your essay and paper at a low price, place your order at WriteMyEssay and receive high-quality work.

Barbara P


Barbara P, Literature, Marketing

Barbara's qualifications include a Ph.D. in public health from an Ivy League university and extensive experience working practically in the medical field. With her research experience on various health issues, she is skilled in writing papers that offer new perspectives on healthcare topics. Many of her works have been published across multiple renowned publications.

Barbara's qualifications include a Ph.D. in public health from an Ivy League university and extensive experience working practically in the medical field. With her research experience on various health issues, she is skilled in writing papers that offer new perspectives on healthcare topics. Many of her works have been published across multiple renowned publications.

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