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Writing Tips: How to Write a Research Paper Outline


Students spend lots of time writing different assignments, including research paper outlines. Sometimes, they do not understand why they have to prepare them. However, outlines help students structure their researches and write them in more efficient ways. Therefore, it makes sense to learn how you can write a good research paper outline.

Tip #1: Choose an Outline Type and Structure

There are two main types of research paper outlines: sentence outline and topic outline. The former consists of headings and subpoints that are written as complete sentences. A sentence outline is used when you focus on a single but complex issue. The topic outline is written using short phrases and even single words. It is often useful when your research deals with several different problems that can be arranged in various ways. Sometimes, supervisors insist that students combine both types.

Your research outline should have an alpha-numerical structure; so use series, numbers, and letters to arrange your sections. Keep in mind that there are some capitalization issues, such as standard sentence capitalization rules that sometimes do not apply, so you should ask your supervisor first.

Tip #2: Learn Outline Levels

You can use different levels of the outline.

  • The simplest one is a one-level outline that includes major headings without subheadings labeled with Roman numerals.
  • A two-level outline is commonly used for research papers. It consists of major headings and one level of subheadings that are labeled with capital letters.
  • If your research problem is complex, you can progress to a three-level outline. Each third-level subsection is labeled with standard numbers.

Tip #3: Study the Main Components of Good Outlines

It is better to use parallelism, which means that your headings maintain a structure that is parallel to the other headings within the same level. It also refers to tenses and parts of speech you choose. For example, if you start a heading with a verb, you should start others with a verb as well. Moreover, you should use the same tense, preferably present tense.

Keep an eye on the coordination of information; you should identify the main ideas or research questions and mark them as major headings. Make sure that you employ effective subordination, e.g. information provided in headings is more general than in subheadings where it is more specific.

Tip #4: Organize Your Outline

Before you start writing an outline, you should identify the research question you want to answer. After that, you can determine the main categories you want to cover in order to develop your topic. It is important to consider the most vital category that you will mention first, then less important, and so on. Some research outlines can be organized in chronological order.

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