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A step-by-step guide to writing a research paper outline

A research outline guides the flow of the research paper, it is meant to ensure that the ideas, concepts and points are coherent and that the study and research has a well-defined point of focus. The outline sets guidelines for each section of the research paper, what it will address, explore and highlight. Working on a research paper outline is considered an important preliminary activity that improves the structure of the research paper, this is critical for categorising collected data. Think of it as a brainstorm session for your research paper that also implements effective time management.

Understanding research paper outline

A research paper ideally consists of 5 sections; abstract, introduction, body, conclusion and references. Each of these sections contributes to collating key information on the research design, in this section of the blog we dive into the purpose or each section.

AbstractThe abstract sits on the first page of the research paper. It’s main purpose is to provide a brief overview of the paper by highlighting key findings, describing methodology, and summarising conclusive points.
IntroductionThe introduction is crucial as it presents the research question, states the objectives or hypotheses, and outlines the scope and structure of the paper. 
BodyThe body of the research paper is where the content is discussed and highlighted. It can present detailed analysis, support arguments with evidence, address counterarguments and limitations, draw conclusions. 
ConclusionThe conclusion is a closing statement, it summarises the key findings, restates the aims and research question, reflects on the research process, discusses implications and contributions. 
ReferencesThe reference list is a crucial part of the paper, it ensures plagiarism is avoided, builds credibility, facilitates further reading to support claims and arguments. 

Step-by-step guide to conducting research outline

  1. Select a Topic:
    1. Choose a topic that aligns with your research requirements.
  2. Conduct Preliminary Research:
    1. Gather background information on your topic by reading through key scholarly articles, books, and credible online sources.
    2. Take notes on key ideas, findings, and arguments from reviewing the literature.
  3. Identify the Research Question or Thesis Statement:
    1. Formulate a focused research question or thesis statement that defines the purpose of your study.
  4. Create the Title:
    1. Write an informative title that accurately reflects the main topic and focus of your research paper.
  5. Write the Abstract:
    1. Summarize the objectives, methods, results, and conclusions of your research in a brief abstract.
  6. Develop the Introduction:
    1. Include background information to contextualize the research.
    2. Present the research question or thesis statement.
    3. Outline the scope and objectives of the study.
    4. Take the reader through the structure of the paper by mapping it out.
  7. Outline the Body:
    1. Organise and structure the main points and subpoints of your research.
    2. Ensure the content flows cohesively.
    3. Include supporting evidence, examples, data, or arguments.
  8. Craft the Conclusion:
    1. Summarise the key findings and insights.
    2. Highlight the thesis statement or research question.
    3. Discuss the implications of your findings and suggest methods for future research.
    4. End the conclusion by highlighting the significance of the study.
  9. Compile the References:
    1. Create a list of references following the appropriate citation style (e.g., Harvard, APA, MLA, Chicago).
    2. Ensure that all sources are accurately cited and formatted.
  10. Review and Revise:
    1. Review your research outline for coherence and clarity.
    2. Edit the outline as needed to improve organization, flow, and accuracy of information.
    3. Ensure the reference list follows the requirements of the correct format

Research outline formats

  1. Traditional outline – Where thesis statement is provided at the end of the introduction, body paragraphs support thesis with research and a conclusion is included to emphasise key concepts of research paper.
  2. Alphanumeric outline – Outline format uses letters and numbers in this order: A, I, II, III
  3. Decimal outline – This format requires each main point to be labeled with a whole number, and each sub-point 

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