Easy Guide on How to Write a Research Paper Outline

If you have written a research paper before, then you will understand the significance of a research paper outline. Still, if you are almost writing your research paper, you need to be equipped with adequate knowledge of the processes involved in crafting such a paper successfully, where crafting an outline is an essential step.

While writing the research outline may seem a daunting and time-consuming task, it is a step that saves more time, especially when you need to focus on stressing significant points related to the topic. So, what does it take to bring out a compelling outline for the research paper? Keep reading for a better understanding.

Formal research paper outline: what is a research paper outline?

Simply, this outline is a simplified document with lists of topics and sub-topics highlighted in a systematic order in paragraphs. The writer then follows this structure when writing any research paper to ensure they don’t miss any significant aspects of the paper. Besides, such an outline helps the writer keep track of the work progress and keep the work organized.

Before crafting the outline, the writer must have a finalized research topic, a thesis statement for the paper, and research materials and sources. These elements help the writer make a simplified draft, leaving room for any changes that may arise.

When outlining the sections in paragraphs, ensure each paragraph has a topic and a concept that adds value to the whole paper. Again, for every significant point, include the supporting evidence or reference sources for easy tracking when drafting the final paper. While the outline formatting is the same, the length varies based on the paper’s requirements and your writing style.

Types of outlines for writing

Based on your style and preferences, you can choose any of the following styles when writing your outline.

  • Alphanumeric research paper outline

This is the most common outline format many writers always use. You simply write the Roman numerals and subtopics. These topics have specific details for individual points. Here, you don’t need to write more information, but just a few words that will guide you.

  • Full-sentence research paper outline

This style, too, has the same approach as in the case of an alphanumeric outline where the main topics are highlighted in Roman numerals, then subtopics in capital letters, and other subtopic details in Arabic numerals, with each detail presented in lowercase letters. The only difference is that here, you write all the information in full sentences, unlike in alphanumerical, where you simply highlight part of the information. Therefore, the full-sentence style means spending more time writing the outline.

  • Decimal research paper outline

This is a completely different style of writing the outline, where no numbers are used but only decimal points. Therefore, the main topic is presented as a whole number, then sub-topics in one decimal, then more sub-topics in two decimals in that order.

While this style is more detailed, you can get confused along the way if you aren’t keen. Therefore, you can opt for this style when you anticipate handling a lengthy and more technical research paper.

Structure of a research paper outline: how to do a research paper outline

While reviewing an example of research outline will give you a clear picture of how you need to present your outline, below is a simplified description of what you need to do when writing your research paper outline.

  1. Generate your thesis sources

Before you start writing the outline, you need the thesis and sources where you will get the information. The thesis is a crucial aspect of your paper as it will determine the direction of your paper.

  1. Highlight topics, subtopics, and the points you intend to cover

In your research sources, highlight the topics and sub-topics, giving each supporting evidence. The information should relate to the topic and thesis.

  1. Determine the research paper style to use

Based on the nature of your topic and your own preferences, you can consider any of the styles described above; either alphanumeric, full-sentence, or decimal outline.

  1. Note the structure and order of the topics

Before you write the outline, try and evaluate and figure out how you need your ideas and concepts to flow in the whole paper. For instance, some topics are stronger than others, and some points only make sense in a certain flow.

  1. Start with a framework

Next, start highlighting the main topics before including sub-topics as you brainstorm along the way.

  1. Include more details

After creating the framework, you can now start including essential details that will support your main topics.

  1. Revise the structure

Finally, check your outline to determine if there is any missing information.


Whenever handling a research paper, make sure you create an outline first. If you have been struggling with such outlines, make this write-up your reference point always.