The most daunting part of writing a research paper is staring at a blank page and wondering where to start. A research paper outline helps you structure all the contents of your paper so you can get started, remain organized, and not leave anything out. Typically, writers create an outline before they write their first draft and after they come up with a thesis and find a research source. This article reviews how to use and format a Research Paper Outline Template to help you write a comprehensive research paper.
A research paper outline is a writing tool that highlights all the topics of a research paper in the order in which they will appear in the final document. The topics are divided into paragraphs and accompanied by additional details, such as research sources and subtopics. Essentially, the outline helps the writer organize their paper so that it makes sense and answers the thesis question. It is a more efficient tool for making structural changes than the first draft because it allows you to cut out unnecessary parts before you even write about them and add those that work for your paper.
What Is a Research Paper Outline Template?
A research paper outline template is a precontrived guideline that helps you create an outline for your paper. It is divided into the necessary sections and paragraphs with enough space for you to fill in the contents of your outline. Simply put, it is a document containing the prerequisite outline format that prevents you from writing your outline from scratch.
Are there Different Types of Research Paper Outlines?
Yes. There are several types of research paper outlines, but the following three are the most popular. Your choice of an outline format will depend on the type of paper you are writing, your writing style, the team you are working with, and more. Here is a look at your options:
- Alphanumeric Outline. The alphanumeric outline format is the most popular research paper outline. It uses Roman numerals to list the topics of a paper, capital letters for the subtopics, Arabic numerals for the points in each subtopic, and lowercase letters for subsequent sections. In this format, the information is presented in short phrases, not complete sentences.
- Decimal Outline. The decimal format is the most comprehensive research paper outline and is more common for long papers with technical aspects. It lists items using numbers with increasing decimal points. Usually, the main topics are whole numbers (1, 2, 1.0, 2.0), while the subtopics contain one decimal point (1.1, 2.1). Subsequent sections have more decimal points (1.1.1 2.1.2). Like in the alphanumeric format, the information is written in phrases or blurbs.
- Full-Sentence Outline. As the name suggests, this format presents information in complete sentences instead of short phrases. It provides a clearer way of sharing information and is more common when a group is writing a paper. In every other way, it is similar to the alphanumeric format.
Why Is Research Paper Outline Necessary?
A research paper outline lays out all the aspects of a paper that you need to explore to prove your thesis. It tells you what ideas you need to brainstorm and develop to reach a conclusion. Consequently, an outline helps you organize your thoughts so you can create the proper research protocols and achieve the intended results of your paper. It connects all your ideas to create a flow of information. This then creates a smooth transition from one point to the next, ensuring you do not leave anything out. Moreover, it helps the reader navigate and understand your research.
Essential Elements of a Research Paper Outline Template
The assignment requirements for your research paper will usually determine its content. However, research paper outlines are organized in the IMRAD format, which means they begin with an introduction followed by Methods, Results, and Discussion. These sections should be preceded by a title page and an abstract, which is a summary of the entire paper. The other sections are:
- Introduction: This brief background statement sets up the paper’s hypothesis and the research’s approach and context. It should contain the problem statement.
- Methods: Also called Experiments or Materials and Methods, this section outlines all the research methods used to write the paper.
- Results: The results part of the outline usually contains statistics and tables that summarize the findings of the research.
- Discussion: Here, the writer puts the research into perspective and supports their hypothesis in one or two paragraphs elaborating how their findings fit in the grand scheme of things.
- Acknowledgments: This is where you mention all the people or sources that helped you write your research paper.
Things to Consider When Outlining a Research Paper
What you include in your research paper outline and how you write it will ultimately depend on several factors. The type of paper you are writing can influence which format you choose. For instance, an outline for every paragraph makes sense if you are writing a formal research paper but might be excessive for a college paper. Here are some factors to consider when outlining your paper:
- The Assignment. What is the assignment? How complex is it? How long should it be? Before you start outlining your paper, you should consider what it requires. A simple research paper will do with a simple outline, while a more advanced thesis may require something more complex, such as the decimal outline format.
- Thesis and Sources. Speaking of the thesis, you should always choose one and find evidential sources for it before creating an outline. The thesis of your paper is basically what the paper is about. You should collect enough data to determine what your paper should say.
- The Topics. Next, you should review your research material and create topics, subtopics, and supporting points that relate to your thesis. Make sure every section is directly related to the thesis and is not tangential.
- The Structure and Sequence. Finally, consider how you want the topics to follow each other. You need to find a sequence that allows you to present your argument and the reader to understand it. If a reader is unfamiliar with a topic, what do they need to know before they move on to the next section?
Writing a research paper outline can seem like extra and unnecessary work, but it can save you a lot of time in the long run. The document breaks down all your ideas in their intended order, allowing you to organize your paper properly. But if writing one from scratch seems like a hassle, and it can be, you can always use a Research Paper Outline Template as a guide.