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Chapter 1

What comes before outlining a paper?

The general rule is to do an outline as the final stage of preparation for writing an academic essay. So, before we go into an explanation on how to write an impeccable outline for a research paper, we must consider the steps that make it possible. Here’s what you should do first:

First things first, check out the university’s criteria; they will instantly narrow the search. If a topic is not predetermined by your tutor, and you’ve got zero ideas, you should consult him/her or ask your fellow students for advice. You can also get inspired by brainstorming or checking out existing papers relevant to your course. You will find listed prospects for further research at the end of almost each of them.

Ideally, your topic should have something to do with your future business life, so that you can make a brilliant display of your knowledge already during your first job interview. Final papers are a popular talking point among employers. It should also have a direct bearing on the subject you’re studying and be able tos contribute to scientific advancement potentially.

Make sure that the topic is unique and up-to-date, but not to the extent that you’re unable to find any reliable sources covering it. Make it as specific as you can. Instead of picking a broader topic that will probably get your research nowhere, e.g., “Hostility to foreigners in modern Germany,” go with “Xenophobic attitudes in the lyrics of the latest untitled album by Rammstein.”

Most importantly, the topic must reveal personal strengths. Choose it according to your prior knowledge or, better yet, your interests. Writing papers is no small feat, and you’ll need all the motivation you can get. And what motivates one better than enthusiasm for what you’re dealing with?

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A few questions you should ask yourself before writing an outline for a research paper are:

  • Who are your target readers?
  • Why would they be interested in the topic?
  • What do they know about it already?
  • What aspects of the topic should you explore to persuade them?

You may safely presume that the scientific adviser is the only person interested in your writings, but what if an essay of yours is going to be published online? What if the paper makes it to some academic journals or your future manager wants to take a look at it?

Defining the audience enables you to choose an appropriate strategy regarding language style and tone.

Are you a freshman writing a short essay? The next generation of students researching for the papers of their own will much appreciate it if your work will be written in simple, concise sentences and explain every difficult term in plain English. Take international readers who may experience a language barrier into account as well!

On the other hand, if you’re working on a dissertation, you’re dealing with an expert reader, most likely. Over-explaining the well-known concepts will bore them, and inconsistency in your argumentation will offend their eyes in no time. So, in this case, you’d better use formal language and be extra careful when it comes to making statements.

A thesis statement is usually 1-2 sentences at the end of a paper’s introduction. They state your central argument and aim to answer the research question. The tricky thing about a thesis statement is that you must squeeze the main idea of your essay into such a short form.

In merely a couple of sentences, you should make the following known:

  • the purpose of your work
  • the problem you’re about to discuss
  • its importance and/or novelty
  • your take on this scientific problem
  • the means through which you intend to analyze or solve it

Here’s an example of a weak, shallow, and uninformative statement: “Children raised by same-sex couples are no different than those raised by mother‐father families.”

And here we have its more comprehensible counterpart: “The gender of parents affects children in new ways but plays an insignificant role for children's psychological wellbeing and prospects.”

On top of all that, the statement should be thought-provoking, worth discussing, and catchy enough to make your audience read on. Speaking of which...

To support your argument, you are going to need multiple reliable sources like studies and publications to refer to. You can find those in the specialized or university libraries, ask your professors about them or use databanks like Google Scholar. Conducting online research without caution means taking the risk of repeating false claims and hurting your credibility as a scholar.

While studying the materials, search for knowledge gaps, or controversy around your hypothesis. Finding those allows you to make a major contribution to solving the academic problem and significantly adds value to your work. Think ahead and consider the possible counterarguments to your statement. Forestalling them would turn your thesis into a complete success.

You don’t want to keep putting off this step till you have no idea which citation comes from which source. When it comes to creating a bibliography, you’ll have to start over and invest loads of time into figuring out this mess.

Make notes as you go about proving your point with the help of other scientists’ findings or data. Then organize the references in a list according to their relevance to the hypothesis. Now you’re good to go and ready to write an outline for your research paper.

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Chapter 2

Research paper outline structure

It’s about time to arrange the parts of your essay into a neat hierarchy, create headings, and choose a format that works best for you to write it all down.

It can be short notes or a detailed list featuring full sentences. Make sure to ask your supervisors if they have any preferences regarding the outline format.

Now let’s see what elements a research paper outline structure usually lists:

  • Title page. The title is the first thing that catches your readers’ eye. It determines whether they will open the document at all. So it must present your topic briefly and compellingly. The author’s name and affiliations are also displayed on this page.
  • Abstract. This is a summary of the research paper that lifts the veil over your essay’s main points, materials, methods, and goals. It rarely takes up more than 300 words and is typically written after everything else is done.
  • Introduction. In this engaging and meaningful part, the author presents background information, the topic and why they chose it, what approach or materials they are going to use, how the subject will unfold throughout the text. It also comprises:
    • Hook - 1-5 intriguing sentences meant to kindle the reader’s interest.
    • Thesis statement - The main argument your whole paper is built around.
  • Manuscript body. The body is the main part of the paper. It amounts to 60-80% of the text and is divided into paragraphs. Each of them develops a subject-relevant idea and backs it with substantial evidence. Do your best to provide at least three arguments for each position you take on the topic, starting with the weakest one and finishing with the strongest. Don’t forget to include a literature overview, proper quotes, and mention the materials you’ve used.

    In your research paper outline, the manuscript body should look like a multilevel list with headings and subheadings, marking the order and correlation of information presented in the main part of the paper.

  • Conclusion. This final message should summarize your most persuasive arguments in an easy-to-digest form, without going into much detail or presenting any new ideas. The general overview of your research results will answer the research question and help readers to memorize your main ideas. You should point out the limitations of the subject and provoke further discussion/actions, giving the prospects for future, more in-depth studies.
  • References. In the references, the authors list all sources used to discover the subject and support their argument. Make sure there are no citations or borrowed ideas in the text of your essay that don’t have any references. Also, check the requirements of your university regarding this part of your research.
  • Miscellaneous. Include acknowledgments right after the table of contents, if there are contributors to your work. Add tables, questionnaire results, figures, a list of acronyms, or other supporting materials to the appendix at the end of the paper.

Keep in mind, one can always turn to this service to write my research paper. The generalized rough structure of a research paper outline would look like this:

how-to-write-a-research-paper-outline research-paper-structure
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Research Paper Outline Format

Generally speaking, it’s entirely up to you how to format your research paper outline, if it’s not a part of your assignment. The whole idea of it is for you to feel more comfortable and confident while writing an essay.

Some students prefer full topic sentences over short notes. Others opt for numeric outline (1.0., 1.1., 1.1.2. etc.) instead of alphanumeric we showed above. But how do outlines differ, when the paper is created according to one of the most common formats like APA or MLA? Coming right up!

APA research paper outline format
  • a title is written in uppercase letters
  • use Roman numerals, capital and lowercase letters to show hierarchical relations between topics and subtopics
  • including abstract is obligatory
  • add the list of keywords right after the abstract
MLA research paper outline format
  • you shouldn’t include the title page to the outline, as there’s a header with the same information
  • place your thesis statement first
  • use full sentence structure
  • titles are written in italics
  • use Arabic numbers to mark subheadings
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A picture is worth a thousand words, so let’s take a look at the example of an outline’s main parts below:

Title: “Challenges of Video Game Localization as a Specialized Type of Translation: the Case of World of Warcraft”

  1. Introduction
    1. Background information. The current state of game localization phenomenon.
    2. The ever-rising demands of the rapidly growing industry on the one hand and the lack of high-quality localizations on the other
  2. Game localization phenomenon as a novel branch of translation
    1. Difference between “localization” and “translation.”
      1. Localization as a cultural, legal and linguistic adaptation
      2. Challenges of multimedia text translation
      3. Necessary skills for localizers, apart from being qualified translators
    2. The stages the game localization process entails nowadays
      1. Existing models and approaches towards localization
      2. Problems localizers face
  3. Most common mistakes in the localization process
    1. Reasons for low-quality localizations
      1. Technical and organizational aspects
      2. Cultural differences
    2. Problematic linguistic areas
      1. Sociolects and idiolects
      2. Speaking names
      3. Speaking names
    3. Ways of solving linguistic issues in game localization
      1. Intercultural methods of translation
      2. In-game examples
  4. Conclusion

There you have it! Now you’re more than ready to create a complete flawless outline for your research paper. Organize your ideas, connect related ones into groups, and build levels of organization going from more general concepts to specific ones. Our examples and tips will do the rest.

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