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Research Outline: Enhance Your Investigation Process!

03 May 2017


A research outline is a hierarchical plan that serves to present main points of the investigation. It helps to organize and structure the study process. The formal outline aim is to guide your reader through the research paper. The writing of a brief outline is an intermediate step in such academic assignments as literature review, argumentative essay, dissertation, thesis, etc. It should help the students to understand what they know about their topic and what they need to find out.

The Stages of Work

1. Know your research problem, what drives you, and formulate a title. 2. Specify the thesis statement of your investigation. Formulate a single sentence which clarifies the purpose of your investigation. Place it in the Introduction. 3. Find the main categories of the investigation. They will serve as the headings in the body of the outline. 4. Plan how to organize your information. Choose chronological order if you study a historical development of a concept, theory, etc. Otherwise, arrange ideas descending from general rules to the specific cases. 5. Consider the major headings for your project. First of them will be “Introduction.” The last heading will be “Conclusion.” The rest of them are derived from the main categories of the study. 6. Figure out the subheadings. 7. Finish your Introduction. 8. Write the Conclusion. Remember, it is no place for new information. It should only sum up what you have already stated. For the research proposal, you need to add to the paper the review of the literature, methodology, design and procedure of the investigation.

The Formatting

The standard formatting for this type of papers includes:

  • Roman Numerals for main headings;

  • Capitalized Letters for subheadings of support points;

  • Arabic Numerals and Lowercase Letters for further subdivisions.



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So, how does a research outline look like? I. HEADING A. Subheading 1. Reason 1. 2. Reason 2. a. Aspect 1. b. Aspect 2. B. Subheading. C. Subheading There are sentence and topic outlines. The first form allows to express and explain complex ideas. The second one is used when you have to deal with many different notions and aspects of the problem. It is better not to mix these two ways. For example, the outline of research interests is usually given in sentence form, and simple essays can be planned in topic form. These rules are common, though, it might be useful to ask your instructor about a template. Sometimes, you can get a ready-made fill-in-blank for this assignment. Usually, for an assignment of 4-5 pages you need 1-page outline. If the research is more than 15 and less than 20 pages, it may take up to 4 pages. You need to keep all the formalities right to model research proposal outline or prepare any formal assignment. It is better to follow them even when you are making draft planning for yourself.

Other Important Rules:

The headings should contain the categories of the equal importance. If you divide a point, the subpoints should be less general and less significant. Remember, that the structure of this assignment has to be hierarchical. Don’t make too many subheadings or the texts will become messy. But, obviously, a single point in a subdivision is also senseless. The phrases should be parallel. If you have chosen the topical form, maintain parallel structure for each heading. You can use only verb form or only noun form. Say, you have to write a research paper outline about fast food: I. The history of fast food II. The effect of fast food on human organism III. The perspectives of fast food Or you can put it this way: I. Fast food comes into service II. Fast food affects human health III. Fast food takes over You might not always need an outline to write a research paper, but it helps you to develop logical thinking and analytical skills. The detailed plan will be a great basis for the research report. And, when it is the time to do a research outline for Ph.D. application, you’ll be skilled and ready to accomplish it perfectly.

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