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How to Write a Research Paper Outline with Examples

outline of research report example

You sometimes have to submit an essay outline or a research proposal checklist for a research project before you do most of the actual research to show that you have understood the assignment, defined a good research question or hypothesis, and contemplated the structure of your research paper. You can find various templates and examples for such outlines, which usually begin with “put your thesis statement/research question at the top” and then ask you to decide whether to add your supporting ideas/points in “alphanumeric,” “decimal,” or “full-sentence” style. 

That is certainly one useful (if not overly formalized) way of using outlining to prepare to draft an academic text. But here we want to talk about how to make an outline after you have done a research project or thesis work and are not quite sure how to put everything together into a written thesis to hand in or a research paper manuscript to submit to a journal.

What is a research paper outline?

Creating a research project outline entails more than just listing bullet points (although you can use bullet points and lists in your outline). It includes how to organize everything you have done and thought about and want to say about your work into a clear structure you can use as the basis for your research paper. 

There are two different methods of creating an outline: let’s call these “abstract style” and “paper style.” These names reflect how briefly you summarize your work at this initial point, or show how extensive and complicated the methods and designs you used and the data you collected are. The type of outline you use also depends on how clear the story you want to tell is and how much organizing and structuring of information you still need to do before you can draft your actual paper. 

research paper outline, scaffolding image

Table of Contents:

  • Abstract-Style Outline Format
  • Paper-Style Outline Format

Additional Tips for Outlining a Research Paper in English

Abstract-style research paper outline format.

A research paper outline in abstract style consists, like the abstract of a research paper , of short answers to the essential questions that anyone trying to understand your work would ask.

  • Why did you decide to do what you did?
  • What exactly did you do?
  • How did you do it?
  • What did you find?
  • What does it mean?
  • What should you/we/someone else do now?

These questions form the structure of not only a typical research paper abstract but also a typical article manuscript. They will eventually be omitted and replaced by the usual headers, such as Introduction/Background, Aim, Methods, Results, Discussion, Conclusions, etc. Answering these key questions for yourself first (with keywords or short sentences) and then sticking to the same structure and information when drafting your article will ensure that your story is consistent and that there are no logical gaps or contradictions between the different sections of a research paper . 

If you draft this abstract outline carefully, you can use it as the basis for every other part of your paper. You reduce it even more, down to the absolute essential elements, to create your manuscript title ; you choose your keywords on the basis of the summary presented here; and you expand it into the introduction , methods , results , and discussion sections of your paper without contradicting yourself or losing the logical thread. 

Research Paper Outline Example (Abstract style)

Let’s say you did a research project on the effect of university online classes on attendance rates and create a simple outline example using these six questions:

1. Why did you decide to do what you did?

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, many university courses around the world have been moved online, at least temporarily. Since students have been saving time on commuting, I wondered if attendance rates have increased overall.

2. What exactly did you do?

I compared attendance scores for courses that were taught both before (offline) and during (online) the COVID-19 pandemic at my university.

3. How did you do it?

I selected five popular subjects (business, law, medicine, psychology, art & design) and one general course per subject; then I contacted the professors in charge and asked them to provide me with anonymized attendance scores.

4. What did you find?

Attendance did not significantly change for medicine and law, but slightly dropped for the other three subjects. I found no difference between male and female students.  

5. What does it mean?

Even though students saved time on traveling between their homes and the campus during the COVID-19 pandemic, they did not attend classes more consistently; in some subjects, they missed more classes than before.

6. What should you/we/someone else do now?

Since I do not have any other information about the students, I can only speculate on potential explanations. Next, I will put together a questionnaire to assess how students have been coping with online classes and how the experiences from this time can benefit university teaching and learning in general.

Note that you could have made the same outline using just keywords instead of full sentences. You could also have added more methodological details or the results of your statistical analysis. However, when you can break everything down to the absolute essentials like this, you will have a good foundation upon which to develop a full paper. 

However, maybe your study just seems too complicated. So you look at these questions and then at your notes and data and have no idea how to come up with such simple answers. Or maybe things went in a completely different direction since you started writing your paper, so now you are no longer sure what the main point of your experiments was and what the main conclusion should be. If that is how you feel right now, then outlining your paper in “paper style” might be the right method for you.

Paper-Style Research Paper Outline Format 

The purpose of a paper-style outline is the same as that of an abstract-style outline: You want to organize your initial thoughts and plans, the methods and tools you used, all the experiments you conducted, the data you collected and analyzed, as well as your results, into a clear structure so that you can identify the main storyline for your paper and the main conclusions that you want the reader to take from it. 

First, take as much space as you need and simply jot down everything in your study you planned to do, everything you did, and everything you thought about based on your notes, lab book, and earlier literature you read or used. Such an outline can contain all your initial ideas, the timeline of all your pilots and all your experiments, the reasons why you changed direction or designed new experiments halfway through your study, all the analyses you ever did, all the feedback and criticism you already got from supervisors and seniors or during conference presentations, and all the ideas you have for future work. If this is your thesis or your first publication, then your first outline might look quite messy – and that is exactly why you need to structure your paper before trying to write everything up. 

So you have finally remembered all you have done in your study and have written everything down. The next step is to realize that you cannot throw all of this at the reader and expect them to put it together. You will have to create a story that is clear and consistent, contains all the essential information (and leaves out any that is not), and leads the reader the same way the abstract outline does, from why over what and how to what you found and what it all means . 

This does not mean you should suppress results that did not come out as intended or try to make your study look smoother. But the reader does not really need to know all the details about why you changed your research question after your initial literature search or some failed pilots. Instead of writing down the simple questions we used for the abstract outline, to organize your still messy notes, write down the main sections of the manuscript you are trying to put together. Additionally, include what kinds of information needs to go where in your paper’s structure.

1. Introduction Section:  

What field is your research part of?

What other papers did you read before deciding on your topic?

Who is your target audience and how much information do your readers need to understand where you are coming from? 

Can you summarize what you did in two sentences?

Did you have a clear hypothesis? If not, what were the potential outcomes of your work?

2. Methods Section: 

List all the methods, questionnaires, and tests you used.

Are your methods all standard in the field or do you need to explain them?

List everything chronologically or according to topics, whatever makes more sense. Read more about writing the Methods section if you need help with this important decision.

3. Results Section: 

Use the same timeline or topics you introduced in the method section.

Make sure you answer all the questions you raised in the introduction.

Use tables, graphs, and other visualizations to guide the reader.

Don’t present results of tests/analyses that you did not mention in the methods.

4. Discussion/Conclusion Section: 

Summarize quickly what you did and found but don’t repeat your results.

Explain whether your findings were to be expected, are new and surprising, are in line with the existing literature, or are contradicting some earlier work. 

Do you think your findings can be generalized? Can they be useful for people in certain professions or other fields?  

Does your study have limitations? What would you do differently next time? 

What future research do you think should be done based on your findings?

5. Conclusion Statement/Paragraph: 

This is your take-home message for the reader. Make sure that your conclusion is directly related to your initial research question.

Now you can simply reorganize your notes (if you use computer software) or fill in the different sections and cross out information on your original list. When you have used all your jotted notes, go through your new outline and check what is still missing. Now check once more that your conclusion is related to your initial research question. If that is the case, you are good to go. You can now either break your outline down further and shorten it into an abstract, or you can expand the different outline sections into a full article.

If you are a non-native speaker of English, then you might take notes in your mother language or maybe in different languages, read literature in your mother language, and generally not think in English while doing your research. If your goal is to write your thesis or paper in English, however, then our advice is to only use your mother language when listing keywords at the very beginning of the outlining process (if at all). As soon as you write down full sentences that you want to go into your paper eventually, you can save yourself a lot of work, avoid mistakes later in the process, and train your brain (which will help you immensely the next time you write an academic text), if you stick to English.

Another thing to keep in mind is that starting to write in full sentences too early in the process means that you might need to omit some passages (maybe even entire paragraphs) when you later decide to change the structure or storyline of your paper. Depending on how much you enjoy (or hate) writing in English and how much effort it costs you, having to throw away a perfectly fine paragraph that you invested a lot of time in can be incredibly frustrating. Our advice is therefore to not spend too much time on writing and to not get too attached to exact wording before you have a solid outline that you then only need to fill in and expand into a full paper.

Once you have finished drafting your paper, consider using professional proofreading and English editing service to revise your paper and prepare it for submission to journals. Wordvice offers a paper editing service , manuscript editing service , dissertation editing service , and thesis editing service to polish and edit your research work and correct any errors in style or formatting.

And while you draft your article, make use of Wordvice AI, a free grammar checker that identifies and fixes errors in punctuation, spelling, and grammar in any academic document. 

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Research Paper Outline Examples

Below are examples of research paper outlines. Creating an outline is the first thing you should do before starting on your research paper.

This article is a part of the guide:

  • Example of a Paper
  • Write a Hypothesis
  • Introduction
  • Example of a Paper 2

Browse Full Outline

  • 1 Write a Research Paper
  • 2 Writing a Paper
  • 3.1 Write an Outline
  • 3.2 Outline Examples
  • 4.1 Thesis Statement
  • 4.2 Write a Hypothesis
  • 5.2 Abstract
  • 5.3 Introduction
  • 5.4 Methods
  • 5.5 Results
  • 5.6 Discussion
  • 5.7 Conclusion
  • 5.8 Bibliography
  • 6.1 Table of Contents
  • 6.2 Acknowledgements
  • 6.3 Appendix
  • 7.1 In Text Citations
  • 7.2 Footnotes
  • 7.3.1 Floating Blocks
  • 7.4 Example of a Paper
  • 7.5 Example of a Paper 2
  • 7.6.1 Citations
  • 7.7.1 Writing Style
  • 7.7.2 Citations
  • 8.1.1 Sham Peer Review
  • 8.1.2 Advantages
  • 8.1.3 Disadvantages
  • 8.2 Publication Bias
  • 8.3.1 Journal Rejection
  • 9.1 Article Writing
  • 9.2 Ideas for Topics

Research Paper Outline Examples

Once you've decided what topic you will be writing about, the next thing you should pay attention to is the scope of your paper or what you will be including in your discussion . The broader your topic is, the more difficult it is to discuss the full details. This is why you should establish early on the scope and limitations of your paper which will provide the foundation for your research paper outline.

Basically, your outline will constitute three main sections: the Introduction, the Body and the Conclusion. But to make sure your paper is complete, consult your instructor for specific parts they wants to be included in your research paper . Sample outlines for research papers will follow. But first, let’s discuss the main sections of your paper and what information each should cover.

outline of research report example

The introduction should contain your thesis statement or the topic of your research as well as the purpose of your study. You may include here the reason why you chose that particular topic or simply the significance of your research paper's topic. You may also state what type of approach it is that you'll be using in your paper for the entire discussion of your topic. Generally, your Introduction should orient your readers to the major points the rest of the paper will be covering, and how.

outline of research report example

The body of your paper is where you will be presenting all your arguments to support your thesis statement. Remember the “Rule of 3” which states that you should find 3 supporting arguments for each position you take. Start with a strong argument, followed by a stronger one, and end with the strongest argument as your final point.

The conclusion is where you form a summary of all your arguments so you can arrive at your final position. Explain and reiterate why you've ended up with the said conclusion.

As mentioned earlier, here are some sample outlines for research papers:

Thesis Topic: A Study on Factors Affecting the Infant Feeding Practices of Mothers in Las Pinas City

  • Statement of the Problem
  • Definition of Terms
  • Theoretical Framework
  • Type of Research
  • Respondents
  • Questionnaire
  • Review of Related Literature
  • Scope and Limitations
  • Significance of the Study
  • Benefits of Breastfeeding
  • WHO Recommendations
  • The International Code of Marketing of Breast Milk Substitutes
  • The Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative
  • The Innocenti Declaration on the Protection, Promotion and Support of Breastfeeding
  • National Situationer
  • The Milk Code
  • BFHI in the Philippines
  • Milk Code Violations
  • Formula Feeding
  • Factors Influencing the Decision Regarding Infant Feeding Method
  • Area Situationer
  • Socio-economic Demographic Profile of Mothers
  • Information Regarding Current (Youngest) Infant
  • Exclusive Breastfeeding
  • Mixed Feeding
  • Previous Infant Feeding Practices
  • Maternal Knowledge
  • Correlation Tests
  • Analytical Summary
  • Thesis Reworded
  • Recommendations

Topic: Asbestos Poisoning

  • Definition of Asbestos Poisoning
  • Symptoms of Asbestos Poisoning
  • Effects of Asbestos Poisoning
  • How to Deal with Asbestos Hazards

Topic: Shakespeare Adapted from AResearchGuide.com .

  • Life of Anne Hathaway
  • Reference in Shakespeare's Poems
  • Romeo and Juliet
  • The Tempest
  • Much Ado About Nothing
  • Richard III
  • Other Poems
  • Last Two Plays
  • Concluding Statement

Research Paper Outline Examples

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  • Flags and Countries
  • Capitals and Countries

Explorable.com (Jan 6, 2009). Research Paper Outline Examples. Retrieved Dec 09, 2023 from Explorable.com: https://explorable.com/research-paper-outline-examples

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How to Create a Structured Research Paper Outline | Example

Published on August 7, 2022 by Courtney Gahan . Revised on August 15, 2023.

How to Create a Structured Research Paper Outline

A research paper outline is a useful tool to aid in the writing process , providing a structure to follow with all information to be included in the paper clearly organized.

A quality outline can make writing your research paper more efficient by helping to:

  • Organize your thoughts
  • Understand the flow of information and how ideas are related
  • Ensure nothing is forgotten

A research paper outline can also give your teacher an early idea of the final product.

Table of contents

Research paper outline example, how to write a research paper outline, formatting your research paper outline, language in research paper outlines.

  • Definition of measles
  • Rise in cases in recent years in places the disease was previously eliminated or had very low rates of infection
  • Figures: Number of cases per year on average, number in recent years. Relate to immunization
  • Symptoms and timeframes of disease
  • Risk of fatality, including statistics
  • How measles is spread
  • Immunization procedures in different regions
  • Different regions, focusing on the arguments from those against immunization
  • Immunization figures in affected regions
  • High number of cases in non-immunizing regions
  • Illnesses that can result from measles virus
  • Fatal cases of other illnesses after patient contracted measles
  • Summary of arguments of different groups
  • Summary of figures and relationship with recent immunization debate
  • Which side of the argument appears to be correct?

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Follow these steps to start your research paper outline:

  • Decide on the subject of the paper
  • Write down all the ideas you want to include or discuss
  • Organize related ideas into sub-groups
  • Arrange your ideas into a hierarchy: What should the reader learn first? What is most important? Which idea will help end your paper most effectively?
  • Create headings and subheadings that are effective
  • Format the outline in either alphanumeric, full-sentence or decimal format

There are three different kinds of research paper outline: alphanumeric, full-sentence and decimal outlines. The differences relate to formatting and style of writing.

  • Alphanumeric
  • Full-sentence

An alphanumeric outline is most commonly used. It uses Roman numerals, capitalized letters, arabic numerals, lowercase letters to organize the flow of information. Text is written with short notes rather than full sentences.

  • Sub-point of sub-point 1

Essentially the same as the alphanumeric outline, but with the text written in full sentences rather than short points.

  • Additional sub-point to conclude discussion of point of evidence introduced in point A

A decimal outline is similar in format to the alphanumeric outline, but with a different numbering system: 1, 1.1, 1.2, etc. Text is written as short notes rather than full sentences.

  • 1.1.1 Sub-point of first point
  • 1.1.2 Sub-point of first point
  • 1.2 Second point

To write an effective research paper outline, it is important to pay attention to language. This is especially important if it is one you will show to your teacher or be assessed on.

There are four main considerations: parallelism, coordination, subordination and division.

Parallelism: Be consistent with grammatical form

Parallel structure or parallelism is the repetition of a particular grammatical form within a sentence, or in this case, between points and sub-points. This simply means that if the first point is a verb , the sub-point should also be a verb.

Example of parallelism:

  • Include different regions, focusing on the different arguments from those against immunization

Coordination: Be aware of each point’s weight

Your chosen subheadings should hold the same significance as each other, as should all first sub-points, secondary sub-points, and so on.

Example of coordination:

  • Include immunization figures in affected regions
  • Illnesses that can result from the measles virus

Subordination: Work from general to specific

Subordination refers to the separation of general points from specific. Your main headings should be quite general, and each level of sub-point should become more specific.

Example of subordination:

Division: break information into sub-points.

Your headings should be divided into two or more subsections. There is no limit to how many subsections you can include under each heading, but keep in mind that the information will be structured into a paragraph during the writing stage, so you should not go overboard with the number of sub-points.

Ready to start writing or looking for guidance on a different step in the process? Read our step-by-step guide on how to write a research paper .

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How to Write a Research Paper Outline In 7 Steps

Matt Ellis

A research paper outline is a supporting document that lists all the topics to include in a paper in the intended order, usually divided by paragraphs. The typical outline of a research paper also consists of other details like subtopics and evidential sources to help the writer stay organized. Some even have individual sentence topics and early ideas for phrasing. 

Want to know how to write a research paper outline? This guide explains step by step what to include and how to write one yourself, including research paper outline examples. 

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What is a research paper outline? 

The outline is an integral part of how to write a research paper . The main purpose of a research paper outline is to structure the topics, data, and all other inclusions in the paper (like direct quotes) so you stay organized and don’t forget anything. 

Conventionally, writers compose outlines after choosing a thesis statement and sourcing research evidence, but before writing the first draft . Making structural changes is far more efficient in the outlining phase than after you write the first draft; you can remove certain topics early on without wasting time writing them and add new topics before the drafting phase so you can write everything all at once. 

The typical outline of a research paper is broken up into sections and paragraphs , listing each paragraph’s topic and the related evidence or data to include therein. The depth of detail can change depending on your writing style or the requirements of the paper, as we explain below. 

Are there different kinds of research paper outlines?

In short, you decide what details to include in your research paper outline, although the requirements of the assignment influence what’s necessary. For example, a basic college research paper outline for a one-page assignment might contain only a list of four or five paragraph topics, whereas a formal research paper for a scientific study might outline each sentence in all five parts of a research paper: introduction, review of literature, methods, results, and discussion. 

Research paper outlines can be one level, two level, and so on, depending on their intricacy. One-level outlines display just the section headings or main topics, while four-level outlines get very detailed with paragraph and sentence breakdowns. 

There are three popular formats for research paper outlines: alphanumeric , full sentence , and decimal . Below, we’ll explain the details of each and illustrate their differences with the research paper outline examples, focused on the same topic: “Michael Jordan vs. LeBron James: Who’s the Best Basketball Player?”

Alphanumeric research paper outline

Alphanumeric is the most common outline format—with main topics listed as Roman numerals, subtopics as capital letters, specific points for each subtopic as Arabic numerals, and further details for individual points as lowercase letters. 

You would write the information in quick blurbs—just a few words—instead of complete sentences. 

Alphanumeric research paper outline example

I.  Michael Jordan

A. Career Highlights

1. Six NBA Championships

a. Six NBA Finals MVP

2. US Olympics Basketball Team

a. 1984 Gold Medalist

b. 1992 Gold Medalist

3. Fourteen NBA All-Star Game selections

a. Three NBA All-Star Game MVP Awards

B. Achievements

1. Record-holder scoring average

a. Regular season (30.12 points per game)

b. Playoffs (33.45 points per game)

2. Other accolades

a. 1996 Space Jam

b. Owner of Charlotte Hornets

II. LeBron James

1. Four NBA Championships

a. Four NBA Finals MVP

a. 2008 Gold Medalist

b. 2012 Gold Medalist

3. Eighteen NBA All-Star Game selections

1. Philanthropy

a. LeBron James Family Foundation

b. Social activism

a. 2021 Space Jam

b. First player to accumulate $1 billion as an active player

III. Analysis and Discussion

A. Of course, Michael Jordan is better

Full-sentence research paper outline 

Full-sentence research paper outlines have the same organization as alphanumeric outlines—with main topics listed as Roman numerals, subtopics as capital letters, subtopic points as Arabic numerals, and details for each point as lowercase letters. 

However, the significant difference is that you would write the information in incomplete sentences instead of quick blurbs. The advantage is that your outline is more specific and easier to share with colleagues when working as a team. The disadvantage is that it takes a little longer to write. 

Full-sentence research paper outline example

I. Michael Jordan is often considered the greatest basketball player of all time.

A. Jordan’s career in basketball is full of accomplishments and accolades. 

1. During his career, Jordan won six NBA Championships.

a. Jordan was named NBA Finals MVP all six times he was eligible. 

2. Jordan twice played for the US Olympics Basketball Team. 

a. Jordan’s first Olympics was in 1984 when he won the gold medal.

b. Jordan won a second gold medal as part of the 1992 “Dream Team.” 

3. Jordan was selected to play in the NBA All-Star Game fourteen times.

a. Jordan won the NBA All-Star Game MVP Award three times. 

B. Jordan’s legacy encompasses achievements on and off the court.

1. Jordan still holds a couple of significant records in the NBA. 

a. Jordan holds the record for the highest average of points per game  during the regular season (30.12 points per game).

b. Jordan also holds the record for the highest average of points per  game in the playoffs (33.45 points per game).

2. Jordan has notable success even when not playing basketball. 

a. Jordan starred in the original 1996 film Space Jam.

b. Today, Jordan owns the Charlotte Hornets.

II. LeBron James is often considered Jordan’s strongest rival for the greatest basketball player. 

A. James’s career mimics, and in some cases surpasses, that of Jordan’s career. 

1. During his career, James won four NBA Championships. 

a. James was named NBA Finals MVP all four times he was eligible. 

2. Like Jordan, James twice played for the US Olympics Basketball Team. 

a. James won the 2008 gold medal as part of the US basketball team.

b. James won the gold medal again in 2012. 

3. James was selected to play in the NBA All-Star Game eighteen times. 

a. James won the NBA All-Star Game MVP Award three times. 

B. James has a rich life outside of basketball as well. 

1. More than Jordan, James is known for his philanthropic work. 

a. James started the LeBron James Family Foundation charity. 

b. James fearlessly took public stances on controversial social issues.

2. Aside from charity, James has a few other distinctions from his lifetime. 

a. James starred in the 2021 Space Jam remake. 

b. James is the first NBA player to accumulate $1 billion as a player.

III. Considering the highlights of both athletes’ careers, who is better? 

A. Of course, Michael Jordan is better. 

Decimal research paper outline 

Decimal research paper outlines forgo the alphanumeric system and instead use a system of numbers with increasing decimal points—with main topics listed as whole numbers (1 or 1.0), subtopics with one decimal point (1.1), points under a subtopic with two decimal points (1.1.1), and further details with three decimal points (1.1.1.1). 

Each new piece of information uses the subsequent number (1.1.1, 1.1.2, etc.), so you always know where you are in the outline. You would write the content for each line in quick blurbs, just like the original alphanumeric formal. 

Decimal research paper outlines are the most thorough but can get complicated. They’re recommended for writers who prefer technical precision or for lengthy outlines with many topics and subtopics. 

Decimal research paper outline example

1 Michael Jordan

1.1 Career Highlights

1.1.1. Six NBA Championships

1.1.2 US Olympics Basketball Team

1.1.3 Fourteen NBA All-Star Game selections

1.2 Achievements

1.2.1 Record-holder scoring average

1.2.2 Other accolades

2 LeBron James

2.1 Career Highlights

2.1.1 Four NBA Championships

2.1.2 US Olympics Basketball Team

2.1.3 Eighteen NBA All-Star Game selection

2.2 Achievements

2.2.1 Philanthropy

2.2.2 Other accolades

3 Analysis and Discussion

3.1 Of course, Michael Jordan is better 

7 steps to follow when outlining a research paper 

1   choose your thesis and gather sources.

Your outline is not the first step in writing a research paper. Before that, you first need to choose a thesis and then gather primary and secondary sources to back it up. 

Your thesis is essentially what the research paper is about. Your thesis is given to you in some assignments, but sometimes, as with independent research, you’ll have to develop one on your own. 

Once you’ve settled on a thesis, you’ll need evidence to support it. Collect all the relevant sources and data early on so that you know what to write about. Researching often reveals new aspects of your topic that you hadn’t known about before. It may dispel any misinterpretations you have—better to find out you’re wrong sooner rather than later. For help on how to cite your sources, use our free Citation Generator . 

Keep in mind that the outline is just one part of writing a research paper. If you want to read more advice, take a look at our full guide on how to write a research paper . 

2   Make a list of all the topics, subtopics, and points you want to cover

Go through your research and note each topic, subtopic, and supporting point. Be sure to keep related information together. Remember that everything you discuss in your paper should relate to your thesis, so omit anything that seems tangential. 

If you’ve highlighted any specific passages or quotes from your sources, feel free to include them too. They aren’t necessary for all research paper outlines, but they save you time when you’re in the middle of writing your first draft. 

3   Choose the best type of research paper outline for the assignment

Choose the type of research paper outline that best matches your topic, the assignment’s length, and the complexity of your paper. Simple papers only require simple outlines, but more advanced topics with lots of research can benefit from more detailed outlines. 

Consider whether you’re sharing your outline with other team members or whether you’re writing it solo. Likewise, consider the length and amount of topics. The decimal format can help organize long papers, but feel free to stick with alphanumeric if it makes you comfortable. 

4   Consider the structure and sequence of your topics

Before actually writing the research paper outline, think long and hard about the order in which you present your topics. What is the most logical sequence? What structure would communicate most clearly to your readers, who may be unfamiliar with these topics? 

Keep in mind that some topics only make sense if they come after other topics. Before presenting new findings or revelations, you may want to add background or contextual information first. All other factors being equal, a chronological sequence is often the most logical structure. 

5   Create the framework for your outline

Rather than writing your research paper outline entirely at once, start with just the framework. Try putting the main topics in order without yet including any subtopics or supporting points. 

Starting with the framework gives you a clear look at the backbone of your research paper. Now would be a good time to rearrange the order if there’s a problem or add a new topic if you find something is missing. It’s never too late to go back and conduct more research to flesh out the areas you feel are lacking. 

6 Add in more details

After you’re satisfied with the framework, go ahead and add the details. Most research paper outlines benefit from including the paragraph structure , so feel free to add lines about your topic sentence, development/support sentences, and conclusion for each paragraph. 

If you want to get meticulous, you can add a few notes about sentence structure . Be careful of getting too detailed, though—otherwise, you’re writing a first draft instead of an outline! 

7 Revise to improve structure

Finally, check your completed outline to see if there’s room for improvement. This is your last chance before you begin the first draft. 

Double-check that all your topics are presented in the optimal order for your reader. Also, look over your research notes again to see if you’ve forgotten anything. Once your outline is the way you want it, it’s time to begin writing your research paper. 

Research paper outline FAQs

What is a research paper outline.

A research paper outline is a supporting document that defines the structure of a research paper. The author creates the outline before the first draft to stay on track when writing . 

How is a research paper outline structured?

Research paper outlines are generally divided into sections, paragraphs, and individual sentences or points. The amount of detail in a research paper outline varies depending on the writer’s style, the assignment requirements, and the complexity of the topic. 

What are the different formats of research paper outlines?

Three popular formats for research paper outlines are alphanumeric , full sentence , and decimal .

outline of research report example

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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How to Do Research: A Step-By-Step Guide: 4b. Outline the Paper

  • Get Started
  • 1a. Select a Topic
  • 1b. Develop Research Questions
  • 1c. Identify Keywords
  • 1d. Find Background Information
  • 1e. Refine a Topic
  • 2a. Search Strategies
  • 2d. Articles
  • 2e. Videos & Images
  • 2f. Databases
  • 2g. Websites
  • 2h. Grey Literature
  • 2i. Open Access Materials
  • 3a. Evaluate Sources
  • 3b. Primary vs. Secondary
  • 3c. Types of Periodicals
  • 4a. Take Notes
  • 4b. Outline the Paper
  • 4c. Incorporate Source Material
  • 5a. Avoid Plagiarism
  • 5b. Zotero & MyBib
  • 5c. MLA Formatting
  • 5d. MLA Citation Examples
  • 5e. APA Formatting
  • 5f. APA Citation Examples
  • 5g. Annotated Bibliographies

Why Outline?

For research papers, a formal outline can help you keep track of large amounts of information.

Sample Outline

Thesis: Federal regulations need to foster laws that will help protect wetlands, restore those that have been destroyed, and take measures to improve the damange from overdevelopment.

I. Nature's ecosystem

   A. Loss of wetlands nationally

   B. Loss of wetlands in Illinois

      1. More flooding and poorer water quality

      2. Lost ability to prevent floods, clean water and store water

II. Dramatic floods

   A, Cost in dollars and lives

      1. 13 deaths between 1988 and 1998

      2. Cost of $39 million per year

   B. Great Midwestern Flood of 1993

      1. Lost wetlands in IL

      2. Devastation in some states

   C. Flood Prevention

      1. Plants and Soils

      2. Floodplain overflow

III. Wetland laws

   A. Inadequately informed legislators

      1. Watersheds

      2. Interconnections in natural water systems

   B. Water purification

IV. Need to save wetlands

   A. New federal definition

   B. Re-education about interconnectedness

      1. Ecology at every grade level

      2. Education for politicians and developers

      3. Choices in schools and people's lives

Example taken from The Bedford Guide for College Writers (9th ed).

How to Create an Outline

To create an outline:

  • Place your thesis statement at the beginning.
  • List the major points that support your thesis. Label them in Roman numerals (I, II, III, etc.).
  • List supporting ideas or arguments for each major point. Label them in capital letters (A, B, C, etc.).
  • If applicable, continue to sub-divide each supporting idea until your outline is fully developed. Label them 1, 2, 3, etc., and then a, b, c, etc.

NOTE: EasyBib has a function that will help you create a clear and effective outline.

How to Structure an Outline

  • << Previous: 4a. Take Notes
  • Next: 4c. Incorporate Source Material >>
  • Last Updated: Sep 28, 2023 1:09 PM
  • URL: https://libguides.elmira.edu/research

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