Research Paper Manuals and Tutorials

Useful guidelines on how to write an outline for a research paper

When you are writing a paper, there are three stages.

  1. The first stage is the prewrite stage.
  2. The second stage is the writing stage.
  3. The third stage is the postwrite stage.

The prewrite stage is where you handle research, finding a topic, writing an outline. The writing stage is where you create multiple drafts that cohesively put your argument together. The post write stage is where you edit and proofread your drafts and make any finishing touches.

No matter the type of essay you writing, the style of essay, the format, or the page length, one of the most important elements is the outline. The outline is often overlooked and underappreciated by students no matter their grade. For some, they are eager to get into their paper, and they head right into the meat of the paper. But then time is wasted having to go back and make changes, move around the paragraphs, alter the structure until things are just right, etc… There are others who skip the outline because they prefer to keep an outline in their head. This can present the same issues as those students who are overzealous.

The outline serves a purpose the same as any other piece of the writing process. The outline is where you get all of your thoughts down at once and view the organization, structure, and presentation until it fits. You may find that your outline does not quite fit the assignment details. You might compare your instructions to the outline only to find a piece missing. But in doing so, you prevented a mistake from occurring, thus alleviating the risk that more time would be wasted later in the writing process.

The brain can only hold on to seven thoughts consciously, at one time. This means that if you are trying to create a five page paper, you may have twelve paragraphs, with ten key points or ideas. You won’t, based on the average brain, be able to hold on to all ten at the same time. But in writing them down in the outline, either in a hierarchical manner or based on chronology, you enable your mind to continue its creativity and project planning, with the completed sections out of the way.

The outline can be bullet point in structure, one bullet for each heading beneath which are subheadings. You can opt to create shortened thoughts beneath the headings, or full sentences.

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