Research Paper Outline: Best Strategy for Academic Success

research-paper-outlineA high quality research paper is impossible without prior outlining. First make a plan, write an outline, and then start your paper. Sorry, no exceptions for beginners or experienced researchers. However, if you have already completed your paper, you do not need to be disappointed. Next time, you can avoid this mistake, and now you still need to include a perfectly formatted outline in it. Do not put at risk your A+ projects, check this quick guide to writing effective research paper outlines, whenever you want to.

Research paper outline: the basics

An outline is a plan for your research and writing process. You can use it to ensure that you don’t overlook any parts of your papers. For instance, some students fail to include implications or limitations in their papers. Your detailed outline will prevent you from making this mistake. Basically, there are three main parts of your research paper: introduction, main body and conclusion. However, a good outline for a research paper will give much more details. See the following sections to learn how to make an outline for a research paper and what to include in each of its parts.

Research paper outline: introduction

  • Rationale for the choice of this topic;
  • significance of the study;
  • the objectives of research;
  • your main hypothesis.

Research paper outline: main body

  1. methodology (what methods and procedures you have chosen and why; if you are going to do an experiment, state who are the participants of your study, how many of them and why);
  2. literature review;
  3. findings and discussion (analyze evidence from your sources or experiment; interpret your findings);
  4. limitations of your study (as a college student, you are expected to acknowledge certain weaknesses of your study, just state them and mention what you have done to minimize them);
  5. implications (discuss how your findings can be used in practice and/or what are the opportunities for future research).

Research paper outline: conclusion

  • a brief summary of the answers to your research questions;
  • approval or disapproval of the hypothesis from the introduction part.

Research paper outline: main dos and don’ts

  1. Do consult specific requirements for the required citation style.
  2. DO use consistent grammatical constructions at all levels of the outline (if you use a noun phrase in the first section, you should use noun-phrases throughout).
  3. DO NOT use single subtopics (if there is an A, there should be a B; if there is 1, there should be 2).
  4. DO NOT use too much or too little detail.
  5. DO NOT use fewer than three sections in the entire outline.


Research paper outline: APA format

This is an example of a research paper outline in APA format. Please note that outlines for other formats can be slightly different.

  • Significance of the study of man-made pollution
  • Man-made pollution as the main cause of global warming


  • Secondary research as methodology
  • Literature review
  • Main sources of pollution and their effects on global warming
  • Only modern studies as a limitation of the study
  • The need to improve population awareness on hazards of pollution


  • Risks of global warming resulting from man-made pollution
  • A call for action

As you see, there is nothing difficult in writing outlines for research papers. If you use this quick guide and make some efforts, your research paper outlines will ensure the success of your papers.