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Organizing Your Research

What is an Outline?

A research outline is a tool to help you organize your research. A research outline should be created after you have completed most of your research, but before you begin writing your paper. The outline should act as a map to your paper. It is easier to write a paper that is fully outlined.

Go through all of your sources, take notes on the important points you want to include from each source, and then group them by topic until you have the main ideas of your paper. Order these ideas in a way that makes sense and will support your thesis--walk your reader through each idea so that they come to the conclusion of your argument/thesis.

Things to keep in mind about outlines:

  • There is no one set way to create a research outline. While this guide will give some ideas, there is no wrong way to outline your research paper. That said, if you are submitting an outline for class as part of a grade, make sure you double-check with your instructor if they have any requirements.
  • Things change in the research and writing process all the time! Do not be alarmed when you start writing your research paper if you don't perfectly follow your outline. The outline should be a guide to help you write. 
  • You can also include the URL or the name of the source where you found your information in your outline to help you remember where your information came from and help keep you organized when it comes time to cite your sources.

Outline Examples

Here is an example of an outline structure. Remember, your outline may not look exactly like this, depending on what you are working on. 

  1. Introduction
    1. Introductory Statement
    2. Thesis Statement
  2. Body
    1. Subtopic A
      1. Supporting Evidence
      2. Supporting Evidence
      3. Supporting Evidence
    2. Subtopic B
      1. Supporting Evidence
      2. Supporting Evidence
      3. Supporting Evidence
    3. Subtopic C
      1. Supporting Evidence
      2. Supporting Evidence
      3. Supporting Evidence
  3. Conclusion
    1. Restate Thesis
    2. Compelling Conclusion

Outline Handouts

While these outlines can certainly be used as templates to help you outline your research, if you need to submit an outline for your class, please make sure to follow any requirements for your outline that your instructor requires.