Research Paper Outline

A research paper is a piece of academic writing that requires to conduct an original study of a certain subject, collect data, analyze the gathered information, interpret it, and present in the form of a coherent text. Such an approach to writing is the basis of many other papers too, for instance, a dissertation, term paper, or Master's thesis. The only difference is the length. In this short guide, you will, thus, find out how to compose any of these papers. We will discuss steps that one has to take to select a topic, compile a research paper outline, and finally write the perfect text. However, you should be ready that mere knowledge of the discipline and peculiarities of academic writing is not enough for writing a research paper. You should also have a positive attitude and determination to cope with the task well. So, ensure you have them, and let us hit the road to an excellent paper!

Research Paper Topics

Among a variety of topics available for your research paper, select the one that sounds interesting but not the one that you know inside out. Use the chance to learn something new. These criteria are, in fact, crucial since the attitude to the subject will largely influence the way you complete the task, the amount of effort that you will make and enthusiasm you will have. In addition, the topic should be narrow. So, if you select to write about films, be sure to make the topic more specific: "Films" - "American Films" - "Romantic American Films" - "Classic Romantic American Films" - "Casablanca as the Best Sample of Classic Romantic American Films." If having made any choice regarding the topic, you have doubts about its suitability to the requirements and appropriateness for the research paper, consult your professor and ask for a piece of advice. He/she will not refuse!

If you have troubles coming up with any kind of topic, profit from the suggestions below:

  • How can cyberbullying be prevented and controlled?
  • How can legal punishment for sexual misconduct be improved and updated?
  • The pros and cons of developing artificial intelligence.
  • What is the extent of ocean pollution with plastic and how can it be mitigated?
  • Causes, effects, and ways to prevent air pollution.
  • Management strategies for effective work of small and big teams.
  • Productivity and performance: Multitasking vs. sequential processing compared.
  • The influence of the new US tax law on small businesses.
  • Where does the line that separated art and fashion lie? Art and photography? Street art and vandalism?
  • What inventions, which are currently being developed, are capable of changing the traditional lifestyle?

Collecting Data

Well, it is a research paper, so you cannot just express own opinion and hope for the instructor to give you a high grade. You should research the topic and find high-quality literature to use and cite in the paper. In fact, solid evidence from sources is the key to how to write a research paper successfully. Be sure that googling each question asked and rewriting the information from the first webpage that you come across is wrong. Not only it is too superficial, but also the data on the Internet is not always correct. Every single source that you consider as viable should be checked for credibility. To do it, use the following checklist concerning an author, publisher, and the date of the publication:

  • Who authored the source?
  • Are they qualified enough to write about this topic?
  • Is their background relevant?
  • Does the author reference others in this work? Are those sources reliable and reputable?
  • Does the website with an article look professional?
  • Is the organization behind the website/sponsor of a publication reputable?
  • Does the website seem legitimate to discuss the topic under consideration?
  • How old is the source? Is it outdated?
  • Was the information ever updated to ensure its accuracy?

If all the answers to these questions are satisfying, you may use the source. Otherwise, steer clear of the source not to render all your efforts useless. Moreover, rely on sources heavily. Unsupported paper will not bring you a high grade.

Structuring the Paper

To create a research paper, you do not have to reinvent the wheel. You should just follow the traditional method and keep the structure of a simple essay in mind. Similarly to it, a research paper should have an introduction, body, and conclusion, which all serve to reach one aim - to provide a unique perspective on a topic. As you can see, it is not too complicated, but you should find out numerous particularities about each of the sections in order to write them indeed well. So, let us not delay!

  • Introductory part. Many professors attach a lot of significance to this section since here, you are supposed to grab their attention or, in other words, create a hook. Besides, an introduction is the place for a number of important elements of research papers, namely a thesis statement, topic background, objectives of the paper, context in which the topic is to be discussed, definition of major terms, hypotheses and research questions, if applicable, etc.
  • Body. This is, of course, the most voluminous part of a research paper that should definitely be divided into smaller parts to simplify the reading experience for the audience. In a classical structure of a research paper, it should open with a literature review. It is a fraction of the body that is devoted to the critical evaluation of sources and review of the expert opinions regarding the topic under consideration. Here, you as a student must demonstrate your awareness of the topic, extent to which it is studied, and the way the key terms should be applied. Literature review then should be followed with the methodology where students explain how the data for the research paper was collected, what tools were used, what type of an investigation was undertaken etc. Next, there should be the presentation of the data gathered preferably in a visualized manner, i.e., tables, graphs, and figures. This data should be later interpreted and analyzed by the student in order to distinguish the most valuable findings and draw conclusions. In addition, it might be useful to tell what went great and what did not during the research, i.e., discuss the limitations of the study.
  • Concluding part. If you check any research paper example, you will notice that a conclusion never introduces new information but rather effectively summarizes the major ideas of the text. It reminds a reader of the thesis statement and tells whether the hypotheses were validated, if applicable. The prospects for further research are addressed too.

With this information in mind, you may imagine that the basic structure of the research paper will have the following arrangement of sections:

  • A title page with information about the student, course, professor, institution, and the research paper itself, of course.
  • Abstract that is a short but comprehensive overview of the entire paper. It presents the topic, methods used, main findings, and conclusions but is limited to the maximum of 250 words.
  • Introduction with a thesis statement and other elements mentioned above.
  • Body with:
    • Literature review
    • Methodology
    • Results
    • Discussion
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • Appendices if any.

Creating an Outline

There are two commonly accepted types of outlines. The first one is informal the main aim of which is to assist a student with arranging own ideas and organizing the writing process. It does not have a stiff structure or format to follow and may be composed in any convenient way. It facilitates the brevity and clarity of writing to a great extent. The second type of outlines is formal. This one is submitted to a professor and should not be modified much while writing if at all. There is also a specific format that should be adhered to. In other words, you will have to use capital letters, Roman and Arabic numerals to mark sections and subsections. The ideas of the same level will have to be placed directly one under another.

What unites both informal and formal outlines is that all elements included in them should be targeted at supporting and developing the main idea. If some paragraph seems to deviate from this objective, it should not be in an outline at all. The major advantage of outlines is that they allow to think the topic through and eliminate ideas that are not suitable, viable or just too weak in disclosing the claim. Furthermore, it enables a student to ensure that all supporting claims are equally well developed and backed up with solid evidence. An outline is a guarantee that the topic will be fully covered and the structure will be logical.

Still, remember that just like a research paper itself, the research paper should have an introduction, body, and conclusion. The introduction should obligatorily contain a working thesis statement and key points that are necessary to get the ball rolling with the discussion of the subject in question. The body should be divided into smaller sections, but the structure of each subsection should be the same, namely: a topic sentence with a claim, supporting evidence, comment on the evidence, example and comment on it, if applicable, and a concluding sentence with a transition to the next idea. Finally, there should be a list of ideas for ending the paper in the conclusion. You should include a paraphrased thesis statement too. Now, your outline is ready!