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Research Paper Writing: 1. Getting Started

Purpose of the Outline

From time to time anxiety sets in when beginning to write a research paper. The key to success is to start thinking about what the research paper should look like, how it will flow, and what it will present for the audience. One of the first steps to writing a paper is to create an outline. The outline will help narrow the purpose of the paper, organize the parts, and create a generated flow of information.

The outline’s importance

Why is it important

  • It gives a sense of direction
  • Helps write the paper faster
  • Saves time on editing
  • Helps the research process
  • Helps writer’s block
  • Provides a structure
  • Keeps the paper on track

Methods of outlining

  • Informal outline
    • Breaking notes roughly into sections
    • Sections corresponding to different supporting reasons
  • Formal outline
    • Is detailed and written in Roman numerals
    • Uses signals or relationships between the different parts of the outline and provides subparts
  • Cluster outline
    • Is much like word balloons
    • Separate ideas inside a circle or box and connects to each other by lines
    • Is not linear, but can be much like a formal or informal outline

Things to include in the outline

  • Title page in some writing styles
  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Materials and methods
  • Discussion
  • Conclusions
  • References
  • Appendix if required

The outline will benefit the writing


  • Helps create a clearly written sentence
  • Helps write a clear paragraph for the research paper

Flow of the argument

  • The framework makes it easier to evaluate the present order of sections (as sentences in the outline) to make the most effective argument
  • Reorganizing the sentences in the outline can improve reason/motive of the argument in the research paper
  • Excluding one or more sentences in the outline might make a cleaner, more influential argument


  • Adjustment of the strategy is much easier and quicker if sentences in the outline had been simply deleted and/or re-ordered
  • Without the outline the completed draft of the paper would require revisions, which would involve more work such as, interchanging paragraphs, which will require moving definitions, more words to flow smoothly, and require extensive rewriting

Writing the length

  • The outline sentences help make it easier to calculate the paper’s length 
  • You may have to modify the essential material to acquire the desired length


  • Using the method of clarity, argument flow, efficiency, length management in a sentence outline will create less time
  • It makes the writing and revising portion of the research paper clearly understood to the audience if organized properly


The link below will take you out to Purdue Owl - Developing an Outline to visualize what it should look like and help develop a similar one when beginning to write a research paper.