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How to Make a Quality and Well-Structured Outline for a Research Paper

A good outline will make writing an academic paper much easier. A common research paper outline should have the following structure:

  1. Introduction
  2. Body:
    • Paragraph 1 (the strongest argument)
    • Paragraph 2 (the second strongest argument)
    • Paragraph 3 (opposing arguments)
  3. Conclusion
  4. References

There are two strategies for writing an outline. First, you can choose to write a sentence outline. In this case, every point of the plan will consist of one sentence. They will become topic sentences for every paragraph when you start working on the paper.

The second strategy is using short topic phrases for every point. They must be concise and to the point in order to transcribe the meaning of the paragraph perfectly. This is a more informal option that will allow you to create sort of an intuitive outline. Many people find it easier to work with this type of plan.

The more detailed your outline is, the easier it will be to write a paper based on it. You should add some sub-points to every major point. In them, you should list the most important pieces of evidence that need to be mentioned. This way, you can be sure that you don’t forget anything relevant.

You must also understand that an outline is not set in stone. You can deviate from it when you start writing if this seems like the best course of action. You will definitely discover some more important information during the research, so the plan designed before you start truly working on the paper may not be perfect. However, it will be prudent to save a copy of your original outline. Use it during the revision stage in order to make sure that all the changes you made are indeed for the better.

When Should I Make an Outline?

An outline must be written before you start working on the paper, but you won’t be able to do this without any research on the topic. It’s best to develop an initial outline after you study a couple of the sources you plan to research for the paper. This will give you some idea about what the essay should include.

Doing some more in-depth research will undoubtedly change a few of your initial ideas. You can add these adjustments to the outline right away. This way, you will have a proper plan on hand when you start writing.

If you have a high quality outline, you will only need to expand the points it consists of in order to have a strong paper on your hands.


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