How to Write a Research Paper Outline According to the Rules

how to write outline

Writing a research paper outline is a separate branch of writing skills, and requires the author not only to penetrate deep into the scientific problem, but also the ability to quickly search and analyze information, to critically generalize the material from different sources, taking into account their importance and novelty, and also to present complex and voluminous topics via relatively simple language. Writing an outline is an art that requires not only a certain amount of knowledge in your chosen field, but also good writing skills. No one will read a weak or poorly-written outline. Here are some rules on how to write outline of good quality.

Whatever branch of science you study, sooner or later you will have to face writing an outline of a research paper. The need for this work is explained by the constantly growing number of new scientific developments and studies as well as the assignment to write a research paper. An outline is necessary for professors to read through because it won’t take much time and they can clearly see what should be changed in your research paper. That’s why it is important to understand how to write a research paper outline.

You should “compile” the latest scientific achievements in your field of study in the form of an outline. And, despite the fact that recognition is usually brought by research papers, outlines are necessary for writing your paper, and therefore you must treat the writing of outlines very seriously. In addition to knowledge and diligence, writing an outline requires considerable experience. But how to write outline if you don’t have experience? The first two qualities are entirely on your conscience, and to gain experience you will need practice.

Rule number 1: Clearly define the topic of the outline and its audience

How to write a research paper outline on a good topic? After all, in any area there is an unthinkable number of interesting problems that can be dealt with. Here are some tips for choosing a topic:

  • The topic should be interesting to you personally. Ideally, you should immediately remember several topics which would be appropriate to write on.
  • The topic should be relevant, and most of all, it should be fresh. This will certainly provide you with more material, and your outline will receive the attention of a wide range of readers.
  • The outline should consider clearly identified problems. There is no point in sorting out this or that area “in general” – you don’t have enough space or strength to do this.
  • Identify your target audience. Specialists of what area will read the research paper? Will the topic be interesting not only for students of your specialty, but also for others? Knowing the level of your reader, it will be easy for you to determine the level of details of consideration of a particular question.

Rule number 2: Literature search

You can use the previous publication as the basis to which you can add new data. Here are some tips for finding information:

  • Do not be limited to one search engine of scientific literature: this will allow you to not miss any truly worthwhile publication for an outline.
  • Keep all the articles in one folder. Organizer programs (Endnote, Mendeley) will help you to find the right source quickly. Always duplicate information on several independent media.
  • Define in advance criteria for suitable articles. These criteria should allow you to quickly select only that which can potentially be used for an outline.
  • Look through not only all the experimental articles on this topic, but also previous research papers – this will allow you not to waste time describing what has already been described, and will also provide new ideas. It is desirable to refer to such research papers, focusing on the new data that has appeared.
  • Pay attention to who quoted the latest research papers and where. Look at how their new data supplement or refuting research papers were published earlier.

Rule number 3: Marginal notes

If you just started to write an outline and selected articles are read by you for the first time, it is absolutely necessary to remember new information, impressions from what you have read, and new thoughts and associations. It is desirable to immediately write all this down – it will be easier to link new thoughts with the available results, your personal ideas, etc.

You can write directly on the margin or paste sticky notes (if you use printouts of articles), or make notes directly on your computer: almost all modern program catalogers of the electronic library allow you to leave notes. Write out the quotes which you plan to refer to in the research paper. When writing a draft, try to rephrase these quotes in your own words.

It is very important to be careful and write out the references already at this stage, in order to avoid the subsequent throwing in an attempt to remember who owned the data. Thus, while you read the selected literature, a draft of the outline will appear. Of course, this draft will have to be rewritten many times, restructured and rephrased in order to get a complete text with intelligible logic and polished arguments. Do not be scared by this. Just start taking notes – even if you do not have any system, as you progress, the outline will gradually be drawn, and the further you write, the clearer and clearer it will be.

Rule number 4: Determine the type of outline

If while reading the literature you have always made notes, then at the end of this process you will already represent the approximate scope of the future outline. This is probably the most appropriate time to decide where to go in your writing. An outline does not mean inferiority – rather, on the contrary, it is a laconic and capacious work, a concentrate of modern ideas, attracting the attention of busy readers with its small volume.

If you want to learn more about research paper outline format, check out our blog, for example, What Is Research Paper Writing and How to Do It Effectively. Our articles will help you to write a competent outline and a great research paper as well.