How to Outline a Research Paper

Research papers are a major part of the educational process, and many instructors require students to provide an outline of their research paper before they actually write it. While this outline will not be nearly as detailed as the actual paper, it should reveal to the instructor just how well you researched the topic before beginning work on the paper itself. If you need to create an outline for a research paper, it is essential that it be highly organized and that you follow standard conventions for an outline.

Step 1

Type your last name and the page number on the upper right of the page. Below this, on four separate lines on the left of the page, type your full name, the professor's name, the class name and the date. Below this, type the title of the paper and center it between the left and right margins.

Step 2

Write a thesis statement that summarizes the main point you want to make on the topic. The remainder of your outline should be designed to support this point, based on the research you have done. For example, if your thesis statement is "Hadrian's Wall was as much a political demarcation line as a fortification," the remainder of the outline should provide historical, scholarly and archaeological support for your contention. Place the thesis statement below the title. Preface it with the word "Thesis" followed by a colon.

Step 3

List headings for your main sections using Roman numerals. For example, your introduction should be preceded by the Roman numeral I, followed by a period. You should then have other headings such as "II. Historical Context" and "III. Review of Scholarly Literature." Click on the tab key once to indent each of the main headings.

Step 4

Create subheadings for all the main headings in your outline, except for your introduction, using capital letters. These subheadings should provide greater detail about the main heading. For example, under "II. Historical Context," you might include subheadings such as "A. Imperial Defense Strategies" or "B. Roman Fortification Design." For these subheadings, click the tab key two times for twice as much indent.

Step 5

Create further subdivisions within your outline as necessary. To enumerate these layered divisions the convention is to use Roman numerals followed by capital letters, standard numerals and finally lowercase letters. For each new level of subdivision within the outline, the indent should be one tab click greater.

Step 6

Add a conclusion that summarizes and restates your thesis statement. On a separate page at the end of the document, add a bibliography that represents the research you have already done using the citation style chosen by your instructor. For example, your instructor might want you to use the "Chicago Manual of Style" for citing references.


Ensure that your outline adequately reflects the length and complexity of your research paper.


Use the citation style your instructor requires when you are creating the written notes for your research paper. This saves time when writing the outline and actual paper and will ensure you have all the information you need.

Check your completed outline for structure, logic and grammatical mistakes.

Things You'll Need

  • Research notes