A rough outline is a useful first step on the way to writing a well-written research paper or essay. The outline will assist you in structuring your ideas so that they flow smoothly throughout the paper. An outline will also help you choose the most effective way of organizing your facts, analysis and conclusions, thereby ensuring that your paper is a clear representation of the research and ideas that have gone into your project. A rough outline is not static, however. Indeed, it will likely change over the course of the writing process as new ideas come into play and others are discarded.
Write your thesis statement. This is the central idea of your paper and the end result of your research. Place your thesis statement at the top of your outline so that you do not lose sight of it and stray off-topic. The remainder of your outline should include sections with facts and analysis which support all the elements of your thesis statement. For example, your thesis may be that prolonged sun exposure results in skin damage and cancer, but that those effects can be mitigated by the use of sunscreen.
Write down the main points of your paper. These points should relate back to your thesis statement. Plan to develop each point into a separate paragraph -- or section -- in your final paper. Lay out the points in a logical order. Using the example cited above, your points may be threefold: sun exposure causes skin damage; sun exposure causes cancer; the use of sunscreen can mitigate the negative effects of sun exposure.
Write brief notes underneath each point consisting of the facts you will use to support that point. For example, under the point that sun exposure causes cancer, write notes such as "cancer rate statistics," and "university study about sun exposure and cancer." The notes should relate back to your research and demonstrate that you have a solid factual basis to support your analysis. Also include in your notes ideas about how you would like to write each section. For example, "start with case study of woman who enjoyed tanning before she got skin cancer."
Write a one-sentence conclusion. In your final paper the conclusion will likely be expanded. Clearly state the main idea that you want to leave your readers with. For example, your conclusion may be that the government should take an active role in promoting the use of sunscreen.
Review your outline to ensure that all of your important facts, research and analysis are included. Check the outline for readability and flow. Before you proceed to write your paper, give your outline to another person to read. That person should be able to get an idea of what your paper will be about and what your main points will be from reading the outline alone.