Picture this: your room is a mess, and you have a meeting to run to in the next 30 minutes. How do you pick an outfit or think straight with all that mess right in front of you?

You can pick the first (crumpled) shirt you see or take a moment to clean that mess. The latter is a better option.

What has this got to do with college research paper writing, you ask? Everything.

If there’s one element of research paper writing most students take for granted, it’s outlining.

While it’s commonly perceived to be “an additional step” on the essay writing checklist, many fail to realize the amount of difference it makes in the final output.

Outlining brings direction, it helps you make sense of your fragmented thoughts and create a research paper that is not only well-written but also well-structured.

In this article, you’ll learn more about how to write a college research paper outline, along with its key components and an outline example.

5 Key Components of a College Research Paper Outline

Look at an outline as the skeleton of your research paper. It gives it form while letting you organize your thoughts and ensure you’re not missing out on anything crucial.

Before we understand how to write a college research paper outline, it’s important to know what the key components of a research paper (or outline) are.

1. Abstract

An abstract is a short summary of your research paper. The purpose of this section is to communicate what your research paper is about, ranging from the main argument to the research methodology and findings.

You are expected to explain the gist of your entire paper in 150-200 words here.

While developing an outline, it’s important to mention what you plan to include in the abstract. It’s a good idea to come to this at the end once you’ve gotten a better idea about the rest of the sections.

2. Introduction

The introductory paragraph is the first section of your research paper. It needs to introduce readers to the topic along with the necessary background information to offer context.

An introduction is composed of the following:

  • Hook
  • Introduce the research question
  • Background information
  • Thesis statement

As it’s the first read portion, introductions need to engage and capture readers’ attention which is why having a strong essay hook is of prime importance.

Basis your research, you’d also want to highlight the relevant background information you want to mention while creating the outline. It’s important to pick the highly relevant details that pertain to your topic and main argument to stay within the word limit and not go off-track.

3. Body

Here comes the longest and most elaborate section of the research paper -- the body paragraph. Consisting of a minimum of three paragraphs, this section is broken down into smaller sections.

This is where you need to take the readers through the research methodology, and findings and discuss what you learned from the research. Your argumentative claim needs to be backed up with supporting evidence and examples.

The outline needs to be created such that you make provisions for each of these essential elements.

4. Conclusion

By the time students reach this section, they’re mostly exhausted and are wondering what they can write in the concluding paragraph.

This is why creating a college research paper outline is so important. Once you’ve jotted down what you plan to include in this stage, it gets easier to frame coherent sentences and write a strong conclusion paragraph.

You’re expected to reinstate your thesis statement in the conclusion paragraph. Make sure you don’t add any new information or repeat what you’ve said before. The trick is to summarize the paper while highlighting the core idea or thesis statement.

5. Bibliography

As you know, the bibliography needs to include all the sources you’ve referred to in your research paper. Not only does this save you from unintentional plagiarism, but it also adds credibility to your essay.

So, from print and magazine articles to journals and credible websites, ensure every source is included in the bibliography.

Instead of scrambling to find the sources at the last moment, it helps you note them down while researching. This saves you time while ensuring you’ve not missed out on anything.

College Research Paper Outline in 5 Steps

The purpose of an outline is to help you organize and keep track of your points. Once you’re done with your comprehensive research, that’s when you need to start creating the research paper outline.

There is no hard-and-fast rule on the outlining format -- what’s important is creating an outline that makes sense to you and aids your writing process.

Now that you know what goes into an outline, here are five tips to keep in mind while writing a college research paper outline.

1. Craft the thesis statement

The thesis statement is possibly the most important part of your research paper as it states the main idea of your paper. If an outline is a skeleton, the thesis statement is the glue that holds your research paper together.

It’s important to start with writing the thesis statement, so you know where you’re headed with the paper, enabling you to write an appropriate outline before you begin the writing process.

Even though the thesis statement is a one to two-line sentence, it needs to be taken very seriously. So, don’t worry about writing the perfect thesis statement at this stage. You can always come back to polish it once you’re done writing the entire research paper.

2. Enlist the ideas that support the thesis

While doing research, you’re bound to be shaping your arguments and being filled with ideas. Always make it a point to brainstorm and enlist all ideas that support your thesis statement.

All you need to focus on here is doing a brain dump. Some ideas might get through; others won’t. What’s important is listing each of them down, so you have all your ideas in front of you.

A useful brainstorming hack you can use for this is a mind map tool such as Mind Meister or MindMup. These tools help you build upon your ideas and organize them.

Here’s an interesting video by Jodi Brandon on how to brain-dump your ideas

3. Group-related ideas

By this time, you’ll be left with a host of arguments and supporting ideas. This calls for the next step, which is grouping related ideas and putting them under their respective buckets.

This serves two purposes -- it prevents the overlap of the same ideas and helps you organize your writing, making your writing clearer and not repetitive.

4. Arrange them in a logical order

Your writing needs to flow in logically while smoothly transitioning from one idea to the other. The reading experience needs to be seamless.

Logical flow is an indicator of clarity of thought -- one of the aspects you will be graded on.

Believe it or not, the only way to maintain a logical sequence in writing is by developing a college research paper outline.

So, arrange your grouped ideas in a logical order such that they appear unified and coherent. The last thing you want is to spot inconsistencies while proofreading or editing your research paper.

5. Write subheadings and expand

The last step in developing an outline is writing subheadings and expanding on those ideas.

So, focus on elaborating on those ideas and making them more specific such that this whole process of outlining is of help to you when you’re actually writing the paper.

Write a College Research Paper Outline: The Takeaway

By the end of the outlining process, you will be left with a full-fledged outline that you can refer to while writing the research paper.

If you’re someone who’s never spent time creating an outline, we urge you to try it once, and you’re sure to see a huge difference in the final outcome. Not only does it give you greater clarity, but it also makes you stress less and write your paper with complete peace of mind.

Even though the outline is an internal document, make sure you keep it organized because the more you spend time perfecting the college research paper outline, the easier it gets to transform those ideas into sentences and write with lucidity.

Considering how time-consuming essay writing is, we at Writers Per Hour are here to help you write high-quality college papers from scratch. From developing outlines to writing the entire paper - our expert research paper writers are just an email away.

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Achieve Academic Success with Expert Assistance!

Custom Essays:

Crafted from Scratch for You.

Plagiarism Removal:

Ensuring Your Work’s Originality.

Rewriting & Paraphrasing:

Transform Your Draft into Excellence.

Editing & Proofreading:

Perfecting Your Paper’s Grammar, Style, and Format (APA, MLA, etc.).