Research Paper Outline/Structure with Examples

A research paper outline also referred to as research paper structure, is an important writing tool that a student or a professional writer can apply in their writing process. It contains the blueprint or skeleton of the research paper, detailing the structure to follow when inserting information to make a research paper.

In essence, a well-crafted outline makes writing your research paper fast, efficient, and seamless. It does so by helping you organize the ideas and thoughts, organize the flow of information and related concepts, and ensure that every part of the research paper is addressed.

In some cases, teachers ask students to prepare research paper outlines to have a perspective of how the final product will be. It is common practice with almost all graduate-level supervisors, especially when you target to publish your research paper in an online journal.

What is a research paper outline?

A research paper outline is a skeleton or blueprint of a research paper, enlisting the potential contents of different parts of the research paper that you are to write. The outline serves to organize the written ideas about a given research topic in a logical order in a manner that helps you to visualize the final research paper.

Outlines help organize the main ideas based on a topic, headings, subheadings, and supporting details. They also help decide what points come first and which ones come last depending on their order of importance and impact on the writing process.

Writing an outline helps visualize your final research paper, which makes it easier to refer to the structure each time you face a challenge with a given part. Besides, with an outline, you can work on any part of the research paper independently without fearing that you will disturb the flow or confuse yourself.

The basic format of a research paper outline entails the introduction, body, and conclusion. You should write a research paper outline before starting to write your research paper. Some instructors can assign it as an independent assignment that culminates into the research paper.

A typical research paper has between two to four layers. The first two layers are the most basic and generalized, while the subsequent levels contain more specific and detailed information about the research topic, as would appear in the research paper.

Tips for Perfecting your Research Paper Outline

For you to write an effective research paper outline, it is vital that you consider the factors we list below.

    1. Ensure that you maintain consistency in formatting your outline. If you choose a specific format, ensure that you maintain it all through. For instance, you cannot mix approaches. Also, ensure that the outline levels are reflected in your outline.
    2. Organize the information such that higher levels of your outline are general while the subsequent levels are detailed and well labeled.
    3. If your professor requires the outline, include the relevant citations (in-text) and reference list.
    4. Every main idea must have two or more supporting subtopics. If you notice there is none, do extra research to gather enough information to support the ideas.
    5. Ensure that you properly coordinate the points so that there is a correlation between the subheadings with the subpoints
    6. It is beneficial to write from general to specific when writing an outline. Separate the general and specific points. For instance, the subheadings should be general, while the sub-points become more specific as you descend the levels.
    7. Ensure that you break down the information into subpoints. Although there is no limit to the number of subsections, you can use, ensure that there is a good flow of information that can structure a good paragraph once you begin writing.

How to Format a Research Paper Outline

Of course, there is the MLA, APA, Harvard, or Chicago formatting style. However, in terms of formatting an outline, there are three strategies that you might use: using full sentences, using decimals, and using alphanumeric.


When using the decimal for your outline, you will use a numbering system that entails the use of decimal points to note the level of the point. For instance, you will use 1.0, 1.1, 1.1.2, 1.2.1, etc.

In this case, you will be writing your text in short rather than full notes.

Here is an illustration

  • Introduction
      • The extent of the problem (statistic)/hook
      • Background of the problem
      • Thesis statement
          • Organization of the research paper
  • The extent of the problem (statistic)/hook
  • Background of the problem
  • Thesis statement
      • Organization of the research paper
  • Organization of the research paper

Full-sentence or Three Level Outline format

If you opt to use the full-sentence format for your outline, you will be writing your text in full sentences, sometimes with citations rather than in short points.

Here is an illustration

    1. Introduction: (1-2 Paragraphs)
        1. PTSD is a mental health condition caused by terrifying life events.
        2. The paper addresses the history of the issue, cause, extent of the problem, and possible solutions.
        3. Thesis statement: PTSD therapies serve as the best approach to treat the issue to help individuals overcome trauma.
            • Organization of the research paper


Alphanumeric or the Four-level outline format

In the alphanumeric outline format, which is by far the most commonly used outline format in colleges and universities, you will use Roman numerals, capital letters, Arabic numerals, and lowercase letters to organize information depending on their levels for a good flow.

The test is written mainly in short notes instead of full sentences

Here is an illustration:

    1. Introduction to pandemic disease threats
        1. Types of pandemic disease
        2. History of the pandemic disease since the 1900s
        3. Thesis statement: Our nation’s response to the threat of pandemic disease creates a clear objective to support the two pillars of the National Security Strategy and defeat America’s enemies.
    1. The national planning process for the pandemic disease
        1. Local and State forces
            1. Subpoint 1
                1. Subpoint of subpoint 1
            1. Federal force
                1. Subpoint 2
                    1. Subpoint of subpoint 2
                1. Execution of the National Security Plan for a pandemic disease
                    1. Federal Government
                    1. State and local government actions
                1. Conclusion: Can the National Security Plan for pandemic disease support and protect the


Research Paper Outline Examples

Now, to further break down what we have so far discussed, let us look at some examples of outlines for research papers. These can serve as templates for your next research paper outline. You can choose any format that you are comfortable with, depending on the topic and type of research paper you are writing.

Sample 1: Basic Research Paper Outline

Topic: Role of Valium in Opiate Replacement Treatment Approaches:

    1. Introduction
        1. Statistics of the use of opiates and their impacts on society
        1. Significance of valium as an opiate replacement treatment
        1. Thesis statement
    1. Body
        1. History of valium
        1. Psychopharmacology of valium
        1. Current trends and issues
        1. Societal concerns or issues relating to diazepam
        1. Significance of the topic to the counseling profession
        1. Future implications
    1. Conclusion
    1. Recommendations,

Sample 2: Scientific Research Paper Outline

    1. Abstract
    1. Introduction
        1. Proper hook
        1. Background statement
        1. Statement of the problem
        1. Statement of intent
        1. Significance of the study
        1. Statement of hypothesis or research question
    1. Literature Review
        1. Theoretical framework
        1. Past research on the topic/ review of related literature
        1. The identified gap in the literature
    1. Methods
        1. Procedure
        1. Sampling strategy/method
        1. Participants
        1. Data collection tools
        1. Dependent and independent variables
        1. Controlled variables
    1. Results
        1. Graphs, figures, and tables
        1. Numerical and non-numerical data
    1. Discussion
        1. Restate the problem
        1. Describe the findings
        1. State if your findings support the hypothesis or not
        1. Explanation of the research given past studies
        1. Problems and sources of error
        1. Significance of the findings
    1. Conclusion and Recommendation
        1. Analytical summary
        1. Reworded thesis
        1. limitations
        1. Recommendations for future research


Sample 3: Typical Research Paper Outline

Topic: Labor Shortage in Healthcare Industry

        1. The extent of labor shortage
        1. A snapshot of labor shortage in the USA
        1. Causes and consequences of labor shortage
        1. How labor shortage should be addressed, and why it is a matter of concern
        1. Aging population of healthcare workers, retirement
            • Voluntary turnover of healthcare workers
        1. The limited capacity of educational programs
        1. Career switching after graduation
            • Poor working conditions and compensation
            • High burnout, dissatisfaction, and fatigue
            • Better alternatives
            • Brain drains
        1. Increased demand for healthcare due to chronic diseases
        1. Increased disease burden
            • Increased patient mortality and morbidity
                1. Mortality and morbidity rates
            • Limited patient care
        1. Burnout among the current healthcare practitioners
            • Reduced patient safety
            • Improper patient to healthcare workers ratio
            • High levels of dissatisfaction
            • Overcrowded healthcare settings
            • Increased wait times
        1. Inefficient healthcare management
        1. Creating a national healthcare workforce commission
            • Better perks, compensation, and working environment
            • Funding and supporting students
            • Attract, recruit, and retain a young workforce
            • Creating gender-balanced workforce
            • Embracing diversity
        1. Embracing technology
        1. Developing new balanced care models
        1. Summary of the causes, effects, and remedies for healthcare workforce shortage.
        1. Summary of the implications of the proposed recommendations and who should implement what


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