How to Set Up an Outline for a Research Paper

An outline provides a structural framework for a research paper and encourages the writer to stay on track. Create the outline just before writing, once a topic has been selected and research has been conducted. A thorough, well-crafted outline will make the writing process faster and smoother.


Decide whether your outline will be a topic outline or a sentence outline. According to Term Paper Tech, a topic outline uses keywords to describe the order of content. For example, a research outline for the topic Canada could include keywords such as "Geography" and "Government." A sentence outline uses sentences that later will become paragraph topic sentences. For example, instead of the keyword "Geography," a topic sentence could read, "Canada's geography consists of several different geographic regions, including Canadian Shield, Prairies and Arctic."

Draft the abstract, which is a brief summary of the paper. Essay 911 recommends that the abstract be no more than 120 to 200 words.

Write the first heading: Introduction. Beneath the title, write the key ideas that you will include in the introduction. Also include the thesis statement.

Create the paragraph topic keywords or topic sentences that will be used for the body of the paper. Under each topic, write brief details about what the paragraph will include. For example, under the Geography heading for a paper on Canada, keywords could include "Regions" and "Topography."

Write the final heading: Conclusion. In this section, write ideas that you will include in the conclusion to tie the paper together. Write one key sentence that will be included in the section.