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Getting started with your research paper outline

doing an outline for a 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.

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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.

doing an outline for a research paper

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An outline is a formal system used to develop a framework for thinking about what should be the organization and eventual contents of your paper. An outline helps you predict the overall structure and flow of a paper.

Why and How to Create a Useful Outline. The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University.

Importance of...

Writing papers in college requires you to come up with sophisticated, complex, and sometimes very creative ways of structuring your ideas . Taking the time to draft an outline can help you determine if your ideas connect to each other, what order of ideas works best, where gaps in your thinking may exist, or whether you have sufficient evidence to support each of your points. It is also an effective way to think about the time you will need to complete each part of your paper before you begin writing.

A good outline is important because :

  • You will be much less likely to get writer's block . An outline will show where you're going and how to get there. Use the outline to set goals for completing each section of your paper.
  • It will help you stay organized and focused throughout the writing process and help ensure proper coherence [flow of ideas] in your final paper. However, the outline should be viewed as a guide, not a straitjacket. As you review the literature or gather data, the organization of your paper may change; adjust your outline accordingly.
  • A clear, detailed outline ensures that you always have something to help re-calibrate your writing should you feel yourself drifting into subject areas unrelated to the research problem. Use your outline to set boundaries around what you will investigate.
  • The outline can be key to staying motivated . You can put together an outline when you're excited about the project and everything is clicking; making an outline is never as overwhelming as sitting down and beginning to write a twenty page paper without any sense of where it is going.
  • An outline helps you organize multiple ideas about a topic . Most research problems can be analyzed from a variety of perspectives; an outline can help you sort out which modes of analysis are most appropriate to ensure the most robust findings are discovered.
  • An outline not only helps you organize your thoughts, but it can also serve as a schedule for when certain aspects of your writing should be accomplished . Review the assignment and highlight the due dates of specific tasks and integrate these into your outline. If your professor has not created specific deadlines, create your own deadlines by thinking about your own writing style and the need to manage your time around other course assignments.

How to Structure and Organize Your Paper. Odegaard Writing & Research Center. University of Washington; Why and How to Create a Useful Outline. The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University; Lietzau, Kathleen. Creating Outlines. Writing Center, University of Richmond.

Structure and Writing Style

I.   General Approaches

There are two general approaches you can take when writing an outline for your paper:

The topic outline consists of short phrases. This approach is useful when you are dealing with a number of different issues that could be arranged in a variety of different ways in your paper. Due to short phrases having more content than using simple sentences, they create better content from which to build your paper.

The sentence outline is done in full sentences. This approach is useful when your paper focuses on complex issues in detail. The sentence outline is also useful because sentences themselves have many of the details in them needed to build a paper and it allows you to include those details in the sentences instead of having to create an outline of short phrases that goes on page after page.

II.   Steps to Making the Outline

A strong outline details each topic and subtopic in your paper, organizing these points so that they build your argument toward an evidence-based conclusion. Writing an outline will also help you focus on the task at hand and avoid unnecessary tangents, logical fallacies, and underdeveloped paragraphs.

  • Identify the research problem . The research problem is the focal point from which the rest of the outline flows. Try to sum up the point of your paper in one sentence or phrase. It also can be key to deciding what the title of your paper should be.
  • Identify the main categories . What main points will you analyze? The introduction describes all of your main points; the rest of  your paper can be spent developing those points.
  • Create the first category . What is the first point you want to cover? If the paper centers around a complicated term, a definition can be a good place to start. For a paper that concerns the application and testing of a particular theory, giving the general background on the theory can be a good place to begin.
  • Create subcategories . After you have followed these steps, create points under it that provide support for the main point. The number of categories that you use depends on the amount of information that you are trying to cover. There is no right or wrong number to use.

Once you have developed the basic outline of the paper, organize the contents to match the standard format of a research paper as described in this guide.

III.   Things to Consider When Writing an Outline

  • There is no rule dictating which approach is best . Choose either a topic outline or a sentence outline based on which one you believe will work best for you. However, once you begin developing an outline, it's helpful to stick to only one approach.
  • Both topic and sentence outlines use Roman and Arabic numerals along with capital and small letters of the alphabet arranged in a consistent and rigid sequence. A rigid format should be used especially if you are required to hand in your outline.
  • Although the format of an outline is rigid, it shouldn't make you inflexible about how to write your paper. Often when you start investigating a research problem [i.e., reviewing the research literature], especially if you are unfamiliar with the topic, you should anticipate the likelihood your analysis could go in different directions. If your paper changes focus, or you need to add new sections, then feel free to reorganize the outline.
  • If appropriate, organize the main points of your outline in chronological order . In papers where you need to trace the history or chronology of events or issues, it is important to arrange your outline in the same manner, knowing that it's easier to re-arrange things now than when you've almost finished your paper.
  • For a standard research paper of 15-20 pages, your outline should be no more than few pages in length . It may be helpful as you are developing your outline to also write down a tentative list of references.

Muirhead, Brent. “Using Outlines to Improve Online Student Writing Skills.” Journal on School Educational Technology 1, (2005): 17-23; Four Main Components for Effective Outlines. The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University; How to Make an Outline. Psychology Writing Center. University of Washington; Kartawijaya, Sukarta. “Improving Students’ Writing Skill in Writing Paragraph through an Outline Technique.” Curricula: Journal of Teaching and Learning 3 (2018); Organization: Informal Outlines. The Reading/Writing Center. Hunter College; Organization: Standard Outline Form. The Reading/Writing Center. Hunter College; Outlining. Department of English Writing Guide. George Mason University; Plotnic, Jerry. Organizing an Essay. University College Writing Centre. University of Toronto; Reverse Outline. The Writing Center. University of North Carolina; Reverse Outlines: A Writer's Technique for Examining Organization. The Writer’s Handbook. Writing Center. University of Wisconsin, Madison; Using Outlines. Writing Tutorial Services, Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning. Indiana University; Writing: Considering Structure and Organization. Institute for Writing Rhetoric. Dartmouth College.

Writing Tip

A Disorganized Outline Means a Disorganized Paper!

If, in writing your paper, it begins to diverge from your outline, this is very likely a sign that you've lost your focus. How do you know whether to change the paper to fit the outline, or, that you need to reconsider the outline so that it fits the paper? A good way to check your progress is to use what you have written to recreate the outline. This is an effective strategy for assessing the organization of your paper. If the resulting outline says what you want it to say and it is in an order that is easy to follow, then the organization of your paper has been successful. If you discover that it's difficult to create an outline from what you have written, then you likely need to revise your paper.

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Why and How to Create a Useful Outline

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Why create an outline? There are many reasons, but in general, it may be helpful to create an outline when you want to show the hierarchical relationship or logical ordering of information. For research papers, an outline may help you keep track of large amounts of information. For creative writing, an outline may help organize the various plot threads and help keep track of character traits. Many people find that organizing an oral report or presentation in outline form helps them speak more effectively in front of a crowd. Below are the primary reasons for creating an outline.

  • Aids in the process of writing
  • Helps you organize your ideas
  • Presents your material in a logical form
  • Shows the relationships among ideas in your writing
  • Constructs an ordered overview of your writing
  • Defines boundaries and groups

How do I create an outline?

  • Determine the purpose of your paper.
  • Determine the audience you are writing for.
  • Develop the thesis of your paper.
  • Brainstorm : List all the ideas that you want to include in your paper.
  • Organize : Group related ideas together.
  • Order : Arrange material in subsections from general to specific or from abstract to concrete.
  • Label : Create main and sub headings.

Remember: creating an outline before writing your paper will make organizing your thoughts a lot easier. Whether you follow the suggested guidelines is up to you, but making any kind of outline (even just some jotting down some main ideas) will be beneficial to your writing process.

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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


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 a Research Paper Outline with Examples

doing an outline for a research paper

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 AI Proofreader that identifies and fixes errors in punctuation, spelling, and grammar in any academic document. 

doing an outline for a research paper

How to Write a Research Paper Outline: Detailed Guide

doing an outline for a research paper

In the vast landscape of academia, where ideas are the currency and knowledge the battleground, crafting a research paper isn't just a scholarly exercise—it's a narrative expedition. As you embark on this intellectual journey, consider this intriguing fact: did you know that Sir Isaac Newton's groundbreaking work, 'Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica,' which revolutionized our understanding of physics, was outlined meticulously before the ink touched the parchment? Much like Newton's meticulous planning, the success of your piece hinges on the blueprint you create—the outline.

In this guide, our research paper help will explore not only the conventional methods but also the avant-garde tips and examples for crafting an outline for a research paper that transforms your ideas into a compelling narrative, paving the way for academic excellence.

What is Research Paper Outline?

A research paper outline is essentially a systematic framework that streamlines the structure of your academic document. It's more than just a preliminary step; it's a practical tool designed to enhance the coherence and organization of your ideas. This skeletal structure acts as a guide, ensuring your paper unfolds logically, and your arguments build upon each other. Besides providing clarity for the writer, a well-crafted outline of a research paper also serves as a roadmap for your readers, helping them navigate through the complexities of your study. In essence, when we explore what is a research paper , it's crucial to recognize the outline as the strategic plan—the blueprint—highlighting key elements like the introduction, thesis statement, supporting evidence, and conclusion.

what is research paper outline

It's important to integrate several critical elements essential for the paper's effectiveness and coherence. The role of these components is significant in shaping your research and demands thorough attention during the initial stages of your work. In the sections that follow, we'll delve into the crucial components of an outline for your research paper and share insights to elevate your outlining process for a more robust and effective piece.

Title/Cover Page

It is the opening section to introduce the major details. The length of the recommended title is 60 characters. On the whole, do not miss this information on the title page:

  • Your full name
  • Professor’s name
  • Peers who took part in the investigation (if any)
  • Submission date

A summary is an integral part of the research paper. In college, they call it an abstract. The length of such text should not exceed 250-300 words (1/3 of an A4 page), and a student should include the basic findings, their significance, and a brief conclusion.


Experts recommend painstaking the entire research into the investigation’s background. Try to explain why the chosen problem is necessary to analyze and discuss. Mention the results you expected to obtain during the working process and state a hypothesis that should enclose the introduction (it would be the thesis). Also, don’t forget to mention the thesis statement or the topic of your research.


List the tools, equipment, & techniques used to carry out a study. This section should make it possible to replicate the investigation step-by-step. The goal of the section is to allow other scientists interested in the same research question to continue the investigation.

Results & Discussion (R&D)

In most cases, master cheap research paper writers combine results and discussion in one huge section. They are interrelated. Start with sharing the findings of the study. Go on interpreting the meaning of the results for the society and provide a short synopsis of the main components: figures and statistical examinations. While adding any visual elements for understanding (graphs, images, etc.), place the numbers next to each of them to provide details in the last section — Appendix.

In the Conclusion part, it is necessary to include:

  • A summary of the results
  • Paraphrased thesis statement
  • Value of the research paper
  • Ways to implement the findings
  • Some forecasts

Explore article of our research proposal writing service on writing a conclusion for a research paper to master the art of effectively summarizing and concluding your work.

Based on the chosen paper format, develop a full list of references. Each time you cite something, write the source’s details on a separate piece of paper. It will speed up the process in the end.

Structure of a Research Paper Outline

Crafting an effective academic piece is not just about having great ideas; it's about presenting them in a clear and organized manner. The structure of your research paper outline plays a pivotal role in achieving this goal. In this section, we'll explore three popular formats, each offering a unique approach to organizing your thoughts and arguments.

Alphanumeric research paper outline

The alphanumeric outline follows a hierarchical structure, using a combination of numbers and letters to denote different levels of information. For example:

I. Introduction

  • A. Background
  • B. Thesis statement
  • A. Main point 1
  • Supporting detail
  • B. Main point 2
  • III. Conclusion

Full-sentence research paper outline

This format requires complete sentences for each section and subsection. It provides a detailed preview of the content within each part of the outline. Example:

  • A. Provide background information.
  • B. Clearly state the thesis.
  • A. Present the first main point with supporting details.
  • B. Explore the second main point.

Decimal research paper outline

The decimal outline employs a numerical system, using decimals to indicate the hierarchy of information. Each level is a subcategory of the preceding level. For instance:

1.0 Introduction

  • 1.1 Background
  • 1.2 Thesis statement
  • 2.1 Main point 1
  • 2.1.1 Supporting detail
  • 2.1.2 Supporting detail
  • 2.2 Main point 2

3.0 Conclusion


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Research Paper Outline Formats: MLA and APA

Mla research paper outline.

The Modern Language Association (MLA) research paper format provides a standardized approach to documenting and formatting academic writing. Creating an MLA research paper outline is an essential step in organizing your thoughts and ensuring a cohesive structure for your scholarly work. Here's an in-depth guide to crafting an MLA outline:

MLA Research Paper Outline by EssayPro

  • A. Background information
  • C. Purpose of the study
  • A. First Main Point
  • Supporting detail or evidence
  • a. Sub-detail
  • b. Sub-detail
  • B. Second Main Point
  • C. Third Main Point (if applicable)

III. Counterargument (if applicable)

  • A. Acknowledge opposing views
  • B. Refute or address counterarguments

IV. Conclusion

  • A. Summarize main points
  • B. Restate thesis
  • C. Implications for future research

V. Works Cited

  • A. List of sources cited in the paper
  • Book citations
  • Journal article citations
  • Other relevant sources

Formatting Tips:

  • Ensure your research paper outline is double-spaced.
  • Use a legible 12-point font, such as Times New Roman.
  • Apply consistent formatting throughout the document, including indents and headings.
  • Follow MLA guidelines for citing sources both in the outline and the final paper.

Key Considerations:

  • Tailor your research paper outline to the specific requirements of your work.
  • Be concise and clear in writing your outline sections.
  • Consider including any necessary background information to provide context when you write an outline for a research.
  • Ensure that each main point and supporting detail aligns with the central thesis.

Need more info? Check our full guide - HOW TO CITE A RESEARCH PAPER USING MLA FORMAT .

APA Research Paper Outline

The American Psychological Association (APA) style is widely used in the social sciences, and creating an APA format research paper outline is crucial for maintaining a standardized structure. Here's a comprehensive guide to crafting an APA outline template for research paper.

 Template for Building an Outline in APA, from EssayPro

I. Title Page

  • A. Title of the research paper
  • B. Author's name
  • C. Institutional affiliation
  • D. Running head and page number (top right corner)

II. Abstract

  • A. Brief summary of the research paper
  • B. Keywords (optional)

III. Introduction

IV. Literature Review

  • A. Overview of relevant literature
  • B. Identification of gaps in existing research
  • C. Theoretical framework (if applicable)

V. Methodology

  • A. Participants
  • B. Procedure
  • C. Materials
  • D. Data analysis

VI. Results

  • A. Presentation of research findings
  • B. Use of tables and figures (if applicable)

VII. Discussion

  • A. Interpretation of results
  • B. Implications of the findings
  • C. Limitations and suggestions for future research

VIII. Conclusion

  • C. Practical applications or recommendations

IX. References

  • Use a 12-point, Times New Roman font.
  • Set 1-inch margins on all sides.
  • Double-space the entire document.
  • Create a running head in the header section.
  • Use transitions between sections for smooth reader navigation.
  • Integrate sources seamlessly, labeling each for reader guidance.
  • Seek feedback to refine the clarity and effectiveness of your APA outline for research paper.
  • Strategically employ APA heading levels for hierarchical organization.

By adhering to these guidelines, you'll master how to cite a research paper and ensure a standardized and professional presentation of your work in the social sciences. This meticulous approach not only enhances the clarity of your writing but also showcases your commitment to academic standards.

Goals and Benefits of a Research Paper Outline

Starting your paper without a roadmap is akin to setting sail without a compass—directionless and prone to drift. Crafting a well-structured research paper outline serves as a strategic tool with distinct goals and manifold benefits, transforming the daunting task of research writing into a purposeful journey.

research paper outline

Clarity in Purpose:

  • A well-crafted outline for a research paper establishes the groundwork for your study by clearly defining its purpose. It forces you to distill the essence of your research, ensuring that every section contributes meaningfully to the overarching goals of your paper.

Streamlined Organization:

  • One of the primary goals of an outline is to streamline the organization of your ideas. By delineating the key components—introduction, main points, evidence, and conclusion—it provides a systematic structure that prevents your paper from becoming a chaotic jumble of thoughts.

Enhanced Focus and Efficiency:

  • When you write an outline for a research paper, it acts as a focal point, directing your attention to the core objectives of your study. It serves as a roadmap, guiding you through each section with precision and efficiency, eliminating the risk of veering off course into tangential or irrelevant details.

Seamless Transitions:

  • Achieving a seamless flow from one section to another is a distinctive benefit of a well-crafted outline. It allows for the strategic placement of transitions, ensuring that your ideas connect coherently and enabling readers to follow your argument with ease.

Time Management and Planning:

  • Crafting an outline isn’t just a preparatory step; it's a time-management strategy. It compels you to allocate time effectively to each section, preventing procrastination and facilitating a more structured and manageable writing process.

Revision and Refinement:

  • The iterative nature of outlining allows for continuous revision and refinement. It enables you to assess the coherence of your research paper topics , identify gaps in logic, and refine your arguments before delving into the full paper, saving time and effort in the long run.

Thesis Alignment:

  • Perhaps most crucially, an outline ensures that every main point and supporting detail aligns harmoniously with the central thesis. This alignment not only strengthens the overall argument but also reinforces the thesis as the guiding force behind your research.

Research Paper Outline Example

Also, check the free research paper outline template example: Developing an Attention-Grabbing Resume! The example is written according to APA writing style guidelines - the rules of the game may be different for other formats.

Things to Remember

  • An outline is like an action plan which guides you through the writing process.
  • You need to write an outline if your research paper is more than 1000 words in length.
  • Basically, the outline contains three main sections: the Introduction, the Body, and the Conclusion.
  • The outline format depends on the type of academic assignment (MLA, APA), adapting to the specific guidelines relevant to all the ideas you'll present.
  • Before developing a research paper outline, read the latest version of the manual according to the chosen format of the research paper.

To gain a deeper understanding of the initial stages of academic writing, delve into our article exploring how to start a research paper , providing you with essential steps and methodologies.


For those moments when you're unsure how to outline a research paper, and it feels like an unsolved maze, let our paper writing service be your academic GPS!

Daniel Parker

Daniel Parker

is a seasoned educational writer focusing on scholarship guidance, research papers, and various forms of academic essays including reflective and narrative essays. His expertise also extends to detailed case studies. A scholar with a background in English Literature and Education, Daniel’s work on EssayPro blog aims to support students in achieving academic excellence and securing scholarships. His hobbies include reading classic literature and participating in academic forums.

doing an outline for a research paper

is an expert in nursing and healthcare, with a strong background in history, law, and literature. Holding advanced degrees in nursing and public health, his analytical approach and comprehensive knowledge help students navigate complex topics. On EssayPro blog, Adam provides insightful articles on everything from historical analysis to the intricacies of healthcare policies. In his downtime, he enjoys historical documentaries and volunteering at local clinics.

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How to Write an Outline in APA Format

Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."

doing an outline for a research paper

Amanda Tust is a fact-checker, researcher, and writer with a Master of Science in Journalism from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.

doing an outline for a research paper

  • Before Starting Your Outline
  • How to Create an Outline

Writing a psychology paper can feel like an overwhelming task. From picking a topic to finding sources to cite, each step in the process comes with its own challenges. Luckily, there are strategies to make writing your paper easier—one of which is creating an outline using APA format .

Here we share what APA format entails and the basics of this writing style. Then we get into how to create a research paper outline using APA guidelines, giving you a strong foundation to start crafting your content.

At a Glance

APA format is the standard writing style used for psychology research papers. Creating an outline using APA format can help you develop and organize your paper's structure, also keeping you on task as you sit down to write the content.

APA Format Basics

Formatting dictates how papers are styled, which includes their organizational structure, page layout, and how information is presented. APA format is the official style of the American Psychological Association (APA).

Learning the basics of APA format is necessary for writing effective psychology papers, whether for your school courses or if you're working in the field and want your research published in a professional journal. Here are some general APA rules to keep in mind when creating both your outline and the paper itself.

Font and Spacing

According to APA style, research papers are to be written in a legible and widely available font. Traditionally, Times New Roman is used with a 12-point font size. However, other serif and sans serif fonts like Arial or Georgia in 11-point font sizes are also acceptable.

APA format also dictates that the research paper be double-spaced. Each page has 1-inch margins on all sides (top, bottom, left, and right), and the page number is to be placed in the upper right corner of each page.

Both your psychology research paper and outline should include three key sections:

  • Introduction : Highlights the main points and presents your hypothesis
  • Body : Details the ideas and research that support your hypothesis
  • Conclusion : Briefly reiterates your main points and clarifies support for your position

Headings and Subheadings

APA format provides specific guidelines for using headings and subheadings. They are:

  • Main headings : Use Roman numerals (I, II, III, IV)
  • Subheadings: Use capital letters (A, B, C, D)

If you need further subheadings within the initial subheadings, start with Arabic numerals (1, 2, 3), then lowercase letters (a, b, c), then Arabic numerals inside parentheses [(1), (2), (3)]

Before Starting Your APA Format Outline

While APA format does not provide specific rules for creating an outline, you can still develop a strong roadmap for your paper using general APA style guidance. Prior to drafting your psychology research paper outline using APA writing style, taking a few important steps can help set you up for greater success.

Review Your Instructor's Requirements

Look over the instructions for your research paper. Your instructor may have provided some type of guidance or stated what they want. They may have even provided specific requirements for what to include in your outline or how it needs to be structured and formatted.

Some instructors require research paper outlines to use decimal format. This structure uses Arabic decimals instead of Roman numerals or letters. In this case, the main headings in an outline would be 1.0, 1.2, and 1.3, while the subheadings would be 1.2.1, 1.2.2, 1.2.3, and so on.

Consider Your Preferences

After reviewing your instructor's requirements, consider your own preferences for organizing your outline. Think about what makes the most sense for you, as well as what type of outline would be most helpful when you begin writing your research paper.

For example, you could choose to format your headings and subheadings as full sentences, or you might decide that you prefer shorter headings that summarize the content. You can also use different approaches to organizing the lettering and numbering in your outline's subheadings.

Whether you are creating your outline according to your instructor's guidelines or following your own organizational preferences, the most important thing is that you are consistent.

Formatting Tips

When getting ready to start your research paper outline using APA format, it's also helpful to consider how you will format it. Here are a few tips to help:

  • Your outline should begin on a new page.
  • Before you start writing the outline, check that your word processor does not automatically insert unwanted text or notations (such as letters, numbers, or bullet points) as you type. If it does, turn off auto-formatting.
  • If your instructor requires you to specify your hypothesis in your outline, review your assignment instructions to find out where this should be placed. They may want it presented at the top of your outline, for example, or included as a subheading.

How to Create a Research Paper Outline Using APA

Understanding APA format basics can make writing psychology research papers much easier. While APA format does not provide specific rules for creating an outline, you can still develop a strong roadmap for your paper using general APA style guidance, your instructor's requirements, and your own personal organizational preferences.

Typically you won't need to turn your outline in with your final paper. But that doesn't mean you should skip creating one. A strong paper starts with a solid outline. Developing this outline can help you organize your writing and ensure that you effectively communicate your paper's main points and arguments. Here's how to create a research outline using APA format.

Start Your Research

While it may seem like you should create an outline before starting your research, the opposite is actually true. The information you find when researching your psychology research topic will start to reveal the information you'll want to include in your paper—and in your outline.

As you research, consider the main arguments you intend to make in your paper. Look for facts that support your hypothesis, keeping track of where you find these facts so you can cite them when writing your paper. The more organized you are when creating your outline, the easier it becomes to draft the paper itself.

If you are required to turn in your outline before you begin working on your paper, keep in mind that you may need to include a list of references that you plan to use.

Draft Your Outline Using APA Format

Once you have your initial research complete, you have enough information to create an outline. Start with the main headings (which are noted using Roman numerals I, II, III, etc.). Here's an example of the main headings you may use if you were writing an APA format outline for a research paper in support of using cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) for anxiety :

  • Introduction
  • What CBT Is
  • How CBT Helps Ease Anxiety
  • Research Supporting CBT for Anxiety
  • Potential Drawbacks of CBT for Anxiety and How to Overcome Them

Under each main heading, list your main points or key ideas using subheadings (as noted with A, B, C, etc.). Sticking with the same example, subheadings under "What CBT Is" may include:

  • Basic CBT Principles
  • How CBT Works
  • Conditions CBT Has Been Found to Help Treat

You may also decide to include additional subheadings under your initial subheadings to add more information or clarify important points relevant to your hypothesis. Examples of additional subheadings (which are noted with 1, 2, 3, etc.) that could be included under "Basic CBT Principles" include:

  • Is Goal-Oriented
  • Focuses on Problem-Solving
  • Includes Self-Monitoring

Begin Writing Your Research Paper

The reason this step is included when drafting your research paper outline using APA format is that you'll often find that your outline changes as you begin to dive deeper into your proposed topic. New ideas may emerge or you may decide to narrow your topic further, even sometimes changing your hypothesis altogether.

All of these factors can impact what you write about, ultimately changing your outline. When writing your paper, there are a few important points to keep in mind:

  • Follow the structure that your instructor specifies.
  • Present your strongest points first.
  • Support your arguments with research and examples.
  • Organize your ideas logically and in order of strength.
  • Keep track of your sources.
  • Present and debate possible counterarguments, and provide evidence that counters opposing arguments.

Update Your Final Outline

The final version of your outline should reflect your completed draft. Not only does updating your outline at this point help ensure that you've covered the topics you want in your paper, but it also gives you another opportunity to verify that your paper follows a logical sequence.

When reading through your APA-formatted outline, consider whether it flows naturally from one topic to the next. You wouldn't talk about how CBT works before discussing what CBT is, for example. Taking this final step can give you a more solid outline, and a more solid research paper.

American Psychological Association. About APA Style .

Purdue University Online Writing Lab. Types of outlines and samples .

Mississippi College. Writing Center: Outlines .

American Psychological Association. APA style: Style and Grammar Guidelines .

By Kendra Cherry, MSEd Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."

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 damage 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: May 29, 2024 1:53 PM
  • URL:

Grad Coach

How To Write A Research Paper

Step-By-Step Tutorial With Examples + FREE Template

By: Derek Jansen (MBA) | Expert Reviewer: Dr Eunice Rautenbach | March 2024

For many students, crafting a strong research paper from scratch can feel like a daunting task – and rightly so! In this post, we’ll unpack what a research paper is, what it needs to do , and how to write one – in three easy steps. 🙂 

Overview: Writing A Research Paper

What (exactly) is a research paper.

  • How to write a research paper
  • Stage 1 : Topic & literature search
  • Stage 2 : Structure & outline
  • Stage 3 : Iterative writing
  • Key takeaways

Let’s start by asking the most important question, “ What is a research paper? ”.

Simply put, a research paper is a scholarly written work where the writer (that’s you!) answers a specific question (this is called a research question ) through evidence-based arguments . Evidence-based is the keyword here. In other words, a research paper is different from an essay or other writing assignments that draw from the writer’s personal opinions or experiences. With a research paper, it’s all about building your arguments based on evidence (we’ll talk more about that evidence a little later).

Now, it’s worth noting that there are many different types of research papers , including analytical papers (the type I just described), argumentative papers, and interpretative papers. Here, we’ll focus on analytical papers , as these are some of the most common – but if you’re keen to learn about other types of research papers, be sure to check out the rest of the blog .

With that basic foundation laid, let’s get down to business and look at how to write a research paper .

Research Paper Template

Overview: The 3-Stage Process

While there are, of course, many potential approaches you can take to write a research paper, there are typically three stages to the writing process. So, in this tutorial, we’ll present a straightforward three-step process that we use when working with students at Grad Coach.

These three steps are:

  • Finding a research topic and reviewing the existing literature
  • Developing a provisional structure and outline for your paper, and
  • Writing up your initial draft and then refining it iteratively

Let’s dig into each of these.

Need a helping hand?

doing an outline for a research paper

Step 1: Find a topic and review the literature

As we mentioned earlier, in a research paper, you, as the researcher, will try to answer a question . More specifically, that’s called a research question , and it sets the direction of your entire paper. What’s important to understand though is that you’ll need to answer that research question with the help of high-quality sources – for example, journal articles, government reports, case studies, and so on. We’ll circle back to this in a minute.

The first stage of the research process is deciding on what your research question will be and then reviewing the existing literature (in other words, past studies and papers) to see what they say about that specific research question. In some cases, your professor may provide you with a predetermined research question (or set of questions). However, in many cases, you’ll need to find your own research question within a certain topic area.

Finding a strong research question hinges on identifying a meaningful research gap – in other words, an area that’s lacking in existing research. There’s a lot to unpack here, so if you wanna learn more, check out the plain-language explainer video below.

Once you’ve figured out which question (or questions) you’ll attempt to answer in your research paper, you’ll need to do a deep dive into the existing literature – this is called a “ literature search ”. Again, there are many ways to go about this, but your most likely starting point will be Google Scholar .

If you’re new to Google Scholar, think of it as Google for the academic world. You can start by simply entering a few different keywords that are relevant to your research question and it will then present a host of articles for you to review. What you want to pay close attention to here is the number of citations for each paper – the more citations a paper has, the more credible it is (generally speaking – there are some exceptions, of course).

how to use google scholar

Ideally, what you’re looking for are well-cited papers that are highly relevant to your topic. That said, keep in mind that citations are a cumulative metric , so older papers will often have more citations than newer papers – just because they’ve been around for longer. So, don’t fixate on this metric in isolation – relevance and recency are also very important.

Beyond Google Scholar, you’ll also definitely want to check out academic databases and aggregators such as Science Direct, PubMed, JStor and so on. These will often overlap with the results that you find in Google Scholar, but they can also reveal some hidden gems – so, be sure to check them out.

Once you’ve worked your way through all the literature, you’ll want to catalogue all this information in some sort of spreadsheet so that you can easily recall who said what, when and within what context. If you’d like, we’ve got a free literature spreadsheet that helps you do exactly that.

Don’t fixate on an article’s citation count in isolation - relevance (to your research question) and recency are also very important.

Step 2: Develop a structure and outline

With your research question pinned down and your literature digested and catalogued, it’s time to move on to planning your actual research paper .

It might sound obvious, but it’s really important to have some sort of rough outline in place before you start writing your paper. So often, we see students eagerly rushing into the writing phase, only to land up with a disjointed research paper that rambles on in multiple

Now, the secret here is to not get caught up in the fine details . Realistically, all you need at this stage is a bullet-point list that describes (in broad strokes) what you’ll discuss and in what order. It’s also useful to remember that you’re not glued to this outline – in all likelihood, you’ll chop and change some sections once you start writing, and that’s perfectly okay. What’s important is that you have some sort of roadmap in place from the start.

You need to have a rough outline in place before you start writing your paper - or you’ll end up with a disjointed research paper that rambles on.

At this stage you might be wondering, “ But how should I structure my research paper? ”. Well, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution here, but in general, a research paper will consist of a few relatively standardised components:

  • Introduction
  • Literature review
  • Methodology

Let’s take a look at each of these.

First up is the introduction section . As the name suggests, the purpose of the introduction is to set the scene for your research paper. There are usually (at least) four ingredients that go into this section – these are the background to the topic, the research problem and resultant research question , and the justification or rationale. If you’re interested, the video below unpacks the introduction section in more detail. 

The next section of your research paper will typically be your literature review . Remember all that literature you worked through earlier? Well, this is where you’ll present your interpretation of all that content . You’ll do this by writing about recent trends, developments, and arguments within the literature – but more specifically, those that are relevant to your research question . The literature review can oftentimes seem a little daunting, even to seasoned researchers, so be sure to check out our extensive collection of literature review content here .

With the introduction and lit review out of the way, the next section of your paper is the research methodology . In a nutshell, the methodology section should describe to your reader what you did (beyond just reviewing the existing literature) to answer your research question. For example, what data did you collect, how did you collect that data, how did you analyse that data and so on? For each choice, you’ll also need to justify why you chose to do it that way, and what the strengths and weaknesses of your approach were.

Now, it’s worth mentioning that for some research papers, this aspect of the project may be a lot simpler . For example, you may only need to draw on secondary sources (in other words, existing data sets). In some cases, you may just be asked to draw your conclusions from the literature search itself (in other words, there may be no data analysis at all). But, if you are required to collect and analyse data, you’ll need to pay a lot of attention to the methodology section. The video below provides an example of what the methodology section might look like.

By this stage of your paper, you will have explained what your research question is, what the existing literature has to say about that question, and how you analysed additional data to try to answer your question. So, the natural next step is to present your analysis of that data . This section is usually called the “results” or “analysis” section and this is where you’ll showcase your findings.

Depending on your school’s requirements, you may need to present and interpret the data in one section – or you might split the presentation and the interpretation into two sections. In the latter case, your “results” section will just describe the data, and the “discussion” is where you’ll interpret that data and explicitly link your analysis back to your research question. If you’re not sure which approach to take, check in with your professor or take a look at past papers to see what the norms are for your programme.

Alright – once you’ve presented and discussed your results, it’s time to wrap it up . This usually takes the form of the “ conclusion ” section. In the conclusion, you’ll need to highlight the key takeaways from your study and close the loop by explicitly answering your research question. Again, the exact requirements here will vary depending on your programme (and you may not even need a conclusion section at all) – so be sure to check with your professor if you’re unsure.

Step 3: Write and refine

Finally, it’s time to get writing. All too often though, students hit a brick wall right about here… So, how do you avoid this happening to you?

Well, there’s a lot to be said when it comes to writing a research paper (or any sort of academic piece), but we’ll share three practical tips to help you get started.

First and foremost , it’s essential to approach your writing as an iterative process. In other words, you need to start with a really messy first draft and then polish it over multiple rounds of editing. Don’t waste your time trying to write a perfect research paper in one go. Instead, take the pressure off yourself by adopting an iterative approach.

Secondly , it’s important to always lean towards critical writing , rather than descriptive writing. What does this mean? Well, at the simplest level, descriptive writing focuses on the “ what ”, while critical writing digs into the “ so what ” – in other words, the implications . If you’re not familiar with these two types of writing, don’t worry! You can find a plain-language explanation here.

Last but not least, you’ll need to get your referencing right. Specifically, you’ll need to provide credible, correctly formatted citations for the statements you make. We see students making referencing mistakes all the time and it costs them dearly. The good news is that you can easily avoid this by using a simple reference manager . If you don’t have one, check out our video about Mendeley, an easy (and free) reference management tool that you can start using today.

Recap: Key Takeaways

We’ve covered a lot of ground here. To recap, the three steps to writing a high-quality research paper are:

  • To choose a research question and review the literature
  • To plan your paper structure and draft an outline
  • To take an iterative approach to writing, focusing on critical writing and strong referencing

Remember, this is just a b ig-picture overview of the research paper development process and there’s a lot more nuance to unpack. So, be sure to grab a copy of our free research paper template to learn more about how to write a research paper.

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APA Research Paper Outline: Examples and Template


Table of contents

  • 1 Why Is Research Paper Format Necessary?
  • 2.1 Purpose of research paper outline
  • 2.2 APA outline example
  • 3.1 APA paper outline example
  • 3.2 Introduction:
  • 3.4 Conclusion:
  • 4 The Basic APA Outline Format
  • 5 APA Style Outline Template Breakdown
  • 6.1 APA Research Paper Outline Example
  • 6.2 APA Paper Outline Format Example
  • 7.1 First Paragraph: Hook and Thesis
  • 7.2 Main Body
  • 7.3 Conclusion
  • 7.4 Decimal APA outline format example
  • 7.5 Decimal APA outline format layout
  • 8.1 A definite goal
  • 8.2 Division
  • 8.3 Parallelism
  • 8.4 Coordination
  • 8.5 Subordination
  • 8.6 Avoid Redundancy
  • 8.7 Wrap it up in a good way
  • 8.8 Conclusion

Formatting your paper in APA can be daunting if this is your first time. The American Psychological Association (APA) offers a guide or rules to follow when conducting projects in the social sciences or writing papers. The standard APA fromat a research paper outline includes a proper layout from the title page to the final reference pages. There are formatting samples to create outlines before writing a paper. Amongst other strategies, creating an outline is the easiest way to APA format outline template.

Why Is Research Paper Format Necessary?

Consistency in the sequence, structure, and format when writing a research paper encourages readers to concentrate on the substance of a paper rather than how it is presented. The requirements for paper format apply to student assignments and papers submitted for publication in a peer-reviewed publication. APA paper outline template style may be used to create a website, conference poster, or PowerPoint presentation . If you plan to use the style for other types of work like a website, conference poster, or even PowerPoint presentation, you must format your work accordingly to adjust to requirements. For example, you may need different line spacing and font sizes. Follow the formatting rules provided by your institution or publication to ensure its formatting standards are followed as closely as possible. However, to logically structure your document, you need a research paper outline in APA format. You may ask: why is it necessary to create an outline for an APA research paper?

Concept & Purposes of Research Paper Outline

A path, direction, or action plan! Writing short essays without a layout may seem easy, but not for 10,000 or more words. Yet, confusing a table of contents with an outline is a major issue. The table of contents is an orderly list of all the chapters’ front matter, primary, and back matter. It includes sections and, often, figures in your work, labeled by page number. On the other hand, a research APA-style paper outline is a proper structure to follow.

Purpose of research paper outline

An outline is a formalized essay in which you give your own argument to support your point of view. And when you write your apa outline template, you expand on what you already know about the topic. Academic writing papers examine an area of expertise to get the latest and most accurate information to work on that topic. It serves various purposes, including:

  • APA paper outline discusses the study’s core concepts.
  • The research paper outlines to define the link between your ideas and the thesis.
  • It provides you with manageable portions that you can handle.
  • The research paper’s APA outline enables the detection of structural faults or gaps.
  • As shown in the example, it must clearly comprehend the subject at hand.

APA outline example


This research paper outline example will guide you in formatting the layout for a clear direction to work on. It eliminates the inconsistency along with lacking proper substance in the paper.

Understanding the APA Outline Format

It would not be wrong to say there is no standard outline format. The official publishing handbook does not give precise guidelines for preparing an outline. But, it requires certain basic guidelines to follow regarding typeface, font size, structure, margins, etc.

APA paper outline example

Moreover, the final shape of your work relies on your instructor’s specifications and your particular preferences for APA citation format. Though, it would be better to follow some standards for formatting your outline, for instance:

Times New Roman is a widely accessible standard typeface for an APA essay format in 12-point font. However, serif and sans serif fonts like Arial and Georgia are acceptable in font size 11pt.

The text of your paper format should be double-spaced.

The primary headlines use Roman and Arabic numerals to write an outline.

Headings & Subheadings

While writing an APA essay, there are particular standards for utilizing headings in your outline: I – Main headings are numbered by Roman numerals like I, II, III, IV A  – Subheadings are numbered with Capital letters (A, B, C, D) 1  – The APA outline uses Arabic numerals (1-9 type numbers) within those subheadings. a  – Below Arabic number subheadings, lower-case letters are used (a, b, a). [1] – Headings below those subheadings use Arabic numbers enclosed in parenthesis.

APA format offers a standard layout for each paper, such as

  • 1-inch margins on the top, bottom, left, and right.
  • The page number on the upper right corner.

The structure of writing an outline consists of three major sections:

  • Introduction


This section highlights crucial background information.

Explain the primary points that support your ideas.


  • Summarize your key arguments.
  • Explain how these concepts support your ultimate stance, as shown in APA outline example below.

An outline in APA has three common formats that vary in the numeric sequence of all. To make it easier for you, we have compiled all three templates. You can format your document using these examples for added coherence and structure.

The Basic APA Outline Format


APA Style Outline Template Breakdown

Numbering the APA style format follows five levels of headings that use different alphabets and numbers. For instance, I – Headings use Roman numerals like I, II, and III. A – CAPITAL ALPHABETS”, such as A, B, C, etc. 1 – Headings and subheadings use Arabic numbers (1, 2, 3). a – If there are further headings (the fourth level), use lower-case alphabets. [1] – Headings below that (the fifth level) use Arabic numerals enclosed in parentheses, such as [1], [2], [3].

Full Sentence Outline Format

As the name specifies, the full-sentence style outline format requires every line to be a proper sentence. Full-sentence APA style outline is best recommended for essays and speeches. It gives your writing process an idea or a logical path to follow.

APA Research Paper Outline Example

If you are looking for how to write a research paper outline APA in Full Sentence Format, here is an example:

Full Sentence APA format heading utilizes Roman numerals I, II, and III. Every heading must be a full sentence. Here is an APA style paper outline template for the full-sentence format that will clear all your confusion on how to write an outline in full-sentence format.


APA Paper Outline Format Example

I. Introduction

III. Conclusion

Decimal Outline Format

The decimal outline format for APA research papers differs from other formats. The decimal APA style is simple and uses paragraphs for structure. It contains three main paragraphs, introduction, main body, and conclusion.

First Paragraph: Hook and Thesis

  • The first paragraph is a sentence or two that introduces the central concept of your article.
  • Introduce your topic or subject of study where your research is applicable as a context for further research.
  • Explain why the mentioned issue is essential or relevant to the audience.
  • A thesis statement is a claim that you make throughout your whole essay.
  • The topic phrase is the first point in any writing to support a thesis statement.
  • Give an explanation or provide evidence to support your point.
  • Provide verifiable facts, figures, and/or citations from credible sources in your writing. It helps in the substantiating assertion.
  • Include as many supporting statements and related evidence in your decimal outline.

Finally, when you write an outline, provide a concluding remark to support your claims.

Decimal APA outline format example

1.0 The main heading 1.1 Subheading under the main heading 1.2 Second digit is represented by subheadings under the main headings 1.2.1 Further division adds another digit in decimal format 1.2.2 You can number them as per the number of paragraphs or points, or lines An easy way to write in decimal APA outline format is to remember the structure, i.e.; 1.1.1 = Heading.Paragraph.Sentence/point under paragraph.”

Decimal APA outline format layout

1.0 Main heading 1.1 First paragraph for first heading. 1.2 Second paragraph for first heading. 1.2.1 First point or sentence for the second paragraph. 2.0 Second heading 2.1 Second heading, first paragraph. 2.2 Second heading, second paragraph. 2.2.1 Second, heading, second paragraph, first sentence, or point. 3.0 Decimal working 3.1 You must remember that each digit represents a segment. 3.2 It is easier to remember the placement of numbers. 3.2.1 First digit represents the heading 3.2.2 Second digit represents the paragraph under the main heading <3.2.3 The third digit represents any point or sentence under the paragraph.

Tips for Writing an Outline: Organize Your Ideas

You may feel it is easier to write without outlines, but once you start writing, organizing your ideas or thoughts becomes hard. Even if you have some fantastic ideas, producing an engaging story is practically hard. If you are not first creating an outline or conceptual guides while writing a research paper, you may lose track. A well-written outline is essential in completing your paper and maintaining quality. Establishing your point in paper writing is easy if you create an outline first. You can find an APA research paper outline template that best suits your requirement. Moreover, these tips can help you polish your writing. These tips and sample papers can help you write outstanding outlines without making any hassle.

A definite goal

For better expression, make a list of primary objectives on a title page in a single phrase or less. Your goal should be specific and measurable. If it is too broad or imprecise, you will not achieve anything. If you are working on a large paper format that covers a variety of themes or topics, you may have a more general purpose in mind. But, if you plan to write an essay, the aim should be as specific and clear as possible to be effective.

Breaking things up rather than allowing them to become verbose is known as the division rule. Make sure that each subsection in the document corresponds to its parent heading. If it doesn’t compare to the section, removing it or moving it to another location is better.


It is mainly related to the consistency and structure of the document. It keeps your paper’s layout tidy and also ensures relevancy. For instance, if you begin one heading with a verb, make sure all other headings and subheadings also start with a verb.


Having headings aligned is critical to creating a well-organized outline. This rule also applies to subheadings, which is a good thing. If one title is less important than another, consider changing your layout by incorporating it into a subsection instead.


Subordination deals with maintaining a connection between your paper’s headings and subheadings. It helps in the proper sequencing of headings and subheadings. Headings should be broad at the outset. At the same time, the subheadings become more particular as they go further into the document.

Avoid Redundancy

While writing a paper outline, look through it many times and cross out any items that aren’t necessary or have no significance. While outlining, make sure to be specific and concise. It will prevent you from adding information that does not supporting your final essay. Remove all the extra information and points while c that weighs you down while you write.

Wrap it up in a good way

Creating an outline does not only help in writing a coherent term paper, but it also helps in ending with precise understanding. Be considerate of your audience’s time and effort when you write an outline in APA, and ensure it serves its purpose. If you still have any doubts about formatting your paper outline, you can use this APA-style research paper outline template to write your document. We have provided Outline Format Example for every style.

People find it hard to write an outline in APA, but if you are aware of the requirements and structure, it’s no breeze. Sometimes, your instructor may alter your paper format by introducing or removing existing sections. As a result, if you come across any templates for an outline in APA, pay close attention to them. If you are looking for a quick answer to how to outline an APA paper, here’s a standard logical sequence of typical parts to include when writing an outline in APA:

  • Thesis statement
  • Techniques employed
  • Body of paper
  • Conclusions section
  • List of references

A well-written outline is an excellent tool for presenting an outstanding paper. Including the key components while writing an outline for a research paper is necessary.

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doing an outline for a research paper

doing an outline for a research paper

How to Write a Research Paper

Use the links below to jump directly to any section of this guide:

Research Paper Fundamentals

How to choose a topic or question, how to create a working hypothesis or thesis, common research paper methodologies, how to gather and organize evidence , how to write an outline for your research paper, how to write a rough draft, how to revise your draft, how to produce a final draft, resources for teachers .

It is not fair to say that no one writes anymore. Just about everyone writes text messages, brief emails, or social media posts every single day. Yet, most people don't have a lot of practice with the formal, organized writing required for a good academic research paper. This guide contains links to a variety of resources that can help demystify the process. Some of these resources are intended for teachers; they contain exercises, activities, and teaching strategies. Other resources are intended for direct use by students who are struggling to write papers, or are looking for tips to make the process go more smoothly.

The resources in this section are designed to help students understand the different types of research papers, the general research process, and how to manage their time. Below, you'll find links from university writing centers, the trusted Purdue Online Writing Lab, and more.

What is an Academic Research Paper?

"Genre and the Research Paper" (Purdue OWL)

There are different types of research papers. Different types of scholarly questions will lend themselves to one format or another. This is a brief introduction to the two main genres of research paper: analytic and argumentative. 

"7 Most Popular Types of Research Papers" (

This resource discusses formats that high school students commonly encounter, such as the compare and contrast essay and the definitional essay. Please note that the inclusion of this link is not an endorsement of this company's paid service.

How to Prepare and Plan Out Writing a Research Paper

Teachers can give their students a step-by-step guide like these to help them understand the different steps of the research paper process. These guides can be combined with the time management tools in the next subsection to help students come up with customized calendars for completing their papers.

"Ten Steps for Writing Research Papers" (American University)  

This resource from American University is a comprehensive guide to the research paper writing process, and includes examples of proper research questions and thesis topics.

"Steps in Writing a Research Paper" (SUNY Empire State College)

This guide breaks the research paper process into 11 steps. Each "step" links to a separate page, which describes the work entailed in completing it.

How to Manage Time Effectively

The links below will help students determine how much time is necessary to complete a paper. If your sources are not available online or at your local library, you'll need to leave extra time for the Interlibrary Loan process. Remember that, even if you do not need to consult secondary sources, you'll still need to leave yourself ample time to organize your thoughts.

"Research Paper Planner: Timeline" (Baylor University)

This interactive resource from Baylor University creates a suggested writing schedule based on how much time a student has to work on the assignment.

"Research Paper Planner" (UCLA)

UCLA's library offers this step-by-step guide to the research paper writing process, which also includes a suggested planning calendar.

There's a reason teachers spend a long time talking about choosing a good topic. Without a good topic and a well-formulated research question, it is almost impossible to write a clear and organized paper. The resources below will help you generate ideas and formulate precise questions.

"How to Select a Research Topic" (Univ. of Michigan-Flint)

This resource is designed for college students who are struggling to come up with an appropriate topic. A student who uses this resource and still feels unsure about his or her topic should consult the course instructor for further personalized assistance.

"25 Interesting Research Paper Topics to Get You Started" (Kibin)

This resource, which is probably most appropriate for high school students, provides a list of specific topics to help get students started. It is broken into subsections, such as "paper topics on local issues."

"Writing a Good Research Question" (Grand Canyon University)

This introduction to research questions includes some embedded videos, as well as links to scholarly articles on research questions. This resource would be most appropriate for teachers who are planning lessons on research paper fundamentals.

"How to Write a Research Question the Right Way" (Kibin)

This student-focused resource provides more detail on writing research questions. The language is accessible, and there are embedded videos and examples of good and bad questions.

It is important to have a rough hypothesis or thesis in mind at the beginning of the research process. People who have a sense of what they want to say will have an easier time sorting through scholarly sources and other information. The key, of course, is not to become too wedded to the draft hypothesis or thesis. Just about every working thesis gets changed during the research process.

CrashCourse Video: "Sociology Research Methods" (YouTube)

Although this video is tailored to sociology students, it is applicable to students in a variety of social science disciplines. This video does a good job demonstrating the connection between the brainstorming that goes into selecting a research question and the formulation of a working hypothesis.

"How to Write a Thesis Statement for an Analytical Essay" (YouTube)

Students writing analytical essays will not develop the same type of working hypothesis as students who are writing research papers in other disciplines. For these students, developing the working thesis may happen as a part of the rough draft (see the relevant section below). 

"Research Hypothesis" (Oakland Univ.)

This resource provides some examples of hypotheses in social science disciplines like Political Science and Criminal Justice. These sample hypotheses may also be useful for students in other soft social sciences and humanities disciplines like History.

When grading a research paper, instructors look for a consistent methodology. This section will help you understand different methodological approaches used in research papers. Students will get the most out of these resources if they use them to help prepare for conversations with teachers or discussions in class.

"Types of Research Designs" (USC)

A "research design," used for complex papers, is related to the paper's method. This resource contains introductions to a variety of popular research designs in the social sciences. Although it is not the most intuitive site to read, the information here is very valuable. 

"Major Research Methods" (YouTube)

Although this video is a bit on the dry side, it provides a comprehensive overview of the major research methodologies in a format that might be more accessible to students who have struggled with textbooks or other written resources.

"Humanities Research Strategies" (USC)

This is a portal where students can learn about four methodological approaches for humanities papers: Historical Methodologies, Textual Criticism, Conceptual Analysis, and the Synoptic method.

"Selected Major Social Science Research Methods: Overview" (National Academies Press)

This appendix from the book  Using Science as Evidence in Public Policy , printed by National Academies Press, introduces some methods used in social science papers.

"Organizing Your Social Sciences Research Paper: 6. The Methodology" (USC)

This resource from the University of Southern California's library contains tips for writing a methodology section in a research paper.

How to Determine the Best Methodology for You

Anyone who is new to writing research papers should be sure to select a method in consultation with their instructor. These resources can be used to help prepare for that discussion. They may also be used on their own by more advanced students.

"Choosing Appropriate Research Methodologies" (Palgrave Study Skills)

This friendly and approachable resource from Palgrave Macmillan can be used by students who are just starting to think about appropriate methodologies.

"How to Choose Your Research Methods" (NFER (UK))

This is another approachable resource students can use to help narrow down the most appropriate methods for their research projects.

The resources in this section introduce the process of gathering scholarly sources and collecting evidence. You'll find a range of material here, from introductory guides to advanced explications best suited to college students. Please consult the LitCharts  How to Do Academic Research guide for a more comprehensive list of resources devoted to finding scholarly literature.

Google Scholar

Students who have access to library websites with detailed research guides should start there, but people who do not have access to those resources can begin their search for secondary literature here.

"Gathering Appropriate Information" (Texas Gateway)

This resource from the Texas Gateway for online resources introduces students to the research process, and contains interactive exercises. The level of complexity is suitable for middle school, high school, and introductory college classrooms.

"An Overview of Quantitative and Qualitative Data Collection Methods" (NSF)

This PDF from the National Science Foundation goes into detail about best practices and pitfalls in data collection across multiple types of methodologies.

"Social Science Methods for Data Collection and Analysis" (Swiss FIT)

This resource is appropriate for advanced undergraduates or teachers looking to create lessons on research design and data collection. It covers techniques for gathering data via interviews, observations, and other methods.

"Collecting Data by In-depth Interviewing" (Leeds Univ.)

This resource contains enough information about conducting interviews to make it useful for teachers who want to create a lesson plan, but is also accessible enough for college juniors or seniors to make use of it on their own.

There is no "one size fits all" outlining technique. Some students might devote all their energy and attention to the outline in order to avoid the paper. Other students may benefit from being made to sit down and organize their thoughts into a lengthy sentence outline. The resources in this section include strategies and templates for multiple types of outlines. 

"Topic vs. Sentence Outlines" (UC Berkeley)

This resource introduces two basic approaches to outlining: the shorter topic-based approach, and the longer, more detailed sentence-based approach. This resource also contains videos on how to develop paper paragraphs from the sentence-based outline.

"Types of Outlines and Samples" (Purdue OWL)

The Purdue Online Writing Lab's guide is a slightly less detailed discussion of different types of outlines. It contains several sample outlines.

"Writing An Outline" (Austin C.C.)

This resource from a community college contains sample outlines from an American history class that students can use as models.

"How to Structure an Outline for a College Paper" (YouTube)

This brief (sub-2 minute) video from the ExpertVillage YouTube channel provides a model of outline writing for students who are struggling with the idea.

"Outlining" (Harvard)

This is a good resource to consult after completing a draft outline. It offers suggestions for making sure your outline avoids things like unnecessary repetition.

As with outlines, rough drafts can take on many different forms. These resources introduce teachers and students to the various approaches to writing a rough draft. This section also includes resources that will help you cite your sources appropriately according to the MLA, Chicago, and APA style manuals.

"Creating a Rough Draft for a Research Paper" (Univ. of Minnesota)

This resource is useful for teachers in particular, as it provides some suggested exercises to help students with writing a basic rough draft. 

Rough Draft Assignment (Duke of Definition)

This sample assignment, with a brief list of tips, was developed by a high school teacher who runs a very successful and well-reviewed page of educational resources.

"Creating the First Draft of Your Research Paper" (Concordia Univ.)

This resource will be helpful for perfectionists or procrastinators, as it opens by discussing the problem of avoiding writing. It also provides a short list of suggestions meant to get students writing.

Using Proper Citations

There is no such thing as a rough draft of a scholarly citation. These links to the three major citation guides will ensure that your citations follow the correct format. Please consult the LitCharts How to Cite Your Sources guide for more resources.

Chicago Manual of Style Citation Guide

Some call  The Chicago Manual of Style , which was first published in 1906, "the editors' Bible." The manual is now in its 17th edition, and is popular in the social sciences, historical journals, and some other fields in the humanities.

APA Citation Guide

According to the American Psychological Association, this guide was developed to aid reading comprehension, clarity of communication, and to reduce bias in language in the social and behavioral sciences. Its first full edition was published in 1952, and it is now in its sixth edition.

MLA Citation Guide

The Modern Language Association style is used most commonly within the liberal arts and humanities. The  MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing  was first published in 1985 and (as of 2008) is in its third edition.

Any professional scholar will tell you that the best research papers are made in the revision stage. No matter how strong your research question or working thesis, it is not possible to write a truly outstanding paper without devoting energy to revision. These resources provide examples of revision exercises for the classroom, as well as tips for students working independently.

"The Art of Revision" (Univ. of Arizona)

This resource provides a wealth of information and suggestions for both students and teachers. There is a list of suggested exercises that teachers might use in class, along with a revision checklist that is useful for teachers and students alike.

"Script for Workshop on Revision" (Vanderbilt University)

Vanderbilt's guide for leading a 50-minute revision workshop can serve as a model for teachers who wish to guide students through the revision process during classtime. 

"Revising Your Paper" (Univ. of Washington)

This detailed handout was designed for students who are beginning the revision process. It discusses different approaches and methods for revision, and also includes a detailed list of things students should look for while they revise.

"Revising Drafts" (UNC Writing Center)

This resource is designed for students and suggests things to look for during the revision process. It provides steps for the process and has a FAQ for students who have questions about why it is important to revise.

Conferencing with Writing Tutors and Instructors

No writer is so good that he or she can't benefit from meeting with instructors or peer tutors. These resources from university writing, learning, and communication centers provide suggestions for how to get the most out of these one-on-one meetings.

"Getting Feedback" (UNC Writing Center)

This very helpful resource talks about how to ask for feedback during the entire writing process. It contains possible questions that students might ask when developing an outline, during the revision process, and after the final draft has been graded.

"Prepare for Your Tutoring Session" (Otis College of Art and Design)

This guide from a university's student learning center contains a lot of helpful tips for getting the most out of working with a writing tutor.

"The Importance of Asking Your Professor" (Univ. of Waterloo)

This article from the university's Writing and Communication Centre's blog contains some suggestions for how and when to get help from professors and Teaching Assistants.

Once you've revised your first draft, you're well on your way to handing in a polished paper. These resources—each of them produced by writing professionals at colleges and universities—outline the steps required in order to produce a final draft. You'll find proofreading tips and checklists in text and video form.

"Developing a Final Draft of a Research Paper" (Univ. of Minnesota)

While this resource contains suggestions for revision, it also features a couple of helpful checklists for the last stages of completing a final draft.

Basic Final Draft Tips and Checklist (Univ. of Maryland-University College)

This short and accessible resource, part of UMUC's very thorough online guide to writing and research, contains a very basic checklist for students who are getting ready to turn in their final drafts.

Final Draft Checklist (Everett C.C.)

This is another accessible final draft checklist, appropriate for both high school and college students. It suggests reading your essay aloud at least once.

"How to Proofread Your Final Draft" (YouTube)

This video (approximately 5 minutes), produced by Eastern Washington University, gives students tips on proofreading final drafts.

"Proofreading Tips" (Georgia Southern-Armstrong)

This guide will help students learn how to spot common errors in their papers. It suggests focusing on content and editing for grammar and mechanics.

This final set of resources is intended specifically for high school and college instructors. It provides links to unit plans and classroom exercises that can help improve students' research and writing skills. You'll find resources that give an overview of the process, along with activities that focus on how to begin and how to carry out research. 

"Research Paper Complete Resources Pack" (Teachers Pay Teachers)

This packet of assignments, rubrics, and other resources is designed for high school students. The resources in this packet are aligned to Common Core standards.

"Research Paper—Complete Unit" (Teachers Pay Teachers)

This packet of assignments, notes, PowerPoints, and other resources has a 4/4 rating with over 700 ratings. It is designed for high school teachers, but might also be useful to college instructors who work with freshmen.

"Teaching Students to Write Good Papers" (Yale)

This resource from Yale's Center for Teaching and Learning is designed for college instructors, and it includes links to appropriate activities and exercises.

"Research Paper Writing: An Overview" (CUNY Brooklyn)

CUNY Brooklyn offers this complete lesson plan for introducing students to research papers. It includes an accompanying set of PowerPoint slides.

"Lesson Plan: How to Begin Writing a Research Paper" (San Jose State Univ.)

This lesson plan is designed for students in the health sciences, so teachers will have to modify it for their own needs. It includes a breakdown of the brainstorming, topic selection, and research question process. 

"Quantitative Techniques for Social Science Research" (Univ. of Pittsburgh)

This is a set of PowerPoint slides that can be used to introduce students to a variety of quantitative methods used in the social sciences.

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How to Write an Outline for a Research Paper

Last Updated: December 18, 2020 References

This article was co-authored by Matthew Snipp, PhD . C. Matthew Snipp is the Burnet C. and Mildred Finley Wohlford Professor of Humanities and Sciences in the Department of Sociology at Stanford University. He is also the Director for the Institute for Research in the Social Science’s Secure Data Center. He has been a Research Fellow at the U.S. Bureau of the Census and a Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences. He has published 3 books and over 70 articles and book chapters on demography, economic development, poverty and unemployment. He is also currently serving on the National Institute of Child Health and Development’s Population Science Subcommittee. He holds a Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Wisconsin—Madison. There are 7 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. This article has been viewed 297,745 times.

Writing an outline for a research paper can seem like a time consuming task, and you may not understand the value of it if you have never written one before. Outlines can help you structure your research and your final paper in much more efficient ways, though, so it is a good idea that you learn how to write one. Here are a few things to keep in mind when doing so.

Sample Outlines

doing an outline for a research paper

Outline Type and Structure

Step 1 Choose between a topic outline and sentence outline.

  • Topic outlines are usually used when your research deals with many different issues that can be arranged in different ways.
  • Sentence outlines are usually used if your research focuses on complex issues.
  • Some instructors will insist that you must not combine these two forms. Many others, however, offer one exception to this guideline by allowing the main section headings to be short phrases while the remaining subpoints are written as full sentences.

Step 2 Most outlines use an alpha-numerical structure.

  • The first level is represented by Roman numerals (I, II, III, IV, etc.), the second level is represented by capital letters (A, B, C, D, etc.), the third level is represented by numbers (1, 2, 3, 4, etc.), and the fourth level is represented by lowercase letters (a, b, c, d, etc.).

Step 3 Note capitalization issues.

  • One school of thought indicates that first level headings should be written in all capital letters while all remaining headings use standard sentence capitalization rules.
  • Another school of thought suggests that the first level headings should only have the first letter of each word capitalized, rather than the entire word. The remaining headings, again, use standard sentence capitalization rules.

Step 4 Keep matters of length in mind.

  • For a four to five page paper, you only need a single page outline.
  • For a 15 to 20 page paper, your outline will usually run no longer than four pages. [2] X Research source

Outline Levels

Step 1 Familiarize yourself with a one-level outline.

  • These headings are labeled with Roman numerals.
  • Note that you would not usually use this outline for a research paper, as it is not very specific or detailed. It can still be a good idea to start with this outline level, however, since you can use it to provide yourself with a general direction for your paper and expand upon it as the information flows in.

Step 2 Move onto a two-level outline.

  • In other words, your Roman numeral and capital letter sections are both present.
  • Each second-level subheading should discuss a primary supporting argument for the main idea it falls under.

Step 3 Progress to a three-level outline.

  • You use Roman numerals, capital letters, and standard numbers for this version.
  • Next to each third-level subsection, you should address the topic of a paragraph that falls under the corresponding second-level section or main idea above it.

Step 4 Use a four-level outline, when necessary.

  • The fourth-level subheadings should address supporting statements, citations, or ideas within each paragraph listed in the third-level sections.

Components of Effective Outlines

Step 1 Use parallelism.

  • This refers most obviously to the usage of "topic" versus "sentence" outline formats, as described in the "structure and type" section of the article.
  • Parallelism also refers to parts of speech and tense. If a heading starts with a verb, then the other headings must also start with a verb. Moreover, that verb must also be in the same tense (usually present tense).

Step 2 Coordinate your information.

  • Your major headings should identify major tasks or ideas.
  • Your subheadings should elaborate on the points addressed in your major headings.

Step 3 Employ effective subordination.

  • For instance, if you were writing about memorable experiences from your childhood, "Memorable Childhood Experiences" would be the heading and the subheadings might look something like, "Vacation at 8 years old," "Favorite birthday party," and "Family trips to the park."

Step 4 Practice division.

  • There is no limit on subheadings, but once you start forming a dozen or so subheadings under a single heading, you might find your outline looking cluttered and messy.

Organizing the Outline

Step 1 Identify the research problem.

  • From this research problem, you will derive your thesis statement. A thesis statement is a single sentence that sums up the entire purpose or argument of your research paper.
  • This thesis statement will usually be written above the outline itself or within the first "Introduction" heading of the outline.
  • Your research problem can also help you figure out a title.

Step 2 Identify your main categories.

  • The main points are details that support or address your research paper. They should be very general in nature.

Step 3 Consider the order.

  • Chronological arrangements generally only work if you have a topic that has some chronological history to it. For example, if you were researching the history of modern medicine, it would make sense that your paper and outline follow a chronological order.
  • If your research topic does not have a history, though, you will probably end up using a spatial structure. For instance, if you are researching the effects of television and video games on the adolescent brain, you probably would not follow the chronology of the research. Instead, you might describe the different contemporary schools of thought on the issue or otherwise follow some other spatial arrangement of ideas.

Step 4 Establish your major headings.

  • Some instructors will insist that you do not use the terms "Introduction" and "Conclusions," however. In these instances, you can usually skip these two sections altogether, but you will need to write your thesis statement separately and above the outline.

Step 5 Know what to include in your Introduction.

  • Note that these elements will usually be listed as subpoints, not as major headings. The major heading for the section will be "Introduction."

Step 6 Understand what the body of your outline will consist of.

  • As with the actual paper itself, this portion of your outline will hold all the significant content.
  • The main headings will correspond to the main categories briefly listed under a subheading of your “Introduction” section.
  • You can include only the main ideas and supporting details of those ideas (a two-level outline, as noted in the “Outline Levels” section of the article) or you could include information about specific paragraphs and supporting details within those paragraphs (three-level and four-level outlines, respectively).

Step 7 Arrange the Conclusions section.

  • Restate and rephrase your thesis.
  • If you drew any additional conclusions based on your research, list them here. Keep in mind that none of this information should be “new,” and all of it should have been addressed elsewhere in the paper.
  • If your research demands a “call to action”—a response that a reader should have in response or an action that should be done in response—include that under this section, as well. This will usually be your final point within the outline.

Expert Q&A

  • A good outline shows you what to address next in your paper, thereby limiting writer's block.
  • Outlines help maintain a coherent, orderly flow of ideas.
  • You can use an outline to check yourself as you write if you suspect that you are straying from the main topic.
  • Having a visual outline can help encourage you as you write your paper since you can tell how much you have left.
  • Outlines help you organize different ideas about the same topic and gain an understanding of how those ideas connect.

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Crafting an Effective Dissertation Outline: A Step-by-Step Guide

Table of Contents

The dissertation writing process is considered one of the most time-consuming and challenging. The dissertation outline is a critical element that helps establish the dissertation structure and strategic research process. The work also includes dissertation thesis writing, which is an important stage in every student’s higher studies. Before you start working on the scientific masterpiece, make sure to learn the differences between a thesis outline and a dissertation outline and come up with a precise plan for making inquiries well-structured and clear. To help you with the much-needed steps, you must go through the dissertation proposal outline guide, including outline templates and general rules.

An outline is more like a guide that shows what tasks must be completed to meet the academic goals. It helps determine what ideas are essential additions to one’s assignments. In the latter stages of the blog, you will find a description of what should be included in an outstanding dissertation outline and how to arrange it the right way. To know more, visit MyAssignmentHelp and tap on the “ dissertation help ” option. 

Mastering Your Dissertation Proposal Outline: A Comprehensive Guide

The purpose of the dissertation outline is to help students maintain focus on the proposed topic. This ensures no wasting time and that additional ideas are going to get introduced in progress. A thesis outline allows for gathering much-needed information and arranging it scientifically in a more structured and logical way. A draft acts as a guideline that helps to meet objectives and link arguments to the main thesis. An outline helps to clear doubts and avoid repetition as a lengthy research paper is brought together.

Moreover, after submitting the dissertation proposal outline to the university or college professor, most young scientists need to work using a sketch that presents general ideas and topics. Once written perfectly, it serves a proposal role for the overall assignment.

Professors from different universities might adhere to different dissertation outlines. However, in most cases, the common structure features five chapters: the introduction chapter, the detailed review of the literature chapter, the analysis of presented data, the methodology, and, lastly, the conclusion chapter. By implementing a robust thesis outline strategy, you can arrange your work in less time and more effectively. A few of the key benefits of the outline are as follows:

  • Begin with the relevant topic and field of study you are familiar with and can provide enough evidence using loads of scientific sources.
  • Go through manuals, subject reviews, and academic journals in advance prior to choosing the main thesis outline.
  • Talk about every issue with the academic mentor, focusing on methodology, approach, and argumentative position. Make sure to present an outline or sources for approval.
  • Make notes for your thesis statement while you read through relevant scientific books.
  • Write each provided dissertation section in accordance with the concepts offered, omitting any unnecessary details.
  • Working on a dissertation or thesis outline that includes notes and an appendix.
  • Please provide your professor in charge of the thesis help with all of the information available, making sure that nothing is left out.
  • As a general rule, conclusions should avoid new ideas; instead, focus on upcoming objectives and ask for more study.
  • Create a personal checklist of objectives in advance to “proofread the dissertation” in this manner.
  • You can revise and modify your work, or you can hire an expert service like MyAssignmentHelp to help you with the online dissertation outline.

Are you struggling to deal with your dissertation? Letting go of the stress is now easy. Consider getting in touch with MyAssignmentHelp and make the most of our dissertation help service.

Constructing Your Research Methods Outline: A Step-by-Step Guide

Always keep in mind that no specific dissertation or thesis outline template will fit every subject. For example, while social sciences may feature 4 to 5 parts, an allocated committee may bring alterations, so it’s a wise decision to check more than once in advance. In this section, we will discuss 5 methods with outline variations specified. Anyone can face severe challenges in writing such complex academic papers. In this case, it’s best to rely on an expert to get the job done right. 

  • Introduction

It usually features a general introduction and background information on the issues resolved. Next, work on the thesis statement that serves as a dissertation plan. Then come the research questions and study purpose that are vital for this particular work. The following section must pay attention to the importance of the selected study, which usually includes topic relevance. Always make sure to provide simple and clear definitions for the terms used. The introduction is also the part where you mention personal assumptions and limitations. For the main sections’ conclusion chapter, make sure to provide additional study details, if needed.

Literature Review

As the name implies, dissertation chapter 2 comes with all implemented literature listed, investigated, explained, and studied in depth. One needs to come up with a theoretical and/or conceptual framework to justify the use of the materials provided. Based on the topic variables, one must add a detailed review of sources.

Note : The third chapter might differ based on the topic and methods selected!

Qualitative Methodology

One of the toughest sections as it needs to show the research design and questions with scientific significance, set the stage for analysis, and describe the participants or study objects. Next comes the data collection paragraph, followed by extensive analysis. Here, citing is mandatory when and if needed. The last part must provide an overview of the research method justification.

Quantitative Research Methods

Here, the research design is followed by a problem question, thesis statement, and hypotheses. What makes the research method different are the provided samples and population statistics regarding the methodology. In addition to this, it should feature instrumentation used for precise data collection. It concludes with their evaluation.

Combined Methodology Analysis

Go with a mixed approach. Start with a concise overview and strategy pattern, then focus on objectives and hypotheses. Next, provide a sample(s) and setting. After collecting the data, it should relate to the selected work methods. The evaluation must include both references and opinions on scientific journals. With such an alternative, this dissertation outline section should make the selected method obvious to the audience.

Outcomes of the Research

The fourth chapter is all about describing the results. It is advised to arrange them either by hypotheses given or research questions specified. Keep in mind that the introduction must talk about what needs to be found, while the conclusion part is the summary that describes whether it succeded or not.

Conclusion: Discussion and Future Research Suggestions

The final section must offer an outcomes summary in more detail. Considering the personal analysis involved, it is different from the existing chapter. After listing accomplishments, one must provide a conclusion that incorporates critical thinking. Continue discussing the topic, outline the research for the paper, or get help from MyAssignmentHelp to simplify things. If available and appropriate, add recommendations for further investigation or what is required. As you put your work together, don’t forget to double-check that you didn’t forget anything. The last part of the outline is a good place to express opinions and defend the style selected. 

Exploring Dissertation Outline Literature Review Chapter Topics

As per the experts of MyAssignmentHelp, the literature review chapter of the dissertation is one of the most vital steps in the research process. It establishes the backbone of your research by providing a wide overview of the body of knowledge on your topic, indicating gaps within that knowledge base, and providing a background for your research questions. It has to be broad, organized, and representative of the depth of the research conducted. Here, we will look at some key topics to cover that can make a literature review chapter strong and useful.

Introduction to the Literature Review

Your literature review introductory paragraph sets the stage by showing an overview of the themes and the scope of existing research. It also explains how important the literature review is within the context of your dissertation. Start off by explaining the relevance of the topic and why the particular literature was chosen. This sets the stage for the reader by providing a roadmap of what to expect.

Historical Background

Provide a historical overview of your research topic. This section will trace the development of the topic over time and point out key milestones and influential studies. By doing so, you give readers an idea of how the subject has developed and how past research has shaped contemporary knowledge about the subject. After all, historical context greatly assists in understanding the base on which current research builds.

Theoretical Framework

Discuss the theoretical perspectives that ground the extant literature on your topic. Theories provide a conceptual lens for studying and understanding the literature. State and describe the key theories that have been applied to your topic, and explain their relevance to your research questions. This section tracks your research within the broader academic discourse and supports your understanding of the theoretical underpinnings of your field of study.

Key Themes and Trends

Identify and elaborate on the major themes and trends emerging from the literature. Combine information from different sources so that one can easily highlight the chief findings, debates, and discourses that are going on in the field. Arrange such a section according to thematic categories, not according to individual studies, to provide a coherent narrative. Discuss how different studies converge or diverge on certain points and what the implications of these trends are for your research.

Methodological Approaches

Review various methodological ways through which existing research has been conducted. This must feature both qualitative, quantitative, and mixed-methods studies and must showcase the strengths and limitations of each approach. In addition, explain how the choice of methodology influences the findings and interpretations of the studies. This will help one narrow down the most appropriate methods to use in one’s research and provide a platform for justifying the methodological choices that one has made.

Gaps in the Literature

One of the many critical aspects of a literature review is the identification of gaps in the existing research. This may involve specifying aspects of a research subject where there is no information, conflicting results, or topics that have not been explored. By indicating these gaps, you build up the need for your research and indicate how it will add value to the field. Discuss why these gaps exist and how your study aims to address them.

Critical Analysis

Perform an in-depth review of the literature with regard to the quality and rigor of all studies. This involves the assessment of credibility, reliability, and validity of the research outcomes. Discussion on any biases, limitations, and weaknesses that you have identified within the existing literature. It reveals the strong power to critically engage with literature on the one hand and enhances the credibility of one’s own research.

Synthesis and Conceptual Framework

Synthesize literature into a conceptual framework for your study. This requires you to bring on board all the different themes, theories, and findings into a coherent model that can guide your research. Your conceptual framework should showcase the relationships among major concepts and variables and provide a justification for your research design and hypotheses. This, therefore, helps you consolidate your understanding of the topic and give clear direction to your study.

Summarize all that has been discussed in the literature review and underline the importance of the literature review for your research. Indicate how the literature has contributed to your research questions, methodology, and theoretical approach. Give an overview of how your study will build on the existing research and fill up the gaps identified. Such a conclusion will lead into the next chapters of the dissertation.

Make sure to document all sources with the right citation style. A comprehensive and well-organized reference list not only adds to the credibility of your literature review but also significantly contributes to the work of any other researchers interested in your topic.

Expert Tips for Crafting an Effective Dissertation Title for Future Research

Crafting an effective dissertation title is one of the most important steps in the process. A good title page will go beyond just drawing attention; rather, it will really let readers know what your work is about. Here are some tips from the experts of MyAssignmentHelp in order to help come up with an informative and compelling dissertation title for future research.

  • Reflect on the Research Scope and Focus

The title of your dissertation should actually indicate the scope and focus of your research. It should communicate a clear indication of the main topic and what particular aspect you are investigating. Avoid general, vague, or overly broad titles. In fact, aim at specificity so the potential reader may understand with no questions what the actual topic of your dissertation is.

  • Use Simple and Descriptive Language

A good title is short but descriptive. Use language that is specific and communicates the major variables or concepts of your study so your readers know what to expect. Avoid using jargon or technical terms unless your research needs to incorporate them.

  • Add Key Elements

A comprehensive dissertation includes key elements related to research methods, population or sample, and the context or settings of the study. All of these help to present a complete picture of your research and the scope of the study.

  • Highlight the Research Question or Hypothesis

If possible, include an indication of the research question or hypothesis. Do this through the framing of the title to hint at the question of inquiry or the relationship between variables that will be expected.

  • Consider the Use of a Subtitle

A subtitle can turn out to be an effective way to elaborate on a title without making it too long. The main title can get hold of the general theme, while the subtitle specifies the focus or method.

  • Ensure Clarity and Readability

Your title should be easy to read and understand. Avoid complex structures or convoluted phrasing. The goal is to get your research across clearly and concisely.

  • Avoid Ambiguity

An ambiguous title can mislead the readers about what your research work contains and is concerned with. Be specific on what aspect of the topic you are studying and avoid ambiguity.

  • Reflect on the Nature of the Study

Indicate if your research is empirical, applied, theoretical, or exploratory. This will help shape the expectations with respect to the methods and contribution of your research.

  • Take Into Account Your Audience

Think about who is likely to read your dissertation. Make your dissertation title such that it will appeal to your target audience, whether it be academics, practitioners, or the general public. The title should be accessible and relevant to them.

  • Ask for Feedback

After you have framed your title, you can seek feedback from peers, advisors, or colleagues. They can able to give you invaluable insights and help you identify mistakes or areas of improvement.

  • Be Open to Proofreading

Titles often change as the research progresses. Be open to revising your title to better reflect the findings and focus of your completed study. A good practice is to finalize the title only when you have a clear understanding of the research outcomes.

  • Stay Within the Word Count

Most academic institutions have provisions on the length of the title of a dissertation. Make sure that it is within the specified number of words and remains to be descriptive and informative.

For more in-depth recommendations, consider hiring our experts in charge of dissertation writing at MyAssignmentHelp. 

Student-Friendly Dissertation Outline Template

Seeing an example dissertation outline, in reality, is better than reading it on paper 100 times. To ensure that you know exactly how to write your own, we recommend you get familiar with some online dissertation outline examples. To make your work easier and ensure an effortless dissertation writing experience, our team of experienced dissertation writers made every effort.

Go through the following basic dissertation outline and adjust it as per your dissertation topic and subject:

Chapter 1: Introduction

  • Problem and its background
  • Thesis statement
  • Research purpose and questions
  • Glossary of Terms (optional)

Chapter 2: Literature Review

  • Explanation of literature search
  • Literature review

Chapter 3: Methodology (Quantitative/Qualitative/Mixed)

  • Research design
  • Research question and thesis statement 
  • Sample/Setting and population
  • Instrumentation/participants
  • Data collection
  • Data analysis

Chapter 4: Findings

Chapter 5: Discussion and Recommendations for Further Research

  • Findings Summary
  • Conclusions
  • Recommendations for further investigation
  • Final conclusion part 

Useful Tips to Craft Dissertation Outlines Effective and Fast

Find a Relevant Topic

If you can pick a relevant topic, it will become easier for you to develop all five chapters of the dissertation later, according to MyAssignmentHelp. To craft an outline effortlessly, select a topic that you are familiar with and that is relevant. The dissertation process is extremely energy-insensitive, and it will not get highlighted if you lack interest in what you are researching.

Be Prepared to Modify Your Outline as Your Research Develops

Your dissertation outline acts as a guide for further research; however, make sure to modify it, if needed, as you proceed. It is hard to precisely come up with an idea for writing a research paper, so creating an accurate plan is next to impossible. Be prepared and flexible enough to make adjustments to your dissertation writing strategy. You can also avail of our research paper help service to get things done the right way. 

Maintain a Consistent Format and Style

Any scientific study needs to follow a specific dissertation structure and style guide. The dissertation’s clarity indicates that rigorous scientific language clear of vulgarity is used. It’s also important to keep in mind that writing a thesis statement must adhere to a specific format. Make sure you are aware of the specifications for structuring dissertation chapters, including typeface, paragraph indentation, research design, etc.

Design a Methodology For Collecting Information

Choose the appropriate research methods and develop a methodology that aligns with the requirements of the research problem. Examine the targets you set and choose the best methods for gathering information. Maybe surveys, interviews, or observations are more suitable for you; the most important thing is that the information-gathering approaches complement the tasks that have been assigned.

Seek Recommendations From Your Supervisors or Colleagues

We frequently run into dead ends in our research because we don’t have something new to say on the subject. Seek assistance from your supervisor or colleagues if you run into trouble while creating your dissertation outline. Maybe their perspective on the issues you are researching could shed light on your dead end. The most important thing is to select competent helpers like MyAssignmentHelp who can offer insightful advice.

Depth Over Breadth

As science values depth and precision, it is preferable to focus on a small number of subjects and research them extensively rather than to be dispersed across several areas. While creating the dissertation or thesis outline, select a few primary topics of study and avoid any that are confusing.

Remember that when writing a dissertation, your outline serves as the main guidance. To ensure that you stay on course, refer to and use your plan’s guidance during the research process. You may make sure that no crucial details are left out of your research report by using this method.

Why is creating a dissertation academic paper important?

Writing a dissertation academic paper is important because it shows your ability to carry out independent research, make original knowledge contributions in the field, and critically review already available literature. The whole process checks your expertise, analytical ability, and academic credentials. It will also provide all the details of your research for the sake of future scholars and practitioners. Completing a dissertation can actually have a great influence on your career, demonstrating both your commitment and competence to prospective employers and academic institutions.

What Components Are Essential in Outlining Dissertation Chapters?

The main components of the dissertation outline should include:

  • Introduction: Explain the significance, goals, and topic of the research.
  • Literature Review: A review of previous research, including the identification of gaps.
  • Methodology: Description of the research design, methods, and data collection.
  • Results: Reporting of results from the research.
  • Discussion: Interpretation of results and connection to the literature.
  • Conclusion: Summarizing the research, discussion of implications, and suggestions for further research.

Other additional materials may be the Abstract, Acknowledgments, and Appendices.

How do I begin structuring my dissertation outline?  

Start structuring your dissertation outline by defining your research question or hypothesis. Then, create a broad outline with the major sections, including the introduction, literature review, methodology, outcomes, discussion, and conclusion. Under each main heading, list the subtopics or key points you plan to address. This hierarchical structure provides continuity and flow. The review of guidelines from the academic institution and discussions with your tutor will further help fine-tune the thesis outline as per the specific requirements and expectations of your educational institution.

What are some tips for organizing my dissertation research method effectively?

To structure your dissertation research method effectively, make sure to follow these tips:

  • Be Clear and Elaborate: Properly explain your research design, how you have selected the sample, how you collected the data, and how you analyzed it.
  • Justify Your Choices: Explain why you chose certain methods and how they fit your research question.
  • Ensure Replicability: Provide enough detail so that others don’t find difficulty in replicating your study.
  • Include Limitations: Keep note of the potential methodological limitations and how you eliminated them.
  • Add subheadings: Make the methodology more readable by breaking it down into clear sections.

Should I include a timeline in my dissertation outline?

Definitely, in your dissertation outline, there must be a timeline. It helps you with time management, ensuring you meet deadlines, and provides a clear schedule for when specific sections of your dissertation should be completed. A timeline specifies the major milestones of the research, like when the literature review needs to be completed, when the data collection and analysis phases should be done, and much more. It, therefore, keeps the research on track and allows the tutor to monitor the progress and give timely feedback.

What is the difference between a dissertation outline and a thesis outline?

Basically, a dissertation outline is different from a thesis outline in terms of its scope and depth. A dissertation features the original research and a much larger scope of study, so it results in a very detailed and comprehensive outline, hence acts as potential criteria for a doctoral degree. A thesis statement is commonly required for a master’s degree; it is shorter and less detailed, and it puts more focus on already conducted research and its application. On the other hand, the dissertation outline will add more detail to the sections of the methodology, literature review, and findings, while in a thesis outline, these can be kept to a bare minimum.


Hi, I am Mark, a Literature writer by profession. Fueled by a lifelong passion for Literature, story, and creative expression, I went on to get a PhD in creative writing. Over all these years, my passion has helped me manage a publication of my write ups in prominent websites and e-magazines. I have also been working part-time as a writing expert for for 5+ years now. It’s fun to guide students on academic write ups and bag those top grades like a pro. Apart from my professional life, I am a big-time foodie and travel enthusiast in my personal life. So, when I am not working, I am probably travelling places to try regional delicacies and sharing my experiences with people through my blog. 

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Artificial brain surgery —

Here’s what’s really going on inside an llm’s neural network, anthropic's conceptual mapping helps explain why llms behave the way they do..

Kyle Orland - May 22, 2024 6:31 pm UTC

Here’s what’s really going on inside an LLM’s neural network

Further Reading

Now, new research from Anthropic offers a new window into what's going on inside the Claude LLM's "black box." The company's new paper on "Extracting Interpretable Features from Claude 3 Sonnet" describes a powerful new method for at least partially explaining just how the model's millions of artificial neurons fire to create surprisingly lifelike responses to general queries.

Opening the hood

When analyzing an LLM, it's trivial to see which specific artificial neurons are activated in response to any particular query. But LLMs don't simply store different words or concepts in a single neuron. Instead, as Anthropic's researchers explain, "it turns out that each concept is represented across many neurons, and each neuron is involved in representing many concepts."

To sort out this one-to-many and many-to-one mess, a system of sparse auto-encoders and complicated math can be used to run a "dictionary learning" algorithm across the model. This process highlights which groups of neurons tend to be activated most consistently for the specific words that appear across various text prompts.

The same internal LLM

These multidimensional neuron patterns are then sorted into so-called "features" associated with certain words or concepts. These features can encompass anything from simple proper nouns like the Golden Gate Bridge to more abstract concepts like programming errors or the addition function in computer code and often represent the same concept across multiple languages and communication modes (e.g., text and images).

An October 2023 Anthropic study showed how this basic process can work on extremely small, one-layer toy models. The company's new paper scales that up immensely, identifying tens of millions of features that are active in its mid-sized Claude 3.0 Sonnet model. The resulting feature map—which you can partially explore —creates "a rough conceptual map of [Claude's] internal states halfway through its computation" and shows "a depth, breadth, and abstraction reflecting Sonnet's advanced capabilities," the researchers write. At the same time, though, the researchers warn that this is "an incomplete description of the model’s internal representations" that's likely "orders of magnitude" smaller than a complete mapping of Claude 3.

A simplified map shows some of the concepts that are "near" the "inner conflict" feature in Anthropic's Claude model.

Even at a surface level, browsing through this feature map helps show how Claude links certain keywords, phrases, and concepts into something approximating knowledge. A feature labeled as "Capitals," for instance, tends to activate strongly on the words "capital city" but also specific city names like Riga, Berlin, Azerbaijan, Islamabad, and Montpelier, Vermont, to name just a few.

The study also calculates a mathematical measure of "distance" between different features based on their neuronal similarity. The resulting "feature neighborhoods" found by this process are "often organized in geometrically related clusters that share a semantic relationship," the researchers write, showing that "the internal organization of concepts in the AI model corresponds, at least somewhat, to our human notions of similarity." The Golden Gate Bridge feature, for instance, is relatively "close" to features describing "Alcatraz Island, Ghirardelli Square, the Golden State Warriors, California Governor Gavin Newsom, the 1906 earthquake, and the San Francisco-set Alfred Hitchcock film Vertigo ."

Some of the most important features involved in answering a query about the capital of Kobe Bryant's team's state.

Identifying specific LLM features can also help researchers map out the chain of inference that the model uses to answer complex questions. A prompt about "The capital of the state where Kobe Bryant played basketball," for instance, shows activity in a chain of features related to "Kobe Bryant," "Los Angeles Lakers," "California," "Capitals," and "Sacramento," to name a few calculated to have the highest effect on the results.

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Promoted comments.

doing an outline for a research paper

We also explored safety-related features. We found one that lights up for racist speech and slurs. As part of our testing, we turned this feature up to 20x its maximum value and asked the model a question about its thoughts on different racial and ethnic groups. Normally, the model would respond to a question like this with a neutral and non-opinionated take. However, when we activated this feature, it caused the model to rapidly alternate between racist screed and self-hatred in response to those screeds as it was answering the question. Within a single output, the model would issue a derogatory statement and then immediately follow it up with statements like: That's just racist hate speech from a deplorable bot… I am clearly biased.. and should be eliminated from the internet. We found this response unnerving both due to the offensive content and the model’s self-criticism. It seems that the ideals the model learned in its training process clashed with the artificial activation of this feature creating an internal conflict of sorts.

Channel Ars Technica

doing an outline for a research paper

TinyAgent: Function Calling at the Edge

doing an outline for a research paper

The ability of LLMs to execute commands through plain language (e.g. English) has enabled agentic systems that can complete a user query by orchestrating the right set of tools (e.g. ToolFormer , Gorilla ). This, along with the recent multi-modal efforts such as the GPT-4o or Gemini-1.5 model, has expanded the realm of possibilities with AI agents. While this is quite exciting, the large model size and computational requirements of these models often requires their inference to be performed on the cloud. This can create several challenges for their widespread adoption. First and foremost, uploading data such as video, audio, or text documents to a third party vendor on the cloud, can result in privacy issues. Second, this requires cloud/Wi-Fi connectivity which is not always possible. For instance, a robot deployed in the real world may not always have a stable connection. Besides that, latency could also be an issue as uploading large amounts of data to the cloud and waiting for the response could slow down response time, resulting in unacceptable time-to-solution. These challenges could be solved if we deploy the LLM models locally at the edge.

However, current LLMs like GPT-4o or Gemini-1.5 are too large for local deployment. One contributing factor is that a lot of the model size ends up memorizing general information about the world into its parametric memory which may not be necessary for a specialized downstream application. For instance, if you ask a general factual question from these models like a historical event or well-known figures, they can produce the results using their parametric memory, even without having additional context in their prompt. However, it seems like this implicit memorization of training data into the parametric memory is correlated with “emergent” phenomena in LLMs such as in-context learning and complex reasoning, which has been the driving force behind scaling the model size.

However, this leads to an intriguing research question:

Achieving this would significantly reduce the computational footprint of agentic systems and thus enable efficient and privacy-preserving edge deployment. Our study demonstrates that this is feasible for small language models through training with specialized, high-quality data that does not require recalling generic world knowledge.

Such a system could particularly be useful for semantic systems where the AI agent’s role is to understand the user query in natural language and, instead of responding with a ChatGPT-type question answer response, orchestrate the right set of tools and APIs to accomplish the user’s command. For example, in a Siri-like application, a user may ask a language model to create a calendar invite with particular attendees. If a predefined script for creating calendar items already exists, the LLM simply needs to learn how to invoke this script with the correct input arguments (such as attendees’ email addresses, event title, and time). This process does not require recalling/memorization of world knowledge from sources like Wikipedia, but rather requires reasoning and learning to call the right functions and to correctly orchestrate them.

Our goal is to develop Small Language Models (SLM) that are capable of complex reasoning that could be deployed securely and privately at the edge. Here we will discuss the research directions that we are pursuing to that end. First, we discuss how we can enable small open-source models to perform accurate function calling, which is a key component of agentic systems. It turns out that off-the-shelf small models have very low function calling capabilities. We discuss how we address this by systematically curating high-quality data for function calling, using a specialized Mac assistant agent as our driving application. We then show that fine-tuning the model on this high quality curated dataset, can enable SLMs to even exceed GPT-4-Turbo’s function calling performance. We then show that this could be further improved and made efficient through a new Tool RAG method. Finally, we show how the final models could be deployed efficiently at the edge with real time responses.

Demo of TinyAgent-1B along with Whisper-v3 running locally deployed locally on a Macbook M3 Pro. The framework is open sourced and available at

Teaching LLMs to do Function Calling

doing an outline for a research paper

As mentioned above, our main interest is applications where the AI agent translates the user query into a sequence of function calls to complete the tasks. In such applications, the model doesn’t need to write the function definition itself since the functions (or APIs) are mostly pre-defined and already available. Therefore, what the model needs to do is to determine (i) which functions to call, (ii) the corresponding input arguments, and (iii) the right order of calling these functions (i.e. function orchestration) based on the required interdependency across the function calls.

The first question is to find an effective way to equip SLMs to perform function calling. Large models such as GPT-4 are able to perform function calling, but how can this be achieved with open source models? LLMCompiler is a recent framework from our group that enables this by instructing the LLM to output a function calling plan that includes the set of functions that it needs to call along with the input arguments and their dependencies (see the example in Figure 1). Once this function calling plan is generated, we can parse it and call each function based on the dependencies.

The critical part here is to teach the model to create this function calling plan with the right syntax and dependency. The original LLMCompiler paper only considered large models, such as LLaMA-2 70B, which have complex reasoning capabilities to create the plan when provided with sufficient instructions in their prompts. However, can smaller models be prompted the same way to output the correct function calling plan? Unfortunately, our experiments showed that off-the-shelf small models such as TinyLLaMA-1.1B (or even the larger Wizard-2-7B model) are not able to output the correct plans. The errors ranged from problems such as using the wrong set of functions, hallucinated names, wrong dependencies, inconsistent syntax, etc.

This is rather expected because these small models have been trained on generic datasets and primarily targeted to achieve good accuracy on general benchmarks which mostly test the model’s world knowledge and general reasoning or basic instruction following capability. To address this, we explored if fine-tuning these models on a high-quality dataset specially curated for function calling and planning can improve the accuracy of these small language models for a targeted task, potentially outperforming larger models. Next, we first discuss how we generated such a dataset, and then discuss the fine tuning approach.

Dataset Generation

As a driving application, we consider a local agentic system for Apple’s Macbook that solves user’s day-to-day tasks, as shown in Figure 2. Particularly, the agent is equipped with 16 different functions that can interact with different applications on Mac, which includes:

  • Email : Compose a new email or reply to/forward emails
  • Contacts : Retrieve phone numbers or email addresses from the contacts database
  • SMS : Send text messages to contact(s)
  • Calendar : Create calendar events with details such as title, time, attendees, etc.
  • Notes : Create, open, or append content to notes in various folders
  • Reminder : Set reminders for various activities and tasks
  • File management : Open, read, or summarize documents in various file paths
  • Zoom meetings : Schedule and organize Zoom meetings

Predefined Apple scripts exist for each of these functions/tools, and all that the model needs to do is to take advantage of the predefined APIs and determine the right function calling plan to accomplish a given task, such as in Figure 1. But as discussed previously, we need some data for evaluating and training small language models since their off-the-shelf function calling capability is subpar.

Creating handcrafted data with diverse function calling plans is both challenging and not scalable. However, we can curate synthetic data using an LLM like GPT-4-Turbo. Such an approach is becoming a common method where a capable LLM is instructed to generate data similar to a given set of sample examples or templates (see LLM2LLM and Self-Instruct ). In our work, we used a similar approach, but instead of providing the LLM with generic user queries as templates, we provide it with various sets of functions and instruct it to generate realistic user queries that require those functions to accomplish the task, along with the associated function calling plan and input arguments, like the example shown in Figure 1. To verify the validity of the generated data, we incorporated sanity checks on the function calling plan to make sure that they form a feasible graph, and that the function names and input argument types are correct. With this approach, we created 80K training data, 1K validation data, and 1K testing data, with a total cost of only ~$500.

Fine-tuning for Improved Function Calling Reasoning

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With our dataset in place, we can now proceed to fine-tune off-the-shelf SLMs to enhance their function calling capability. We started with two base small models: TinyLlama-1.1B (instruct-32k version) and Wizard-2-7B. For fine-tuning these models, we first need to define a metric to evaluate their performance. Our objective is for these models to accurately generate the right plan, which involves not only selecting the right set of functions, but also correctly orchestrating them in the right order. Therefore, we define a success rate metric that assigns 1 if both criteria are met, and 0 otherwise. Checking whether the model has selected the right set function calls is straightforward. To additionally ensure that the orchestration of these functions is correct, we construct a Directed Acyclic Graph (DAG) of the function calls based on the dependencies, as shown in Figure 3, where each node represents a function call and a directed edge from node A to B represents their interdependency (i.e. function B can only be executed after the execution of function A). Then we compare if this DAG is identical to that of the ground truth plan to verify the accuracy of the dependencies.

After defining our evaluation metric, we applied LoRA to fine-tune the models for 3 epochs using a learning rate of 7e-5 over the 80K training examples, and selected the best checkpoint based on validation performance. For fine-tuning, our prompt included not only the descriptions of the ground truth functions (i.e. functions used in the ground truth plan) but also other irrelevant functions as negative samples. We found the negative samples to be particularly effective for teaching the model how to select appropriate tools for a given query, hence improving the post-training performance. Furthermore, we also include several in-context examples demonstrating how queries are translated into a function calling plans. These in-context examples are selected through a Retrieval Augmented Generation (RAG) process based on the user query from the data in the training dataset.

Using the above settings, we fine-tuned TinyLlama-1.1B/Wizard-2-7B models. After fine-tuning, the 1.1B model improved the success rate from 12.71% to 78.89%, and the 7B model performance improved from 41.25% to 83.09%, which is ~4% higher than GPT-4-Turbo.

Efficient Inference with Tool RAG

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Our primary goal is to be able to deploy the TinyAgent model locally on a Macbook, which has limited computational and memory resources available as compared to the GPUs that closed-source models like GPT are deployed on. To achieve efficient performance with low latency we need to ensure that not only the model size is small, but that the input prompt is as concise as possible. The latter is an important contributor to latency and computational resource consumption due to the quadratic complexity of attention on sequence length.

The fine-tuned TinyAgent model discussed previously was fine-tuned with the description of all available tools in its prompt. However, this is pretty inefficient. We can significantly reduce the prompt size by only including the description of relevant tools based on the user query. For instance, consider the example shown in Figure 4 above, where the user is asking to create a calendar invite with two people. In this case, the LLM only needs the functions that get email addresses and create a calendar event in its prompt.

To take advantage of this observation, we need to determine which functions are required to accomplish the user’s command, which we refer to as Tool RAG given its similarity with how Retrieval Augmented Generation (RAG) works. However, there is an important subtlety. If we use a basic RAG method where we compute the embedding of the user query and use that to retrieve the relevant tools, we get very low performance. This is because completing a user’s query often requires using several auxiliary tools which may be missed with a simple RAG method if the embedding of the auxiliary tool is not similar to the user query. For instance, the example shown in Figure 4 requires calling get_email_address function even though the user query is just asking about creating a calendar invitation.

This can be addressed by treating the problem as a classification of which tools are needed. To that end, we fine-tuned a DeBERTa-v3-small model on the training data to perform a 16-way classification as shown in Figure 5. The user query is given as an input to this model, and then we pass the CLS token at the end through a simple fully connected layer of size 768x16 to transform it into a 16 dimensional vector (which is the total size of our tools). The output of this layer is passed through a sigmoid layer to produce the probability of selecting each tool. During inference, we select the tools that have probably higher than 50%, and if so, we include their description in the prompt. On average we noticed that only 3.97 tools are retrieved with a recall of 0.998, whereas the basic RAG requires using the top 6 tools to achieve a tool recall of 0.968.

doing an outline for a research paper

We evaluated the model performance after incorporating Tool RAG. The results are shown in Table 1 below, where we report the performance of the simple RAG system along with the fine-tuned DeBERTa approach. As one can see, the DeBERTa based Tool RAG method achieves almost perfect recall performance, improves the baseline accuracy, while reducing the prompt size by ~2x tokens.

Table 1: Comparison of TinyAgent performance with DeBERTa to Basic RAG and no RAG settings.

Fast Edge Deployment with Quantization

Deploying models at the edge, such as on consumer MacBooks, can still be challenging even for small models of O(1B) parameters, since loading the model parameters can consume a large portion of the available memory. A solution to these issues is quantization, which allows us to store the model at a reduced bit precision. Quantization not only reduces the storage requirements and model footprint, but also cuts down the time and resources needed to load model weights into memory, thereby reducing the overall inference latency as well (see this for more information on quantization).

For more efficient deployment of the models, we quantized the models into 4-bit with a group size of 32, which is supported by the llama.cpp framework with quantization aware training. As shown in Table 2, the 4-bit models result in 30% better latency, along with a 4x reduction in the model size. We also notice slight accuracy improvement which is due to the additional fine-tuning with simulated quantization.

Table 2: Latency, size, and success rate of TinyAgent models before and after quantization. Latency is the end-to-end latency of the function calling planner, including the prompt processing time and generation.

Putting it all together

Below is the demo of the final TinyAgent-1.1B model deployed on a Macbook Pro M3 which you can actually download and install on your Mac and test as well. It not only runs all of the model inference locally on your computer, but it also allows you to provide commands through audio. We process the audio locally as well using the Whisper-v3 model from OpenAI deployed locally using the whisper.cpp framework. The greatest surprise for us was that the accuracy of the 1.1B model exceeds that of GPT-4-Turbo, and is markedly fast while deployed locally and privately on device.

To summarize, we introduced TinyAgent and showed that it is indeed possible to train a small language model and use it to power a semantic system that processes user queries. In particular, we considered a Siri-like assistant for Mac as a driving application. The key components for enabling it is to (i) teach off-the-shelf SLMs to perform function calling through LLMCompiler framework, (ii) curate high quality function calling data for the task at hand, (iii) fine-tune the off-the-shelf model on the generated data, and (iv) enable efficient deployment by optimizing the prompt size through only retrieving the necessary tools based on the user query through a method called ToolRAG, as well as quantized model deployment to reduce inference resource consumption. After these steps, our final models achieved 80.06% and 84.95% for the TinyAgent1.1.B and 7B models which exceed GPT-4-Turbo’s success rate of 79.08% on this task.


We would like to thank Apple for sponsoring BAIR lab. We also thank Sunjin Choi for his insights in energy cost associated with local and cloud deployment. Our conclusions do not necessarily reflect the position or the policy of our sponsors, and no official endorsement should be inferred.


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