Research Paper Outline Format

Updated on March 22, 2016
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Virginia has been a university English instructor for over 20 years. She specializes in helping people write essays faster and easier.

How to Start Research Outline

Gathered all your sources for your research paper?. Wondering how to put these together to make your essay? Follow this step by step guide which explains how your sources can be used to create an outline and then check out my MLA guide to make sure you use the right formatting. You also might want to check out my specific instructions and outline ideas for the type of research paper you are doing.

Using Sources on Essays

Include graphs, tables and photos to prove your points on your essay.
Include graphs, tables and photos to prove your points on your essay. | Source

Research Outline Poll

Did your instructor give you detailed instructions for writing your research outline?

See results

Organizing Your Research Outline Notes

OK--so how do you organize this? Start by thinking through or writing down the answers to the following questions:

1. Who is your audience? What do they believe?

2. What do I want them to believe?

3. What are my best reasons for believing that?

4. Which of these reasons will convince my audience the most?

List those down and turn those into your topic sentences. One reason for being against Gun Control is.... Another reason is... The most important reason is...

5. Next, look through your resources and put which facts, stats, authorities, ideas etc. will support each one of those topic sentences. That is how you will use your sources. Sometimes you may quote, but most of the time you will probably paraphrase or summarize. Only quote if it is a specific sentence which has a high impact in the way it is said or if the person saying it has a particular authority.

6. Now, think about your audience again. It can help at this point to have help from someone else (ask a family member, friend, or classmate). What objections are they going to have to your position? List what they might say.

Techniques for Research Outline

Typing your outline ideas on the computer helps you to edit them quickly and also add in your sources.
Typing your outline ideas on the computer helps you to edit them quickly and also add in your sources. | Source

Starting Your Research Outline Using Sources

Step by Step Guide to starting your outline

  1. Research Question: Write your Research question down . Your research question is what you want to prove. This will be the last line of your introduction (or the next to last sentence if your instructor wants your thesis as the last sentence)
  2. Thesis: Write down the answer to your Research Question. This answer is going to be your thesis, what you are trying to prove and what the point of your essay is going to be.
  3. Body: Make a list of reasons why someone should believe your Answer. Don't worry yet about the order you put these reasons down or look at your evidence quite yet. Just list as many as you can think of on your own.

Your Body of the paper will be the reasons your audience should accept your answer. You need at least 3 of these (for the typical 5 paragraph essay) but you may have more. You also may have 3 main reasons along with lots of different points which prove those reasons. Once you've written down everything you already can remember, it is time to look at your sources.

  1. Look through your Sources. As you read through your source articles, or the notes you have taken, you will be looking for evidence that proves the ideas you've written on your list. You may also find new ideas you can write down.
  2. Put Evidence from Sources on Your List (include the information in your own words with the author name and page number to save time later). On your evidence, underline or highlight evidence which helps to prove the ideas you've already written down. Type in or copy and paste that evidence underneath that point on your list.
  3. Add New Body Ideas from Sources. As you look through your evidence, you will probably come across ideas you hadn't thought about yet. Add those points and the evidence from your sources to your list. ideas. For now, don't worry about the order of your ideas.

Create Research Outline in Word

Research Paper Outline Format Template

Your instructor may give you a specific outline format to use. Here is a typical formal outline template for a research essay.

I. Introduction: story, description, quote, scenario, situation or other information which explains the topic and leads to the Research Question and Answer (thesis--what you want to prove).

II. Body: Reasons to Believe Answer

A. Reason One.

1. Sub-point. (Why you can believe Reason One). Supported by evidence from sources (use the a, b, c, etc. if more than one piece of evidence will be used.

a. evidence #1

b. evidence #2

c. evidence #3

2. Sub-point. Supported by evidence from sources (continue with as many Sub-points as you have)

B. Reason Two

1. Sub point. (Why you can believe Reason Two). Supported by evidence from sources (use the a, b, c, etc. if more than one piece of evidence will be used.

a. evidence #1

b. evidence #2

c. evidence #3

2. Sub-point. Supported by evidence from sources (continue with as many Sub-points as you have)

C. Reason Three.

1. Sub-point. (Why you can believe Reason Three). Supported by evidence from sources (use the a, b, c, etc. if more than one piece of evidence will be used.

a. evidence #1

b. evidence #2

c. evidence #3

2. Sub-point. Supported by evidence from sources (continue with as many Sub-points as you have).

D. Reason 4 (You can have as many reasons as you need for your paper. Some of your reasons may be refuting objections or using other argument strategies listed below).

III. Conclusion: This is a final appeal to your reader. You may use a conclusive piece of evidence here or a quote or final story. You may want to end a story you began in the introduction or explain how if the reader is persuaded things will be better.

Introduction and Conclusion Ideas for Research Paper

Introduction
Conclusion
story start
finish story
description
how your position affects situation
list of facts
why reader should believe
quote from expert
what reader should do
myths
realities
truths
why reader should care
scenario of typical situation
say why scenario should change and what reader can do

5 Paragraph Essay Overview

Questions & Answers

  • What is a topic sentence hook?

    I generally tell my students to write their topic as a question and an answer. The question is what they are going to investigate in the research paper. To make a good research topic, the question should have at least two (or more) ways that people answer the question. It should be a question that is not agreed on by other people. I think you could use that question as the "hook" for the audience because it draws them in to be interested. The audience may have an opinion about the answer or at least know something about it.

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