How to Format an Outline of a Research Paper


The format of your research paper outline will depend on the required format of the paper itself or your personal preference. This depends on whether you will need to hand in the outline to your teacher. If this is the case, you will need to ask him or her about the requirements that this document should meet, as there are no strictly set standards for outlines.

There are two main types of outlines:

  • Sentence outline:
  • In this case, the outline consists of sentences for each point. Working with this type may be difficult because you will need to write a topic sentence for every paragraph before you start on the paper itself. However, this will make writing the essay easier since you will only need to add some evidence to the outline points to complete the piece.

  • Topic outline:
  • This type of outline consists of phrases that represent the main idea of every paragraph. Expanding them will take a bit more time, but many people find this particular approach to be easier to work with.

Bear in mind that an outline is not set in stone. You may find better ways to express your ideas when you start writing the paper. You should follow your intuition in this case, and write down the new ideas as they come. Once you are finished with the rough draft, you will be able to compare the piece you created to the one planned in the outline. If the former is stronger, you shouldn’t bother with the discrepancies in the original plan, even if you presented the outline to your teacher beforehand.

An outline serves as a plan for the actual paper. This means that it must have a point for every paragraph. If you want to make it more detailed, you can add sub-points to every major topic sentence/phrase.

The fact that an outline must start with an introduction, just like the essay, doesn’t mean that you have to write it first. You can start with deciding your main arguments and writing topic sentences for body paragraphs. It will be easier for you to decide how to word the conclusion and introduction when you are finished with this part.

You must develop a thesis for your paper before you start working on the outline. This sentence will become the core of the whole project, and will help you focus your thoughts in the right direction when you start working on lesser topic sentences.

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