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12.1 Creating a Rough Draft for a Research Paper

Learning objectives.

  • Apply strategies for drafting an effective introduction and conclusion.
  • Identify when and how to summarize, paraphrase, and directly quote information from research sources.
  • Apply guidelines for citing sources within the body of the paper and the bibliography.
  • Use primary and secondary research to support ideas.
  • Identify the purposes for which writers use each type of research.

At last, you are ready to begin writing the rough draft of your research paper. Putting your thinking and research into words is exciting. It can also be challenging. In this section, you will learn strategies for handling the more challenging aspects of writing a research paper, such as integrating material from your sources, citing information correctly, and avoiding any misuse of your sources.

The Structure of a Research Paper

Research papers generally follow the same basic structure: an introduction that presents the writer’s thesis, a body section that develops the thesis with supporting points and evidence, and a conclusion that revisits the thesis and provides additional insights or suggestions for further research.

Your writing voice will come across most strongly in your introduction and conclusion, as you work to attract your readers’ interest and establish your thesis. These sections usually do not cite sources at length. They focus on the big picture, not specific details. In contrast, the body of your paper will cite sources extensively. As you present your ideas, you will support your points with details from your research.

Writing Your Introduction

There are several approaches to writing an introduction, each of which fulfills the same goals. The introduction should get readers’ attention, provide background information, and present the writer’s thesis. Many writers like to begin with one of the following catchy openers:

  • A surprising fact
  • A thought-provoking question
  • An attention-getting quote
  • A brief anecdote that illustrates a larger concept
  • A connection between your topic and your readers’ experiences

The next few sentences place the opening in context by presenting background information. From there, the writer builds toward a thesis, which is traditionally placed at the end of the introduction. Think of your thesis as a signpost that lets readers know in what direction the paper is headed.

Jorge decided to begin his research paper by connecting his topic to readers’ daily experiences. Read the first draft of his introduction. The thesis is underlined. Note how Jorge progresses from the opening sentences to background information to his thesis.

Beyond the Hype: Evaluating Low-Carb Diets

I. Introduction

Over the past decade, increasing numbers of Americans have jumped on the low-carb bandwagon. Some studies estimate that approximately 40 million Americans, or about 20 percent of the population, are attempting to restrict their intake of food high in carbohydrates (Sanders and Katz, 2004; Hirsch, 2004). Proponents of low-carb diets say they are not only the most effective way to lose weight, but they also yield health benefits such as lower blood pressure and improved cholesterol levels. Meanwhile, some doctors claim that low-carb diets are overrated and caution that their long-term effects are unknown. Although following a low-carbohydrate diet can benefit some people, these diets are not necessarily the best option for everyone who wants to lose weight or improve their health.

Write the introductory paragraph of your research paper. Try using one of the techniques listed in this section to write an engaging introduction. Be sure to include background information about the topic that leads to your thesis.

Writers often work out of sequence when writing a research paper. If you find yourself struggling to write an engaging introduction, you may wish to write the body of your paper first. Writing the body sections first will help you clarify your main points. Writing the introduction should then be easier. You may have a better sense of how to introduce the paper after you have drafted some or all of the body.

Writing Your Conclusion

In your introduction, you tell readers where they are headed. In your conclusion, you recap where they have been. For this reason, some writers prefer to write their conclusions soon after they have written their introduction. However, this method may not work for all writers. Other writers prefer to write their conclusion at the end of the paper, after writing the body paragraphs. No process is absolutely right or absolutely wrong; find the one that best suits you.

No matter when you compose the conclusion, it should sum up your main ideas and revisit your thesis. The conclusion should not simply echo the introduction or rely on bland summary statements, such as “In this paper, I have demonstrated that.…” In fact, avoid repeating your thesis verbatim from the introduction. Restate it in different words that reflect the new perspective gained through your research. That helps keep your ideas fresh for your readers. An effective writer might conclude a paper by asking a new question the research inspired, revisiting an anecdote presented earlier, or reminding readers of how the topic relates to their lives.

Writing at Work

If your job involves writing or reading scientific papers, it helps to understand how professional researchers use the structure described in this section. A scientific paper begins with an abstract that briefly summarizes the entire paper. The introduction explains the purpose of the research, briefly summarizes previous research, and presents the researchers’ hypothesis. The body provides details about the study, such as who participated in it, what the researchers measured, and what results they recorded. The conclusion presents the researchers’ interpretation of the data, or what they learned.

Using Source Material in Your Paper

One of the challenges of writing a research paper is successfully integrating your ideas with material from your sources. Your paper must explain what you think, or it will read like a disconnected string of facts and quotations. However, you also need to support your ideas with research, or they will seem insubstantial. How do you strike the right balance?

You have already taken a step in the right direction by writing your introduction. The introduction and conclusion function like the frame around a picture. They define and limit your topic and place your research in context.

In the body paragraphs of your paper, you will need to integrate ideas carefully at the paragraph level and at the sentence level. You will use topic sentences in your paragraphs to make sure readers understand the significance of any facts, details, or quotations you cite. You will also include sentences that transition between ideas from your research, either within a paragraph or between paragraphs. At the sentence level, you will need to think carefully about how you introduce paraphrased and quoted material.

Earlier you learned about summarizing, paraphrasing, and quoting when taking notes. In the next few sections, you will learn how to use these techniques in the body of your paper to weave in source material to support your ideas.

Summarizing Sources

When you summarize material from a source, you zero in on the main points and restate them concisely in your own words. This technique is appropriate when only the major ideas are relevant to your paper or when you need to simplify complex information into a few key points for your readers.

Be sure to review the source material as you summarize it. Identify the main idea and restate it as concisely as you can—preferably in one sentence. Depending on your purpose, you may also add another sentence or two condensing any important details or examples. Check your summary to make sure it is accurate and complete.

In his draft, Jorge summarized research materials that presented scientists’ findings about low-carbohydrate diets. Read the following passage from a trade magazine article and Jorge’s summary of the article.

Assessing the Efficacy of Low-Carbohydrate Diets

Adrienne Howell, Ph.D.

Over the past few years, a number of clinical studies have explored whether high-protein, low-carbohydrate diets are more effective for weight loss than other frequently recommended diet plans, such as diets that drastically curtail fat intake (Pritikin) or that emphasize consuming lean meats, grains, vegetables, and a moderate amount of unsaturated fats (the Mediterranean diet). A 2009 study found that obese teenagers who followed a low-carbohydrate diet lost an average of 15.6 kilograms over a six-month period, whereas teenagers following a low-fat diet or a Mediterranean diet lost an average of 11.1 kilograms and 9.3 kilograms respectively. Two 2010 studies that measured weight loss for obese adults following these same three diet plans found similar results. Over three months, subjects on the low-carbohydrate diet plan lost anywhere from four to six kilograms more than subjects who followed other diet plans.

In three recent studies, researchers compared outcomes for obese subjects who followed either a low-carbohydrate diet, a low-fat diet, or a Mediterranean diet and found that subjects following a low-carbohydrate diet lost more weight in the same time (Howell, 2010).

A summary restates ideas in your own words—but for specialized or clinical terms, you may need to use terms that appear in the original source. For instance, Jorge used the term obese in his summary because related words such as heavy or overweight have a different clinical meaning.

On a separate sheet of paper, practice summarizing by writing a one-sentence summary of the same passage that Jorge already summarized.

Paraphrasing Sources

When you paraphrase material from a source, restate the information from an entire sentence or passage in your own words, using your own original sentence structure. A paraphrased source differs from a summarized source in that you focus on restating the ideas, not condensing them.

Again, it is important to check your paraphrase against the source material to make sure it is both accurate and original. Inexperienced writers sometimes use the thesaurus method of paraphrasing—that is, they simply rewrite the source material, replacing most of the words with synonyms. This constitutes a misuse of sources. A true paraphrase restates ideas using the writer’s own language and style.

In his draft, Jorge frequently paraphrased details from sources. At times, he needed to rewrite a sentence more than once to ensure he was paraphrasing ideas correctly. Read the passage from a website. Then read Jorge’s initial attempt at paraphrasing it, followed by the final version of his paraphrase.

Dieters nearly always get great results soon after they begin following a low-carbohydrate diet, but these results tend to taper off after the first few months, particularly because many dieters find it difficult to follow a low-carbohydrate diet plan consistently.

People usually see encouraging outcomes shortly after they go on a low-carbohydrate diet, but their progress slows down after a short while, especially because most discover that it is a challenge to adhere to the diet strictly (Heinz, 2009).

After reviewing the paraphrased sentence, Jorge realized he was following the original source too closely. He did not want to quote the full passage verbatim, so he again attempted to restate the idea in his own style.

Because it is hard for dieters to stick to a low-carbohydrate eating plan, the initial success of these diets is short-lived (Heinz, 2009).

On a separate sheet of paper, follow these steps to practice paraphrasing.

  • Choose an important idea or detail from your notes.
  • Without looking at the original source, restate the idea in your own words.
  • Check your paraphrase against the original text in the source. Make sure both your language and your sentence structure are original.
  • Revise your paraphrase if necessary.

Quoting Sources Directly

Most of the time, you will summarize or paraphrase source material instead of quoting directly. Doing so shows that you understand your research well enough to write about it confidently in your own words. However, direct quotes can be powerful when used sparingly and with purpose.

Quoting directly can sometimes help you make a point in a colorful way. If an author’s words are especially vivid, memorable, or well phrased, quoting them may help hold your reader’s interest. Direct quotations from an interviewee or an eyewitness may help you personalize an issue for readers. And when you analyze primary sources, such as a historical speech or a work of literature, quoting extensively is often necessary to illustrate your points. These are valid reasons to use quotations.

Less experienced writers, however, sometimes overuse direct quotations in a research paper because it seems easier than paraphrasing. At best, this reduces the effectiveness of the quotations. At worst, it results in a paper that seems haphazardly pasted together from outside sources. Use quotations sparingly for greater impact.

When you do choose to quote directly from a source, follow these guidelines:

  • Make sure you have transcribed the original statement accurately.
  • Represent the author’s ideas honestly. Quote enough of the original text to reflect the author’s point accurately.
  • Never use a stand-alone quotation. Always integrate the quoted material into your own sentence.
  • Use ellipses (…) if you need to omit a word or phrase. Use brackets [ ] if you need to replace a word or phrase.
  • Make sure any omissions or changed words do not alter the meaning of the original text. Omit or replace words only when absolutely necessary to shorten the text or to make it grammatically correct within your sentence.
  • Remember to include correctly formatted citations that follow the assigned style guide.

Jorge interviewed a dietician as part of his research, and he decided to quote her words in his paper. Read an excerpt from the interview and Jorge’s use of it, which follows.

Personally, I don’t really buy into all of the hype about low-carbohydrate miracle diets like Atkins and so on. Sure, for some people, they are great, but for most, any sensible eating and exercise plan would work just as well.

Registered dietician Dana Kwon (2010) admits, “Personally, I don’t really buy into all of the hype.…Sure, for some people, [low-carbohydrate diets] are great, but for most, any sensible eating and exercise plan would work just as well.”

Notice how Jorge smoothly integrated the quoted material by starting the sentence with an introductory phrase. His use of ellipses and brackets did not change the source’s meaning.

Documenting Source Material

Throughout the writing process, be scrupulous about documenting information taken from sources. The purpose of doing so is twofold:

  • To give credit to other writers or researchers for their ideas
  • To allow your reader to follow up and learn more about the topic if desired

You will cite sources within the body of your paper and at the end of the paper in your bibliography. For this assignment, you will use the citation format used by the American Psychological Association (also known as APA style). For information on the format used by the Modern Language Association (MLA style), see Chapter 13 “APA and MLA Documentation and Formatting” .

Citing Sources in the Body of Your Paper

In-text citations document your sources within the body of your paper. These include two vital pieces of information: the author’s name and the year the source material was published. When quoting a print source, also include in the citation the page number where the quoted material originally appears. The page number will follow the year in the in-text citation. Page numbers are necessary only when content has been directly quoted, not when it has been summarized or paraphrased.

Within a paragraph, this information may appear as part of your introduction to the material or as a parenthetical citation at the end of a sentence. Read the examples that follow. For more information about in-text citations for other source types, see Chapter 13 “APA and MLA Documentation and Formatting” .

Leibowitz (2008) found that low-carbohydrate diets often helped subjects with Type II diabetes maintain a healthy weight and control blood-sugar levels.

The introduction to the source material includes the author’s name followed by the year of publication in parentheses.

Low-carbohydrate diets often help subjects with Type II diabetes maintain a healthy weight and control blood-sugar levels (Leibowitz, 2008).

The parenthetical citation at the end of the sentence includes the author’s name, a comma, and the year the source was published. The period at the end of the sentence comes after the parentheses.

Creating a List of References

Each of the sources you cite in the body text will appear in a references list at the end of your paper. While in-text citations provide the most basic information about the source, your references section will include additional publication details. In general, you will include the following information:

  • The author’s last name followed by his or her first (and sometimes middle) initial
  • The year the source was published
  • The source title
  • For articles in periodicals, the full name of the periodical, along with the volume and issue number and the pages where the article appeared

Additional information may be included for different types of sources, such as online sources. For a detailed guide to APA or MLA citations, see Chapter 13 “APA and MLA Documentation and Formatting” . A sample reference list is provided with the final draft of Jorge’s paper later in this chapter.

Using Primary and Secondary Research

As you write your draft, be mindful of how you are using primary and secondary source material to support your points. Recall that primary sources present firsthand information. Secondary sources are one step removed from primary sources. They present a writer’s analysis or interpretation of primary source materials. How you balance primary and secondary source material in your paper will depend on the topic and assignment.

Using Primary Sources Effectively

Some types of research papers must use primary sources extensively to achieve their purpose. Any paper that analyzes a primary text or presents the writer’s own experimental research falls in this category. Here are a few examples:

  • A paper for a literature course analyzing several poems by Emily Dickinson
  • A paper for a political science course comparing televised speeches delivered by two presidential candidates
  • A paper for a communications course discussing gender biases in television commercials
  • A paper for a business administration course that discusses the results of a survey the writer conducted with local businesses to gather information about their work-from-home and flextime policies
  • A paper for an elementary education course that discusses the results of an experiment the writer conducted to compare the effectiveness of two different methods of mathematics instruction

For these types of papers, primary research is the main focus. If you are writing about a work (including nonprint works, such as a movie or a painting), it is crucial to gather information and ideas from the original work, rather than relying solely on others’ interpretations. And, of course, if you take the time to design and conduct your own field research, such as a survey, a series of interviews, or an experiment, you will want to discuss it in detail. For example, the interviews may provide interesting responses that you want to share with your reader.

Using Secondary Sources Effectively

For some assignments, it makes sense to rely more on secondary sources than primary sources. If you are not analyzing a text or conducting your own field research, you will need to use secondary sources extensively.

As much as possible, use secondary sources that are closely linked to primary research, such as a journal article presenting the results of the authors’ scientific study or a book that cites interviews and case studies. These sources are more reliable and add more value to your paper than sources that are further removed from primary research. For instance, a popular magazine article on junk-food addiction might be several steps removed from the original scientific study on which it is loosely based. As a result, the article may distort, sensationalize, or misinterpret the scientists’ findings.

Even if your paper is largely based on primary sources, you may use secondary sources to develop your ideas. For instance, an analysis of Alfred Hitchcock’s films would focus on the films themselves as a primary source, but might also cite commentary from critics. A paper that presents an original experiment would include some discussion of similar prior research in the field.

Jorge knew he did not have the time, resources, or experience needed to conduct original experimental research for his paper. Because he was relying on secondary sources to support his ideas, he made a point of citing sources that were not far removed from primary research.

Some sources could be considered primary or secondary sources, depending on the writer’s purpose for using them. For instance, if a writer’s purpose is to inform readers about how the No Child Left Behind legislation has affected elementary education, a Time magazine article on the subject would be a secondary source. However, suppose the writer’s purpose is to analyze how the news media has portrayed the effects of the No Child Left Behind legislation. In that case, articles about the legislation in news magazines like Time , Newsweek , and US News & World Report would be primary sources. They provide firsthand examples of the media coverage the writer is analyzing.

Avoiding Plagiarism

Your research paper presents your thinking about a topic, supported and developed by other people’s ideas and information. It is crucial to always distinguish between the two—as you conduct research, as you plan your paper, and as you write. Failure to do so can lead to plagiarism.

Intentional and Accidental Plagiarism

Plagiarism is the act of misrepresenting someone else’s work as your own. Sometimes a writer plagiarizes work on purpose—for instance, by purchasing an essay from a website and submitting it as original course work. In other cases, a writer may commit accidental plagiarism due to carelessness, haste, or misunderstanding. To avoid unintentional plagiarism, follow these guidelines:

  • Understand what types of information must be cited.
  • Understand what constitutes fair use of a source.
  • Keep source materials and notes carefully organized.
  • Follow guidelines for summarizing, paraphrasing, and quoting sources.

When to Cite

Any idea or fact taken from an outside source must be cited, in both the body of your paper and the references list. The only exceptions are facts or general statements that are common knowledge. Common-knowledge facts or general statements are commonly supported by and found in multiple sources. For example, a writer would not need to cite the statement that most breads, pastas, and cereals are high in carbohydrates; this is well known and well documented. However, if a writer explained in detail the differences among the chemical structures of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, a citation would be necessary. When in doubt, cite.

In recent years, issues related to the fair use of sources have been prevalent in popular culture. Recording artists, for example, may disagree about the extent to which one has the right to sample another’s music. For academic purposes, however, the guidelines for fair use are reasonably straightforward.

Writers may quote from or paraphrase material from previously published works without formally obtaining the copyright holder’s permission. Fair use means that the writer legitimately uses brief excerpts from source material to support and develop his or her own ideas. For instance, a columnist may excerpt a few sentences from a novel when writing a book review. However, quoting or paraphrasing another’s work at excessive length, to the extent that large sections of the writing are unoriginal, is not fair use.

As he worked on his draft, Jorge was careful to cite his sources correctly and not to rely excessively on any one source. Occasionally, however, he caught himself quoting a source at great length. In those instances, he highlighted the paragraph in question so that he could go back to it later and revise. Read the example, along with Jorge’s revision.

Heinz (2009) found that “subjects in the low-carbohydrate group (30% carbohydrates; 40% protein, 30% fat) had a mean weight loss of 10 kg (22 lbs) over a 4-month period.” These results were “noticeably better than results for subjects on a low-fat diet (45% carbohydrates, 35% protein, 20% fat)” whose average weight loss was only “7 kg (15.4 lbs) in the same period.” From this, it can be concluded that “low-carbohydrate diets obtain more rapid results.” Other researchers agree that “at least in the short term, patients following low-carbohydrate diets enjoy greater success” than those who follow alternative plans (Johnson & Crowe, 2010).

After reviewing the paragraph, Jorge realized that he had drifted into unoriginal writing. Most of the paragraph was taken verbatim from a single article. Although Jorge had enclosed the material in quotation marks, he knew it was not an appropriate way to use the research in his paper.

Low-carbohydrate diets may indeed be superior to other diet plans for short-term weight loss. In a study comparing low-carbohydrate diets and low-fat diets, Heinz (2009) found that subjects who followed a low-carbohydrate plan (30% of total calories) for 4 months lost, on average, about 3 kilograms more than subjects who followed a low-fat diet for the same time. Heinz concluded that these plans yield quick results, an idea supported by a similar study conducted by Johnson and Crowe (2010). What remains to be seen, however, is whether this initial success can be sustained for longer periods.

As Jorge revised the paragraph, he realized he did not need to quote these sources directly. Instead, he paraphrased their most important findings. He also made sure to include a topic sentence stating the main idea of the paragraph and a concluding sentence that transitioned to the next major topic in his essay.

Working with Sources Carefully

Disorganization and carelessness sometimes lead to plagiarism. For instance, a writer may be unable to provide a complete, accurate citation if he didn’t record bibliographical information. A writer may cut and paste a passage from a website into her paper and later forget where the material came from. A writer who procrastinates may rush through a draft, which easily leads to sloppy paraphrasing and inaccurate quotations. Any of these actions can create the appearance of plagiarism and lead to negative consequences.

Carefully organizing your time and notes is the best guard against these forms of plagiarism. Maintain a detailed working bibliography and thorough notes throughout the research process. Check original sources again to clear up any uncertainties. Allow plenty of time for writing your draft so there is no temptation to cut corners.

Citing other people’s work appropriately is just as important in the workplace as it is in school. If you need to consult outside sources to research a document you are creating, follow the general guidelines already discussed, as well as any industry-specific citation guidelines. For more extensive use of others’ work—for instance, requesting permission to link to another company’s website on your own corporate website—always follow your employer’s established procedures.

Academic Integrity

The concepts and strategies discussed in this section of Chapter 12 “Writing a Research Paper” connect to a larger issue—academic integrity. You maintain your integrity as a member of an academic community by representing your work and others’ work honestly and by using other people’s work only in legitimately accepted ways. It is a point of honor taken seriously in every academic discipline and career field.

Academic integrity violations have serious educational and professional consequences. Even when cheating and plagiarism go undetected, they still result in a student’s failure to learn necessary research and writing skills. Students who are found guilty of academic integrity violations face consequences ranging from a failing grade to expulsion from the university. Employees may be fired for plagiarism and do irreparable damage to their professional reputation. In short, it is never worth the risk.

Key Takeaways

  • An effective research paper focuses on the writer’s ideas. The introduction and conclusion present and revisit the writer’s thesis. The body of the paper develops the thesis and related points with information from research.
  • Ideas and information taken from outside sources must be cited in the body of the paper and in the references section.
  • Material taken from sources should be used to develop the writer’s ideas. Summarizing and paraphrasing are usually most effective for this purpose.
  • A summary concisely restates the main ideas of a source in the writer’s own words.
  • A paraphrase restates ideas from a source using the writer’s own words and sentence structures.
  • Direct quotations should be used sparingly. Ellipses and brackets must be used to indicate words that were omitted or changed for conciseness or grammatical correctness.
  • Always represent material from outside sources accurately.
  • Plagiarism has serious academic and professional consequences. To avoid accidental plagiarism, keep research materials organized, understand guidelines for fair use and appropriate citation of sources, and review the paper to make sure these guidelines are followed.

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Unit 4: Fundamentals of Academic Essay Writing

22 Creating a Rough Outline

Preview Questions:

  • What is a rough outline? What information does a rough outline include?
  • What is the purpose of writing a rough outline? How might it be helpful for you?

You have been reading and taking notes, developing a broad understanding of the topic. You should have some sense of how to answer your research question. As you read, identify the “answers” (evidence) to your research question. Create a rough outline to organize your ideas.

A rough outline (RO) is a tentative plan of what your essay will look like. It includes:

  • Your research question (RQ).
  • The focus of your research question.
  • The answer to your RQ, expressed as a short list of categories.

Technique for creating a rough outline: Brainstorming a list

  • Review your notes and articles.
  • Write your research question at the top of your paper.
  • Brainstorm a list of words or phrases that answer your research question.
  • Review your list and see which words seem to go together. Label groups of words with a different number for each “category” you notice. (In the example below there are four categories, so each answer has been labeled 1, 2, 3, or 4.)
  • Put your rough outline away and look at it later with “fresh eyes.” Is there anything you would like to change or add?

Note: You will continue to refine this rough outline. It will help you write your thesis statement and your detailed outline, and it is likely to change as you explore your topic.

Example Rough Outline

1. Research question  

Focus type(s) – choose one or more.

2. Do an in-depth, focused reading of your sources. Look for evidence which answers your research question. Make a list of 10-15 phrases which answer the RQ.

3. Categorize: Analyze the list and group similar ideas together into categories . Put numbers next to each item designating its category. Then identify a word or phrase to describe each category. List the categories as 3-4 supporting points in a rough outline:

4. Write a tentative thesis statement. Limit your supporting points to the three most important.

Academic Writing I Copyright © by UW-Madison ESL Program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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Getting started with your research paper outline

rough outline research paper

Levels of organization for a research paper outline

First level of organization, second level of organization, third level of organization, fourth level of organization, tips for writing a research paper outline, research paper outline template, my research paper outline is complete: what are the next steps, frequently asked questions about a research paper outline, related articles.

The outline is the skeleton of your research paper. Simply start by writing down your thesis and the main ideas you wish to present. This will likely change as your research progresses; therefore, do not worry about being too specific in the early stages of writing your outline.

A research paper outline typically contains between two and four layers of organization. The first two layers are the most generalized. Each layer thereafter will contain the research you complete and presents more and more detailed information.

The levels are typically represented by a combination of Roman numerals, Arabic numerals, uppercase letters, lowercase letters but may include other symbols. Refer to the guidelines provided by your institution, as formatting is not universal and differs between universities, fields, and subjects. If you are writing the outline for yourself, you may choose any combination you prefer.

This is the most generalized level of information. Begin by numbering the introduction, each idea you will present, and the conclusion. The main ideas contain the bulk of your research paper 's information. Depending on your research, it may be chapters of a book for a literature review , a series of dates for a historical research paper, or the methods and results of a scientific paper.

I. Introduction

II. Main idea

III. Main idea

IV. Main idea

V. Conclusion

The second level consists of topics which support the introduction, main ideas, and the conclusion. Each main idea should have at least two supporting topics listed in the outline.

If your main idea does not have enough support, you should consider presenting another main idea in its place. This is where you should stop outlining if this is your first draft. Continue your research before adding to the next levels of organization.

  • A. Background information
  • B. Hypothesis or thesis
  • A. Supporting topic
  • B. Supporting topic

The third level of organization contains supporting information for the topics previously listed. By now, you should have completed enough research to add support for your ideas.

The Introduction and Main Ideas may contain information you discovered about the author, timeframe, or contents of a book for a literature review; the historical events leading up to the research topic for a historical research paper, or an explanation of the problem a scientific research paper intends to address.

  • 1. Relevant history
  • 2. Relevant history
  • 1. The hypothesis or thesis clearly stated
  • 1. A brief description of supporting information
  • 2. A brief description of supporting information

The fourth level of organization contains the most detailed information such as quotes, references, observations, or specific data needed to support the main idea. It is not typical to have further levels of organization because the information contained here is the most specific.

  • a) Quotes or references to another piece of literature
  • b) Quotes or references to another piece of literature

Tip: The key to creating a useful outline is to be consistent in your headings, organization, and levels of specificity.

  • Be Consistent : ensure every heading has a similar tone. State the topic or write short sentences for each heading but avoid doing both.
  • Organize Information : Higher levels of organization are more generally stated and each supporting level becomes more specific. The introduction and conclusion will never be lower than the first level of organization.
  • Build Support : Each main idea should have two or more supporting topics. If your research does not have enough information to support the main idea you are presenting, you should, in general, complete additional research or revise the outline.

By now, you should know the basic requirements to create an outline for your paper. With a content framework in place, you can now start writing your paper . To help you start right away, you can use one of our templates and adjust it to suit your needs.

word icon

After completing your outline, you should:

  • Title your research paper . This is an iterative process and may change when you delve deeper into the topic.
  • Begin writing your research paper draft . Continue researching to further build your outline and provide more information to support your hypothesis or thesis.
  • Format your draft appropriately . MLA 8 and APA 7 formats have differences between their bibliography page, in-text citations, line spacing, and title.
  • Finalize your citations and bibliography . Use a reference manager like Paperpile to organize and cite your research.
  • Write the abstract, if required . An abstract will briefly state the information contained within the paper, results of the research, and the conclusion.

An outline is used to organize written ideas about a topic into a logical order. Outlines help us organize major topics, subtopics, and supporting details. Researchers benefit greatly from outlines while writing by addressing which topic to cover in what order.

The most basic outline format consists of: an introduction, a minimum of three topic paragraphs, and a conclusion.

You should make an outline before starting to write your research paper. This will help you organize the main ideas and arguments you want to present in your topic.

  • Consistency: ensure every heading has a similar tone. State the topic or write short sentences for each heading but avoid doing both.
  • Organization : Higher levels of organization are more generally stated and each supporting level becomes more specific. The introduction and conclusion will never be lower than the first level of organization.
  • Support : Each main idea should have two or more supporting topics. If your research does not have enough information to support the main idea you are presenting, you should, in general, complete additional research or revise the outline.

rough outline research paper

Enago Academy

How Can You Create a Well Planned Research Paper Outline

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You are staring at the blank document, meaning to start writing your research paper . After months of experiments and procuring results, your PI asked you to write the paper to publish it in a reputed journal. You spoke to your peers and a few seniors and received a few tips on writing a research paper, but you still can’t plan on how to begin!

Writing a research paper is a very common issue among researchers and is often looked upon as a time consuming hurdle. Researchers usually look up to this task as an impending threat, avoiding and procrastinating until they cannot delay it anymore. Seeking advice from internet and seniors they manage to write a paper which goes in for quite a few revisions. Making researchers lose their sense of understanding with respect to their research work and findings. In this article, we would like to discuss how to create a structured research paper outline which will assist a researcher in writing their research paper effectively!

Publication is an important component of research studies in a university for academic promotion and in obtaining funding to support research. However, the primary reason is to provide the data and hypotheses to scientific community to advance the understanding in a specific domain. A scientific paper is a formal record of a research process. It documents research protocols, methods, results, conclusion, and discussion from a research hypothesis .

Table of Contents

What Is a Research Paper Outline?

A research paper outline is a basic format for writing an academic research paper. It follows the IMRAD format (Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion). However, this format varies depending on the type of research manuscript. A research paper outline consists of following sections to simplify the paper for readers. These sections help researchers build an effective paper outline.

1. Title Page

The title page provides important information which helps the editors, reviewers, and readers identify the manuscript and the authors at a glance. It also provides an overview of the field of research the research paper belongs to. The title should strike a balance between precise and detailed. Other generic details include author’s given name, affiliation, keywords that will provide indexing, details of the corresponding author etc. are added to the title page.

2. Abstract

Abstract is the most important section of the manuscript and will help the researcher create a detailed research paper outline . To be more precise, an abstract is like an advertisement to the researcher’s work and it influences the editor in deciding whether to submit the manuscript to reviewers or not. Writing an abstract is a challenging task. Researchers can write an exemplary abstract by selecting the content carefully and being concise.

3. Introduction

An introduction is a background statement that provides the context and approach of the research. It describes the problem statement with the assistance of the literature study and elaborates the requirement to update the knowledge gap. It sets the research hypothesis and informs the readers about the big research question.

This section is usually named as “Materials and Methods”, “Experiments” or “Patients and Methods” depending upon the type of journal. This purpose provides complete information on methods used for the research. Researchers should mention clear description of materials and their use in the research work. If the methods used in research are already published, give a brief account and refer to the original publication. However, if the method used is modified from the original method, then researcher should mention the modifications done to the original protocol and validate its accuracy, precision, and repeatability.

It is best to report results as tables and figures wherever possible. Also, avoid duplication of text and ensure that the text summarizes the findings. Report the results with appropriate descriptive statistics. Furthermore, report any unexpected events that could affect the research results, and mention complete account of observations and explanations for missing data (if any).

6. Discussion

The discussion should set the research in context, strengthen its importance and support the research hypothesis. Summarize the main results of the study in one or two paragraphs and show how they logically fit in an overall scheme of studies. Compare the results with other investigations in the field of research and explain the differences.

7. Acknowledgments

Acknowledgements identify and thank the contributors to the study, who are not under the criteria of co-authors. It also includes the recognition of funding agency and universities that award scholarships or fellowships to researchers.

8. Declaration of Competing Interests

Finally, declaring the competing interests is essential to abide by ethical norms of unique research publishing. Competing interests arise when the author has more than one role that may lead to a situation where there is a conflict of interest.

Steps to Write a Research Paper Outline

  • Write down all important ideas that occur to you concerning the research paper .
  • Answer questions such as – what is the topic of my paper? Why is the topic important? How to formulate the hypothesis? What are the major findings?
  • Add context and structure. Group all your ideas into sections – Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion/Conclusion.
  • Add relevant questions to each section. It is important to note down the questions. This will help you align your thoughts.
  • Expand the ideas based on the questions created in the paper outline.
  • After creating a detailed outline, discuss it with your mentors and peers.
  • Get enough feedback and decide on the journal you will submit to.
  • The process of real writing begins.

Benefits of Creating a Research Paper Outline

As discussed, the research paper subheadings create an outline of what different aspects of research needs elaboration. This provides subtopics on which the researchers brainstorm and reach a conclusion to write. A research paper outline organizes the researcher’s thoughts and gives a clear picture of how to formulate the research protocols and results. It not only helps the researcher to understand the flow of information but also provides relation between the ideas.

A research paper outline helps researcher achieve a smooth transition between topics and ensures that no research point is forgotten. Furthermore, it allows the reader to easily navigate through the research paper and provides a better understanding of the research. The paper outline allows the readers to find relevant information and quotes from different part of the paper.

Research Paper Outline Template

A research paper outline template can help you understand the concept of creating a well planned research paper before beginning to write and walk through your journey of research publishing.

1. Research Title

A. Background i. Support with evidence ii. Support with existing literature studies

B. Thesis Statement i. Link literature with hypothesis ii. Support with evidence iii. Explain the knowledge gap and how this research will help build the gap 4. Body

A. Methods i. Mention materials and protocols used in research ii. Support with evidence

B. Results i. Support with tables and figures ii. Mention appropriate descriptive statistics

C. Discussion i. Support the research with context ii. Support the research hypothesis iii. Compare the results with other investigations in field of research

D. Conclusion i. Support the discussion and research investigation ii. Support with literature studies

E. Acknowledgements i. Identify and thank the contributors ii. Include the funding agency, if any

F. Declaration of Competing Interests

5. References

Download the Research Paper Outline Template!

Have you tried writing a research paper outline ? How did it work for you? Did it help you achieve your research paper writing goal? Do let us know about your experience in the comments below.

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Home » Research Paper Outline – Types, Example, Template

Research Paper Outline – Types, Example, Template

Table of Contents

Research Paper Outline

By creating a well-structured research paper outline, writers can easily organize their thoughts and ideas and ensure that their final paper is clear, concise, and effective. In this article, we will explore the essential components of a research paper outline and provide some tips and tricks for creating a successful one.

Research Paper Outline

Research paper outline is a plan or a structural framework that organizes the main ideas , arguments, and supporting evidence in a logical sequence. It serves as a blueprint or a roadmap for the writer to follow while drafting the actual research paper .

Typically, an outline consists of the following elements:

  • Introduction : This section presents the topic, research question , and thesis statement of the paper. It also provides a brief overview of the literature review and the methodology used.
  • Literature Review: This section provides a comprehensive review of the relevant literature, theories, and concepts related to the research topic. It analyzes the existing research and identifies the research gaps and research questions.
  • Methodology: This section explains the research design, data collection methods, data analysis, and ethical considerations of the study.
  • Results: This section presents the findings of the study, using tables, graphs, and statistics to illustrate the data.
  • Discussion : This section interprets the results of the study, and discusses their implications, significance, and limitations. It also suggests future research directions.
  • Conclusion : This section summarizes the main findings of the study and restates the thesis statement.
  • References: This section lists all the sources cited in the paper using the appropriate citation style.

Research Paper Outline Types

There are several types of outlines that can be used for research papers, including:

Alphanumeric Outline

This is a traditional outline format that uses Roman numerals, capital letters, Arabic numerals, and lowercase letters to organize the main ideas and supporting details of a research paper. It is commonly used for longer, more complex research papers.

I. Introduction

  • A. Background information
  • B. Thesis statement
  • 1 1. Supporting detail
  • 1 2. Supporting detail 2
  • 2 1. Supporting detail

III. Conclusion

  • A. Restate thesis
  • B. Summarize main points

Decimal Outline

This outline format uses numbers to organize the main ideas and supporting details of a research paper. It is similar to the alphanumeric outline, but it uses only numbers and decimals to indicate the hierarchy of the ideas.

  • 1.1 Background information
  • 1.2 Thesis statement
  • 1 2.1.1 Supporting detail
  • 1 2.1.2 Supporting detail
  • 2 2.2.1 Supporting detail
  • 1 2.2.2 Supporting detail
  • 3.1 Restate thesis
  • 3.2 Summarize main points

Full Sentence Outline

This type of outline uses complete sentences to describe the main ideas and supporting details of a research paper. It is useful for those who prefer to see the entire paper outlined in complete sentences.

  • Provide background information on the topic
  • State the thesis statement
  • Explain main idea 1 and provide supporting details
  • Discuss main idea 2 and provide supporting details
  • Restate the thesis statement
  • Summarize the main points of the paper

Topic Outline

This type of outline uses short phrases or words to describe the main ideas and supporting details of a research paper. It is useful for those who prefer to see a more concise overview of the paper.

  • Background information
  • Thesis statement
  • Supporting detail 1
  • Supporting detail 2
  • Restate thesis
  • Summarize main points

Reverse Outline

This is an outline that is created after the paper has been written. It involves going back through the paper and summarizing each paragraph or section in one sentence. This can be useful for identifying gaps in the paper or areas that need further development.

  • Introduction : Provides background information and states the thesis statement.
  • Paragraph 1: Discusses main idea 1 and provides supporting details.
  • Paragraph 2: Discusses main idea 2 and provides supporting details.
  • Paragraph 3: Addresses potential counterarguments.
  • Conclusion : Restates thesis and summarizes main points.

Mind Map Outline

This type of outline involves creating a visual representation of the main ideas and supporting details of a research paper. It can be useful for those who prefer a more creative and visual approach to outlining.

  • Supporting detail 1: Lack of funding for public schools.
  • Supporting detail 2: Decrease in government support for education.
  • Supporting detail 1: Increase in income inequality.
  • Supporting detail 2: Decrease in social mobility.

Research Paper Outline Example

Research Paper Outline Example on Cyber Security:

A. Overview of Cybersecurity

  • B. Importance of Cybersecurity
  • C. Purpose of the paper

II. Cyber Threats

A. Definition of Cyber Threats

  • B. Types of Cyber Threats
  • C. Examples of Cyber Threats

III. Cybersecurity Measures

A. Prevention measures

  • Anti-virus software
  • Encryption B. Detection measures
  • Intrusion Detection System (IDS)
  • Security Information and Event Management (SIEM)
  • Security Operations Center (SOC) C. Response measures
  • Incident Response Plan
  • Business Continuity Plan
  • Disaster Recovery Plan

IV. Cybersecurity in the Business World

A. Overview of Cybersecurity in the Business World

B. Cybersecurity Risk Assessment

C. Best Practices for Cybersecurity in Business

V. Cybersecurity in Government Organizations

A. Overview of Cybersecurity in Government Organizations

C. Best Practices for Cybersecurity in Government Organizations

VI. Cybersecurity Ethics

A. Definition of Cybersecurity Ethics

B. Importance of Cybersecurity Ethics

C. Examples of Cybersecurity Ethics

VII. Future of Cybersecurity

A. Overview of the Future of Cybersecurity

B. Emerging Cybersecurity Threats

C. Advancements in Cybersecurity Technology

VIII. Conclusion

A. Summary of the paper

B. Recommendations for Cybersecurity

  • C. Conclusion.

IX. References

A. List of sources cited in the paper

B. Bibliography of additional resources

Introduction

Cybersecurity refers to the protection of computer systems, networks, and sensitive data from unauthorized access, theft, damage, or any other form of cyber attack. B. Importance of Cybersecurity The increasing reliance on technology and the growing number of cyber threats make cybersecurity an essential aspect of modern society. Cybersecurity breaches can result in financial losses, reputational damage, and legal liabilities. C. Purpose of the paper This paper aims to provide an overview of cybersecurity, cyber threats, cybersecurity measures, cybersecurity in the business and government sectors, cybersecurity ethics, and the future of cybersecurity.

A cyber threat is any malicious act or event that attempts to compromise or disrupt computer systems, networks, or sensitive data. B. Types of Cyber Threats Common types of cyber threats include malware, phishing, social engineering, ransomware, DDoS attacks, and advanced persistent threats (APTs). C. Examples of Cyber Threats Recent cyber threats include the SolarWinds supply chain attack, the Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack, and the Microsoft Exchange Server hack.

Prevention measures aim to minimize the risk of cyber attacks by implementing security controls, such as firewalls, anti-virus software, and encryption.

  • Firewalls Firewalls act as a barrier between a computer network and the internet, filtering incoming and outgoing traffic to prevent unauthorized access.
  • Anti-virus software Anti-virus software detects, prevents, and removes malware from computer systems.
  • Encryption Encryption involves the use of mathematical algorithms to transform sensitive data into a code that can only be accessed by authorized individuals. B. Detection measures Detection measures aim to identify and respond to cyber attacks as quickly as possible, such as intrusion detection systems (IDS), security information and event management (SIEM), and security operations centers (SOCs).
  • Intrusion Detection System (IDS) IDS monitors network traffic for signs of unauthorized access, such as unusual patterns or anomalies.
  • Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) SIEM combines security information management and security event management to provide real-time monitoring and analysis of security alerts.
  • Security Operations Center (SOC) SOC is a dedicated team responsible for monitoring, analyzing, and responding to cyber threats. C. Response measures Response measures aim to mitigate the impact of a cyber attack and restore normal operations, such as incident response plans (IRPs), business continuity plans (BCPs), and disaster recovery plans (DRPs).
  • Incident Response Plan IRPs outline the procedures and protocols to follow in the event of a cyber attack, including communication protocols, roles and responsibilities, and recovery processes.
  • Business Continuity Plan BCPs ensure that critical business functions can continue in the event of a cyber attack or other disruption.
  • Disaster Recovery Plan DRPs outline the procedures to recover from a catastrophic event, such as a natural disaster or cyber attack.

Cybersecurity is crucial for businesses of all sizes and industries, as they handle sensitive data, financial transactions, and intellectual property that are attractive targets for cyber criminals.

Risk assessment is a critical step in developing a cybersecurity strategy, which involves identifying potential threats, vulnerabilities, and consequences to determine the level of risk and prioritize security measures.

Best practices for cybersecurity in business include implementing strong passwords and multi-factor authentication, regularly updating software and hardware, training employees on cybersecurity awareness, and regularly backing up data.

Government organizations face unique cybersecurity challenges, as they handle sensitive information related to national security, defense, and critical infrastructure.

Risk assessment in government organizations involves identifying and assessing potential threats and vulnerabilities, conducting regular audits, and complying with relevant regulations and standards.

Best practices for cybersecurity in government organizations include implementing secure communication protocols, regularly updating and patching software, and conducting regular cybersecurity training and awareness programs for employees.

Cybersecurity ethics refers to the ethical considerations involved in cybersecurity, such as privacy, data protection, and the responsible use of technology.

Cybersecurity ethics are crucial for maintaining trust in technology, protecting privacy and data, and promoting responsible behavior in the digital world.

Examples of cybersecurity ethics include protecting the privacy of user data, ensuring data accuracy and integrity, and implementing fair and unbiased algorithms.

The future of cybersecurity will involve a shift towards more advanced technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and quantum computing.

Emerging cybersecurity threats include AI-powered cyber attacks, the use of deepfakes and synthetic media, and the potential for quantum computing to break current encryption methods.

Advancements in cybersecurity technology include the development of AI and machine learning-based security tools, the use of blockchain for secure data storage and sharing, and the development of post-quantum encryption methods.

This paper has provided an overview of cybersecurity, cyber threats, cybersecurity measures, cybersecurity in the business and government sectors, cybersecurity ethics, and the future of cybersecurity.

To enhance cybersecurity, organizations should prioritize risk assessment and implement a comprehensive cybersecurity strategy that includes prevention, detection, and response measures. Additionally, organizations should prioritize cybersecurity ethics to promote responsible behavior in the digital world.

C. Conclusion

Cybersecurity is an essential aspect of modern society, and organizations must prioritize cybersecurity to protect sensitive data and maintain trust in technology.

for further reading

X. Appendices

A. Glossary of key terms

B. Cybersecurity checklist for organizations

C. Sample cybersecurity policy for businesses

D. Sample cybersecurity incident response plan

E. Cybersecurity training and awareness resources

Note : The content and organization of the paper may vary depending on the specific requirements of the assignment or target audience. This outline serves as a general guide for writing a research paper on cybersecurity. Do not use this in your assingmets.

Research Paper Outline Template

  • Background information and context of the research topic
  • Research problem and questions
  • Purpose and objectives of the research
  • Scope and limitations

II. Literature Review

  • Overview of existing research on the topic
  • Key concepts and theories related to the research problem
  • Identification of gaps in the literature
  • Summary of relevant studies and their findings

III. Methodology

  • Research design and approach
  • Data collection methods and procedures
  • Data analysis techniques
  • Validity and reliability considerations
  • Ethical considerations

IV. Results

  • Presentation of research findings
  • Analysis and interpretation of data
  • Explanation of significant results
  • Discussion of unexpected results

V. Discussion

  • Comparison of research findings with existing literature
  • Implications of results for theory and practice
  • Limitations and future directions for research
  • Conclusion and recommendations

VI. Conclusion

  • Summary of research problem, purpose, and objectives
  • Discussion of significant findings
  • Contribution to the field of study
  • Implications for practice
  • Suggestions for future research

VII. References

  • List of sources cited in the research paper using appropriate citation style.

Note : This is just an template, and depending on the requirements of your assignment or the specific research topic, you may need to modify or adjust the sections or headings accordingly.

Research Paper Outline Writing Guide

Here’s a guide to help you create an effective research paper outline:

  • Choose a topic : Select a topic that is interesting, relevant, and meaningful to you.
  • Conduct research: Gather information on the topic from a variety of sources, such as books, articles, journals, and websites.
  • Organize your ideas: Organize your ideas and information into logical groups and subgroups. This will help you to create a clear and concise outline.
  • Create an outline: Begin your outline with an introduction that includes your thesis statement. Then, organize your ideas into main points and subpoints. Each main point should be supported by evidence and examples.
  • Introduction: The introduction of your research paper should include the thesis statement, background information, and the purpose of the research paper.
  • Body : The body of your research paper should include the main points and subpoints. Each point should be supported by evidence and examples.
  • Conclusion : The conclusion of your research paper should summarize the main points and restate the thesis statement.
  • Reference List: Include a reference list at the end of your research paper. Make sure to properly cite all sources used in the paper.
  • Proofreading : Proofread your research paper to ensure that it is free of errors and grammatical mistakes.
  • Finalizing : Finalize your research paper by reviewing the outline and making any necessary changes.

When to Write Research Paper Outline

It’s a good idea to write a research paper outline before you begin drafting your paper. The outline will help you organize your thoughts and ideas, and it can serve as a roadmap for your writing process.

Here are a few situations when you might want to consider writing an outline:

  • When you’re starting a new research project: If you’re beginning a new research project, an outline can help you get organized from the very beginning. You can use your outline to brainstorm ideas, map out your research goals, and identify potential sources of information.
  • When you’re struggling to organize your thoughts: If you find yourself struggling to organize your thoughts or make sense of your research, an outline can be a helpful tool. It can help you see the big picture of your project and break it down into manageable parts.
  • When you’re working with a tight deadline : If you have a deadline for your research paper, an outline can help you stay on track and ensure that you cover all the necessary points. By mapping out your paper in advance, you can work more efficiently and avoid getting stuck or overwhelmed.

Purpose of Research Paper Outline

The purpose of a research paper outline is to provide a structured and organized plan for the writer to follow while conducting research and writing the paper. An outline is essentially a roadmap that guides the writer through the entire research process, from the initial research and analysis of the topic to the final writing and editing of the paper.

A well-constructed outline can help the writer to:

  • Organize their thoughts and ideas on the topic, and ensure that all relevant information is included.
  • Identify any gaps in their research or argument, and address them before starting to write the paper.
  • Ensure that the paper follows a logical and coherent structure, with clear transitions between different sections.
  • Save time and effort by providing a clear plan for the writer to follow, rather than starting from scratch and having to revise the paper multiple times.

Advantages of Research Paper Outline

Some of the key advantages of a research paper outline include:

  • Helps to organize thoughts and ideas : An outline helps to organize all the different ideas and information that you want to include in your paper. By creating an outline, you can ensure that all the points you want to make are covered and in a logical order.
  • Saves time and effort : An outline saves time and effort because it helps you to focus on the key points of your paper. It also helps you to identify any gaps or areas where more research may be needed.
  • Makes the writing process easier : With an outline, you have a clear roadmap of what you want to write, and this makes the writing process much easier. You can simply follow your outline and fill in the details as you go.
  • Improves the quality of your paper : By having a clear outline, you can ensure that all the important points are covered and in a logical order. This makes your paper more coherent and easier to read, which ultimately improves its overall quality.
  • Facilitates collaboration: If you are working on a research paper with others, an outline can help to facilitate collaboration. By sharing your outline, you can ensure that everyone is on the same page and working towards the same goals.

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  • How to write an essay outline | Guidelines & examples

How to Write an Essay Outline | Guidelines & Examples

Published on August 14, 2020 by Jack Caulfield . Revised on July 23, 2023.

An essay outline is a way of planning the structure of your essay before you start writing. It involves writing quick summary sentences or phrases for every point you will cover in each paragraph , giving you a picture of how your argument will unfold.

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Table of contents

Organizing your material, presentation of the outline, examples of essay outlines, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about essay outlines.

At the stage where you’re writing an essay outline, your ideas are probably still not fully formed. You should know your topic  and have already done some preliminary research to find relevant sources , but now you need to shape your ideas into a structured argument.

Creating categories

Look over any information, quotes and ideas you’ve noted down from your research and consider the central point you want to make in the essay—this will be the basis of your thesis statement . Once you have an idea of your overall argument, you can begin to organize your material in a way that serves that argument.

Try to arrange your material into categories related to different aspects of your argument. If you’re writing about a literary text, you might group your ideas into themes; in a history essay, it might be several key trends or turning points from the period you’re discussing.

Three main themes or subjects is a common structure for essays. Depending on the length of the essay, you could split the themes into three body paragraphs, or three longer sections with several paragraphs covering each theme.

As you create the outline, look critically at your categories and points: Are any of them irrelevant or redundant? Make sure every topic you cover is clearly related to your thesis statement.

Order of information

When you have your material organized into several categories, consider what order they should appear in.

Your essay will always begin and end with an introduction and conclusion , but the organization of the body is up to you.

Consider these questions to order your material:

  • Is there an obvious starting point for your argument?
  • Is there one subject that provides an easy transition into another?
  • Do some points need to be set up by discussing other points first?

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Within each paragraph, you’ll discuss a single idea related to your overall topic or argument, using several points of evidence or analysis to do so.

In your outline, you present these points as a few short numbered sentences or phrases.They can be split into sub-points when more detail is needed.

The template below shows how you might structure an outline for a five-paragraph essay.

  • Thesis statement
  • First piece of evidence
  • Second piece of evidence
  • Summary/synthesis
  • Importance of topic
  • Strong closing statement

You can choose whether to write your outline in full sentences or short phrases. Be consistent in your choice; don’t randomly write some points as full sentences and others as short phrases.

Examples of outlines for different types of essays are presented below: an argumentative, expository, and literary analysis essay.

Argumentative essay outline

This outline is for a short argumentative essay evaluating the internet’s impact on education. It uses short phrases to summarize each point.

Its body is split into three paragraphs, each presenting arguments about a different aspect of the internet’s effects on education.

  • Importance of the internet
  • Concerns about internet use
  • Thesis statement: Internet use a net positive
  • Data exploring this effect
  • Analysis indicating it is overstated
  • Students’ reading levels over time
  • Why this data is questionable
  • Video media
  • Interactive media
  • Speed and simplicity of online research
  • Questions about reliability (transitioning into next topic)
  • Evidence indicating its ubiquity
  • Claims that it discourages engagement with academic writing
  • Evidence that Wikipedia warns students not to cite it
  • Argument that it introduces students to citation
  • Summary of key points
  • Value of digital education for students
  • Need for optimism to embrace advantages of the internet

Expository essay outline

This is the outline for an expository essay describing how the invention of the printing press affected life and politics in Europe.

The paragraphs are still summarized in short phrases here, but individual points are described with full sentences.

  • Claim that the printing press marks the end of the Middle Ages.
  • Provide background on the low levels of literacy before the printing press.
  • Present the thesis statement: The invention of the printing press increased circulation of information in Europe, paving the way for the Reformation.
  • Discuss the very high levels of illiteracy in medieval Europe.
  • Describe how literacy and thus knowledge and education were mainly the domain of religious and political elites.
  • Indicate how this discouraged political and religious change.
  • Describe the invention of the printing press in 1440 by Johannes Gutenberg.
  • Show the implications of the new technology for book production.
  • Describe the rapid spread of the technology and the printing of the Gutenberg Bible.
  • Link to the Reformation.
  • Discuss the trend for translating the Bible into vernacular languages during the years following the printing press’s invention.
  • Describe Luther’s own translation of the Bible during the Reformation.
  • Sketch out the large-scale effects the Reformation would have on religion and politics.
  • Summarize the history described.
  • Stress the significance of the printing press to the events of this period.

Literary analysis essay outline

The literary analysis essay outlined below discusses the role of theater in Jane Austen’s novel Mansfield Park .

The body of the essay is divided into three different themes, each of which is explored through examples from the book.

  • Describe the theatricality of Austen’s works
  • Outline the role theater plays in Mansfield Park
  • Introduce the research question : How does Austen use theater to express the characters’ morality in Mansfield Park ?
  • Discuss Austen’s depiction of the performance at the end of the first volume
  • Discuss how Sir Bertram reacts to the acting scheme
  • Introduce Austen’s use of stage direction–like details during dialogue
  • Explore how these are deployed to show the characters’ self-absorption
  • Discuss Austen’s description of Maria and Julia’s relationship as polite but affectionless
  • Compare Mrs. Norris’s self-conceit as charitable despite her idleness
  • Summarize the three themes: The acting scheme, stage directions, and the performance of morals
  • Answer the research question
  • Indicate areas for further study

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You will sometimes be asked to hand in an essay outline before you start writing your essay . Your supervisor wants to see that you have a clear idea of your structure so that writing will go smoothly.

Even when you do not have to hand it in, writing an essay outline is an important part of the writing process . It’s a good idea to write one (as informally as you like) to clarify your structure for yourself whenever you are working on an essay.

If you have to hand in your essay outline , you may be given specific guidelines stating whether you have to use full sentences. If you’re not sure, ask your supervisor.

When writing an essay outline for yourself, the choice is yours. Some students find it helpful to write out their ideas in full sentences, while others prefer to summarize them in short phrases.

You should try to follow your outline as you write your essay . However, if your ideas change or it becomes clear that your structure could be better, it’s okay to depart from your essay outline . Just make sure you know why you’re doing so.

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How to Write a Rough Draft for a Research Paper

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Before you begin to write your research paper rough draft, you have some decisions to make about format, or how your paper will look. As you write, you have to think about presenting your ideas in a way that makes sense and holds your readers’ interest. After you’ve completed your draft, make sure you’ve cited your sources completely and correctly. And the last thing you’ll need to do is decide on the very first thing readers see—the title.

Following a Research Paper Format

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Many instructors tell their students exactly how their research papers should be formatted—for example, how wide the margins should be, where and how the sources should be listed, and so on. If your teacher has specified a format, be sure you have a list of the rules she or he has established—and follow them! If not, you need to decide on questions of format for yourself. Here are the main formatting issues to consider:

  • Should your report be written by hand or typed in a word processing program?
  • If you are handwriting, should you write on every line or every other line?
  • If you are handwriting, should you use both sides or only one side of the paper?
  • If you are typing, should you use single space or double space? For typing, double spacing is standard.
  • If you are using a computer, what type style (font) and size should you use? (Twelve-point Times or Times New Roman is standard.)
  • What size should the margins be? Margins of 1″ or 1.25″ on each side are standard.
  • How long should your report be—how many pages or words?
  • Should you include illustrations? Are illustrations optional?
  • How should you position your heading (and should it include information other than name, class, and date)?
  • Should you include a separate title page?
  • Should your bibliography (a list of your sources) appear on a separate page at the end of your report? That is standard.
  • Should your bibliography list your sources in alphabetical order by last name of author? That is standard.
  • Where should your page numbers appear? The standard position for page numbering is the upper right corner of each page.

If you are using a computer, choose and set up your margin widths, type size and style, and spacing before writing.

Using a Proper Writing Style

Even if you haven’t finished all your research, when you have completed most of your note cards and your outline, it’s time to start writing. Drafting at this stage allows you to see what additional information you need so you can fill it in. As you begin to draft your paper, it’s time to consider your writing style.

A writer’s style is his or her distinctive way of writing. Style is a series of choices—words, sentence length and structure, figures of speech, punctuation, and so on. The style you select for your research paper depends on the following factors:

Before you begin, it is a good idea to again consider the members of your audience:Who are they? What do they know? What style of writing and language will they find most interesting or persuasive? Recognize that although members of your audience may all be of a similar background and educational level, they will not necessarily possess the same knowledge of the subject that you do. Ask yourself:

  • How much of the information covered by your research is common knowledge? You want to provide sufficient explanation of unfamiliar concepts but, at the same time, not belabor the obvious.
  • What questions will the reader have? Be sure you address all key questions that are essential to the reader’s understanding of your subject.
  • How will your reader react to your thesis? This is especially important in a persuasive paper where your goal is to have your readers accept your thesis.
  • What kind of information is needed to move your reader to a better understanding of the subject or to agree with your assessment of it? The answers to this question will provide the topics for the paragraphs in the body of your paper.
  • What do you want the reader to remember most? This will be the focus of your conclusion.

The answers to these questions will give you a sense of how much background you will need to include about your subject as well as the language and tone of writing that you should use to present it.

Writers have four main purposes:

  • to explain (exposition)
  • to convince (persuasion)
  • to describe (description)
  • to tell a story (narration)

Your purpose in your research paper is to persuade or convince. As a result, you’ll select the supporting material (such as details, examples, and quotations) that will best accomplish this purpose. As you write, look for the most convincing examples, the most powerful statistics, the most compelling quotations to suit your purpose.

The tone of a piece of writing is the writer’s attitude toward his or her subject matter. For example, the tone can be angry, bitter, neutral, or formal. The tone depends on your audience and purpose. Since your research paper is being read by educated professionals and your purpose is to persuade, you will use a formal, unbiased tone. The writing won’t condescend to its audience, insult them, or lecture them.

The language used in most academic and professional writing is called “Standard Written English.” It’s the writing you find in magazines such as Newsweek, US News and World Report, and The New Yorker. Such language conforms to the widely established rules of grammar, sentence structure, usage, punctuation, and spelling. It has an objective, learned tone. It’s the language that you’ll use in your research paper.

The Basics of Research Paper Style

The following section covers the basics of research paper writing style: words, sentences, and punctuation.

Write  simply  and  directly . Perhaps you were told to use as many multisyllabic words as possible since “big” words dazzle people. Most of the time, however, big words just set up barriers between you and your audience. Instead of using words for the sake of impressing your readers, write simply and directly.

Select your words carefully to convey your thoughts vividly and precisely. For example, blissful ,  blithe ,  cheerful ,  contented ,  ecstatic ,  joyful , and  gladdened  all mean “happy”—yet each one conveys a different shade of meaning.

Use words that are  accurate ,  suitable , and  familiar :

  • Accurate words say what you mean.
  • Suitable words convey your tone and fit with the other words in the document.
  • Familiar words are easy to read and understand.

As you write your research paper, you want words that express the importance of the subject but aren’t stuffy or overblown. Refer to yourself as I if you are involved with the subject, but always keep the focus on the subject rather than on yourself. Remember, this is academic writing, not memoir.

Avoid  slang ,  regional words , and  nonstandard diction . Below is a brief list of words that are never correct in academic writing:

  • irregardless

Avoid  redundant ,  wordy  phrases. Here are some examples:

  • honest truth
  • past history
  • fatally killed
  • revert back
  • live and breathe
  • null and void
  • most unique
  • cease and desist
  • proceed ahead

Always  use bias-free language . Use words and phrases that don’t discriminate on the basis of gender, physical condition, age, or race. For instance, avoid using he to refer to both men and women. Never use language that denigrates people or excludes one gender. Watch for phrases that suggest women and men behave in stereotypical ways, such as talkative women . In addition, always try to refer to a group by the term it prefers. Language changes, so stay on the cutting edge. For instance, today the term “Asian” is preferred to “Oriental.”

Effective writing uses sentences of different lengths and types to create variety and interest. Craft your sentences to express your ideas in the best possible way. Here are some guidelines:

  • Mix simple, compound, complex, and compound-complex sentences for a more effective style. When your topic is complicated or full of numbers, use simple sentences to aid understanding. Use longer, more complex sentences to show how ideas are linked together and to avoid repetition.
  • Select the subject of each sentence based on what you want to emphasize.
  • Add adjectives and adverbs to a sentence (when suitable) for emphasis and variety.
  • Repeat keywords or ideas for emphasis.
  • Use the active voice, not the passive voice.
  • Use transitions to link ideas.

Similarly, successful research papers are free of technical errors. Here are some guidelines to review:

  • Remember that a period shows a full separation between ideas. For example:  The car was in the shop for repair on Friday. I had no transportation to work.
  • A comma and a coordinating conjunction (for, and, but, or, yet, so, nor) show the relationships of addition, choice, consequence, contrast, or cause. For example: 1) The car was in the shop for repair on Friday, so I had no transportation to work . 2) The car was in the shop for repair on Friday, but I still made it to work . 3)  The car was in the shop for repair on Friday, yet I still made it to work .
  • A semicolon shows the second sentence completes the content of the first sentence. The semicolon suggests a link but leaves to the reader to make the connection. For example:  The car was in the shop for repair on Friday; I didn’t make it to work .
  • A semicolon and a conjunctive adverb (such as nevertheless and however) show the relationship between ideas: addition, consequence, contrast, cause and effect, time, emphasis, or addition. For example:  The car was in the shop for repair on Friday; however, I made it to work anyway .
  • Using a period between sentences forces a pause and then stresses the conjunctive adverb. For example:  The car was in the shop for repair on Friday. But I still made it to work .

Even if you do run a grammar check, be sure to check and double-check your punctuation and grammar as you draft your research paper.

Back to How To Write A Research Paper .

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10.8: Creating a Rough Draft for a Research Paper

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  • Athena Kashyap & Erika Dyquisto
  • City College of San Francisco via ASCCC Open Educational Resources Initiative

At last, you are ready to begin writing the rough draft of your research paper. Putting your thinking and research into words is exciting. It can also be challenging. In this section, you will learn strategies for handling the more challenging aspects of writing a research paper, such as integrating material from your sources, citing information correctly, and avoiding any misuse of your sources. First, however, we will discuss the structure of the longest type of research paper you are likely to write in a first-year composition course.

The Structure of a Research Paper

General structure guidelines for research papers.

There are really two types of formal research papers: A scientific style research paper and a literature review style research paper. We will focus on the literature review style of research paper, which is really like an extended essay. However, even a literature review depends more on the research that other people have done than does a regular essay. You still bring in your own ideas, however, make the connections between everything, and come up with new ideas based on how you put together the ideas of other writers.

The structure of a research paper is very much like that of a regular essay except that your main idea may not be as clear early on (check with your instructor about this), the introduction may be longer than usual, the body of the essay is much longer, and you use many more sources. Do not describe your research process of researching and writing in a literature review research paper (scientific research papers have a methodology section where the researcher does describe their research, but that’s not what you generally do in a first year composition course).

Research Paper Introductions

Write the introduction of your research paper last. If you must write it first to get yourself going, be sure to rewrite after you have completed your conclusion. Keep your audience in mind and what they are likely to know about your topic before reading your paper. Research paper introduction may last two or more paragraphs. Because you are writing more, you probably need to provide more background information. As in any paper, you want to move from general information that orients your reader to your topic, to more specific information that focuses more directly on what you are studying. At the end of the introduction, you may want to state your exact research question rather than a thesis.

Introductions may provide some historical background, may discuss the history of a controversy, may introduce the various factors that impact the topic, and probably introduce and define some of the key vocabulary that your reader may not know. Don’t make the mistake of beginning too narrowly. Keep your reader in mind – another student in another class. Think of your research paper as an educational piece of writing that you are creating for another student, but keep the tone and language formal. Remember, they don’t know what you are going to write about, so orient them to your topic by beginning broadly.

Writing Your Introduction

There are several approaches to writing an introduction, each of which fulfills the same goals. The introduction should get readers’ attention, provide background information, and present the writer’s main research question or, perhaps, the thesis.

daria-nepriakhina-zoCDWPuiRuA-unsplash.jpg

Many writers like to begin with one of the following catchy openers:

  • A surprising fact
  • A thought-provoking question
  • An attention-getting quote
  • A brief anecdote that illustrates a larger concept
  • A connection between your topic and your readers’ experiences

For more information, see the "Introductions and Conclusions" sections in Chapter 4.

The next few sentences place the opening in context by presenting background information. From there, the writer builds toward the research question or a thesis, which is traditionally placed at the end of the introduction. Either of these will let your readers know what direction the paper is headed.

Miguel decided to begin his research paper by connecting his topic to readers’ daily experiences. Read the first draft of his introduction. The research question is underlined. Note how Miguel progresses from the opening sentences to background information to his thesis:

Thesis Location

The thesis for a research paper may only be implied until the conclusion of your paper. You will hint at it through your topic sentences and the way you discuss the information. However, the stated thesis most likely won’t occur until the beginning of your conclusion. The reason for this is the purpose of a research paper, which is academic inquiry. You don’t want to enter the research process thinking you already know what you want to say with an already determined point of view. You want to enter the process with an open mind of exploration. This is where your research question will really help you. It keeps you objective so that you may say to yourself (or write in your paper), “these authors take xxxx perspective on this topic because…..” Then you can evaluate the merits of that point of view in your paper. It’s not until you’ve discussed all of the relevant opinions and research that you should come to a conclusion. This is what an informed and thoughtful person does – evaluates the various arguments and information and arrives at an informed conclusion. In effect, that’s what you’re doing on paper for your reader.

The Body of the Research Paper

Write the body of your research paper first. The body of the research paper is very much like the body of a regular essay . . . only longer. Each paragraph needs a main idea, to be cohesive, and to discuss and support that idea. Each paragraph needs explanation so that the reader knows why this particular thing or point of view you are writing about is important. You should make it clear how the topic you are discussing in the paragraph connects or helps answer your guiding question. You may organize your research paper into multiple sections, each with its own main idea and multiple paragraphs.

Transitions between ideas can be more important in research papers than in traditional essays because you, as the writer, are synthesizing so much more information. There may be multiple points of view about a topic, different kinds of relationships between ideas and multiple levels of information that you need to deal with. With so much information swirling around, one of your main tasks is to convey to your reader what to think about all of this information and guide them through it. To write transitions, you cannot simply write about one author’s work and then another; you must group and sort the information by theme, and point of view, and then write transitions to lead your reader through the forest of information (see the "they say/I say" discussion on the second video on this page).

The Conclusion of the Research Paper

Write the conclusion after you have written the body of your research paper. Just as in most essays, the conclusion of a research paper should look to the future and broaden out from your particular topic. Also, it should begin with a transition from the last section into your thesis. It can also help to think about what we still need to know about this topic or what we still need to know or understand to answer your central question. To write a conclusion, ask yourself: What might we expect or hope to learn about this topic in the future? What else needs to be examined to answer this question? How will this knowledge help us in other ways? In what areas can this knowledge be applied? What other perspectives might be considered in future research?

Research papers generally follow the same basic structure: an introduction that presents the writer’s thesis, a body section that develops the thesis with supporting points and evidence, and a conclusion that revisits the thesis and provides additional insights or suggestions for further research.

Your writing voice will come across most strongly in your introduction and conclusion, as you work to attract your readers’ interest and establish your thesis. These sections usually do not cite sources at length. They focus on the big picture, not specific details. In contrast, the body of your paper will cite sources extensively. As you present your ideas, you will support your points with details from your research.

Writers often work out of sequence when writing a research paper. If you find yourself struggling to write an engaging introduction, you may wish to write the body of your paper first. Writing the body sections first will help you clarify your main points. Writing the introduction should then be easier. You may have a better sense of how to introduce the paper after you have drafted some of all of the body.

Writing at Work (and in the sciences)

If your job involves writing or reading scientific papers, it helps to understand how professional researchers use the structure described in this section. A scientific paper begins with an abstract that briefly summarizes the entire paper. The introduction explains the purpose of the research, briefly summarizes previous research, and presents the researchers' hypothesis. The body provides details about the study, such as who participated in it, what the researchers measured, and what results they recorded. The conclusion presents the researchers' interpretation of the data, or what they learned.

Using Source Material in Your Paper

One of the challenges of writing a research paper is successfully integrating your ideas with material from your sources. Your paper must explain what you think, or it will read like a disconnected string of facts and quotations. However, you also need to support your ideas with research, or they will seem insubstantial. How do you strike the right balance?

As you can see, using sources involves much more than just including a series of quotations in your essay. To avoid falling into the trap of having strings of quotations and very little else in a research essay, follow a few simple pointers:

  • Avoid using strings of long quotations. The overuse of long quotations gives the reader the impression you cannot think for yourself.
  • Use summaries and paraphrases in addition to direct quotations. To the reader, the effective use of summaries and paraphrases indicates that you took the time to think about the meaning behind the quote’s words.
  • Make sure to comment on any information you quote, summarize, and paraphrase. Remember that your researched information is there to support to your own ideas and logical argument in your research essay, and that incorporating research is like creating a conversation.
  • Finally, make sure to identify all of your quoted, summarized, and paraphrased information with citations, so your reader can easily differentiate your sources’ from your own information and ideas.

In the body paragraphs of your paper, you will need to integrate ideas carefully at the paragraph level and at the sentence level. Use topic sentences in your paragraphs to make sure readers understand the significance of any facts, details, or quotations you cite. You will also need to include sentences that transition between ideas from your research, either within a paragraph or between paragraphs. At the sentence level, you will need to think carefully about how you introduce paraphrased and quoted material.

Earlier you learned about summarizing, paraphrasing, and quoting when taking notes. In the next few sections, you will learn how to use these techniques in the body of your paper to weave in source material to support your ideas.

Summarizing Sources

When you summarize material from a source, you zero in on the main points and restate them concisely in your own words. If you wrote an annotated bibliography, you have already done this and can incorporate just the parts of those summaries you may need into your research paper. Also, see the " summary " section in this e-book. This technique is appropriate when only the major ideas are relevant to your paper or when you need to simplify complex information into a few key points for your readers.

In his draft, Miguel summarized research materials that presented scientists’ findings about low-carbohydrate diets. Read the following passage from a trade magazine article and Miguel’s summary of the article.

Assessing the Efficacy of Low-Carbohydrate Diets

Adrienne Howell, Ph.D.

Over the past few years, a number of clinical studies have explored whether high-protein, low-carbohydrate diets are more effective for weight loss than other frequently recommended diet plans, such as diets that drastically curtail fat intake (Pritikin) or that emphasize consuming lean meats, grains, vegetables, and a moderate amount of unsaturated fats (the Mediterranean diet). A 2009 study by Jones found that obese teenagers who followed a low-carbohydrate diet lost an average of 15.6 kilograms over a six-month period, whereas teenagers following a low-fat diet or a Mediterranean diet lost an average of 11.1 kilograms and 9.3 kilograms respectively. Two 2010 studies (Kirkhoff and Mashoud, Janus and Beebe) that measured weight loss for obese adults following these same three diet plans found similar results. Over three months, subjects on the low-carbohydrate diet plan lost anywhere from four to six kilograms more than subjects who followed other diet plans.

In three recent studies, researchers compared outcomes for obese subjects who followed either a low-carbohydrate diet, a low-fat diet, or a Mediterranean diet and found that subjects following a low-carbohydrate diet lost more weight in the same time (Howell, 2010).

A summary restates ideas in your own words -- but for specialized or clinical terms, you may need to use terms that appear in the original source. For instance, Miguel used the term obese in his summary because related words such as heavy or overweight have a different clinical meaning.

Paraphrasing Sources

A paraphrase re-states information and ideas from a source using your own wording and sentence structure. Paraphrasing is similar to summarizing; however, summaries condense the original down to the essential or main ideas, while paraphrases simply re-state the original portion of text in your own words.

So why paraphrase? Paraphrasing offers a way to maintain your own writing style and voice throughout the writing. It helps cut down on the number of different styles from different sources, creating a sleeker, easier reading experience for your reader. Most of all, though, paraphrasing is a means of helping you understand what your sources are saying, in order to incorporate that information into your own writing. You have to understand the source's ideas fully in order to rewrite them clearly.

When you paraphrase, make sure not to simply substitute one word for another, retaining the same sentence structure. Paraphrasing requires you to use your own sentence structures as well as words, so that you are not inadvertently plagiarizing the source.

In general, it is best to paraphrase when:

  • There is no good reason to use a quote to refer to your evidence. If the author’s exact words are not especially important to the point you are trying to make, you are usually better off paraphrasing the evidence.
  • You are trying to explain technical information or complicated language to a more general reading audience.
  • You are trying to explain a particular a piece of evidence in order to explain or interpret it in more detail. This might be particularly true in writing projects like critiques.
  • You need to balance a direct quote in your writing. You need to be careful about directly quoting your research too much because it can sometimes make for awkward and difficult to read prose. So, one of the reasons to use a paraphrase instead of a quote is to create balance within your writing.

But before we can go into the "how to" of paraphrasing, we should examine the sometimes fine line between paraphrasing and plagiarism. Doing so is important because many fields (especially in the sciences) very rarely or never use quotation, exclusively using paraphrasing instead. Second, not paraphrasing well is the cause behind many if not most cases of plagiarism, so to avoid accidental plagiarism, you should learn how to paraphrase well. Finally, almost everyone needs to paraphrase sometimes; in fact, you most likely already do, at least in conversation.

How Plagiarism Often Happens

Plagiarism is the act of misrepresenting someone else’s work as your own. Sometimes a writer plagiarizes work on purpose—for instance, by purchasing an essay from a website and submitting it as original course work. In other cases, a writer may commit accidental plagiarism due to carelessness, haste, or misunderstanding. To avoid unintentional plagiarism, follow these guidelines:

  • Understand what types of information must be cited.
  • Understand what constitutes fair use of a source.
  • Keep source materials and notes carefully organized.
  • Follow guidelines for summarizing, paraphrasing, and quoting sources.

Plagiarism is usually not the obvious kind of cut-and-paste theft you might associate with cheating on a research paper. Rather, writers think about what they want to communicate and what’s important to them. They usually develop a theme on their own, research it, and find a number of sources to draw from. The result of this research is a bunch of fragments from all over the place. One of those fragments, if not properly paraphrased and cited as the fragments coalesced into a paper, becomes an example of plagiarism because the writer lost track of its origin.

This video explains it a little more.

Plagiarism . . . Definition, Consequences and Examples. Authored by: NurseKillam. License: All Rights Reserved. License Terms: Standard YouTube License

Carefully organizing your time and notes is the best guard against these forms of plagiarism. Maintain a detailed working bibliography and thorough notes throughout the research process. Check original sources again to clear up any uncertainties. Allow plenty of time for writing your draft so there is no temptation to cut corners.

How to Avoid This Mistake

How do you gather your notes? Do you bookmark Web passages, use Evernote or Zotero, or create index cards or sticky notes? No matter your method, you should have a consistent and clear method to keep track of your sources.

Within your writing, you can use sources ethically and avoid plagiarism by identifying or attributing your source, even when you paraphrase. Some students think you only need to cite your source if you quote. That's not true -- any source, whether it's a quote or a paraphrase, must be cited in order to avoid a charge of plagiarism. Your mind can run free, your text can flow, but your attributions must be as fastidious as an accountant’s.

Many courses at college have an online component of the class. In California, this is usually Canvas. Your instructor may set up some of your assignments so that they are run through plagiarism detection software to determine its "originality." Really this means, "how much does what you write differ from sources on the Internet and what has previously been submitted to the institution?". Some instructors will allow you to upload your draft and check the originality report. The report will show what phrases and sentences in your paper match phrases and sentences in other sources. Usually you don't need to worry about sources that are in quotation marks because the software will assume that you are also citing them (though your instructor will notice if the citations are missing). This software is most valuable in seeing how well you paraphrase. If you see sentences highlighted or chunks of sentences highlighted, you will know you need to do a little more work to paraphrase your sources correctly. See below for a video about how to read an example report.

Paraphrasing Check. Authored by: Erika Dyquisto. License: All Rights Reserved. License Terms: Standard YouTube License.

When to cite.

Any idea or fact taken from an outside source must be cited, in both the body of your paper and the references list. The only exceptions are facts or general statements that are common knowledge. Common-knowledge facts or general statements are commonly supported by and found in multiple sources. For example, a writer would not need to cite the statement that most breads, pastas, and cereals are high in carbohydrates; this is well known and well documented. However, if a writer explained in detail the differences among the chemical structures of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, a citation would be necessary. When in doubt, cite.

In recent years, issues related to the fair use of sources have been prevalent in popular culture. Recording artists, for example, may disagree about the extent to which one has the right to sample another’s music. For academic purposes, however, the guidelines for fair use are reasonably straightforward.

Writers may quote from or paraphrase material from previously published works without formally obtaining the copyright holder’s permission. Fair use means that the writer legitimately uses brief excerpts from source material to support and develop his or her own ideas. For instance, a columnist may excerpt a few sentences from a novel when writing a book review. However, quoting or paraphrasing another’s work at excessive length, to the extent that large sections of the writing are unoriginal, is not fair use.

As he worked on his draft, Miguel was careful to cite his sources correctly and not to rely excessively on any one source. Occasionally, however, he caught himself quoting a source at great length. In those instances, he highlighted the paragraph in question so that he could go back to it later and revise. Read the example, along with Miguel's revision.

Heinz found that “subjects in the low-carbohydrate group (30% carbohydrates; 40% protein, 30% fat) had a mean weight loss of 10 kg (22 lbs) over a 4-month period.” These results were “noticeably better than results for subjects on a low-fat diet (45% carbohydrates, 35% protein, 20% fat)” whose average weight loss was only “7 kg (15.4 lbs) in the same period” (Heinz). From this, it can be concluded that “low-carbohydrate diets obtain more rapid results.” Other researchers agree that “at least in the short term, patients following low-carbohydrate diets enjoy greater success” than those who follow alternative plans (Johnson and Crowe).

After reviewing the paragraph, Miguel realized that he had drifted into unoriginal writing. Most of the paragraph was taken verbatim from a single article. Although Miguel had enclosed the material in quotation marks, he knew it was not an appropriate way to use the research in his paper.

REVISED summary

Low-carbohydrate diets may indeed be superior to other diet plans for short-term weight loss. In a study comparing low-carbohydrate diets and low-fat diets, Heinz found that subjects who followed a low-carbohydrate plan (30% of total calories) for 4 months lost, on average, about 3 kilograms more than subjects who followed a low-fat diet for the same time. Heinz concluded that these plans yield quick results, an idea supported by a similar study conducted by Johnson and Crowe. What remains to be seen, however, is whether this initial success can be sustained for longer periods.

As Miguel revised the paragraph, he realized he did not need to quote these sources directly. Instead, he paraphrased their most important findings. He also made sure to include a topic sentence stating the main idea of the paragraph and a concluding sentence that transitioned to the next major topic in his essay. Even though he paraphrased his sources, he still cited them.

Writing at Work

Citing other people's work appropriately is just as important in the workplace as it is in school. If you need to consult outside sources to research a document you are creating, follow the general guidelines already discussed, as well as any industry-specific citation guidelines. For ore extensive use of others' work -- for instance, requesting permission to link to another company's website on your own corporate website--always follow your employer's established procedures.

Academic Integrity

The concepts and strategies discussed in this section connect to a larger issue—academic integrity. You maintain your integrity as a member of an academic community by representing your work and others’ work honestly and by using other people’s work only in legitimately accepted ways. It is a point of honor taken seriously in every academic discipline and career field.

Academic integrity violations have serious educational and professional consequences, as noted in the video above. Even when cheating and plagiarism go undetected, they still result in a student’s failure to learn necessary research and writing skills. Students who are found guilty of academic integrity violations face consequences ranging from a failing grade to expulsion from the university. Employees may be fired for plagiarism and do irreparable damage to their professional reputation. In short, it is never worth the risk.

To test your understanding of how to use sources ethically, take SUNY Empire State College’s Academic Integrity Quiz .

Take SUNY Empire State College's Academic Integrity quiz, linked in the previous paragraph. After taking the quiz, discuss with a classmate what you knew and what you learned when taking a quiz. Together, write down two questions to ask your instructor in class about academic integrity.

Paraphrasing

Paraphrasing well is one of the most important skills you can learn in a college writing class. You will use it throughout your academic--and very likely your work--career. Not only do we paraphrase to convey information smoothly, in many academic and work fields, paraphrasing, rather than quoting, is the standard way of conveying other people's information. It is important to learn to paraphrase well in order to avoid plagiarizing and to be able to change other people's ideas into your "voice." Paraphrased passages are always cited, just as quotes are. A paraphrased source differs from a summarized source in that you focus on restating the ideas, not condensing them. Paraphrasing is also a good writing technique to make ensure you understand your reading thoroughly. If you struggle to create a paraphrase, it may be that you don't fully understand the reading and should work more on that.

Writing a Paraphrase Properly

Make sure that you understand the original text that you intend to paraphrase. Rewrite that text at least twice, in your own words. It can help to read it, turn the reading over so you can't see it, and then write it in your own words. After the first rewriting, set the paraphrase aside for a short time. When you go back to it, you’ll most likely see that you’ve tended to retain some of the original text’s wording and sentence structure. On a second (or third, or fourth) rewriting, try to make the language and sentence structure your own, while retaining the meaning of the original text. If you find that the original text uses a key word or phrase that you don’t want to rewrite, know that you can always include it in quotation marks within your paraphrase. Finally, make sure to attribute the paraphrase at the start (e.g., “According to…”) and include a citation at the end. Your readers should be able to distinguish your own information from paraphrased information, and the attribution and citation signal the beginning and end of the paraphrase.

Paraphrasing Example

The original passage, from Benjamin Franklin’s “Speech to the [Constitutional] Convention”:

Here is the initial try at a paraphrase:

The problem with this paraphrase is in the way that it reproduces distinctive phrasing, sentence structure, and ordering of ideas. Note that the bolded parts of the paragraph actually reproduce Franklin’s wording exactly, and that the order of information in the paraphrase is essentially the same as in the original. Notice the end of the paraphrase also contains extra information that is not present in the original passage.

Now consider this GOOD revised version:

This paraphrase is strong because of the way that it captures the main ideas and important details of the original passage without reproducing phrasing or sentence structure too exactly. There are still similarities of phrasing and structure, but they deviate in notable ways from the phrasing and structure of the original passage. Also unlike the first paraphrase, this one does not include information not found in the original passage.

Paraphrase Checklist

Use the following checklist to help you create an appropriate paraphrase.

  • Have you used your own words and sentence structures?
  • Even though the wording is your own, have you carefully retained the meaning of the original text?
  • Did you attribute the paraphrase at the start, using language in some way that explains that you’re paraphrasing another’s text? (e.g., “Smith states that…”)
  • Did you cite the paraphrase correctly at the end, using a standard citation format for in-text citations?
  • Did you cite the paraphrased source in the Works Cited list at the end of the essay?

When you paraphrase material from a source, restate the information from an entire sentence or passage in your own words, using your own original sentence structure. It can help to not look at the source material while you do this.

Again, it is important to check your paraphrase against the source material to make sure it is both accurate and original. Inexperienced writers sometimes use the thesaurus method of paraphrasing—that is, they simply rewrite the source material, replacing most of the words with synonyms. This constitutes a misuse of sources. A true paraphrase restates ideas using the writer’s own language and style. If you are writing a paper, and your instructor uses plagiarism detection software, consider asking your instructor if you can use the software to make sure your paraphrase is in your own words well enough. Passages that are not paraphrased well enough will have color highlighting in various places in the passage. This means that the paraphrase needs to be improved to be considered (and maybe that you need to understand the material better) an appropriate paraphrase.

In his draft, Miguel frequently paraphrased details from sources. At times, he needed to rewrite a sentence more than once to ensure he was paraphrasing ideas correctly. Read the passage from the website source, below. Then read Miguel’s initial attempt at paraphrasing it, followed by the final version of his paraphrase.

Dieters nearly always get great results soon after they begin following a low-carbohydrate diet, but these results tend to taper off after the first few months, particularly because many dieters find it difficult to follow a low-carbohydrate diet plan consistently.

People usually see encouraging outcomes shortly after they go on a low-carbohydrate diet, but their progress slows down after a short while, especially because most discover that it is a challenge to adhere to the diet strictly (Heinz, 2009).

After reviewing the paraphrased sentence, Miguel realized he was following the original source too closely. He did not want to quote the full passage verbatim, so he again attempted to restate the idea in his own style.

Because it is hard for dieters to stick to a low-carbohydrate eating plan, the initial success of these diets is short-lived (Heinz, 2009).

Paraphrase the following passage from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) website, and ensure it follows the guidelines for a good paraphrase, above.

Origins of Earthquake Early Warning

Wherever people live with earthquakes, there is a desire for an early warning system that shaking is imminent. Even as far back as 1868, following a magnitude 6.8 earthquake on the Hayward fault, the San Francisco Daily Evening Bulletin published an editorial proposing an early warning system. Calls echoing that desire continued throughout the 20 th century in countries as far off as Iran, Italy, Japan, and Mexico.

In the United States, the first serious proposal for such a system came from USGS geophysicist Tom Heaton in 1985. Dr. Heaton’s pioneering insight was ahead of its time, but the technology available in 1985 was not adequate for the system he proposed.

However, a few years later, other USGS scientists would temporarily use some of Heaton’s innovative ideas after the Loma Prieta earthquake to try to safeguard the lives of rescue workers in the Bay Area. The intense shaking from the mainshock of Loma Prieta collapsed a 1.6-mile (2.5-kilometer) section of the Nimitz Freeway (referred to as the “Cypress Structure”) along I-880 through Oakland. As rescuers worked to free people trapped in the rubble, the risk of aftershocks damaging the freeway further and injuring the workers became apparent. So USGS scientists set up a temporary system that radioed alerts to the workers whenever there was a significant aftershock that might shake the Nimitz. During its six months of operation, the system sent warnings for 12 earthquakes greater than magnitude 3.7.

1. From a source related to your research topic, choose a 7- to 12-sentence long passage. Avoid introductory or concluding paragraphs, as these are often very general.

2. Paraphrase the original and include the citation in the text as well as in a Reference List. Add exercises text here.

Quoting Sources Directly

Most of the time, you will summarize or paraphrase source material instead of quoting directly. Doing so shows that you understand your research well enough to write about it confidently in your own words. However, direct quotes can be powerful when used sparingly and with purpose.

Quoting directly can sometimes help you make a point in a colorful way. If an author’s words are especially vivid, memorable, or well phrased, quoting them may help hold your reader’s interest. Or if you need exact words to be able to support your assertion, a quote can be an important type of evidence. Direct quotations from an interviewee or an eyewitness may help you personalize an issue for readers. And when you analyze primary sources, such as a historical speech or a work of literature, quoting extensively is often necessary to illustrate your points. These are valid reasons to use quotations.

Less experienced writers, however, sometimes overuse direct quotations in a research paper because it seems easier than paraphrasing. At best, this reduces the effectiveness of the quotations. At worst, it results in a paper that seems haphazardly pasted together from outside sources. Use quotations sparingly for greater impact.

When you do choose to quote directly from a source, follow these guidelines:

  • Make sure you have transcribed the original statement accurately.
  • Represent the author’s ideas honestly. Quote enough of the original text to reflect the author’s point accurately.
  • Never use a stand-alone quotation. Always integrate the quoted material into your own sentence with a signal phrase that provides context.
  • Use ellipses (…) if you need to omit a word or phrase. Use brackets [ ] if you need to replace or add a word or phrase to make the quote flow grammatically with your own sentence.
  • Make sure any omissions or changed words do not alter the meaning of the original text. Omit or replace words only when absolutely necessary to shorten the text or to make it grammatically correct within your sentence.
  • Remember to include correctly formatted citations that follow the assigned style guide.

Miguel interviewed a dietician as part of his research, and he decided to quote her words in his paper. Read an excerpt from the interview and Miguel’s use of it, which follows.

Personally, I don’t really buy into all of the hype about low-carbohydrate miracle diets like Atkins and so on. Sure, for some people, they are great, but for most, any sensible eating and exercise plan would work just as well.

Registered dietician Dana Kwon (2010) admits, “Personally, I don’t really buy into all of the hype.…Sure, for some people, [low-carbohydrate diets] are great, but for most, any sensible eating and exercise plan would work just as well.”

Notice how Miguel smoothly integrated the quoted material by starting the sentence with an introductory phrase. His use of ellipses and brackets did not change the source’s meaning.

Documenting Source Material

Throughout the writing process, be scrupulous about documenting information taken from sources, whether they are quotes or paraphrases. When you document sources within your writing, they are called "in-text citations." The full documentation of all of your sources (each only entered once) is in the Bibliography or Works Cited page at the end of your paper. The purpose of doing so is twofold:

  • To give credit to other writers or researchers for their ideas
  • To allow your reader to follow up and learn more about the topic if desired, which is part of the "conversation" or research.

Two of the most common documentation styles in academic writing are the Modern Language Association (MLA) style and the American Psychological Association (APA) style. The latter of these is used for documenting most social sciences and educational research also. Since this book is for English classes, we will use MLA style. Do not feel like you need to memorize a style; rather, use the various guidebooks and resources that are out there to help you document your sources in your writing.

Citing Sources in the Body of Your Paper ("in-text" citations)

In-text citations document your sources within the body of your paper. These include two vital pieces of information: the author’s name and the page number (if there is one) of the source material. Page numbers are necessary only when content has been directly quoted, not when it has been summarized or paraphrased.

Within a sentence, the in-text citation information may appear as part of your introduction to the material or as a parenthetical citation at the end of a sentence. Read the examples that follow.

Leibowitz found that low-carbohydrate diets often helped subjects with Type II diabetes maintain a healthy weight and control blood-sugar levels.

The introduction to the source material includes the author’s name followed by the year of publication in parentheses.

Low-carbohydrate diets often help subjects with Type II diabetes maintain a healthy weight and control blood-sugar levels (Leibowitz).

The parenthetical citation at the end of the sentence includes the author’s name and the page number (if any) with only a space in between. The period at the end of the sentence comes after the parentheses. If you are quoting a source, it should look like this:

Herman Melville, in his first volume of poetry, wrote, "it is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation" (1).

"It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation" (Melville 1).

Creating a List of References

Each of the sources you cite in the body text will appear in a references list at the end of your paper. While in-text citations provide the most basic information about the source, your references section will include additional publication details. In general, you will include the following information:

  • The author’s last name followed by his or her first (and sometimes middle) initial
  • The year the source was published
  • The source title
  • For articles in periodicals, the full name of the periodical, along with the volume and issue number and the pages where the article appeared

Additional information may be included for different types of sources, such as online sources. For a detailed guide to APA or MLA citations, see Chapter 13 . A sample reference list is provided with the final draft of Jorge’s paper later in this chapter.

Incorporating Primary and Secondary Research

As you write your draft, be mindful of how you are using primary and secondary source material to support your points. Recall that primary sources present firsthand information. Secondary sources are one step removed from primary sources. They present a writer’s analysis or interpretation of primary source materials. How you balance primary and secondary source material in your paper will depend on the topic and assignment.

Incorporating Primary Sources Effectively

Some types of research papers must use primary sources extensively to achieve their purpose. Any paper that analyzes a primary text or presents the writer’s own experimental research falls in this category. Here are a few examples:

  • A paper for a literature course analyzing several poems by Emily Dickinson
  • A paper for a political science course comparing televised speeches delivered by two presidential candidates
  • A paper for a communications course discussing gender biases in television commercials
  • A paper for a business administration course that discusses the results of a survey the writer conducted with local businesses to gather information about their work-from-home and flex time policies
  • A paper for an elementary education course that discusses the results of an experiment the writer conducted to compare the effectiveness of two different methods of mathematics instruction

For these types of papers, primary research is the main focus. If you are writing about a work (including non-print works, such as a movie or a painting), it is crucial to gather information and ideas from the original work, rather than relying solely on others’ interpretations. And, of course, if you take the time to design and conduct your own field research, such as a survey, a series of interviews, or an experiment, you will want to discuss it in detail. For example, the interviews may provide interesting responses that you want to share with your reader.

You are already familiar with incorporating quotations and paraphrases from primary sources that people other than yourself have produced. But you may not be familiar with how to incorporate your own primary research. When Miguel was writing his paper, he decided to give a survey to people he knew about whether and why people the author knew participated in low-carb diets. he also asked questions to determine how effective they were. When gathering your own data like this, it is best to summarize the data that you found before writing about it. In other words, you must analyze the data you gathered and summarize it. You then refer to your overall findings. To incorporate his findings, Miguel wrote:

Note that Miguel cited his own last name when quoting his own research. That's really the only difference between incorporating a primary source that you collected versus primary research that someone else said.

Incorporating Secondary Sources Effectively

For some assignments, it makes sense to rely more on secondary sources than primary sources. If you are not analyzing a text or conducting your own field research, you will need to use secondary sources extensively.

As much as possible, use secondary sources that are closely linked to primary research, such as a journal article presenting the results of the authors’ scientific study or a book that cites interviews and case studies. These sources are more reliable and add more value to your paper than sources that are further removed from primary research. For instance, a popular magazine article on junk-food addiction might be several steps removed from the original scientific study on which it is loosely based. As a result, the article may distort, sensationalize, or misinterpret the scientists’ findings.

Even if your paper is largely based on primary sources, you may use secondary sources to develop your ideas. For instance, an analysis of Alfred Hitchcock’s films would focus on the films themselves as a primary source, but might also cite commentary from critics. A paper that presents an original experiment would include some discussion of similar prior research in the field.

Miguel knew he did not have the time, resources, or experience needed to conduct original experimental research for his paper other than a little additional complimentary research. Because he was relying on secondary sources to support his ideas, he made a point of citing sources that were not far removed from primary research.

Some sources could be considered primary or secondary sources, depending on the writer’s purpose for using them. For instance, if a writer’s purpose is to inform readers about how the No Child Left Behind legislation has affected elementary education, a Time magazine article on the subject would be a secondary source. However, suppose the writer’s purpose is to analyze how the news media has portrayed the effects of the No Child Left Behind legislation. In that case, articles about the legislation in news magazines like Time , Newsweek , and US News & World Report would be primary sources. They provide firsthand examples of the media coverage the writer is analyzing.

Contributors and Attributions

CC LICENSED CONTENT, SHARED PREVIOUSLY:

  • Adapted from College Writing . Authored by: Susan Oaks. Provided by: Lumen Learning. License: CC-BY-NC 4.0.
  • Adapted from Writing for Success . Provided by: The Saylor Foundation. License: CC-NC-SA 3.0 .

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22+ Research Paper Outline Examples and How to Write Them

Research Paper Outline Examples

Apart from a report outline and a presentation outline , a research paper outline is one of the most common types of outlines you’re likely to encounter in any given field. This outline is incredibly useful in both business and education, as it serves as a guide for students and employees to further understand a certain topic. But before you begin creating the outline of your research paper, make sure you know how to structure it first. In this article, we shall discuss the basic elements of an outline with the help of a few examples.

  • Essay Outline Examples
  • Program Outline Examples

Research outlines come with variety. To give you some visual representation of these tools, here are some examples of research paper outline in PDF file format you could rely on.

Basic Research Paper Outline

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Educational Research Paper Outline

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Simple Research Paper Outline

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Comprehensible Research Paper Outline

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Plain Research Paper Outline

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 What Is a Research Paper Outline

Outlines are tools that are used by authors to chronologically arrange their written ideas about a central topic or thesis. Details in an outline are deductively written which means that it starts by mentioning the major topics, followed by subtopics and supporting details. Outlines are utilized by writers to provide themselves a plan or blueprint on what to include in their papers. Moreover, outlines vary from very general to very specific as well as formal to informal.

Similarly, a research paper outline also does the same. It also functions as a guide for the researchers to identify what pieces of information do they need to involve in their research document.

Essential Parts of a Research Paper Outline

research paper outline

The outline structure of a research paper is fairly similar to that of a book outline . The only difference is the actual content presented in the paper. For us to further understand the significant components of a research paper outline, let us discuss each part accordingly:

Introduction

The introduction is considered to be the most important part of your outline, as it gives readers a general overview of what your topic is about. Here, your thesis statement along with the purpose of your study must be stated clearly. You also have the option to include your reason for studying such a topic and its significance. The methodology and the aims for the investigation must also be emphasized in your introduction. To put it simply, the introduction of your outline should stress out the major points addressed in the research paper.

The body of your outline is where you will need to present every valid argument to support your topic or thesis statement. The best approach to follow would be the “Rule of 3”, in which you must find three supporting arguments to express your point. The body is also composed of several paragraphs or subparts, which include the background of the problem and other supporting data. You may also see a  speech outline .

The final part of an outline paper is the conclusion. This consists of a summary of all the major points mentioned to arrive at your final stand on the issue or subject tackled. Be sure to expound your thoughts briefly and concisely in this section, as you don’t want to end up adding a different argument to the outline. Remember to mention the thesis statement again to connect each point accordingly. It’s also advisable to state recommendations or formulate the prospect for future studies in your conclusion. You may also see a  chapter outline .

Listed below are examples of a research paper outline:

Topic: Asbestos Poisoning

I. Introduction

  • Definition of the Topic
  • Significance of the Study
  • Definition of Terms
  • Symptoms of Asbestos Poisoning
  • Effects of Asbestos Poisoning
  • Possible Treatments

III. Conclusion

  • How to Deal with Asbestos Hazards

Thesis: Abortion: Main Causes and Effects

Introductory Clause

  • Brief introduction of the issue
  • Definition of terms
  • The theoretical basis for the paper
  • Methodology
  • Thesis statement
  • Review of related literature
  • Significance of the study

a. Background of the problem

  • The history of abortion and the primary causes that lead modern women to consider this method (possible causes such as religion, financial status, career issues, etc. must be expounded)
  • Explain the position or stand of the church and the state regarding this problem
  • General information about the possible consequences of abortion supported with valid facts, scientific articles and studies, examples, etc.

b. Available alternatives to abortion along with their pros and cons.

c. Advantages and disadvantages of abortion

  • Explain all advantages of abortion, with supporting facts and examples
  • Explain all disadvantages of abortion (both physical and mental), with supporting facts and examples

Final Clause/Conclusion

a. Conclusion

  • A short analysis of all the facts provided in the paper
  • Rephrased thesis statement

b. Recommendations for future studies

Based on the examples above, the structure of your outline must consist of a series of headings and subheadings of the said topic. Since an outline must only emphasize the primary points of your research, then you must keep it brief yet informative enough for readers to comprehend.

How to Create an Outline

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A well-made outline is essential in locating significant information and keeping track of large amounts of data from a research paper. But an outline must be created properly for it to be understood by a reader, which is why the information should be organized in a logical or hierarchical order for everyone’s convenience. You may also see biography outline .

1. Begin with your thesis statement.  It’s important to start your research paper outline with your thesis statement, or at least a  topic sentence that supports your thesis statement. So when a person reads your outline, they can immediately identify what your research paper is all about.

2. List down the major points of your research paper.  Create a list of strong arguments that must be highlighted in your outline. It would be best to organize them properly by sectioning them into particular categories. You may even label each part in Roman Numerals (I, II, III, IV) to make it easier for readers to find what they are looking for in your outline. You may also see tentative outlines .

3. Note down supporting ideas or argument for each point listed.  For every major argument listed, there must be a series of supporting ideas to back up its claims. This usually consists of facts or examples that prove the credibility of such a claim. Similar to the central points of the paper, it is important to keep this section organized by labeling each idea in capital letters (A, B, C). You may also see a  resume outline .

4. Subdivide each supporting topic.  If necessary, you can continue to subdivide each point to fully expound the ideas presented. This will help make your outline even more informative for readers to grasp. You can then label them with numbers ( 1, 2, 3 ) and lowercase letters ( a, b, c ).

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Creating an outline for your research paper isn’t as daunting as it may seem. It’s a step-by-step process that requires proper analysis and comprehension to carry out. If you’re having trouble writing your research paper outline, then it might be better to start off with a rough outline first. After which, you can then make the necessary adjustments to complete your final outline. By studying various outline samples , you’re sure to come up with the perfect research paper outline in no time.

MLA Research Paper Outline

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Air Quality Research Paper Outline

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Academic Research Paper Outline

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Psychology Research Paper Outline

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Students Research Paper Outline

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Career Research Paper Outline

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Research Paper Outline Example

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Printable Research Paper Outline

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Sample Research Paper Outline

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Research Paper Outline Format

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Research Paper Outline Guide

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Research Paper Outline in PDF

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Simple Research Paper Outline Example

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Junior Research Paper Outline

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Sample Research for Outline Paper

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A Step-by-Step Guide to Research Process

The research process is the act of identifying, locating, assessing and analyzing of different pieces of information that are needed to support your research question. Then, the collected data will help you derive a rational conclusion. The research process is systematic and is important for you to build your own paper. To help you construct your own research process, you may follow these steps:

1. Distinguish and select a research topic.

Choosing your research topic could be a very critical step to take. It is not just because it is the first move but also due to the fact that your whole research process revolves around this topic; thus, it should be done correctly. To explain further, here are some points you need to remember:

Stick with the parameters.  Whether you are making one for academic purposes in middle school or for your job, you need to be wary of the given criterion given by your instructor. Following these are really vital since it is the key to your next step. If you fail to obey the said parameter, it could disqualify or deem your paper proposal invalid. Most of the times, clear guidelines are given to help you take the first step; however, if there’s none, ask to clarify this issue.

Go for interesting topics.  Needless to say, composing your own research paper would more enjoyable if the topic is what you truly want to explore. Furthermore, doing your research will be easier since you are having fun on the process.

Go for topics with numerous possible information sources.  Assuming that there are numerous things that interest you then identify which of these has loads of various potential basis of information. To do this, you can conduct a preliminary searching of information in various sources such as books, journals, and the holy-grail internet. There’s no need on taking notes yet, simply ponder whether the available pieces of information are capable of meeting your needs and could support your study. If you find too many information, you may need to narrow your topic; if you find too few, you may need to widen your topic.

Never forget to be original.  The most probable reason for you to write your own research paper is for your academic completion. Hence, the most possible recipient of your work will be your instructor. Now, consider that your instructor already read thousands of research paper and the only way to stand out is to be rationally different. Think outside the mundane way of thinking, be creative and be innovative. In other words, be original.

Never hesitate to ask for help.  Though it may sound absurd, consulting your instructor about this issue would be a great help. Thinking that in most cases, your instructor would be one of the people that would give verdict on your paper, conducting research on ideas that came straight from him/her would be a great advantage.

If you already have a topic with you, it would also be helpful to turn it into a specific question. Doing this would surely make your research concepts and keywords identification a lot easier. For instance, if you are really into music then you can simply pinpoint a specific topic related to that such as:

  • What are the effects of pop music to the performance level of students?
  •  What makes us have different musical tastes?
  • What makes a piece of music good to hear?

2. Search for in-depth information.

Now that you have a specific central topic to talk about, it is time to look for deeper information. Utilize the best form of source or material that is appropriate for your study. For example, if you are in search of objective information, you can use books, magazines, journals, and internet. However, there are some details that need a different approach such as responses. In these cases, conduct a survey, observation or interview instead. Moreover, take note of your sources in doing this step.

3. Examine your sources.

In research, there are certain criteria to consider your information valid and reliable. Check on your sources’ date of publication of the information you have gathered. The common acceptable range is 5 years from the present. If you are using the internet as your source, check on the top-level domain if it is either “.edu,” “.gov,” “.org,” etc.

4. Take note.

Making a note of the different data and sources are very important in your research process. This will serve as your guide on which of those are useful for your paper. Moreover, don’t forget to include the author, title, publisher, URL and other details that will be used in citing them.

5. Begin writing your paper.

You may start by constructing a research paper outline which we discussed earlier and follow it by writing a rough draft. Remember, there is no need to be perfect right away. The main purpose of making a rough draft is to organize your information and help you in forming your final paper. Afterward, review and edit your draft as many times as necessary.

6. Cite your sources.

It is important to recall that not all information in your research paper is not yours; thus, it is just appropriate to cite them in your bibliography or reference list. By doing this, you are able to give a polite credit to the authors of the different information you have used and also to avoid plagiarism. Moreover, these would allow your reader to locate the sources of your information for verification and duplication purposes. Remember, there are different styles and formats in citing your sources. MLA, APA, and Chicago are some of the most used citation formats.

7. Proofread your work

The last step before publishing your work is to proofread your work. Simply read over your research paper and see whether there are any grammatical, spelling or any other unnoticed technical and textual errors. Proofreading is also important to check if your paper is speaking of what you really want to imply and inspect if you are following the proper citing process. Before doing this step, it is recommendable to take a break or consult the help of a proficient friend.

rough outline research paper

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How to Write a Rough Draft

Last Updated: February 6, 2023 Fact Checked

This article was co-authored by Michelle Golden, PhD . Michelle Golden is an English teacher in Athens, Georgia. She received her MA in Language Arts Teacher Education in 2008 and received her PhD in English from Georgia State University in 2015. There are 10 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. This article has been fact-checked, ensuring the accuracy of any cited facts and confirming the authority of its sources. This article has been viewed 291,749 times.

Writing a rough draft is an essential part of the writing process, an opportunity to get your initial ideas and thoughts down on paper. It might be difficult to dive right into a rough draft of an essay or a creative piece, such as a novel or a short story. You should start by brainstorming ideas for the draft to get your creative juices flowing and take the time to outline your draft. You will then be better prepared to sit down and write your rough draft.

Brainstorming Ideas for the Draft

Step 1 Do a freewrite...

  • Freewrites often work best if you give yourself a time limit, such as five minutes or ten minutes. You should then try to not take your pen off the page as you write so you are forced to keep writing about the subject or topic for the set period of time.
  • For example, if you were writing an essay about the death penalty, you may use the prompt: “What are the possible issues or problems with the death penalty?” and write about it freely for ten minutes.
  • Often, freewrites are also a good way to generate content that you can use later in your rough draft. You may surprised at what you realize as you write freely about the topic.

Step 2 Make a cluster map about the topic or subject.

  • To use the clustering method, you will place a word that describes your topic or subject in the center of your paper. You will then write keywords and thoughts around the center word. Circle the center word and draw lines away from the center to other keywords and ideas. Then, circle each word as you group them around the central word.
  • For example, if you were trying to write a short story around a theme like “anger”, you will write “anger” in the middle of the page. You may then write keywords around “anger”, like “volcano”, “heat”, “my mother”, and “rage”.

Step 3 Read writing about the topic or subject.

  • If you are writing a creative piece, you may look for texts written about a certain idea or theme that you want to explore in your own writing. You could look up texts by subject matter and read through several texts to get ideas for your story.
  • You might have favorite writers that you return to often for inspiration or search for new writers who are doing interesting things with the topic. You could then borrow elements of the writer’s approach and use it in your own rough draft.
  • You can find additional resources and texts online and at your local library. Speak to the reference librarian at your local library for more information on resources and texts.

Outlining Your Draft

Step 1 Make a plot outline

  • You may use the snowflake method to create the plot outline. In this method, you will write a one line summary of your story, followed by a one paragraph summary, and then character synopses. You will also create a spreadsheet of scenes.
  • Alternatively, you can use a plot diagram. In this method, you will have six sections: the set up, the inciting incident, the rising action, the climax, the falling action, and the resolution.
  • No matter which option you chose, you should make sure your outline contains at least the inciting incident, the climax, and the resolution. Having these three elements set in your mind will make writing your rough draft much easier.

Step 2 Try the three act structure.

  • Act 1: In Act 1, your protagonist meets the other characters in the story. The central conflict of the story is also revealed. Your protagonist should also have a specific goal that will cause them to make a decision. For example, in Act 1, you may have your main character get bitten by a vampire after a one night stand. She may then go into hiding once she discovers she has become a vampire.
  • Act 2: In Act 2, you introduce a complication that makes the central conflict even more of an issue. The complication can also make it more difficult for your protagonist to achieve their goal. For example, in Act 2, you may have your main character realize she has a wedding to go to next week for her best friend, despite the fact she has now become a vampire. The best friend may also call to confirm she is coming, making it more difficult for your protagonist to stay in hiding.
  • Act 3: In Act 3, you present a resolution to the central conflict of the story. The resolution may have your protagonist achieve their goal or fail to achieve their goal. For example, in Act 3, you may have your protagonist show up to the wedding and try to pretend to not be a vampire. The best friend may then find out and accept your protagonist anyway. You may end your story by having your protagonist bite the groom, turning him into her vampire lover.

Step 3 Create an essay outline.

  • Section 1: Introduction, including a hook opening line, a thesis statement , and three main discussion points. Most academic essays contain at least three key discussion points.
  • Section 2: Body paragraphs, including a discussion of your three main points. You should also have supporting evidence for each main point, from outside sources and your own perspective.
  • Section 3: Conclusion, including a summary of your three main points, a restatement of your thesis, and concluding statements or thoughts.

Step 4 Have a thesis statement.

  • For example, maybe you are creating a rough draft for a paper on gluten-intolerance. A weak thesis statement for this paper would be, “There are some positives and negatives to gluten, and some people develop gluten-intolerance.” This thesis statement is vague and does not assert an argument for the paper.
  • A stronger thesis statement for the paper would be, “Due to the use of GMO wheat in food sold in North America, a rising number of Americans are experiencing gluten-intolerance and gluten-related issues.” This thesis statement is specific and presents an argument that will be discussed in the paper.

Step 5 Include a list of sources.

  • Your professor or teacher may require you to create a bibliography using MLA style or APA style. You will need to organize your sources based on either style.

Writing the Rough Draft

Step 1 Find a quiet, focused environment for writing.

  • You may also make sure the room is set to an ideal temperature for sitting down and writing. You may also put on some classical or jazz music in the background to set the scene and bring a snack to your writing area so you have something to munch on as you write.

Step 2 Start in the middle.

  • You may also write the ending of the essay or story before you write the beginning. Many writing guides advise writing your introductory paragraph last, as you will then be able to create a great introduction based on the piece as a whole.

Step 3 Do not worry about making mistakes.

  • You should also try not to read over what you are writing as you get into the flow. Do not examine every word before moving on to the next word or edit as you go. Instead, focus on moving forward with the rough draft and getting your ideas down on the page.

Step 4 Use the active voice.

  • For example, rather than write, “It was decided by my mother that I would learn violin when I was two,” go for the active voice by placing the subject of the sentence in front of the verb, “My mother decided I would learn violin when I turned two.”
  • You should also avoid using the verb “to be” in your writing, as this is often a sign of passive voice. Removing “to be” and focusing on the active voice will ensure your writing is clear and effective.

Step 5 Refer to your outline when you get stuck.

  • You may also review the brainstorming materials you created before you sat down to write, such as your clustering exercise or your freewrite. Reviewing these materials could help to guide you as you write and help you focus on finishing the rough draft.
  • You may want to take breaks if you find you are getting writer’s block. Going for a walk, taking a nap, or even doing the dishes can help you focus on something else and give your brain a rest. You can then start writing again with a fresh approach after your break.

Step 6 Read over your rough draft and revise it.

  • You should also read the rough draft out loud to yourself. Listen for any sentences that sound unclear or confusing. Highlight or underline them so you know they need to be revised. Do not be afraid to revise whole sections or lines of the rough draft. It is a draft, after all, and will only improve with revision.
  • You can also read the rough draft out loud to someone else. Be willing to accept feedback and constructive criticism on the draft from the person. Getting a different perspective on your writing will often make it that much better.

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  • ↑ https://www.umgc.edu/current-students/learning-resources/writing-center/online-guide-to-writing/tutorial/chapter2/ch2-13
  • ↑ https://writing.ku.edu/prewriting-strategies
  • ↑ https://academicguides.waldenu.edu/writingcenter/writingprocess/outlining
  • ↑ http://www.writerswrite.com/screenwriting/cannell/lecture4/
  • ↑ https://www.grammarly.com/blog/essay-outline/
  • ↑ https://writingcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/thesis-statements/
  • ↑ https://writingcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/editing-and-proofreading/
  • ↑ https://www.grammarly.com/blog/rough-draft/
  • ↑ https://writing.wisc.edu/handbook/style/ccs_activevoice/
  • ↑ https://writingcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/revising-drafts/

About This Article

Michelle Golden, PhD

To write a rough draft, don't worry if you make minor mistakes or write sentences that aren't perfect. You can revise them later! Also, try not to read over what you're writing as you go, which will slow you down and mess up your flow. Instead, focus on getting all of your thoughts and ideas down on paper, even if you're not sure you'll keep them in the final draft. If you get stuck, refer to your outline or sources to help you come up with new ideas. For tips on brainstorming and outlining for a rough draft, read on! Did this summary help you? Yes No

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Research Paper Guide

Research Paper Example

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Research Paper Examples - Free Sample Papers for Different Formats!

Published on: Nov 27, 2017

Last updated on: Jan 11, 2024

Research Paper Example

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Crafting a comprehensive research paper can be daunting. Understanding diverse citation styles and various subject areas presents a challenge for many.

Without clear examples, students often feel lost and overwhelmed, unsure of how to start or which style fits their subject.

Explore our collection of expertly written research paper examples. We’ve covered various citation styles and a diverse range of subjects.

So, read on!

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Research Paper Example for Different Formats

Following a specific formatting style is essential while writing a research paper . Knowing the conventions and guidelines for each format can help you in creating a perfect paper. Here we have gathered examples of research paper for most commonly applied citation styles :

Social Media and Social Media Marketing: A Literature Review

APA Research Paper Example

APA (American Psychological Association) style is commonly used in social sciences, psychology, and education. This format is recognized for its clear and concise writing, emphasis on proper citations, and orderly presentation of ideas.

Here are some research paper examples in APA style:

Research Paper Example APA 7th Edition

Research Paper Example MLA

MLA (Modern Language Association) style is frequently employed in humanities disciplines, including literature, languages, and cultural studies. An MLA research paper might explore literature analysis, linguistic studies, or historical research within the humanities. 

Here is an example:

Found Voices: Carl Sagan

Research Paper Example Chicago

Chicago style is utilized in various fields like history, arts, and social sciences. Research papers in Chicago style could delve into historical events, artistic analyses, or social science inquiries. 

Here is a research paper formatted in Chicago style:

Chicago Research Paper Sample

Research Paper Example Harvard

Harvard style is widely used in business, management, and some social sciences. Research papers in Harvard style might address business strategies, case studies, or social policies.

View this sample Harvard style paper here:

Harvard Research Paper Sample

Examples for Different Research Paper Parts

A research paper has different parts. Each part is important for the overall success of the paper. Chapters in a research paper must be written correctly, using a certain format and structure.

The following are examples of how different sections of the research paper can be written.

Research Proposal

The research proposal acts as a detailed plan or roadmap for your study, outlining the focus of your research and its significance. It's essential as it not only guides your research but also persuades others about the value of your study.

Example of Research Proposal

An abstract serves as a concise overview of your entire research paper. It provides a quick insight into the main elements of your study. It summarizes your research's purpose, methods, findings, and conclusions in a brief format.

Research Paper Example Abstract

Literature Review 

A literature review summarizes the existing research on your study's topic, showcasing what has already been explored. This section adds credibility to your own research by analyzing and summarizing prior studies related to your topic.

Literature Review Research Paper Example

Methodology

The methodology section functions as a detailed explanation of how you conducted your research. This part covers the tools, techniques, and steps used to collect and analyze data for your study.

Methods Section of Research Paper Example

How to Write the Methods Section of a Research Paper

The conclusion summarizes your findings, their significance and the impact of your research. This section outlines the key takeaways and the broader implications of your study's results.

Research Paper Conclusion Example

Research Paper Examples for Different Fields

Research papers can be about any subject that needs a detailed study. The following examples show research papers for different subjects.

History Research Paper Sample

Preparing a history research paper involves investigating and presenting information about past events. This may include exploring perspectives, analyzing sources, and constructing a narrative that explains the significance of historical events.

View this history research paper sample:

Many Faces of Generalissimo Fransisco Franco

Sociology Research Paper Sample

In sociology research, statistics and data are harnessed to explore societal issues within a particular region or group. These findings are thoroughly analyzed to gain an understanding of the structure and dynamics present within these communities. 

Here is a sample:

A Descriptive Statistical Analysis within the State of Virginia

Science Fair Research Paper Sample

A science research paper involves explaining a scientific experiment or project. It includes outlining the purpose, procedures, observations, and results of the experiment in a clear, logical manner.

Here are some examples:

Science Fair Paper Format

What Do I Need To Do For The Science Fair?

Psychology Research Paper Sample

Writing a psychology research paper involves studying human behavior and mental processes. This process includes conducting experiments, gathering data, and analyzing results to understand the human mind, emotions, and behavior.

Here is an example psychology paper:

The Effects of Food Deprivation on Concentration and Perseverance

Art History Research Paper Sample

Studying art history includes examining artworks, understanding their historical context, and learning about the artists. This helps analyze and interpret how art has evolved over various periods and regions.

Check out this sample paper analyzing European art and impacts:

European Art History: A Primer

Research Paper Example Outline

Before you plan on writing a well-researched paper, make a rough draft. An outline can be a great help when it comes to organizing vast amounts of research material for your paper.

Here is an outline of a research paper example:

Here is a downloadable sample of a standard research paper outline:

Research Paper Outline

Want to create the perfect outline for your paper? Check out this in-depth guide on creating a research paper outline for a structured paper!

Good Research Paper Examples for Students

Here are some more samples of research paper for students to learn from:

Fiscal Research Center - Action Plan

Qualitative Research Paper Example

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How to Write a Research Paper Example

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Now that you have explored the research paper examples, you can start working on your research project. Hopefully, these examples will help you understand the writing process for a research paper.

If you're facing challenges with your writing requirements, you can hire our essay writing service .

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So, why miss out? Place your ‘ write my research paper ’ request today and get a top-quality research paper!

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Nova Allison is a Digital Content Strategist with over eight years of experience. Nova has also worked as a technical and scientific writer. She is majorly involved in developing and reviewing online content plans that engage and resonate with audiences. Nova has a passion for writing that engages and informs her readers.

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