Things Needed

  • ['Pen and pencil', 'Paper', 'Highlighter', 'References', 'Word processing software']
Writing a research paper outline is the basis for effective prose.

Research outlines are the basis for producing coherent papers with main ideas, details and sources relevant to the writing process. Effective essay writing starts with outlining the information with one focus, shaping the argument and connecting each paragraph with transitional devices to keep the reader engaged. Research outlines makes the research process more effective by addressing main ideas in the beginning of each section to guide your writing. Maximizing your research outline’s purpose can help you write a detailed paper.

Gather Research Information

Review the syllabus, grading rubric and citation requirements for the research paper. Ask questions if you have a problem with identifying the key points of interest your instructor expects in your outline.

Create a list of topics you want to research, then expand each into a mind map featuring details of data, statistics or other important information you know or willing to verify. Spend 20 to 45 minutes completing as many lists as possible in order to have an extended list of opportunities.

Establish a thesis related to your essay or research topic. The research outline should correspond with the citation requirements for the essay. You can use Roman numerals for MLA or numbers for APA.

State the full topic in one sentence explaining the purpose, audience and event you are inquiring in your research. Use this information to complete online research for sources and offline books. Find resources less than 5 years old for relevance and accuracy in modern understandings of your topic.

Create the Outline

Gather note cards with resource information to include references to dates, time, location and authors where appropriate. Manage your information on note cards, then transfer the information to the research paper outline template.

Add footnotes, or corner notes, to the outline if you find problems or factual errors. Review the contents by fact checking it prior to writing the final research paper outline. Evaluate your references prior to adding the information to your outline to ease the research writing process and finishing the outline with confidence.

Write a rough draft of the outline using the appropriate citation method stated in your grading rubric. Set the research outline to the side for two days prior to finalizing the data. Complete a thorough check for spelling, grammar and punctuation, side notes and additional references before submitting your work.

Type the research paper outline with word processing software. Run another spell check, proofread all of the outline's information. Print to submit to your instructor.


  • Write concise ideas to eliminate wordiness. Make sure your outline follows the appropriate citation format. Run an extensive spell check, proofread the outline three times before submission. Monitor the tone and direction of the outline to make sure the ideas flow naturally.


  • Do not submit the first draft of your research paper outline. Do not overwrite the outline with excessive bullets.