How to Write a Good Research Paper Outline

by eHow Contributor, Demand Media

In English or writing courses, teachers and professors will often require students to submit a research paper outline before going ahead with the full-length paper or sometimes with the paper itself. This sounds simple, but research paper outlines have specific criteria that need to be followed. However, a good outline will make writing the final paper easier to do.

Step 1

Choose the topic of your research paper. Make sure it is neither too broad to be covered in the length you have been assigned nor so specific that you won't have enough to say. Find a few reliable sources to be sure you can support what you are going to write in the paper. You must have at least a general idea of what you are going to say before you can create an outline.

Step 2

Decide which of the two basic styles of outline you want to use: a topic outline or a sentence outline. A topic outline uses short phrases, while a sentence outline uses complete sentences for each point. Find out if your teacher prefers one over the other and make sure you don't mix the two.

Step 3

Insert a header on every page of your research paper outline. This header should be on the right hand side of your paper and consist of your last name followed by the current page number.

Step 4

Give your outline a title. It should not be boldface, underlined, in a large font or in all caps. The title of your research paper outline should be exactly the same as the title of your research paper -- do not put the word "outline" in the title. Use title style, which means that each word starts with a capital letter except for conjunctions, articles or short prepositions.

Step 5

Create subdivisions in your outline representing the major points of your argument. You want to have at least three or four major points; you may have more, but there should not be dozens. Keep it manageable. Give each of these subdivisions a Roman numeral.

Step 6

As you expand each subdivision, use capital letters for minor topics. If there are subtopics under the minor topics, label them with numbers. The next level of detail should be labeled with lowercase letters. However, each level of detail should have at least two points. Your outline will begin with Roman numeral I and then might have minor topics A, B and C; under A you might have points 1 and 2; and under point 1 you might have a, b, c and d.

Step 7

Capitalize the first letter of the first word in each entry, even if you are writing a topic research paper outline that just has phrases. If you are using complete sentences, be sure to capitalize the first letter of the first word and end the sentence with a period.

Step 8

Start your Roman numerals for the major points flush left for your outline. Indent each level of the outline the same amount, so that the capital letters line up with each other and the numbers line up with each other and so on. Research paper outlines should be organized in a way that makes them easy to follow at first glance.

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