research paper tips

Planning tips: how to write a term paper outline

With any paper it is imperative that you understand how to write an outline. Whether it is a requirement from your teacher or just a tool you are using it is important to do it right.

Why do you need an outline?

  • A good outline can help you keep track of every idea you have
  • It can help create a roadmap for the paper you want to write
  • A good outline can also help you assess your research paper because it can help you certain links between the varying areas so that you do not repeat yourself.

If you are tasked with writing a shorter essay then an outline might not be necessary because of the small size of your paper. But for a longer essay the outline is imperative. Without it you will become overwhelmed by the volume of information you have to write down and recall.

Trying to write a fifty page research paper without an outline is futile. So get to know the process.

Many subjects will demand an outline at the start of the essay writing process. Other subjects may not require the outline but they do require a table of contents. The table of contents can be much easier compiled if you have an outline by your side.

The outline provides you with a way to keep your headings organized. If you are writing a particularly long paper there is nothing wrong with showing your teacher the outline early on and have them give you feedback on whether you are headed in the right direction or not.

The easiest way to compile the outline is to have your major headings listed with a Roman Numeral. “Major” headings would include “introduction” as well as “methods” or “conclusion”. After that your section can be subdivided with letters including a and b. These points can be further subdivided with numbers as a third level. If you need to divide it even further then revert to i and ii. For a shorter paper you won’t need all of these subheadings but for longer term papers or research papers you might.

Remember that your outline is a “working outline” which means that you don’t have to get it all right in order the first time. You can move the order around regularly. You can also add detail to things later. The purpose initially is to structure your thoughts and to create the layout of your paper.