Every research project cannot succeed without using a systematic and logical process. It is this focus on the objective approach that defines almost all research processes that were done, are being done, and will be done in the future.
In other words, a researcher must be able to think carefully and systematically to find the answer to his questions. As the American author, anthropologist, and filmmaker Zora Hurston once said, “research has formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose”.
Research has formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose.
However, my decade of writing and teaching experience would show that one of the most common challenges faced by new researchers (and experienced ones) is knowing where, when, and how to start their inquiry into the truth. Thus, as a part of our Research Writing 101 Series, I would like to discuss some of the essential yet easily forgotten parts of the research process – creating a research paper outline.
Stay tuned until the end, as we will teach you how to create a research paper outline template and provide a free sample that you can use to jumpstart your writing and research journey.
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I. What is a Research Paper Outline?
Simply said, a research paper outline is a concise overview of your research that is usually presented in a numbered or bulleted list. Its primary purpose is to provide a mental map or guide of your research from start to finish. Thus, it must be concise enough to allow for flexibility throughout the research process but also structured enough to act as your guide while doing your research.
According to Indeed.com, some of the main advantages of preparing a research paper outline early in the research process is that you can already identify” “critical points of each paragraph, the thesis, topic sentences, supporting sentences, quotes, or citations. Writers also use outlines to visualize essay elements and see how they fit together.
Additionally, in one post written by David Kornhaber in the Harvard Writing Center, the author noted, among others, that it “saves you time in the revision process, reducing the possibility that your ideas will need to be rearranged once you’ve written them.”
[your research paper outline template will help you identify]… key points of each paragraph, the thesis, topic sentences, supporting sentences, quotes or citations. Writers also use outlines to visualize essay elements and see how they fit together
In simpler terms, even though you might spend some time polishing your mental map, this step would save you a lot of time, energy, and resources down the road.
Now that we have discussed the whats and the whys of making an outline of your research paper, we can now delve into the process itself. Aside from the basic structure and format, I would also provide award-winning tips from expert researchers on how to maximize the use of a research paper outline template.
II. The Basics of How to Write a Research Paper Outline
So, you’ve started thinking about how to start your research process. You also have a well-tailored topic that is concise and feasible enough to be answered with your current capacity and resources (if you don’t have one check our related posts below). The next step is actually writing the structure of your paper.
Fortunately, research papers have a similar structure to the traditional essay format, with a few additional sections depending on the type of research (i.e., qualitative, quantitative, or mixed-methods research).
The following section provides a basic structure of a qualitative research process that you can use for every kind of paper, whether qualitative or quantitative in nature.
A. Research Paper Outline Example [Quantitative & Qualitative]
- Statement of the ProblemExpert tip: If you don’t have an idea about your research problem, it would be best to conduct general and preliminary research on your topic before your start with your research paper outline template.
- Definition of Terms
- Theoretical Framework / Conceptual Framework
- Key concepts
- Evaluation and Assessment of Relevant Theories
- iii. Synthesis or explanation of research-theory relevance.
- Research Type – Qualitative, Quantitative, Mixed Methods
- Population/respondentsExpert tip: One of the most common misconceptions among new writers is that qualitative research does not require population size and respondents. Several qualitative research methodologies require the determination of thematic or data saturation.
- Questionnaire (if applicable) [Quantitative]
- Variables (dependent, independent, and control variables) [Qualitative]Expert tip: The hypothesis section is mainly for qualitative or mixed-methodologies and not for the qualitative section. For the latter, you need to determine categories, themes, or descriptions, among others. Check the sample research paper format below.
- Variables (dependent, independent, and control variables) [Qualitative]
- Review of Related Literature (RRL)
- Scope and LimitationsExpert tip: one proven and effective piece of advice that I teach my students is to use a “sticky note” to remind them of their hypothesis or thesis statement and other pertinent details like their research’s scope and limitations. This way, they could quickly remind themselves if they are already fatally deviating from their topic.
- Significance of the Study
- Background of the Study and Overview of Research
- Data Collection and Presentation
- Data Analysis
- Statistical Tests (correlation tests) [quantitative]
- Discussion or SynthesisExpert tip: Always remember your research problem and the scope and limitations of your study. Even expert researchers sometimes go beyond the limits of their research consciously or unconsciously when providing additional discussions.
- Concluding Statement
- Re-statement of the Thesis and Hypothesis
- Closing discussions
- Recommendations for future research
Now that you have learned how to write an outline for a research paper, you are now ready to write your research paper. Check out our Knowledge Resource Series entitled “Research Writing 101” to further improve your skillset every step of the way.
III. Additional Outlining Strategies used by Expert Writers
As the famous American celebrity chef Tom Colicchio once said, “recipes tell you nothing […] learning techniques is the key”.
Learning how to perfect your outlining skills would require constant work and effort. Similarly, while we have discussed the basics of writing an outline for a research paper, there are things and methods you can only determine once you repeatedly do the work yourself.
Nevertheless, here are some of the expert pieces of advice from my colleagues who are experienced researchers here at AOS Essays.
A. Expert Tips in Writing a Research Paper Outline Template
1. Read Thoroughly and Intently
Reading should always be the first step in writing a research paper or any kind of paper. Why? Because knowing more about the matter would help you mitigate your losses in the future.
Imagine spending hours writing your research paper outline, conducting your tests, and even finishing your conclusion, only to find out that your study was already debunked a few years ago. You might even be considered lucky since, in most cases, failure to read would already be manifest when the student cannot get past their outlining and annotated bibliography, only to figure out in the future that their studies are not feasible.
So, make it a habit to read primarily and conduct short but meaningful preliminary research before you prepare your college research paper outline.
2. Constantly Update your “Research Road Map.”
As we’ve discussed before, your outline should be a map that would guide you to move forward. However, as you progress and improve your writing and researching skills, these road maps may prove to be incomplete, insufficient, or utterly in need of an update.
Thus, you should also frequently update your paper, just like how google maps conduct a frequent update of your map. For example, suppose you have already completed your college research paper outline only to find out that your research protocols and methodologies would cost more than what you can afford. In that case, you should be able to update your map by limiting your scope, sampling population, methods, and even your research problem in some extreme cases.
IV. Sample Research Paper Format [Outline]
Practice is key to success. This goes the same whether you are already writing your research paper or just in the process of learning how to write a research paper outline. In line with this, you can check our free sample written by one of our expert writers here in AOS Essays.
If you need more samples, you can contact us at [email protected], our live chat, or our phone number. Rest assured that our support will be happy to help you find the sample research paper format that you might need for your task.