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Some tips on how to write a research paper outline

Writing a research paper outline is almost as important as writing the paper itself. In your outline, you will determine every aspect of the study, and, in short, the final document will be the structure that you build your paper around. Given how important this is, you should take time to prepare several possible outlines, and then be in a position to select the best one. But, what is the best one? To write a great outline, here are the essentials.

Topic and Scope

The first thing that your outline should do, for you and for the reader, is to define precisely the scope of your study: tell the reader what you will research, and what you will be looking to discover. Try to be specific here, because a vague research or thesis statement will lead to vague research.

Research Methods and Tools

After this, you need to think about your approach, how you will get at your research topic. Explore the terms that you will use, and also discuss the methods and tools that you will apply. For example, you might apply quantitative tools, qualitative self-reporting, questionnaires etc. discuss the merits of each.

Literature Review

Define the scope of your literature review, as this review will form the basis of your engagement with the existing field. A comprehensive and well-targeted literature review can make your research outline much stronger.


Then, outline what you will have by way of example and argument. Do this over several paragraphs in the body of your paper, and in your outline you should plan for at least three arguments in support of your claim or thesis.


Plan for a section that will make recommendations based on the research. Planning for this allows you to demonstrate that you can see the wider implications of your research.


Of course, your outline must contain space for your conclusions. After all, this is where your research leads!

So: Introduction of scope and thesis, followed by a discussion of tools and methods, followed by a literature review, then the body paragraphs, recommendations, and finally a concluding discussion. Easy! Once this outline is in place, the paper itself should be simple.

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