How to write a college research paper outline

How to write a college research paper outline

Are you having a hard time composing a research paper outline? This article will guide you through the steps involved in writing a good design. When you create a research paper outline, you will significantly simplify your entire writing process.

A good college research paper outline helps you organize your thoughts regardless of the complexity and length of your research paper. It can be challenging at first, but it pays off after mastering the art of research paper writing. Before diving into format and examples, we must explore about research paper. 

What is a research paper? 

A research paper is an elaborated piece of academic writing that explains the information you have gathered on your topic of study. When writing a research paper, you include data from credible sources such as journals, books, internet sites, articles, and interviews. 

Research papers aim to assess your writing skills and your ability to analyze, evaluate and interpret information on a given topic. You present your ideas and engage various sources to make an original contribution to the debate.  

What is a research paper outline?

A research paper outline is a visual aid that provides a structure with well-organized information you require to use in the paper. It is a point-by-point plan that makes your writing process easier without omitting any relevant data. A college research paper outline helps you to visualize your paper elements and how they fit together. 

A quality outline makes your writing process more efficient as it helps you to:

  • Comprehend the flow of information 
  • Organize your opinions 
  • Show how your ideas are related
  • Ensure you leave out nothing. 
  • Give your tutor an insight into the final product

How to write a college research paper outline

When it comes to composing your research paper outline, you should consider the following tips. They will keep you on track and enable you to write your paper with no disappointments; 

  • Decide on the topic of your paper
  • Ensure that you jot down all the ideas to be included in your paper
  • Unify related thoughts into sub-groups 
  • Organize your ideas into a pyramid – what is most significant? What should come first? What opinion will end your paper effectively?
  • Your outline should be in full-sentence, alphanumerical or decimal format 

Consider the following elements when writing your college research paper outline.

How to choose a suitable topic

Selecting a catchy topic is essential for the success of your research paper. Whether you choose your subject or given by your instructor, it should manifest your strengths rather than weaknesses. A suitable research paper topic will be interesting to you and provoking to readers. 

The following are some criteria to help establish topics to choose:

  • Select a topic that is fitting to the length of your research paper
  • Choose a theme that interests you and is passionate about
  • Avoid issues that will make you summarize your essay rather than discussing and analyzing it.
  • Pick a topic that has enough material to help you develop your essay.
  • Select a theme that meets your assignment requirements.

The topic development process will enable you to create your thesis, which is a projected answer to your research question. You will then need sources to support your idea. 

Finding credible sources

A research paper requires credible sources to ensure that the information you are using is authentic. Your first pick might be the internet. But not all information on the internet is reliable as some articles do not have credibility. 

You should be skeptical and examine the author’s and source’s credentials and affiliations. Avoid sources that allow the public to edit information, such as Wikipedia. Scholarly databases should be your best friend.

Other sources include the library, newspapers, and magazines. These sources also provide you with current affairs. Ensure to check that the publisher is reputable. 

Deciding on the format to use

Every instructor will require you to follow a specific format when writing your research paper. Always pay attention to your assignment requirements to establish the structure to apply. For instance, the APA outline template for a college research paper differs from components in MLA format. 

Your paper format will determine the component sets of your work. Other than the paper structure, your style will dictate your reference method.

Finding research paper outline examples and templates

College research paper outline

Getting samples to follow can be of great help. There are various free college research paper outline examples online that you can peruse. 

You will get dozens of published quality outline formats that you can use to benefit by using search engines. Your college instructor might post some templates for your reference whenever you are working on your research paper. 

You also find helpful samples in our blog section. Our writers created a whole list of valuable outlines for your college research paper help

The research paper outlines components.

To organize information effectively, you must understand your college research paper outline format and stick to the writing style. Even if the research paper component can vary across the fields, the following are the standard components.

1. Cover page

The cover page comprises the title, author’s name, and affiliation. Your title should be exciting and engaging; otherwise, your reader will lose interest.

A title draws the attention of the readers. A good title is specific and indicates the ideas it addresses. Using keywords can help explain your theme to the reader.

2. Abstract

An abstract is a broad overview of your research. It brings out the essence of the study and the main subject of the paper. It summarizes your research paper in 100 to 300 words depending on the length of your work. 

Always keep the sentences short and complete. In addition, avoid using acronyms and citations.

3. Introduction 

Your introduction should aim to attract the attention of the reader. It explains the focus of your research. As such, it helps you introduce your topic overview, critical points of information, and why the subject is significant. 

Your research paper intro describes the background information about your topic of study and brings in the current understanding. It also contains a thesis statement towards the end, providing the entire paper’s structure, purpose, and focus.

4. Thesis statement

Your thesis statement is something of interest, or argued for or against, or to be proven. It is the main idea that supports a fact or an argument. It, therefore, asserts the position your paper will take and points towards the development of the research.

You place your thesis at the end of your first paragraph, which is the introduction. The rest of the paper’s purpose is to support your thesis statement.

5. Limitation of study

Soonest possible, you should indicate what you intend to do and that which you are not going to challenge. You can limit the scope of your research paper by various factors. For instance, age, gender, time, nationality, personnel, geographical location, and many more. 

6. Methodology 

Methods can vary depending on the topic of your research paper. The aim is to describe how you conducted your research. Did you use quantitative or qualitative research methods?

State whether you administered a questionnaire or conducted interviews. You should also indicate the methods of data collection. It would be better to mention all the equipment, technologies, and approaches used. 

7. Literature review

Common college research paper examples

The research process involves uncovering what others have shared about your topic. It is a review of what is in the know about the study issue and how they acquired the knowledge. 

You should provide a general and specific context of the current information. You then can build on other scholar’s research and offer more insight. You will want to:

  • Clarify how literature review aids the researcher understand the subject
  • Show connections and disparities between literature
  • Detect new avenues to interpret the available information 
  • Reveals any existing gaps in the literature. 

8. Results 

In this portion, you discuss your findings. If your research has generated many results, you should consider using tables and graphs to represent the analyzed data. The raw data you should leave in the appendix for other researchers to check your calculations.

There should be a flow of information to link your results together. Try not to include your opinion and interpretation of your findings in the results section. You should save it for the discussion stage. 

9. Discussion 

There is a thin line between results and discussion sections on a research paper. Always remember that results focus on facts and figures. On the other hand, the discussion gives you room to demonstrate and explain your findings, adding your interpretation. 

At the discussion stage, you can converse about the errors and mistakes made in your research process. It would help if you linked your discussion to the introduction addressing every point individually. 

The purpose of the discussion is to:

  • Establish critical thinking rather than reporting back facts you have gathered 
  • Entirely explain your primary ideas with backup information 
  • Describe how the topic has advanced over the year and offer a future projection 
  • Demonstrate why your thesis is accurate, providing arguments to counterpoints. 

10. Conclusion

The conclusion stage is to create your discussion by relating your results and other research to the current situation. As a summary of your ideas, a conclusion restates the thesis to accomplish your stated goals. 

An informative and stimulating conclusion will make readers satisfied and well-informed. Your determination will win praise when it makes sense independently from the entire paper. 

11. Appendices

An academic research paper can encompass one or more appendices. Some research papers, however, do not require you to include an appendix. It will be better to check your assignment requirements. 

An appendix contains materials that otherwise do not fit in the main body of the research paper. The purpose of the appendix is to enlarge the reader’s understanding by providing tables, charts, lengthy statistics, glossaries, questionnaires, and other supplementary material. 

12. Reference list

No academic work can be complete without a list of references. You should document all the sources you use depending on APA, MLA, or other specified formats. Provide your cited works on the final page of the research paper. 

All these components are the main elements of a good research paper outline template. We realize that the list might not be fully exhaustive, but these elements will help you compose an outline. 

Research paper outline template

College research paper outline can comprise of single phrases or highly detailed. Your tutor may offer guidance as to the type of outline to use. If not, select a design that will work for you best. 

For example, the topic outline uses a single word or short phrase to present the overall subject explored in every section. Its format is simple, having one entry for each point that often represents a paragraph. Every issue contains sub-topics that offer more information to support the primary topic.

A good outline does not have to detail but offers the required ideas to talk about in the paper. Ensure that the design you select will help you flow ideas and organize them in the best way possible.


What is an outline format?

An outline format is a structure used to organize written ideas concerning a topic into hierarchical order. It arranges the main issue, subtopics, and supporting details. In most cases, writers use outline formats to understand which theme to cover in what order. 

What is a detailed outline for a research paper?

A detailed outline for a research paper is a rough draft that summarizes the main ideas of your work and arranges them according to their significance. A complex procedure gives elaborated information of the plan rather than point forms.

What is the layout of a research paper?

The basic structure of a research paper layout is the sequence of introduction, methodology, results, and discussion. A comprehensive format should include preliminary pages, the main body, and the end matter. 

What are the three types of outlines?

Outlines for research papers are categorized depending on how you represent the information. It includes how you organize and how much you indicate in the structure. The main techniques include;

Alphanumeric outlines

It is the most common outline type recognized by most writers. The formatting follows an order of Roman numerals, capitalized letters, Arabic numerals, and lowercase letters. 

The subheadings are indented and noted with capital letters, while you indicate the third-level subtopics with Arabic numbers. But not all topics or subtopics are divided into further classifications. 

Decimal outline

Similar to alphanumerical, you use only decimals to note each topic and sub-topic. You will point out the main issue by a whole number and its subheadings by decimals building from the main heading. For instance, if the main subject is indicated as 1, you will indicate its first subtopic as 1.1. 

The main advantage of the decimal outline is that you can identify the sections back to the main subject. This outline can use short phrases or complete sentences.  

Sentence outline

It uses complete sentences to describe each topic, offering a tremendous amount of information. The structure is similar to the topic outline, but sentences express the theme and sub-topics. It is convenient for group paperwork as it allows each member to understand each topic in detail. 

What are the five parts of a research paper?

 The five primary parts of a research paper include;

  • Introduction 
  • Literature review 
  • Methodology 
  • Results 
  • Discussion 

In summary 

Although composing a college research paper outline is not a walk in the park, it is doable. The main aim of a research paper is to demonstrate your knowledge of various topics. It also shows your ability to work without supervision.

Composing a good outline is critical for the success of your research paper. Be sure to jot down points as you conduct your research to gather as much information as possible. If you are challenged writing a research paper, seek research paper writing help.

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