How to Write a Research Paper Outline: Simple Steps for Researchers

by Dr. Renu Bisht

Research writing is an essential component of scholarly research that necessitates both academic and writing abilities on the part of the author(s). It is frequently regarded as an overwhelming task, particularly by those who are new to academic writing. If you are just getting started, you may ask, ‘Why do I need to write and publish a research paper?’ The answer is that publications are one of the most common ways of communicating your research to a broader audience. It helps share data and knowledge with the scientific community to advance research in a specific field of study. Publications are also critical for getting university promotions, securing collaborations, and obtaining funding for your research. Now that you know why it’s important to get published, let’s start with pointers on writing a research paper outline, the first step in the manuscript writing process. 

Writing a research paper outline is critical, even before you start working on the first draft. A research paper outline is a basic framework of the topics and sections that will appear in the final version. The goal of a research paper outline is to simplify the writing process by organizing the information, structuring the sections, establishing how different sections are related, and ensuring the free flow of information throughout the paper1. In the research domain, most article outlines follow the IMRAD (Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion) format. This article will go over how to write a research paper outline and provide some research paper outline examples. 

  1. Choosing a research topic or thesis statement: The first step in writing a research paper outline is to choose a research topic (or thesis statement). Before you begin working on the outline, you should have a clear idea of the topic, the ideas, and the sections you want to include in the research article, as well as adequate knowledge and background in the literature. Know the What, Why, and How of the research problem once you have decided on a topic and are ready to begin writing a research paper outline. Let’s discuss these in more detail. 
  • The “What” of the thesis statement 

Almost all research proposals should begin with the “What” of the thesis statement, which discusses the research problem, introduces the research topic, and provides relevant background information. This part is usually covered in the introduction, which is one of the most critical sections of the paper. 

  • The “Why” of the thesis statement 

It is important to address the “Why” of the research statement to pique readers’ interest in reading the entire article. Here, you emphasize the significance of the project by explaining why it was critical to conduct the study and providing relevant information. This section usually follows the study background or introduction and comes before the methodology section begins. 

  • The “How” of the thesis statement 

This section should explain how the research was carried out in order to provide context for the readers. You should construct arguments from existing literature while discussing how your research fills gaps or solves existing problems. 

How to write a research paper outline: Simple steps for researchers
  1. Compilation of relevant studies to support the thesis statement/research hypothesis: You should assemble a collection of relevant studies that support the main idea (hypothesis) addressed in your research article. These studies serve as supporting literature, providing context for your arguments and findings. Typically, three pieces of supporting evidence are provided for each topic, and this is done for all sections in the main body of the article (Introduction in the case of the research article and different sections for the review articles). It is also important to keep track of citations manually or through a reference manager to avoid plagiarism when writing your first draft of the manuscript. While organizing the main ideas and studies, you can either write headings/subheadings or complete sentences. The former is quick and straightforward, but it can lead to confusion, especially if you are working on the manuscript with your peers. The latter is preferable, but it is more time-consuming, and authors can sometimes get sucked into writing the first draft rather than writing a research paper outline. Note: Regardless of the format of your paper outline, include the relevant citations. 
  1. Decide on the research paper outline template: There are three standard formats for writing a research paper outline that will aid the researcher as they develop their manuscript. These are alphanumerical, complete sentences, and decimal-based formats, with alphanumerical being the most common. 
  • In alphanumerical order, the main heading is listed in Roman numerals, the topics are listed in capital letters, the specific points for each subtopic are listed in Arabic numerals, and additional details for the subtopics are listed in small letters. It should be noted that in this format, the information is written in short sentences, similar to quick notes, which allows for greater flexibility in modifying outlines as new information becomes available. 
  • In the full-sentence format, each section contains entire complete sentences, and each topic and idea includes three specific points. The organization in this format is similar to the alphanumerical format, with the exception that this has sentences as opposed to sharp points in the alphanumerical format. 

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  • Although the decimal format is a little more complicated, it is useful when there are many ideas and subtopics in each section. The main topic is given a whole number (0, 1), and the subtopics are given increasing decimal points (1.1, 2.1, 3.1…). Specific subtopic points are represented by two decimal points (1.1.1, 2.1.1…) and three decimal points (, 

The information above should simplify the process of writing a research paper outline. Once you have an outline in place, the next step is to seek feedback from peers or co-authors to gain different perspectives and make sure to get all the important information. This will ensure you have a strong research paper outline that you can then use to develop your manuscript for submission.  


  1. Indeed Career Guide. ‘How To Write a Research Paper Outline (With Examples and Tips)’. Accessed 31 October 2022.

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