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Research Paper Outline – Types, Example, Template

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Research Paper Outline

By creating a well-structured research paper outline, writers can easily organize their thoughts and ideas and ensure that their final paper is clear, concise, and effective. In this article, we will explore the essential components of a research paper outline and provide some tips and tricks for creating a successful one.

Research Paper Outline

Research paper outline is a plan or a structural framework that organizes the main ideas , arguments, and supporting evidence in a logical sequence. It serves as a blueprint or a roadmap for the writer to follow while drafting the actual research paper .

Typically, an outline consists of the following elements:

  • Introduction : This section presents the topic, research question , and thesis statement of the paper. It also provides a brief overview of the literature review and the methodology used.
  • Literature Review: This section provides a comprehensive review of the relevant literature, theories, and concepts related to the research topic. It analyzes the existing research and identifies the research gaps and research questions.
  • Methodology: This section explains the research design, data collection methods, data analysis, and ethical considerations of the study.
  • Results: This section presents the findings of the study, using tables, graphs, and statistics to illustrate the data.
  • Discussion : This section interprets the results of the study, and discusses their implications, significance, and limitations. It also suggests future research directions.
  • Conclusion : This section summarizes the main findings of the study and restates the thesis statement.
  • References: This section lists all the sources cited in the paper using the appropriate citation style.

Research Paper Outline Types

There are several types of outlines that can be used for research papers, including:

Alphanumeric Outline

This is a traditional outline format that uses Roman numerals, capital letters, Arabic numerals, and lowercase letters to organize the main ideas and supporting details of a research paper. It is commonly used for longer, more complex research papers.

I. Introduction

  • A. Background information
  • B. Thesis statement
  • 1 1. Supporting detail
  • 1 2. Supporting detail 2
  • 2 1. Supporting detail

III. Conclusion

  • A. Restate thesis
  • B. Summarize main points

Decimal Outline

This outline format uses numbers to organize the main ideas and supporting details of a research paper. It is similar to the alphanumeric outline, but it uses only numbers and decimals to indicate the hierarchy of the ideas.

  • 1.1 Background information
  • 1.2 Thesis statement
  • 1 2.1.1 Supporting detail
  • 1 2.1.2 Supporting detail
  • 2 2.2.1 Supporting detail
  • 1 2.2.2 Supporting detail
  • 3.1 Restate thesis
  • 3.2 Summarize main points

Full Sentence Outline

This type of outline uses complete sentences to describe the main ideas and supporting details of a research paper. It is useful for those who prefer to see the entire paper outlined in complete sentences.

  • Provide background information on the topic
  • State the thesis statement
  • Explain main idea 1 and provide supporting details
  • Discuss main idea 2 and provide supporting details
  • Restate the thesis statement
  • Summarize the main points of the paper

Topic Outline

This type of outline uses short phrases or words to describe the main ideas and supporting details of a research paper. It is useful for those who prefer to see a more concise overview of the paper.

  • Background information
  • Thesis statement
  • Supporting detail 1
  • Supporting detail 2
  • Restate thesis
  • Summarize main points

Reverse Outline

This is an outline that is created after the paper has been written. It involves going back through the paper and summarizing each paragraph or section in one sentence. This can be useful for identifying gaps in the paper or areas that need further development.

  • Introduction : Provides background information and states the thesis statement.
  • Paragraph 1: Discusses main idea 1 and provides supporting details.
  • Paragraph 2: Discusses main idea 2 and provides supporting details.
  • Paragraph 3: Addresses potential counterarguments.
  • Conclusion : Restates thesis and summarizes main points.

Mind Map Outline

This type of outline involves creating a visual representation of the main ideas and supporting details of a research paper. It can be useful for those who prefer a more creative and visual approach to outlining.

  • Supporting detail 1: Lack of funding for public schools.
  • Supporting detail 2: Decrease in government support for education.
  • Supporting detail 1: Increase in income inequality.
  • Supporting detail 2: Decrease in social mobility.

Research Paper Outline Example

Research Paper Outline Example on Cyber Security:

A. Overview of Cybersecurity

  • B. Importance of Cybersecurity
  • C. Purpose of the paper

II. Cyber Threats

A. Definition of Cyber Threats

  • B. Types of Cyber Threats
  • C. Examples of Cyber Threats

III. Cybersecurity Measures

A. Prevention measures

  • Anti-virus software
  • Encryption B. Detection measures
  • Intrusion Detection System (IDS)
  • Security Information and Event Management (SIEM)
  • Security Operations Center (SOC) C. Response measures
  • Incident Response Plan
  • Business Continuity Plan
  • Disaster Recovery Plan

IV. Cybersecurity in the Business World

A. Overview of Cybersecurity in the Business World

B. Cybersecurity Risk Assessment

C. Best Practices for Cybersecurity in Business

V. Cybersecurity in Government Organizations

A. Overview of Cybersecurity in Government Organizations

C. Best Practices for Cybersecurity in Government Organizations

VI. Cybersecurity Ethics

A. Definition of Cybersecurity Ethics

B. Importance of Cybersecurity Ethics

C. Examples of Cybersecurity Ethics

VII. Future of Cybersecurity

A. Overview of the Future of Cybersecurity

B. Emerging Cybersecurity Threats

C. Advancements in Cybersecurity Technology

VIII. Conclusion

A. Summary of the paper

B. Recommendations for Cybersecurity

  • C. Conclusion.

IX. References

A. List of sources cited in the paper

B. Bibliography of additional resources


Cybersecurity refers to the protection of computer systems, networks, and sensitive data from unauthorized access, theft, damage, or any other form of cyber attack. B. Importance of Cybersecurity The increasing reliance on technology and the growing number of cyber threats make cybersecurity an essential aspect of modern society. Cybersecurity breaches can result in financial losses, reputational damage, and legal liabilities. C. Purpose of the paper This paper aims to provide an overview of cybersecurity, cyber threats, cybersecurity measures, cybersecurity in the business and government sectors, cybersecurity ethics, and the future of cybersecurity.

A cyber threat is any malicious act or event that attempts to compromise or disrupt computer systems, networks, or sensitive data. B. Types of Cyber Threats Common types of cyber threats include malware, phishing, social engineering, ransomware, DDoS attacks, and advanced persistent threats (APTs). C. Examples of Cyber Threats Recent cyber threats include the SolarWinds supply chain attack, the Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack, and the Microsoft Exchange Server hack.

Prevention measures aim to minimize the risk of cyber attacks by implementing security controls, such as firewalls, anti-virus software, and encryption.

  • Firewalls Firewalls act as a barrier between a computer network and the internet, filtering incoming and outgoing traffic to prevent unauthorized access.
  • Anti-virus software Anti-virus software detects, prevents, and removes malware from computer systems.
  • Encryption Encryption involves the use of mathematical algorithms to transform sensitive data into a code that can only be accessed by authorized individuals. B. Detection measures Detection measures aim to identify and respond to cyber attacks as quickly as possible, such as intrusion detection systems (IDS), security information and event management (SIEM), and security operations centers (SOCs).
  • Intrusion Detection System (IDS) IDS monitors network traffic for signs of unauthorized access, such as unusual patterns or anomalies.
  • Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) SIEM combines security information management and security event management to provide real-time monitoring and analysis of security alerts.
  • Security Operations Center (SOC) SOC is a dedicated team responsible for monitoring, analyzing, and responding to cyber threats. C. Response measures Response measures aim to mitigate the impact of a cyber attack and restore normal operations, such as incident response plans (IRPs), business continuity plans (BCPs), and disaster recovery plans (DRPs).
  • Incident Response Plan IRPs outline the procedures and protocols to follow in the event of a cyber attack, including communication protocols, roles and responsibilities, and recovery processes.
  • Business Continuity Plan BCPs ensure that critical business functions can continue in the event of a cyber attack or other disruption.
  • Disaster Recovery Plan DRPs outline the procedures to recover from a catastrophic event, such as a natural disaster or cyber attack.

Cybersecurity is crucial for businesses of all sizes and industries, as they handle sensitive data, financial transactions, and intellectual property that are attractive targets for cyber criminals.

Risk assessment is a critical step in developing a cybersecurity strategy, which involves identifying potential threats, vulnerabilities, and consequences to determine the level of risk and prioritize security measures.

Best practices for cybersecurity in business include implementing strong passwords and multi-factor authentication, regularly updating software and hardware, training employees on cybersecurity awareness, and regularly backing up data.

Government organizations face unique cybersecurity challenges, as they handle sensitive information related to national security, defense, and critical infrastructure.

Risk assessment in government organizations involves identifying and assessing potential threats and vulnerabilities, conducting regular audits, and complying with relevant regulations and standards.

Best practices for cybersecurity in government organizations include implementing secure communication protocols, regularly updating and patching software, and conducting regular cybersecurity training and awareness programs for employees.

Cybersecurity ethics refers to the ethical considerations involved in cybersecurity, such as privacy, data protection, and the responsible use of technology.

Cybersecurity ethics are crucial for maintaining trust in technology, protecting privacy and data, and promoting responsible behavior in the digital world.

Examples of cybersecurity ethics include protecting the privacy of user data, ensuring data accuracy and integrity, and implementing fair and unbiased algorithms.

The future of cybersecurity will involve a shift towards more advanced technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and quantum computing.

Emerging cybersecurity threats include AI-powered cyber attacks, the use of deepfakes and synthetic media, and the potential for quantum computing to break current encryption methods.

Advancements in cybersecurity technology include the development of AI and machine learning-based security tools, the use of blockchain for secure data storage and sharing, and the development of post-quantum encryption methods.

This paper has provided an overview of cybersecurity, cyber threats, cybersecurity measures, cybersecurity in the business and government sectors, cybersecurity ethics, and the future of cybersecurity.

To enhance cybersecurity, organizations should prioritize risk assessment and implement a comprehensive cybersecurity strategy that includes prevention, detection, and response measures. Additionally, organizations should prioritize cybersecurity ethics to promote responsible behavior in the digital world.

C. Conclusion

Cybersecurity is an essential aspect of modern society, and organizations must prioritize cybersecurity to protect sensitive data and maintain trust in technology.

for further reading

X. Appendices

A. Glossary of key terms

B. Cybersecurity checklist for organizations

C. Sample cybersecurity policy for businesses

D. Sample cybersecurity incident response plan

E. Cybersecurity training and awareness resources

Note : The content and organization of the paper may vary depending on the specific requirements of the assignment or target audience. This outline serves as a general guide for writing a research paper on cybersecurity. Do not use this in your assingmets.

Research Paper Outline Template

  • Background information and context of the research topic
  • Research problem and questions
  • Purpose and objectives of the research
  • Scope and limitations

II. Literature Review

  • Overview of existing research on the topic
  • Key concepts and theories related to the research problem
  • Identification of gaps in the literature
  • Summary of relevant studies and their findings

III. Methodology

  • Research design and approach
  • Data collection methods and procedures
  • Data analysis techniques
  • Validity and reliability considerations
  • Ethical considerations

IV. Results

  • Presentation of research findings
  • Analysis and interpretation of data
  • Explanation of significant results
  • Discussion of unexpected results

V. Discussion

  • Comparison of research findings with existing literature
  • Implications of results for theory and practice
  • Limitations and future directions for research
  • Conclusion and recommendations

VI. Conclusion

  • Summary of research problem, purpose, and objectives
  • Discussion of significant findings
  • Contribution to the field of study
  • Implications for practice
  • Suggestions for future research

VII. References

  • List of sources cited in the research paper using appropriate citation style.

Note : This is just an template, and depending on the requirements of your assignment or the specific research topic, you may need to modify or adjust the sections or headings accordingly.

Research Paper Outline Writing Guide

Here’s a guide to help you create an effective research paper outline:

  • Choose a topic : Select a topic that is interesting, relevant, and meaningful to you.
  • Conduct research: Gather information on the topic from a variety of sources, such as books, articles, journals, and websites.
  • Organize your ideas: Organize your ideas and information into logical groups and subgroups. This will help you to create a clear and concise outline.
  • Create an outline: Begin your outline with an introduction that includes your thesis statement. Then, organize your ideas into main points and subpoints. Each main point should be supported by evidence and examples.
  • Introduction: The introduction of your research paper should include the thesis statement, background information, and the purpose of the research paper.
  • Body : The body of your research paper should include the main points and subpoints. Each point should be supported by evidence and examples.
  • Conclusion : The conclusion of your research paper should summarize the main points and restate the thesis statement.
  • Reference List: Include a reference list at the end of your research paper. Make sure to properly cite all sources used in the paper.
  • Proofreading : Proofread your research paper to ensure that it is free of errors and grammatical mistakes.
  • Finalizing : Finalize your research paper by reviewing the outline and making any necessary changes.

When to Write Research Paper Outline

It’s a good idea to write a research paper outline before you begin drafting your paper. The outline will help you organize your thoughts and ideas, and it can serve as a roadmap for your writing process.

Here are a few situations when you might want to consider writing an outline:

  • When you’re starting a new research project: If you’re beginning a new research project, an outline can help you get organized from the very beginning. You can use your outline to brainstorm ideas, map out your research goals, and identify potential sources of information.
  • When you’re struggling to organize your thoughts: If you find yourself struggling to organize your thoughts or make sense of your research, an outline can be a helpful tool. It can help you see the big picture of your project and break it down into manageable parts.
  • When you’re working with a tight deadline : If you have a deadline for your research paper, an outline can help you stay on track and ensure that you cover all the necessary points. By mapping out your paper in advance, you can work more efficiently and avoid getting stuck or overwhelmed.

Purpose of Research Paper Outline

The purpose of a research paper outline is to provide a structured and organized plan for the writer to follow while conducting research and writing the paper. An outline is essentially a roadmap that guides the writer through the entire research process, from the initial research and analysis of the topic to the final writing and editing of the paper.

A well-constructed outline can help the writer to:

  • Organize their thoughts and ideas on the topic, and ensure that all relevant information is included.
  • Identify any gaps in their research or argument, and address them before starting to write the paper.
  • Ensure that the paper follows a logical and coherent structure, with clear transitions between different sections.
  • Save time and effort by providing a clear plan for the writer to follow, rather than starting from scratch and having to revise the paper multiple times.

Advantages of Research Paper Outline

Some of the key advantages of a research paper outline include:

  • Helps to organize thoughts and ideas : An outline helps to organize all the different ideas and information that you want to include in your paper. By creating an outline, you can ensure that all the points you want to make are covered and in a logical order.
  • Saves time and effort : An outline saves time and effort because it helps you to focus on the key points of your paper. It also helps you to identify any gaps or areas where more research may be needed.
  • Makes the writing process easier : With an outline, you have a clear roadmap of what you want to write, and this makes the writing process much easier. You can simply follow your outline and fill in the details as you go.
  • Improves the quality of your paper : By having a clear outline, you can ensure that all the important points are covered and in a logical order. This makes your paper more coherent and easier to read, which ultimately improves its overall quality.
  • Facilitates collaboration: If you are working on a research paper with others, an outline can help to facilitate collaboration. By sharing your outline, you can ensure that everyone is on the same page and working towards the same goals.

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Muhammad Hassan

Researcher, Academic Writer, Web developer

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How Can You Create a Well Planned Research Paper Outline

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You are staring at the blank document, meaning to start writing your research paper . After months of experiments and procuring results, your PI asked you to write the paper to publish it in a reputed journal. You spoke to your peers and a few seniors and received a few tips on writing a research paper, but you still can’t plan on how to begin!

Writing a research paper is a very common issue among researchers and is often looked upon as a time consuming hurdle. Researchers usually look up to this task as an impending threat, avoiding and procrastinating until they cannot delay it anymore. Seeking advice from internet and seniors they manage to write a paper which goes in for quite a few revisions. Making researchers lose their sense of understanding with respect to their research work and findings. In this article, we would like to discuss how to create a structured research paper outline which will assist a researcher in writing their research paper effectively!

Publication is an important component of research studies in a university for academic promotion and in obtaining funding to support research. However, the primary reason is to provide the data and hypotheses to scientific community to advance the understanding in a specific domain. A scientific paper is a formal record of a research process. It documents research protocols, methods, results, conclusion, and discussion from a research hypothesis .

Table of Contents

What Is a Research Paper Outline?

A research paper outline is a basic format for writing an academic research paper. It follows the IMRAD format (Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion). However, this format varies depending on the type of research manuscript. A research paper outline consists of following sections to simplify the paper for readers. These sections help researchers build an effective paper outline.

1. Title Page

The title page provides important information which helps the editors, reviewers, and readers identify the manuscript and the authors at a glance. It also provides an overview of the field of research the research paper belongs to. The title should strike a balance between precise and detailed. Other generic details include author’s given name, affiliation, keywords that will provide indexing, details of the corresponding author etc. are added to the title page.

2. Abstract

Abstract is the most important section of the manuscript and will help the researcher create a detailed research paper outline . To be more precise, an abstract is like an advertisement to the researcher’s work and it influences the editor in deciding whether to submit the manuscript to reviewers or not. Writing an abstract is a challenging task. Researchers can write an exemplary abstract by selecting the content carefully and being concise.

3. Introduction

An introduction is a background statement that provides the context and approach of the research. It describes the problem statement with the assistance of the literature study and elaborates the requirement to update the knowledge gap. It sets the research hypothesis and informs the readers about the big research question.

This section is usually named as “Materials and Methods”, “Experiments” or “Patients and Methods” depending upon the type of journal. This purpose provides complete information on methods used for the research. Researchers should mention clear description of materials and their use in the research work. If the methods used in research are already published, give a brief account and refer to the original publication. However, if the method used is modified from the original method, then researcher should mention the modifications done to the original protocol and validate its accuracy, precision, and repeatability.

It is best to report results as tables and figures wherever possible. Also, avoid duplication of text and ensure that the text summarizes the findings. Report the results with appropriate descriptive statistics. Furthermore, report any unexpected events that could affect the research results, and mention complete account of observations and explanations for missing data (if any).

6. Discussion

The discussion should set the research in context, strengthen its importance and support the research hypothesis. Summarize the main results of the study in one or two paragraphs and show how they logically fit in an overall scheme of studies. Compare the results with other investigations in the field of research and explain the differences.

7. Acknowledgments

Acknowledgements identify and thank the contributors to the study, who are not under the criteria of co-authors. It also includes the recognition of funding agency and universities that award scholarships or fellowships to researchers.

8. Declaration of Competing Interests

Finally, declaring the competing interests is essential to abide by ethical norms of unique research publishing. Competing interests arise when the author has more than one role that may lead to a situation where there is a conflict of interest.

Steps to Write a Research Paper Outline

  • Write down all important ideas that occur to you concerning the research paper .
  • Answer questions such as – what is the topic of my paper? Why is the topic important? How to formulate the hypothesis? What are the major findings?
  • Add context and structure. Group all your ideas into sections – Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion/Conclusion.
  • Add relevant questions to each section. It is important to note down the questions. This will help you align your thoughts.
  • Expand the ideas based on the questions created in the paper outline.
  • After creating a detailed outline, discuss it with your mentors and peers.
  • Get enough feedback and decide on the journal you will submit to.
  • The process of real writing begins.

Benefits of Creating a Research Paper Outline

As discussed, the research paper subheadings create an outline of what different aspects of research needs elaboration. This provides subtopics on which the researchers brainstorm and reach a conclusion to write. A research paper outline organizes the researcher’s thoughts and gives a clear picture of how to formulate the research protocols and results. It not only helps the researcher to understand the flow of information but also provides relation between the ideas.

A research paper outline helps researcher achieve a smooth transition between topics and ensures that no research point is forgotten. Furthermore, it allows the reader to easily navigate through the research paper and provides a better understanding of the research. The paper outline allows the readers to find relevant information and quotes from different part of the paper.

Research Paper Outline Template

A research paper outline template can help you understand the concept of creating a well planned research paper before beginning to write and walk through your journey of research publishing.

1. Research Title

A. Background i. Support with evidence ii. Support with existing literature studies

B. Thesis Statement i. Link literature with hypothesis ii. Support with evidence iii. Explain the knowledge gap and how this research will help build the gap 4. Body

A. Methods i. Mention materials and protocols used in research ii. Support with evidence

B. Results i. Support with tables and figures ii. Mention appropriate descriptive statistics

C. Discussion i. Support the research with context ii. Support the research hypothesis iii. Compare the results with other investigations in field of research

D. Conclusion i. Support the discussion and research investigation ii. Support with literature studies

E. Acknowledgements i. Identify and thank the contributors ii. Include the funding agency, if any

F. Declaration of Competing Interests

5. References

Download the Research Paper Outline Template!

Have you tried writing a research paper outline ? How did it work for you? Did it help you achieve your research paper writing goal? Do let us know about your experience in the comments below.

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How to create a helpful research paper outline

Last updated

21 December 2023

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You need to structure your research paper in an orderly way that makes it easy for readers to follow your reasoning and supporting data. That's where a research paper outline can help.

Writing a research paper outline will help you arrange your ideas logically and allow your final paper to flow. It will make the entire process more manageable and help you work out which details to include and which are better left out.

  • What is a research paper outline?

Write your research paper outline before starting your first draft. The outline provides a map of how you will structure your ideas throughout the paper. A research paper outline will help you to be more efficient when ordering the sections of your thesis, rather than trying to make structural changes after finishing an entire first draft.

An outline consists of the main topics and subtopics of your paper, listed in a logical order. The main topics will become the sections of your research paper, and the subtopics reveal the content you want to include or discuss under the main topics.

Under each subtopic, you can also jot down items you don't want to forget to include in your research paper, such as:

Topic ideas

Paragraph ideas

Direct quotes

Once you start listing these under your main topics, you can focus your thoughts as you plan and write the research paper using the evidence and data you collected and any additional information.

  • Why use an outline?

If your research paper does not have a clear, logical order, readers may not understand the ideas you're trying to share, or they may lose interest and not bother to read the whole paper. An outline helps you structure your research paper so readers can easily connect the content, ideas, and theories you're trying to prove or maintain.

  • Are there different kinds of research paper outlines?

Different kinds of research paper outlines might seem similar but have different purposes. You can select an outline type that provides a clear road map and thoroughly explores each point. 

Other types will help structure content logically or with a segmented flow and progression of ideas that align closely with the theme of your research.

  • The 3 types of outlines

The three outline formats available to research paper writers are:

Alphanumeric or topic outlines

Sentence or full-sentence outlines

Decimal outlines

Let’s look at the differences between each type and see how one may be more beneficial than another, depending on the nature of your research.

This type of research paper outline allows you to segment main headings and subheadings with an alphanumeric arrangement.

The alphanumeric characters of Roman numerals, capital letters, numbers, and lowercase letters define the hierarchy of main topic headings, subtopic headings, and third- and fourth-tier subtopic headings. (e.g., I, A, 1, a)

This method uses minimal words to describe the main and subtopic headings. You'll mostly use this type of research paper outline to focus on the organization of the content while allowing you to review it for unrelated or irrelevant information.

Full-sentence outlines

You will format this type of research paper outline as an alphanumeric outline, using the same alphanumeric characters. However, it contains complete sentences rather than a few words for each main and subtopic heading.

This formatting method allows the writer to focus on looking for inaccuracies and inconsistencies in each point before starting the first draft.

Instead of using alphanumeric characters to define main headings, subheadings, and third- and fourth-tier subheadings, the decimal outline uses a decimal numbering system.

This system shows a logical progression of the content by using 1.0 for the main section heading (and 2.0, 3.0, etc., for subsequent sections), 1.1 for the subheading, 1.1.1 for a third-tier subheading, and for the fourth-tier subheading.

The headings and subheadings will be just a few words, as in the alphanumerical research paper outline. Decimal outlines allow the writer to focus on the content's overall coherence, increasing your writing efficiency and reducing the time it takes to write your research paper.

  • How to write a research paper outline

Before you begin your research paper outline, you need to determine your topic and gather your information. Let’s look at these steps first, then dive into how to write your outline.

1. Determine your topic

You'll need to establish a topic or the main point you intend to write about.

For example, you may want to research and write about whether influencers are the most beneficial way to promote products in your industry. This topic is the main point around which your essay will revolve.

2. Gather information

You'll need evidence, data, statistics, and facts to prove or disprove that influencers are the best method of promoting products in your industry.

You'll insert any of these things you collect to substantiate your findings into the outline to support your topic.

3. Determine the type of essay you'll be writing

There are many types of essays or research papers you can write. The kinds of essays include:

Argumentative: Builds logic and support for an argument

Cause and effect: Explains relationships between specific conditions and their results

Analytical: Presents a claim on what is being analyzed

Interpretive: Informative and persuasive explanations on how something is perceived

Experimental: Reports on experimental results and the reasoning behind the results

Review: Offers an understanding and analysis of primary sources on a given topic

Definition: Defines what a term or concept means

Persuasive: Uses logic and reason to show that one idea is more justified than another

Narrative: Tells a story of personal experience from the author’s point of view

Expository: Shows an objective view of a subject by exploring various angles

Descriptive: Describes objects, people, places, experiences, emotions, situations, etc.

Once you understand the essay format you are writing, you'll know how to structure your outline. 

4. Include basic sections

You'll begin to structure your outline using basic sections. Your main topic headings for these sections may include an introduction, multiple body paragraph sections, and a conclusion.

Once you establish the sections, you can insert the subtopics under each main topic heading.

5. Organize your outline

For example, if you're writing an argumentative essay taking the position that brand influencers (e.g., social media stars on Instagram or TikTok) are the best way to promote products in your industry, you will argue for that particular position.

You'll organize your argumentative essay outline with a main topic section supporting the position. The subtopics will include the reasoning behind your arguments, and the third-tier subtopics will contain the supporting evidence and data you gathered during your research.

You'll add another main topic section to counter and respond to any opposing arguments. Once you've organized and included all the information in this way, this will provide the structure to start your argumentative essay draft.

6. Consider compare-and-contrast essays

A compare-and-contrast essay is a form of essay that analyzes the differences between two opposing theories or subjects. If you have multiple subjects that are the same or different in just one aspect, you can write a point-by-point outline exploring each subject in terms of this characteristic.

The main topic headings will list that one characteristic, and the subtopic headings will list the subjects or items that are the same or different in relation to this characteristic.

Conversely, if you have multiple items to compare, but they have many characteristics that are similar or different, you can write a block method outline. The main topic headings will contain the items to be compared, while the subtopic headings will contain the aspects in which they are similar or different.

7. Consider advanced organizers for longer essays

An advanced organizer is a sentence that introduces new topics by connecting already-known information to new information. It can also prepare the reader for what they may expect to learn from the entire essay, or each section or paragraph.

Incorporating advanced organizers makes it easier for the reader to process and understand the information you are trying to convey. If you choose to use advanced organizers, depending on how often you want to use them throughout your paper, you can add them to your outline at the end of the introduction, the beginning of a section, or the beginning of each paragraph. 

  • Do outlines need periods (full stops)?

If you're constructing alphanumerical or decimal topic outlines, they do not need periods because the entries are usually not complete sentences. However, outlines containing full sentences will need to be punctuated as any sentence is, including using periods.

  • An example research paper outline

Here is an example of an alphanumerical outline that argues brand influencers are the best method of promoting products in a particular industry:

I.  Introduction

    A.  Background information about the issue and the position being argued.

    B.  Thesis statement: Influencers are the best way to promote products in this industry.

II.  Reasons that support the thesis statement

    A.  Reason or argument #1

           1.  Supporting evidence

           2.  Supporting evidence

    B.  Reason or argument #2

    C.  Reason or argument #3

          1.  Supporting evidence

          2.  Supporting evidence

III. Counterarguments and responses

       A.  Arguments from the other point of view

       B.  Rebuttals against those arguments

IV.  Conclusion

  • How long is a thesis outline?

There is no set length for a research paper outline or thesis outline. Your outline can be as long as it needs to be to organize your thoughts constructively.

You can start with a short outline containing an introduction , background, methodology, data and analysis, and conclusion. Or you can break these sections into more specific segments according to the content you want to share.

Why make writing a research paper more complicated than it needs to be? Knowing the elements of an outline and how to insert them into a cohesive structure will make your final paper understandable and interesting to the reader.

Understanding how to outline a research paper will make the writing process more efficient and less time-consuming.

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Levels of organization for a research paper outline

First level of organization, second level of organization, third level of organization, fourth level of organization, tips for writing a research paper outline, research paper outline template, my research paper outline is complete: what are the next steps, frequently asked questions about a research paper outline, related articles.

The outline is the skeleton of your research paper. Simply start by writing down your thesis and the main ideas you wish to present. This will likely change as your research progresses; therefore, do not worry about being too specific in the early stages of writing your outline.

A research paper outline typically contains between two and four layers of organization. The first two layers are the most generalized. Each layer thereafter will contain the research you complete and presents more and more detailed information.

The levels are typically represented by a combination of Roman numerals, Arabic numerals, uppercase letters, lowercase letters but may include other symbols. Refer to the guidelines provided by your institution, as formatting is not universal and differs between universities, fields, and subjects. If you are writing the outline for yourself, you may choose any combination you prefer.

This is the most generalized level of information. Begin by numbering the introduction, each idea you will present, and the conclusion. The main ideas contain the bulk of your research paper 's information. Depending on your research, it may be chapters of a book for a literature review , a series of dates for a historical research paper, or the methods and results of a scientific paper.

I. Introduction

II. Main idea

III. Main idea

IV. Main idea

V. Conclusion

The second level consists of topics which support the introduction, main ideas, and the conclusion. Each main idea should have at least two supporting topics listed in the outline.

If your main idea does not have enough support, you should consider presenting another main idea in its place. This is where you should stop outlining if this is your first draft. Continue your research before adding to the next levels of organization.

  • A. Background information
  • B. Hypothesis or thesis
  • A. Supporting topic
  • B. Supporting topic

The third level of organization contains supporting information for the topics previously listed. By now, you should have completed enough research to add support for your ideas.

The Introduction and Main Ideas may contain information you discovered about the author, timeframe, or contents of a book for a literature review; the historical events leading up to the research topic for a historical research paper, or an explanation of the problem a scientific research paper intends to address.

  • 1. Relevant history
  • 2. Relevant history
  • 1. The hypothesis or thesis clearly stated
  • 1. A brief description of supporting information
  • 2. A brief description of supporting information

The fourth level of organization contains the most detailed information such as quotes, references, observations, or specific data needed to support the main idea. It is not typical to have further levels of organization because the information contained here is the most specific.

  • a) Quotes or references to another piece of literature
  • b) Quotes or references to another piece of literature

Tip: The key to creating a useful outline is to be consistent in your headings, organization, and levels of specificity.

  • Be Consistent : ensure every heading has a similar tone. State the topic or write short sentences for each heading but avoid doing both.
  • Organize Information : Higher levels of organization are more generally stated and each supporting level becomes more specific. The introduction and conclusion will never be lower than the first level of organization.
  • Build Support : Each main idea should have two or more supporting topics. If your research does not have enough information to support the main idea you are presenting, you should, in general, complete additional research or revise the outline.

By now, you should know the basic requirements to create an outline for your paper. With a content framework in place, you can now start writing your paper . To help you start right away, you can use one of our templates and adjust it to suit your needs.

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After completing your outline, you should:

  • Title your research paper . This is an iterative process and may change when you delve deeper into the topic.
  • Begin writing your research paper draft . Continue researching to further build your outline and provide more information to support your hypothesis or thesis.
  • Format your draft appropriately . MLA 8 and APA 7 formats have differences between their bibliography page, in-text citations, line spacing, and title.
  • Finalize your citations and bibliography . Use a reference manager like Paperpile to organize and cite your research.
  • Write the abstract, if required . An abstract will briefly state the information contained within the paper, results of the research, and the conclusion.

An outline is used to organize written ideas about a topic into a logical order. Outlines help us organize major topics, subtopics, and supporting details. Researchers benefit greatly from outlines while writing by addressing which topic to cover in what order.

The most basic outline format consists of: an introduction, a minimum of three topic paragraphs, and a conclusion.

You should make an outline before starting to write your research paper. This will help you organize the main ideas and arguments you want to present in your topic.

  • Consistency: ensure every heading has a similar tone. State the topic or write short sentences for each heading but avoid doing both.
  • Organization : Higher levels of organization are more generally stated and each supporting level becomes more specific. The introduction and conclusion will never be lower than the first level of organization.
  • Support : Each main idea should have two or more supporting topics. If your research does not have enough information to support the main idea you are presenting, you should, in general, complete additional research or revise the outline.

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Organizing Your Social Sciences Research Paper

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An outline is a formal system used to develop a framework for thinking about what should be the organization and eventual contents of your paper. An outline helps you predict the overall structure and flow of a paper.

Why and How to Create a Useful Outline. The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University.

Importance of...

Writing papers in college requires you to come up with sophisticated, complex, and sometimes very creative ways of structuring your ideas . Taking the time to draft an outline can help you determine if your ideas connect to each other, what order of ideas works best, where gaps in your thinking may exist, or whether you have sufficient evidence to support each of your points. It is also an effective way to think about the time you will need to complete each part of your paper before you begin writing.

A good outline is important because :

  • You will be much less likely to get writer's block . An outline will show where you're going and how to get there. Use the outline to set goals for completing each section of your paper.
  • It will help you stay organized and focused throughout the writing process and help ensure proper coherence [flow of ideas] in your final paper. However, the outline should be viewed as a guide, not a straitjacket. As you review the literature or gather data, the organization of your paper may change; adjust your outline accordingly.
  • A clear, detailed outline ensures that you always have something to help re-calibrate your writing should you feel yourself drifting into subject areas unrelated to the research problem. Use your outline to set boundaries around what you will investigate.
  • The outline can be key to staying motivated . You can put together an outline when you're excited about the project and everything is clicking; making an outline is never as overwhelming as sitting down and beginning to write a twenty page paper without any sense of where it is going.
  • An outline helps you organize multiple ideas about a topic . Most research problems can be analyzed from a variety of perspectives; an outline can help you sort out which modes of analysis are most appropriate to ensure the most robust findings are discovered.
  • An outline not only helps you organize your thoughts, but it can also serve as a schedule for when certain aspects of your writing should be accomplished . Review the assignment and highlight the due dates of specific tasks and integrate these into your outline. If your professor has not created specific deadlines, create your own deadlines by thinking about your own writing style and the need to manage your time around other course assignments.

How to Structure and Organize Your Paper. Odegaard Writing & Research Center. University of Washington; Why and How to Create a Useful Outline. The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University; Lietzau, Kathleen. Creating Outlines. Writing Center, University of Richmond.

Structure and Writing Style

I.   General Approaches

There are two general approaches you can take when writing an outline for your paper:

The topic outline consists of short phrases. This approach is useful when you are dealing with a number of different issues that could be arranged in a variety of different ways in your paper. Due to short phrases having more content than using simple sentences, they create better content from which to build your paper.

The sentence outline is done in full sentences. This approach is useful when your paper focuses on complex issues in detail. The sentence outline is also useful because sentences themselves have many of the details in them needed to build a paper and it allows you to include those details in the sentences instead of having to create an outline of short phrases that goes on page after page.

II.   Steps to Making the Outline

A strong outline details each topic and subtopic in your paper, organizing these points so that they build your argument toward an evidence-based conclusion. Writing an outline will also help you focus on the task at hand and avoid unnecessary tangents, logical fallacies, and underdeveloped paragraphs.

  • Identify the research problem . The research problem is the focal point from which the rest of the outline flows. Try to sum up the point of your paper in one sentence or phrase. It also can be key to deciding what the title of your paper should be.
  • Identify the main categories . What main points will you analyze? The introduction describes all of your main points; the rest of  your paper can be spent developing those points.
  • Create the first category . What is the first point you want to cover? If the paper centers around a complicated term, a definition can be a good place to start. For a paper that concerns the application and testing of a particular theory, giving the general background on the theory can be a good place to begin.
  • Create subcategories . After you have followed these steps, create points under it that provide support for the main point. The number of categories that you use depends on the amount of information that you are trying to cover. There is no right or wrong number to use.

Once you have developed the basic outline of the paper, organize the contents to match the standard format of a research paper as described in this guide.

III.   Things to Consider When Writing an Outline

  • There is no rule dictating which approach is best . Choose either a topic outline or a sentence outline based on which one you believe will work best for you. However, once you begin developing an outline, it's helpful to stick to only one approach.
  • Both topic and sentence outlines use Roman and Arabic numerals along with capital and small letters of the alphabet arranged in a consistent and rigid sequence. A rigid format should be used especially if you are required to hand in your outline.
  • Although the format of an outline is rigid, it shouldn't make you inflexible about how to write your paper. Often when you start investigating a research problem [i.e., reviewing the research literature], especially if you are unfamiliar with the topic, you should anticipate the likelihood your analysis could go in different directions. If your paper changes focus, or you need to add new sections, then feel free to reorganize the outline.
  • If appropriate, organize the main points of your outline in chronological order . In papers where you need to trace the history or chronology of events or issues, it is important to arrange your outline in the same manner, knowing that it's easier to re-arrange things now than when you've almost finished your paper.
  • For a standard research paper of 15-20 pages, your outline should be no more than few pages in length . It may be helpful as you are developing your outline to also write down a tentative list of references.

Muirhead, Brent. “Using Outlines to Improve Online Student Writing Skills.” Journal on School Educational Technology 1, (2005): 17-23; Four Main Components for Effective Outlines. The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University; How to Make an Outline. Psychology Writing Center. University of Washington; Kartawijaya, Sukarta. “Improving Students’ Writing Skill in Writing Paragraph through an Outline Technique.” Curricula: Journal of Teaching and Learning 3 (2018); Organization: Informal Outlines. The Reading/Writing Center. Hunter College; Organization: Standard Outline Form. The Reading/Writing Center. Hunter College; Outlining. Department of English Writing Guide. George Mason University; Plotnic, Jerry. Organizing an Essay. University College Writing Centre. University of Toronto; Reverse Outline. The Writing Center. University of North Carolina; Reverse Outlines: A Writer's Technique for Examining Organization. The Writer’s Handbook. Writing Center. University of Wisconsin, Madison; Using Outlines. Writing Tutorial Services, Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning. Indiana University; Writing: Considering Structure and Organization. Institute for Writing Rhetoric. Dartmouth College.

Writing Tip

A Disorganized Outline Means a Disorganized Paper!

If, in writing your paper, it begins to diverge from your outline, this is very likely a sign that you've lost your focus. How do you know whether to change the paper to fit the outline, or, that you need to reconsider the outline so that it fits the paper? A good way to check your progress is to use what you have written to recreate the outline. This is an effective strategy for assessing the organization of your paper. If the resulting outline says what you want it to say and it is in an order that is easy to follow, then the organization of your paper has been successful. If you discover that it's difficult to create an outline from what you have written, then you likely need to revise your paper.

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How to Write a Research Paper Outline

How to Write a Research Paper Outline

4-minute read

  • 25th August 2023

Embarking on the journey of writing a research paper can be both exciting and overwhelming. However, you can navigate this process with clarity and confidence with a well-crafted research paper outline. An outline serves as a roadmap that guides you through each phase of research, organization, and writing.

In this guide, we’ll walk you through the steps to craft a stellar outline that will lay the foundation for an exceptional research paper. Let’s dive in!

The Importance of a Research Paper Outline

Before delving into the process of creating an outline, let’s first discuss a few reasons why it’s a crucial element of your research paper process:

●  Organization : An outline helps you organize your thoughts, ideas, and research findings coherently and logically, preventing your paper from becoming disjointed.

●  Focus and Direction : It provides a clear path for your research and writing, helping you stay on track and ensuring that you cover all essential aspects of your topic.

●  Efficiency : By planning and structuring your paper in advance, you save time during the actual writing process.

Steps to Create a Research Paper Outline

1. identifying the core components of your outline.

Your research paper outline consists of several key components, each serving a specific purpose. Depending on your research topic and your intended audience, your research paper may have additional sections, such as a literature review or methods section, so make sure you’re clear on what the expectations are for your project. Still, your outline should almost certainly contain the following elements:

A. Introduction

●  Provide a hook. Begin with a compelling opening that grabs your reader’s attention.

●  Include appropriate background information. Provide context about your topic, highlighting its relevance and significance , along with your research objectives .

●  State your thesis statement . Clearly state the main argument or purpose of your paper.

B. Main Body

●  Organize your major points and arguments. Itemize the primary ideas or arguments you intend to present. Each major point should have its own section.

●  Supporting evidence : Beneath each major point, list the supporting evidence, data, or examples that back your arguments.

●  Subpoints : If necessary, break down each major point into smaller subpoints to ensure a well-structured and detailed discussion.

C. Counterarguments and Rebuttals (if applicable)

●  Consider the counterarguments . Address opposing viewpoints to showcase a comprehensive understanding of the topic.

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●  Include the counter rebuttals . Refute counterarguments with strong evidence and reasoning, reinforcing your stance.

D. Conclusion

●  Restate your thesis. Summarize your thesis statement, reminding readers of your main argument.

●  Summarize your main points . Briefly recap the major points discussed in the body of your paper.

●  Provide a meaningful concluding thought. Leave readers with a thought-provoking insight, call to action, or open-ended question.

●  Remember your acknowledgements . Finally, add any acknowledgements that should be recognized.

2. Structuring Your Outline

Create a hierarchical structure by arranging your main points, subpoints, and supporting evidence in a logical order. This provides a visual representation of your paper’s flow and allows you to see how ideas connect and progress.

3. Be Concise and Clear

Your outline is a concise roadmap, so use brief phrases or sentences to capture the essence of each section. Avoid wordiness and complex language.

4. Flexibility in Your Approach

Remember, your outline is a flexible tool. As you delve deeper into your research and writing, you might discover the need to rearrange or expand certain sections. Allow your outline to evolve naturally.

5. Seek Feedback

Share your outline with peers, instructors, or your advisor to gain valuable feedback. Their insights can help you refine your outline and ensure that you’re on the right track. They can also let you know if you’ve left out anything of significance.

A well-structured research paper outline is your compass in the vast sea of information and ideas. It keeps you focused, organized, and empowered throughout the research and writing process and can help deter you from making common mistakes .

Following these steps will equip you to create a successful outline: identify your main concepts; structure your outline; check for clarity and concision; allow for flexibility; and seek feedback.

Finally, if you’re interested in having your research paper proofread , please consider our research paper editing services . You can even try a sample of our services for free . Happy outlining and researching!

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A Step-by-Step Guide to Crafting a Winning Research Paper Outline

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Creating a research paper outline is an essential step for organizing your ideas and research before you start writing. It can help you structure your arguments, spot gaps in your research, and ensure you include all important information. Speaking of which, this step-by-step guide is your opportunity to learn creating a good research paper outline , just like a professional paper writing service provider would do. So, without further ado, let’s get started.

Table of Contents

Crafting a Comprehensive Research Paper Outline – A Step-by-Step Guide

Crafting a Comprehensive Research Paper Outline A Step by Step Guide

Putting together a research paper can be intimidating, but it can get easier if you make a good outline. Here are a few simple steps to help you outline a thorough research paper.

Step 1: Pick a Topic and Conduct Research

The first thing you should do is pick a relevant, interesting topic with plenty of research material available. Do your research, take down notes, and document your sources so you can cite them in your bibliography later. 

1.1 Brainstorming and Narrowing Down the Topic

Think about a field that you’re passionate about or interested in, and brainstorm some related ideas. Once you have a few ideas, narrow down the list to the most interesting and relevant ones. How about  social media research paper topics ? 

For Example: Thinking about social media and mental health could give you a few ideas for topics like “How does social media affect depression?” or “What does social media do to our body image and self-esteem?”. Do some research and decide which one sparks your interest more. 

1.2 Preliminary Research

Once you have a topic in mind, do some digging to ensure you can find enough evidence for backing up your research. Check out some articles, studies, and books related to your topic.

Example:  Start your research by searching academic databases like Google Scholar or PubMed for peer-reviewed articles about your topic. You can also look for books and reports from reliable sources like the World Health Organization.

1.3 Refining Your Research Question

Based on your preliminary research, make your research question more precise and on-point. Doing this will help you figure out the main ideas and arguments you need to include in your paper.

For Example: What effect does using social media have on body image and self-esteem in teenage girls in the US? 

1.4 Gathering and Evaluating Sources

Once you have a refined research question, you must find and assess sources related to your topic. Using reliable and trustworthy sources to back up your points is essential.

For Example:  Look for sources like articles, books, and reports that focus on social media use among teenage girls. Check that these sources are relevant, trustworthy, and reliable.

1.5 Taking Detailed Notes and Keeping Track of Sources

Organize your research by taking detailed notes on the points each source makes so you know what to include in your paper. Keeping track of your sources is important too. You can try out a citation management tool like Zotero or Mendeley.

For Example:  Write down the main points of each article or report, along with the author, title, year and publisher details. That way, you’ll have a record of the key ideas and where they came from.

Step 2: Identify Key Ideas and Create a Thesis Statement

Once you’ve gathered info on your topic, the next step is determining the main points and arguments you want to put forward in your research paper. From this, create a clear and concise  thesis statement  summarizing your paper’s main point.

For Example:  If you are researching the impact of social media on mental health, you might have found that social media has both positive and negative effects. Your thesis statement could be: “While social media can have positive effects on mental health, its negative impact on mental health is a growing concern that needs to be addressed.” This statement conveys your main argument and sets the tone for the rest of the paper.

Step 3: Organize Your Ideas

Think about your thesis statement, and then group similar ideas to create an argument. Structure your ideas in a way that flows logically, and create subtopics that back up your main point. Put everything together in an orderly way.

For Example : You could break down the impact of social media on mental health into two groups: the good and bad. For each one, provide evidence and reasons to back it up.

Step 4: Create an Outline Structure

With your ideas organized, create a structure for your outline. Start with an introduction  that provides background information and states your thesis statement. Then, create a separate section for each subtopic, including supporting evidence and arguments. Finally, conclude with a summary of your findings.

Step 5: Review and Revise Your Outline

Look over your outline and ensure it’s thorough, well-structured, and helps prove your thesis. Tweak anything that needs to be changed to strengthen your argument and ensure your paper is straightforward and powerful.

Example:  You can review your outline and ensure it flows logically, includes enough supporting evidence, and addresses potential counterarguments.

Example of a Research Paper Outline 

Suppose you want to write a research paper on the effects of social media on our mental health. Here’s what your outline must look like: 

I) Introduction

  • Background information on social media and its prevalence in society
  • Research question: What is the impact of social media on mental health?
  • Thesis statement: While social media can have positive effects on mental health, its negative impact on mental health is a growing concern that needs to be addressed.

II) Literature Review

  • Overview of previous research on social media and mental health
  • Discussion of key findings, such as social media’s negative impact on self-esteem and its correlation with depression and anxiety
  • Identifying gaps in the literature, such as the need for more research on the relationship between social media use and specific mental health disorders.

III) Methods

  • Description of research design, such as a survey or experiment
  • Explanation of data collection methods, such as online surveys or interviews
  • Discussion of data analysis techniques, such as statistical analysis or content analysis.

IV) Results

  • Presentation of key findings, such as the percentage of respondents who reported negative mental health outcomes related to social media use
  • Analysis of results, such as the correlation between social media use and negative mental health outcomes
  • Discussion of results in relation to the research question, such as how the findings support or refute the thesis statement.

V) Discussion

  • Interpretation of results, such as the significance of the findings for mental health and social media use
  • Comparison of findings to previous research, such as how the current study’s results align with or differ from previous studies
  • Discuss limitations and implications for future research, such as the need for longitudinal studies to examine the long-term effects of social media use on mental health.

VI) Conclusion

  • Recap of key findings and their implications, such as the need for further research and public education on the impact of social media on mental health
  • Significance of research, such as the contribution to the understanding of the relationship between social media use and mental health
  • Suggestions for future research, such as examining the role of social media use on specific mental health disorders.

VII) References

List of sources cited in the research paper, such as academic articles and books on social media and mental health.

Different Types of Research Paper Outlines

Outlines for research papers can be categorized into various levels of detail, from one to four. Level one outlines list the main section titles or topics, while level four outlines provide more detailed breakdowns of each paragraph and sentence.

There are three different ways to set up an outline for a research paper – alphanumeric, full sentence, and decimal. We’ll detail each of these formats and give examples of how they look in an outline.

Alphanumeric outline 

This outline uses a mix of Roman numerals, letters and numbers to sort out ideas and data.

For example:


  • Background information
  • Thesis statement

Main idea 1

– Supporting detail 1

– Supporting detail 2

Main idea 2

III. Conclusion

  • Summary of main points
  • Restate thesis

Decimal outline 

This type of outline uses decimals to organize ideas and information. For example:

1.1 Background information

1.2 Thesis statement

1.1 Supporting detail

1.2 Supporting detail

2.1 Supporting detail

2.2 Supporting detail

3.1 Summary of main points

3.2 Restate thesis

Full-sentence outline

This outline uses full sentences to put across ideas and info. For example: 

  • Background information: social media is a prevalent aspect of modern society, with numerous implications for the mental health of its users.
  • Positive effects of social media on mental health: Social support and sense of community

Supporting detail:  Studies have shown that social media can provide a sense of belonging and support for individuals who may feel isolated.

  • Negative effects of social media on mental health: Anxiety and depression

Supporting detail:  Research has also shown that social media use can contribute to feelings of anxiety and depression in some individuals.

  • Summary of main points: Social media has positive and negative effects on mental health.
  • Restate thesis: Addressing the negative impact of social media on mental health is crucial for promoting overall well-being.

These are just a few examples of the different types of research paper outlines. It’s important to choose the type that works best for you and your research project.

Advantages of Creating a Research Paper Outline

Helps in the organization of your research paper.

Creating an outline for your research paper is a great way to organize your thoughts and ideas. It gives you a structure to follow and makes it easier to assemble a well-supported argument. Breaking down your paper into sections and subsections allows you to see how each piece of information fits into the bigger picture and contributes to your argument.

Improves Your Efficiency

An outline helps you avoid repeating yourself and keeps your paper on track. It also makes prioritizing the most important points easier and saves time by focusing on what matters most.

Saves Your Time

Outlining before you start writing your paper can save you much time. Planning out your paper in advance helps you stay focused and on track during the writing process, which means you’ll be able to write faster and more effectively. You’ll have a plan to follow and won’t be stuck or side-tracked.

Helps in Identifying Gaps

Outlining your research paper can help spot any potential weaknesses or gaps in your argument. This way, you can fill in any missing gaps before you start writing, which can make your paper much stronger. It’s a great way to ensure your research and arguments are as solid as possible.

Helps with Transitions

Having an outline can help you keep track of the different sections of your paper and ensure they all fit together nicely. It can help you create a logical flow between paragraphs and sections, making it easier for readers to understand how your points connect. Additionally, it can help you identify any areas that need extra transitions or explanations to help readers understand the links between your ideas.

Creating a great research paper outline is important to ensure that your paper is a success. With the right techniques and approach, you can make one that will help you stay focused and get your message across clearly and effectively. That’s what this article was all about, and we hope it was really helpful. Still, if you need help creating one, let  our writers  know, who are always available to handle your academic tasks.

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How to Write a Research Paper Outline: Detailed Guide

research paper outline person

In the vast landscape of academia, where ideas are the currency and knowledge the battleground, crafting a research paper isn't just a scholarly exercise—it's a narrative expedition. As you embark on this intellectual journey, consider this intriguing fact: did you know that Sir Isaac Newton's groundbreaking work, 'Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica,' which revolutionized our understanding of physics, was outlined meticulously before the ink touched the parchment? Much like Newton's meticulous planning, the success of your piece hinges on the blueprint you create—the outline.

In this guide, our research paper help will explore not only the conventional methods but also the avant-garde tips and examples for crafting an outline for a research paper that transforms your ideas into a compelling narrative, paving the way for academic excellence.

What is Research Paper Outline?

A research paper outline is essentially a systematic framework that streamlines the structure of your academic document. It's more than just a preliminary step; it's a practical tool designed to enhance the coherence and organization of your ideas. This skeletal structure acts as a guide, ensuring your paper unfolds logically, and your arguments build upon each other. Besides providing clarity for the writer, a well-crafted outline of a research paper also serves as a roadmap for your readers, helping them navigate through the complexities of your study. In essence, when we explore what is a research paper , it's crucial to recognize the outline as the strategic plan—the blueprint—highlighting key elements like the introduction, thesis statement, supporting evidence, and conclusion.

what is research paper outline

It's important to integrate several critical elements essential for the paper's effectiveness and coherence. The role of these components is significant in shaping your research and demands thorough attention during the initial stages of your work. In the sections that follow, we'll delve into the crucial components of an outline for your research paper and share insights to elevate your outlining process for a more robust and effective piece.

Title/Cover Page

It is the opening section to introduce the major details. The length of the recommended title is 60 characters. On the whole, do not miss this information on the title page:

  • Your full name
  • Professor’s name
  • Peers who took part in the investigation (if any)
  • Submission date

A summary is an integral part of the research paper. In college, they call it an abstract. The length of such text should not exceed 250-300 words (1/3 of an A4 page), and a student should include the basic findings, their significance, and a brief conclusion.


Experts recommend painstaking the entire research into the investigation’s background. Try to explain why the chosen problem is necessary to analyze and discuss. Mention the results you expected to obtain during the working process and state a hypothesis that should enclose the introduction (it would be the thesis). Also, don’t forget to mention the thesis statement or the topic of your research.


List the tools, equipment, & techniques used to carry out a study. This section should make it possible to replicate the investigation step-by-step. The goal of the section is to allow other scientists interested in the same research question to continue the investigation.

Results & Discussion (R&D)

In most cases, master cheap research paper writers combine results and discussion in one huge section. They are interrelated. Start with sharing the findings of the study. Go on interpreting the meaning of the results for the society and provide a short synopsis of the main components: figures and statistical examinations. While adding any visual elements for understanding (graphs, images, etc.), place the numbers next to each of them to provide details in the last section — Appendix.

In the Conclusion part, it is necessary to include:

  • A summary of the results
  • Paraphrased thesis statement
  • Value of the research paper
  • Ways to implement the findings
  • Some forecasts

Explore our article on writing a conclusion for a research paper to master the art of effectively summarizing and concluding your work.

Based on the chosen paper format, develop a full list of references. Each time you cite something, write the source’s details on a separate piece of paper. It will speed up the process in the end.

Structure of a Research Paper Outline

Crafting an effective academic piece is not just about having great ideas; it's about presenting them in a clear and organized manner. The structure of your research paper outline plays a pivotal role in achieving this goal. In this section, we'll explore three popular formats, each offering a unique approach to organizing your thoughts and arguments.

Alphanumeric research paper outline

The alphanumeric outline follows a hierarchical structure, using a combination of numbers and letters to denote different levels of information. For example:

I. Introduction

  • A. Background
  • B. Thesis statement
  • A. Main point 1
  • Supporting detail
  • B. Main point 2
  • III. Conclusion

Full-sentence research paper outline

This format requires complete sentences for each section and subsection. It provides a detailed preview of the content within each part of the outline. Example:

  • A. Provide background information.
  • B. Clearly state the thesis.
  • A. Present the first main point with supporting details.
  • B. Explore the second main point.

Decimal research paper outline

The decimal outline employs a numerical system, using decimals to indicate the hierarchy of information. Each level is a subcategory of the preceding level. For instance:

1.0 Introduction

  • 1.1 Background
  • 1.2 Thesis statement
  • 2.1 Main point 1
  • 2.1.1 Supporting detail
  • 2.1.2 Supporting detail
  • 2.2 Main point 2

3.0 Conclusion


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Research Paper Outline Formats: MLA and APA

Mla research paper outline.

The Modern Language Association (MLA) research paper format provides a standardized approach to documenting and formatting academic writing. Creating an MLA research paper outline is an essential step in organizing your thoughts and ensuring a cohesive structure for your scholarly work. Here's an in-depth guide to crafting an MLA outline:

MLA Research Paper Outline by EssayPro

  • A. Background information
  • C. Purpose of the study
  • A. First Main Point
  • Supporting detail or evidence
  • a. Sub-detail
  • b. Sub-detail
  • B. Second Main Point
  • C. Third Main Point (if applicable)

III. Counterargument (if applicable)

  • A. Acknowledge opposing views
  • B. Refute or address counterarguments

IV. Conclusion

  • A. Summarize main points
  • B. Restate thesis
  • C. Implications for future research

V. Works Cited

  • A. List of sources cited in the paper
  • Book citations
  • Journal article citations
  • Other relevant sources

Formatting Tips:

  • Ensure your research paper outline is double-spaced.
  • Use a legible 12-point font, such as Times New Roman.
  • Apply consistent formatting throughout the document, including indents and headings.
  • Follow MLA guidelines for citing sources both in the outline and the final paper.

Key Considerations:

  • Tailor your research paper outline to the specific requirements of your work.
  • Be concise and clear in writing your outline sections.
  • Consider including any necessary background information to provide context when you write an outline for a research.
  • Ensure that each main point and supporting detail aligns with the central thesis.

Need more info? Check our full guide - HOW TO CITE A RESEARCH PAPER USING MLA FORMAT .

APA Research Paper Outline

The American Psychological Association (APA) style is widely used in the social sciences, and creating an APA format research paper outline is crucial for maintaining a standardized structure. Here's a comprehensive guide to crafting an APA outline template for research paper.

 Template for Building an Outline in APA, from EssayPro

I. Title Page

  • A. Title of the research paper
  • B. Author's name
  • C. Institutional affiliation
  • D. Running head and page number (top right corner)

II. Abstract

  • A. Brief summary of the research paper
  • B. Keywords (optional)

III. Introduction

IV. Literature Review

  • A. Overview of relevant literature
  • B. Identification of gaps in existing research
  • C. Theoretical framework (if applicable)

V. Methodology

  • A. Participants
  • B. Procedure
  • C. Materials
  • D. Data analysis

VI. Results

  • A. Presentation of research findings
  • B. Use of tables and figures (if applicable)

VII. Discussion

  • A. Interpretation of results
  • B. Implications of the findings
  • C. Limitations and suggestions for future research

VIII. Conclusion

  • C. Practical applications or recommendations

IX. References

  • Use a 12-point, Times New Roman font.
  • Set 1-inch margins on all sides.
  • Double-space the entire document.
  • Create a running head in the header section.
  • Use transitions between sections for smooth reader navigation.
  • Integrate sources seamlessly, labeling each for reader guidance.
  • Seek feedback to refine the clarity and effectiveness of your APA outline for research paper.
  • Strategically employ APA heading levels for hierarchical organization.

By adhering to these guidelines, you'll master how to cite a research paper and ensure a standardized and professional presentation of your work in the social sciences. This meticulous approach not only enhances the clarity of your writing but also showcases your commitment to academic standards.

Goals and Benefits of a Research Paper Outline

Starting your paper without a roadmap is akin to setting sail without a compass—directionless and prone to drift. Crafting a well-structured research paper outline serves as a strategic tool with distinct goals and manifold benefits, transforming the daunting task of research writing into a purposeful journey.

research paper outline

Clarity in Purpose:

  • A well-crafted outline for a research paper establishes the groundwork for your study by clearly defining its purpose. It forces you to distill the essence of your research, ensuring that every section contributes meaningfully to the overarching goals of your paper.

Streamlined Organization:

  • One of the primary goals of an outline is to streamline the organization of your ideas. By delineating the key components—introduction, main points, evidence, and conclusion—it provides a systematic structure that prevents your paper from becoming a chaotic jumble of thoughts.

Enhanced Focus and Efficiency:

  • When you write an outline for a research paper, it acts as a focal point, directing your attention to the core objectives of your study. It serves as a roadmap, guiding you through each section with precision and efficiency, eliminating the risk of veering off course into tangential or irrelevant details.

Seamless Transitions:

  • Achieving a seamless flow from one section to another is a distinctive benefit of a well-crafted outline. It allows for the strategic placement of transitions, ensuring that your ideas connect coherently and enabling readers to follow your argument with ease.

Time Management and Planning:

  • Crafting an outline isn’t just a preparatory step; it's a time-management strategy. It compels you to allocate time effectively to each section, preventing procrastination and facilitating a more structured and manageable writing process.

Revision and Refinement:

  • The iterative nature of outlining allows for continuous revision and refinement. It enables you to assess the coherence of your research paper topics , identify gaps in logic, and refine your arguments before delving into the full paper, saving time and effort in the long run.

Thesis Alignment:

  • Perhaps most crucially, an outline ensures that every main point and supporting detail aligns harmoniously with the central thesis. This alignment not only strengthens the overall argument but also reinforces the thesis as the guiding force behind your research.

Research Paper Outline Example

Also, check the free research paper outline template example: Developing an Attention-Grabbing Resume! The example is written according to APA writing style guidelines - the rules of the game may be different for other formats.

Things to Remember

  • An outline is like an action plan which guides you through the writing process.
  • You need to write an outline if your research paper is more than 1000 words in length.
  • Basically, the outline contains three main sections: the Introduction, the Body, and the Conclusion.
  • The outline format depends on the type of academic assignment (MLA, APA), adapting to the specific guidelines relevant to all the ideas you'll present.
  • Before developing a research paper outline, read the latest version of the manual according to the chosen format of the research paper.

To gain a deeper understanding of the initial stages of academic writing, delve into our article exploring how to start a research paper , providing you with essential steps and methodologies.


For those moments when you're unsure how to outline a research paper, and it feels like an unsolved maze, let our paper writing service be your academic GPS!

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How to Write a Research Paper Outline with Examples

research paper outline person

You sometimes have to submit an essay outline or a research proposal checklist for a research project before you do most of the actual research to show that you have understood the assignment, defined a good research question or hypothesis, and contemplated the structure of your research paper. You can find various templates and examples for such outlines, which usually begin with “put your thesis statement/research question at the top” and then ask you to decide whether to add your supporting ideas/points in “alphanumeric,” “decimal,” or “full-sentence” style. 

That is certainly one useful (if not overly formalized) way of using outlining to prepare to draft an academic text. But here we want to talk about how to make an outline after you have done a research project or thesis work and are not quite sure how to put everything together into a written thesis to hand in or a research paper manuscript to submit to a journal.

What is a research paper outline?

Creating a research project outline entails more than just listing bullet points (although you can use bullet points and lists in your outline). It includes how to organize everything you have done and thought about and want to say about your work into a clear structure you can use as the basis for your research paper. 

There are two different methods of creating an outline: let’s call these “abstract style” and “paper style.” These names reflect how briefly you summarize your work at this initial point, or show how extensive and complicated the methods and designs you used and the data you collected are. The type of outline you use also depends on how clear the story you want to tell is and how much organizing and structuring of information you still need to do before you can draft your actual paper. 

research paper outline, scaffolding image

Table of Contents:

  • Abstract-Style Outline Format
  • Paper-Style Outline Format

Additional Tips for Outlining a Research Paper in English

Abstract-style research paper outline format.

A research paper outline in abstract style consists, like the abstract of a research paper , of short answers to the essential questions that anyone trying to understand your work would ask.

  • Why did you decide to do what you did?
  • What exactly did you do?
  • How did you do it?
  • What did you find?
  • What does it mean?
  • What should you/we/someone else do now?

These questions form the structure of not only a typical research paper abstract but also a typical article manuscript. They will eventually be omitted and replaced by the usual headers, such as Introduction/Background, Aim, Methods, Results, Discussion, Conclusions, etc. Answering these key questions for yourself first (with keywords or short sentences) and then sticking to the same structure and information when drafting your article will ensure that your story is consistent and that there are no logical gaps or contradictions between the different sections of a research paper . 

If you draft this abstract outline carefully, you can use it as the basis for every other part of your paper. You reduce it even more, down to the absolute essential elements, to create your manuscript title ; you choose your keywords on the basis of the summary presented here; and you expand it into the introduction , methods , results , and discussion sections of your paper without contradicting yourself or losing the logical thread. 

Research Paper Outline Example (Abstract style)

Let’s say you did a research project on the effect of university online classes on attendance rates and create a simple outline example using these six questions:

1. Why did you decide to do what you did?

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, many university courses around the world have been moved online, at least temporarily. Since students have been saving time on commuting, I wondered if attendance rates have increased overall.

2. What exactly did you do?

I compared attendance scores for courses that were taught both before (offline) and during (online) the COVID-19 pandemic at my university.

3. How did you do it?

I selected five popular subjects (business, law, medicine, psychology, art & design) and one general course per subject; then I contacted the professors in charge and asked them to provide me with anonymized attendance scores.

4. What did you find?

Attendance did not significantly change for medicine and law, but slightly dropped for the other three subjects. I found no difference between male and female students.  

5. What does it mean?

Even though students saved time on traveling between their homes and the campus during the COVID-19 pandemic, they did not attend classes more consistently; in some subjects, they missed more classes than before.

6. What should you/we/someone else do now?

Since I do not have any other information about the students, I can only speculate on potential explanations. Next, I will put together a questionnaire to assess how students have been coping with online classes and how the experiences from this time can benefit university teaching and learning in general.

Note that you could have made the same outline using just keywords instead of full sentences. You could also have added more methodological details or the results of your statistical analysis. However, when you can break everything down to the absolute essentials like this, you will have a good foundation upon which to develop a full paper. 

However, maybe your study just seems too complicated. So you look at these questions and then at your notes and data and have no idea how to come up with such simple answers. Or maybe things went in a completely different direction since you started writing your paper, so now you are no longer sure what the main point of your experiments was and what the main conclusion should be. If that is how you feel right now, then outlining your paper in “paper style” might be the right method for you.

Paper-Style Research Paper Outline Format 

The purpose of a paper-style outline is the same as that of an abstract-style outline: You want to organize your initial thoughts and plans, the methods and tools you used, all the experiments you conducted, the data you collected and analyzed, as well as your results, into a clear structure so that you can identify the main storyline for your paper and the main conclusions that you want the reader to take from it. 

First, take as much space as you need and simply jot down everything in your study you planned to do, everything you did, and everything you thought about based on your notes, lab book, and earlier literature you read or used. Such an outline can contain all your initial ideas, the timeline of all your pilots and all your experiments, the reasons why you changed direction or designed new experiments halfway through your study, all the analyses you ever did, all the feedback and criticism you already got from supervisors and seniors or during conference presentations, and all the ideas you have for future work. If this is your thesis or your first publication, then your first outline might look quite messy – and that is exactly why you need to structure your paper before trying to write everything up. 

So you have finally remembered all you have done in your study and have written everything down. The next step is to realize that you cannot throw all of this at the reader and expect them to put it together. You will have to create a story that is clear and consistent, contains all the essential information (and leaves out any that is not), and leads the reader the same way the abstract outline does, from why over what and how to what you found and what it all means . 

This does not mean you should suppress results that did not come out as intended or try to make your study look smoother. But the reader does not really need to know all the details about why you changed your research question after your initial literature search or some failed pilots. Instead of writing down the simple questions we used for the abstract outline, to organize your still messy notes, write down the main sections of the manuscript you are trying to put together. Additionally, include what kinds of information needs to go where in your paper’s structure.

1. Introduction Section:  

What field is your research part of?

What other papers did you read before deciding on your topic?

Who is your target audience and how much information do your readers need to understand where you are coming from? 

Can you summarize what you did in two sentences?

Did you have a clear hypothesis? If not, what were the potential outcomes of your work?

2. Methods Section: 

List all the methods, questionnaires, and tests you used.

Are your methods all standard in the field or do you need to explain them?

List everything chronologically or according to topics, whatever makes more sense. Read more about writing the Methods section if you need help with this important decision.

3. Results Section: 

Use the same timeline or topics you introduced in the method section.

Make sure you answer all the questions you raised in the introduction.

Use tables, graphs, and other visualizations to guide the reader.

Don’t present results of tests/analyses that you did not mention in the methods.

4. Discussion/Conclusion Section: 

Summarize quickly what you did and found but don’t repeat your results.

Explain whether your findings were to be expected, are new and surprising, are in line with the existing literature, or are contradicting some earlier work. 

Do you think your findings can be generalized? Can they be useful for people in certain professions or other fields?  

Does your study have limitations? What would you do differently next time? 

What future research do you think should be done based on your findings?

5. Conclusion Statement/Paragraph: 

This is your take-home message for the reader. Make sure that your conclusion is directly related to your initial research question.

Now you can simply reorganize your notes (if you use computer software) or fill in the different sections and cross out information on your original list. When you have used all your jotted notes, go through your new outline and check what is still missing. Now check once more that your conclusion is related to your initial research question. If that is the case, you are good to go. You can now either break your outline down further and shorten it into an abstract, or you can expand the different outline sections into a full article.

If you are a non-native speaker of English, then you might take notes in your mother language or maybe in different languages, read literature in your mother language, and generally not think in English while doing your research. If your goal is to write your thesis or paper in English, however, then our advice is to only use your mother language when listing keywords at the very beginning of the outlining process (if at all). As soon as you write down full sentences that you want to go into your paper eventually, you can save yourself a lot of work, avoid mistakes later in the process, and train your brain (which will help you immensely the next time you write an academic text), if you stick to English.

Another thing to keep in mind is that starting to write in full sentences too early in the process means that you might need to omit some passages (maybe even entire paragraphs) when you later decide to change the structure or storyline of your paper. Depending on how much you enjoy (or hate) writing in English and how much effort it costs you, having to throw away a perfectly fine paragraph that you invested a lot of time in can be incredibly frustrating. Our advice is therefore to not spend too much time on writing and to not get too attached to exact wording before you have a solid outline that you then only need to fill in and expand into a full paper.

Once you have finished drafting your paper, consider using professional proofreading and English editing service to revise your paper and prepare it for submission to journals. Wordvice offers a paper editing service , manuscript editing service , dissertation editing service , and thesis editing service to polish and edit your research work and correct any errors in style or formatting.

And while you draft your article, make use of Wordvice AI, a free AI essay editor that identifies and fixes errors in punctuation, spelling, and grammar in any academic document. 

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Have you ever felt overwhelmed by research, not knowing how to start or structure your thoughts effectively?

You're not alone in facing this problem. The challenge of disorganized research is something many students deal with. But don't worry! 

In this blog, we'll not only tell you how to create your research paper outline, but we’ve included some downloadable templates as well.

We'll provide a practical step-by-step solution for organizing your research material so you end with a well-structured research paper. By the end of the blog, you'll understand why outlines matter and how to create compelling research papers.

So, keep reading to learn more!

Arrow Down

  • 1. What is a Research Paper Outline?
  • 2. Different Research Paper Outline Formats
  • 3. Steps to Create a Research Paper Outline
  • 4. Research Paper Outline Example

What is a Research Paper Outline?

A research paper outline serves as a systematic framework for your paper. It's a structured strategy that assists in the organization of your thoughts and ideas before the writing process begins. 

The outline structures out the main sections, subtopics, and supporting details in your research paper. In essence, it offers a well-structured and coherent roadmap for the entirety of your paper, maintaining academic rigor and clarity.

Different Research Paper Outline Formats

When it comes to creating a research paper outline, you've got options. Let's explore a few different formats that you can choose from:

Numeric Outline

A numeric outline is a structured organizational format for planning a research paper. 

It uses a numerical system to represent the hierarchy of ideas, with each main section or point numbered and subpoints or details indicated by decimal numbers. Numeric outlines are useful for presenting information in a clear and logical sequence.

Here’s a sample research paper outline template for this format:

Alphanumeric Outline

An alphanumeric outline is a hierarchical structure used to outline a research paper, combining numbers and letters to signify the different levels of information. 

Main sections are designated with capital letters (A, B, C), which include major points, while subpoints are indicated by numbers and lowercase letters (1, 2, a, b). Alphanumeric outlines help writers organize complex topics and subtopics effectively.

Here’s a sample sample research paper outline for this format:

Full Sentence Outline

A full-sentence outline is a method of planning a research paper in which each point in the outline is presented as a complete sentence or phrase. 

It provides a detailed overview of the content and structure of the paper. Full-sentence outlines are particularly helpful for writers who prefer thorough planning and want to capture the essence of each section or point.

Here’s a research paper outline format for full sentences:

Steps to Create a Research Paper Outline

Creating a research paper outline doesn't have to be complicated. Follow these simple steps to get started:

Step 1: Choose Your Research Topic

Begin by selecting a research topic that is both interesting to you and relevant to your assignment or academic objectives. Your chosen topic will serve as the foundation for your entire research paper.

Step 2: Identify Your Main Sections

Determine the main sections or chapters your research paper will include. These are the broad thematic areas that will structure your paper, and they provide a high-level overview of the topics you plan to cover. Here are the main sections a typical research paper involves:

  • Title Page: This is the first page and includes the paper's title, author's name, institutional affiliation, and often the running head.
  • Abstract : A concise summary of the paper, usually around 150-250 words, providing an overview of the research, its key findings, and implications.
  • Introduction: Sets the stage for your research, offering background information and a thesis statement , which is a central argument or hypothesis.
  • Literature Review : A comprehensive analysis of existing research and literature on your topic, demonstrating your understanding of the subject.
  • Methodology: Explain the research methods, data collection techniques, and analytical tools used in your study.
  • Findings: Presents the research results in a structured manner, often including data, tables, or charts.
  • Discussion: Interpretation of the findings and their implications, offering insights into the research's significance.
  • Conclusion: Summarizes the main points, reiterates the thesis, and discusses potential future research directions.
  • References: A list of all sources cited in your paper, following a specific citation style (e.g., APA, MLA).

Step 3: Break It Down into Subtopics

Under each main section, further divide your content into smaller subtopics. Subtopics are like the building blocks of your paper; they represent the key points or ideas you intend to explore within each main section.

Step 4: Add Supporting Details

For each subtopic, include supporting details, facts, examples, or arguments that bolster your point. These supporting details form the substance of your paper and provide evidence for your claims or arguments.

Step 5: Organize Your Points

Organize your main sections, subtopics, and supporting details in a logical order that flows smoothly from one point to the next. This step ensures that your research paper maintains coherence and readability.

Step 6: Use Numbers or Letters

To enhance clarity within your outline, use numbering, a lettering system, or Roman numerals. Use numerical sequencing for main sections (e.g., "1.," "2.," "3.") and a combination of numbers and letters for subtopics (e.g., "1.1," "1.2," "2.1").

Step 7: Stay Flexible

Recognize that your outline is not set in stone. As you conduct research and begin writing, your ideas may evolve, and you may discover the need to adjust your outline accordingly. Embrace this flexibility to adapt to new insights and information.

By following these steps, you'll create a well-structured research paper outline that serves as a roadmap for your writing journey. It keeps your research organized and makes writing easier, resulting in a more effective paper.

Research Paper Outline Example

A research paper outline could be created in several different ways. Here is a sample research paper outline for a quick review:

Here are some more examples for different formats and subjects:

APA Research Paper Outline PDF

College Research Paper Outline

Argumentative Research Paper Outline

Sample Research Paper Outline

History Research Paper Outline

Research Paper Outline MLA

Research Paper Outline with Annotated Bibliography

Need to consult more examples? Have a look at these top-quality research paper examples and get inspiration!

In conclusion, with the help of these example templates and our step-by-step guide on creating an outline, you're now well-prepared to create an effective one. 

If you're in a hurry and want to skip the outlining process, our essay writing service is here to help!

You can get our team of expert essay writers to assist you at any stage of your research or to deliver a well-formatted, accurate research paper. 

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How to Write a Research Paper | A Beginner's Guide

A research paper is a piece of academic writing that provides analysis, interpretation, and argument based on in-depth independent research.

Research papers are similar to academic essays , but they are usually longer and more detailed assignments, designed to assess not only your writing skills but also your skills in scholarly research. Writing a research paper requires you to demonstrate a strong knowledge of your topic, engage with a variety of sources, and make an original contribution to the debate.

This step-by-step guide takes you through the entire writing process, from understanding your assignment to proofreading your final draft.

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Table of contents

Understand the assignment, choose a research paper topic, conduct preliminary research, develop a thesis statement, create a research paper outline, write a first draft of the research paper, write the introduction, write a compelling body of text, write the conclusion, the second draft, the revision process, research paper checklist, free lecture slides.

Completing a research paper successfully means accomplishing the specific tasks set out for you. Before you start, make sure you thoroughly understanding the assignment task sheet:

  • Read it carefully, looking for anything confusing you might need to clarify with your professor.
  • Identify the assignment goal, deadline, length specifications, formatting, and submission method.
  • Make a bulleted list of the key points, then go back and cross completed items off as you’re writing.

Carefully consider your timeframe and word limit: be realistic, and plan enough time to research, write, and edit.

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research paper outline person

There are many ways to generate an idea for a research paper, from brainstorming with pen and paper to talking it through with a fellow student or professor.

You can try free writing, which involves taking a broad topic and writing continuously for two or three minutes to identify absolutely anything relevant that could be interesting.

You can also gain inspiration from other research. The discussion or recommendations sections of research papers often include ideas for other specific topics that require further examination.

Once you have a broad subject area, narrow it down to choose a topic that interests you, m eets the criteria of your assignment, and i s possible to research. Aim for ideas that are both original and specific:

  • A paper following the chronology of World War II would not be original or specific enough.
  • A paper on the experience of Danish citizens living close to the German border during World War II would be specific and could be original enough.

Note any discussions that seem important to the topic, and try to find an issue that you can focus your paper around. Use a variety of sources , including journals, books, and reliable websites, to ensure you do not miss anything glaring.

Do not only verify the ideas you have in mind, but look for sources that contradict your point of view.

  • Is there anything people seem to overlook in the sources you research?
  • Are there any heated debates you can address?
  • Do you have a unique take on your topic?
  • Have there been some recent developments that build on the extant research?

In this stage, you might find it helpful to formulate some research questions to help guide you. To write research questions, try to finish the following sentence: “I want to know how/what/why…”

A thesis statement is a statement of your central argument — it establishes the purpose and position of your paper. If you started with a research question, the thesis statement should answer it. It should also show what evidence and reasoning you’ll use to support that answer.

The thesis statement should be concise, contentious, and coherent. That means it should briefly summarize your argument in a sentence or two, make a claim that requires further evidence or analysis, and make a coherent point that relates to every part of the paper.

You will probably revise and refine the thesis statement as you do more research, but it can serve as a guide throughout the writing process. Every paragraph should aim to support and develop this central claim.

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A research paper outline is essentially a list of the key topics, arguments, and evidence you want to include, divided into sections with headings so that you know roughly what the paper will look like before you start writing.

A structure outline can help make the writing process much more efficient, so it’s worth dedicating some time to create one.

Your first draft won’t be perfect — you can polish later on. Your priorities at this stage are as follows:

  • Maintaining forward momentum — write now, perfect later.
  • Paying attention to clear organization and logical ordering of paragraphs and sentences, which will help when you come to the second draft.
  • Expressing your ideas as clearly as possible, so you know what you were trying to say when you come back to the text.

You do not need to start by writing the introduction. Begin where it feels most natural for you — some prefer to finish the most difficult sections first, while others choose to start with the easiest part. If you created an outline, use it as a map while you work.

Do not delete large sections of text. If you begin to dislike something you have written or find it doesn’t quite fit, move it to a different document, but don’t lose it completely — you never know if it might come in useful later.

Paragraph structure

Paragraphs are the basic building blocks of research papers. Each one should focus on a single claim or idea that helps to establish the overall argument or purpose of the paper.

Example paragraph

George Orwell’s 1946 essay “Politics and the English Language” has had an enduring impact on thought about the relationship between politics and language. This impact is particularly obvious in light of the various critical review articles that have recently referenced the essay. For example, consider Mark Falcoff’s 2009 article in The National Review Online, “The Perversion of Language; or, Orwell Revisited,” in which he analyzes several common words (“activist,” “civil-rights leader,” “diversity,” and more). Falcoff’s close analysis of the ambiguity built into political language intentionally mirrors Orwell’s own point-by-point analysis of the political language of his day. Even 63 years after its publication, Orwell’s essay is emulated by contemporary thinkers.

Citing sources

It’s also important to keep track of citations at this stage to avoid accidental plagiarism . Each time you use a source, make sure to take note of where the information came from.

You can use our free citation generators to automatically create citations and save your reference list as you go.

APA Citation Generator MLA Citation Generator

The research paper introduction should address three questions: What, why, and how? After finishing the introduction, the reader should know what the paper is about, why it is worth reading, and how you’ll build your arguments.

What? Be specific about the topic of the paper, introduce the background, and define key terms or concepts.

Why? This is the most important, but also the most difficult, part of the introduction. Try to provide brief answers to the following questions: What new material or insight are you offering? What important issues does your essay help define or answer?

How? To let the reader know what to expect from the rest of the paper, the introduction should include a “map” of what will be discussed, briefly presenting the key elements of the paper in chronological order.

The major struggle faced by most writers is how to organize the information presented in the paper, which is one reason an outline is so useful. However, remember that the outline is only a guide and, when writing, you can be flexible with the order in which the information and arguments are presented.

One way to stay on track is to use your thesis statement and topic sentences . Check:

  • topic sentences against the thesis statement;
  • topic sentences against each other, for similarities and logical ordering;
  • and each sentence against the topic sentence of that paragraph.

Be aware of paragraphs that seem to cover the same things. If two paragraphs discuss something similar, they must approach that topic in different ways. Aim to create smooth transitions between sentences, paragraphs, and sections.

The research paper conclusion is designed to help your reader out of the paper’s argument, giving them a sense of finality.

Trace the course of the paper, emphasizing how it all comes together to prove your thesis statement. Give the paper a sense of finality by making sure the reader understands how you’ve settled the issues raised in the introduction.

You might also discuss the more general consequences of the argument, outline what the paper offers to future students of the topic, and suggest any questions the paper’s argument raises but cannot or does not try to answer.

You should not :

  • Offer new arguments or essential information
  • Take up any more space than necessary
  • Begin with stock phrases that signal you are ending the paper (e.g. “In conclusion”)

There are four main considerations when it comes to the second draft.

  • Check how your vision of the paper lines up with the first draft and, more importantly, that your paper still answers the assignment.
  • Identify any assumptions that might require (more substantial) justification, keeping your reader’s perspective foremost in mind. Remove these points if you cannot substantiate them further.
  • Be open to rearranging your ideas. Check whether any sections feel out of place and whether your ideas could be better organized.
  • If you find that old ideas do not fit as well as you anticipated, you should cut them out or condense them. You might also find that new and well-suited ideas occurred to you during the writing of the first draft — now is the time to make them part of the paper.

The goal during the revision and proofreading process is to ensure you have completed all the necessary tasks and that the paper is as well-articulated as possible. You can speed up the proofreading process by using the AI proofreader .

Global concerns

  • Confirm that your paper completes every task specified in your assignment sheet.
  • Check for logical organization and flow of paragraphs.
  • Check paragraphs against the introduction and thesis statement.

Fine-grained details

Check the content of each paragraph, making sure that:

  • each sentence helps support the topic sentence.
  • no unnecessary or irrelevant information is present.
  • all technical terms your audience might not know are identified.

Next, think about sentence structure , grammatical errors, and formatting . Check that you have correctly used transition words and phrases to show the connections between your ideas. Look for typos, cut unnecessary words, and check for consistency in aspects such as heading formatting and spellings .

Finally, you need to make sure your paper is correctly formatted according to the rules of the citation style you are using. For example, you might need to include an MLA heading  or create an APA title page .

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Checklist: Research paper

I have followed all instructions in the assignment sheet.

My introduction presents my topic in an engaging way and provides necessary background information.

My introduction presents a clear, focused research problem and/or thesis statement .

My paper is logically organized using paragraphs and (if relevant) section headings .

Each paragraph is clearly focused on one central idea, expressed in a clear topic sentence .

Each paragraph is relevant to my research problem or thesis statement.

I have used appropriate transitions  to clarify the connections between sections, paragraphs, and sentences.

My conclusion provides a concise answer to the research question or emphasizes how the thesis has been supported.

My conclusion shows how my research has contributed to knowledge or understanding of my topic.

My conclusion does not present any new points or information essential to my argument.

I have provided an in-text citation every time I refer to ideas or information from a source.

I have included a reference list at the end of my paper, consistently formatted according to a specific citation style .

I have thoroughly revised my paper and addressed any feedback from my professor or supervisor.

I have followed all formatting guidelines (page numbers, headers, spacing, etc.).

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How to write your first research paper.

Writing a research manuscript is an intimidating process for many novice writers in the sciences. One of the stumbling blocks is the beginning of the process and creating the first draft. This paper presents guidelines on how to initiate the writing process and draft each section of a research manuscript. The paper discusses seven rules that allow the writer to prepare a well-structured and comprehensive manuscript for a publication submission. In addition, the author lists different strategies for successful revision. Each of those strategies represents a step in the revision process and should help the writer improve the quality of the manuscript. The paper could be considered a brief manual for publication.

It is late at night. You have been struggling with your project for a year. You generated an enormous amount of interesting data. Your pipette feels like an extension of your hand, and running western blots has become part of your daily routine, similar to brushing your teeth. Your colleagues think you are ready to write a paper, and your lab mates tease you about your “slow” writing progress. Yet days pass, and you cannot force yourself to sit down to write. You have not written anything for a while (lab reports do not count), and you feel you have lost your stamina. How does the writing process work? How can you fit your writing into a daily schedule packed with experiments? What section should you start with? What distinguishes a good research paper from a bad one? How should you revise your paper? These and many other questions buzz in your head and keep you stressed. As a result, you procrastinate. In this paper, I will discuss the issues related to the writing process of a scientific paper. Specifically, I will focus on the best approaches to start a scientific paper, tips for writing each section, and the best revision strategies.

1. Schedule your writing time in Outlook

Whether you have written 100 papers or you are struggling with your first, starting the process is the most difficult part unless you have a rigid writing schedule. Writing is hard. It is a very difficult process of intense concentration and brain work. As stated in Hayes’ framework for the study of writing: “It is a generative activity requiring motivation, and it is an intellectual activity requiring cognitive processes and memory” [ 1 ]. In his book How to Write a Lot: A Practical Guide to Productive Academic Writing , Paul Silvia says that for some, “it’s easier to embalm the dead than to write an article about it” [ 2 ]. Just as with any type of hard work, you will not succeed unless you practice regularly. If you have not done physical exercises for a year, only regular workouts can get you into good shape again. The same kind of regular exercises, or I call them “writing sessions,” are required to be a productive author. Choose from 1- to 2-hour blocks in your daily work schedule and consider them as non-cancellable appointments. When figuring out which blocks of time will be set for writing, you should select the time that works best for this type of work. For many people, mornings are more productive. One Yale University graduate student spent a semester writing from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. when her lab was empty. At the end of the semester, she was amazed at how much she accomplished without even interrupting her regular lab hours. In addition, doing the hardest task first thing in the morning contributes to the sense of accomplishment during the rest of the day. This positive feeling spills over into our work and life and has a very positive effect on our overall attitude.

Rule 1: Create regular time blocks for writing as appointments in your calendar and keep these appointments.

2. start with an outline.

Now that you have scheduled time, you need to decide how to start writing. The best strategy is to start with an outline. This will not be an outline that you are used to, with Roman numerals for each section and neat parallel listing of topic sentences and supporting points. This outline will be similar to a template for your paper. Initially, the outline will form a structure for your paper; it will help generate ideas and formulate hypotheses. Following the advice of George M. Whitesides, “. . . start with a blank piece of paper, and write down, in any order, all important ideas that occur to you concerning the paper” [ 3 ]. Use Table 1 as a starting point for your outline. Include your visuals (figures, tables, formulas, equations, and algorithms), and list your findings. These will constitute the first level of your outline, which will eventually expand as you elaborate.

The next stage is to add context and structure. Here you will group all your ideas into sections: Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion/Conclusion ( Table 2 ). This step will help add coherence to your work and sift your ideas.

Now that you have expanded your outline, you are ready for the next step: discussing the ideas for your paper with your colleagues and mentor. Many universities have a writing center where graduate students can schedule individual consultations and receive assistance with their paper drafts. Getting feedback during early stages of your draft can save a lot of time. Talking through ideas allows people to conceptualize and organize thoughts to find their direction without wasting time on unnecessary writing. Outlining is the most effective way of communicating your ideas and exchanging thoughts. Moreover, it is also the best stage to decide to which publication you will submit the paper. Many people come up with three choices and discuss them with their mentors and colleagues. Having a list of journal priorities can help you quickly resubmit your paper if your paper is rejected.

Rule 2: Create a detailed outline and discuss it with your mentor and peers.

3. continue with drafts.

After you get enough feedback and decide on the journal you will submit to, the process of real writing begins. Copy your outline into a separate file and expand on each of the points, adding data and elaborating on the details. When you create the first draft, do not succumb to the temptation of editing. Do not slow down to choose a better word or better phrase; do not halt to improve your sentence structure. Pour your ideas into the paper and leave revision and editing for later. As Paul Silvia explains, “Revising while you generate text is like drinking decaffeinated coffee in the early morning: noble idea, wrong time” [ 2 ].

Many students complain that they are not productive writers because they experience writer’s block. Staring at an empty screen is frustrating, but your screen is not really empty: You have a template of your article, and all you need to do is fill in the blanks. Indeed, writer’s block is a logical fallacy for a scientist ― it is just an excuse to procrastinate. When scientists start writing a research paper, they already have their files with data, lab notes with materials and experimental designs, some visuals, and tables with results. All they need to do is scrutinize these pieces and put them together into a comprehensive paper.

3.1. Starting with Materials and Methods

If you still struggle with starting a paper, then write the Materials and Methods section first. Since you have all your notes, it should not be problematic for you to describe the experimental design and procedures. Your most important goal in this section is to be as explicit as possible by providing enough detail and references. In the end, the purpose of this section is to allow other researchers to evaluate and repeat your work. So do not run into the same problems as the writers of the sentences in (1):

1a. Bacteria were pelleted by centrifugation. 1b. To isolate T cells, lymph nodes were collected.

As you can see, crucial pieces of information are missing: the speed of centrifuging your bacteria, the time, and the temperature in (1a); the source of lymph nodes for collection in (b). The sentences can be improved when information is added, as in (2a) and (2b), respectfully:

2a. Bacteria were pelleted by centrifugation at 3000g for 15 min at 25°C. 2b. To isolate T cells, mediastinal and mesenteric lymph nodes from Balb/c mice were collected at day 7 after immunization with ovabumin.

If your method has previously been published and is well-known, then you should provide only the literature reference, as in (3a). If your method is unpublished, then you need to make sure you provide all essential details, as in (3b).

3a. Stem cells were isolated, according to Johnson [23]. 3b. Stem cells were isolated using biotinylated carbon nanotubes coated with anti-CD34 antibodies.

Furthermore, cohesion and fluency are crucial in this section. One of the malpractices resulting in disrupted fluency is switching from passive voice to active and vice versa within the same paragraph, as shown in (4). This switching misleads and distracts the reader.

4. Behavioral computer-based experiments of Study 1 were programmed by using E-Prime. We took ratings of enjoyment, mood, and arousal as the patients listened to preferred pleasant music and unpreferred music by using Visual Analogue Scales (SI Methods). The preferred and unpreferred status of the music was operationalized along a continuum of pleasantness [ 4 ].

The problem with (4) is that the reader has to switch from the point of view of the experiment (passive voice) to the point of view of the experimenter (active voice). This switch causes confusion about the performer of the actions in the first and the third sentences. To improve the coherence and fluency of the paragraph above, you should be consistent in choosing the point of view: first person “we” or passive voice [ 5 ]. Let’s consider two revised examples in (5).

5a. We programmed behavioral computer-based experiments of Study 1 by using E-Prime. We took ratings of enjoyment, mood, and arousal by using Visual Analogue Scales (SI Methods) as the patients listened to preferred pleasant music and unpreferred music. We operationalized the preferred and unpreferred status of the music along a continuum of pleasantness. 5b. Behavioral computer-based experiments of Study 1 were programmed by using E-Prime. Ratings of enjoyment, mood, and arousal were taken as the patients listened to preferred pleasant music and unpreferred music by using Visual Analogue Scales (SI Methods). The preferred and unpreferred status of the music was operationalized along a continuum of pleasantness.

If you choose the point of view of the experimenter, then you may end up with repetitive “we did this” sentences. For many readers, paragraphs with sentences all beginning with “we” may also sound disruptive. So if you choose active sentences, you need to keep the number of “we” subjects to a minimum and vary the beginnings of the sentences [ 6 ].

Interestingly, recent studies have reported that the Materials and Methods section is the only section in research papers in which passive voice predominantly overrides the use of the active voice [ 5 , 7 , 8 , 9 ]. For example, Martínez shows a significant drop in active voice use in the Methods sections based on the corpus of 1 million words of experimental full text research articles in the biological sciences [ 7 ]. According to the author, the active voice patterned with “we” is used only as a tool to reveal personal responsibility for the procedural decisions in designing and performing experimental work. This means that while all other sections of the research paper use active voice, passive voice is still the most predominant in Materials and Methods sections.

Writing Materials and Methods sections is a meticulous and time consuming task requiring extreme accuracy and clarity. This is why when you complete your draft, you should ask for as much feedback from your colleagues as possible. Numerous readers of this section will help you identify the missing links and improve the technical style of this section.

Rule 3: Be meticulous and accurate in describing the Materials and Methods. Do not change the point of view within one paragraph.

3.2. writing results section.

For many authors, writing the Results section is more intimidating than writing the Materials and Methods section . If people are interested in your paper, they are interested in your results. That is why it is vital to use all your writing skills to objectively present your key findings in an orderly and logical sequence using illustrative materials and text.

Your Results should be organized into different segments or subsections where each one presents the purpose of the experiment, your experimental approach, data including text and visuals (tables, figures, schematics, algorithms, and formulas), and data commentary. For most journals, your data commentary will include a meaningful summary of the data presented in the visuals and an explanation of the most significant findings. This data presentation should not repeat the data in the visuals, but rather highlight the most important points. In the “standard” research paper approach, your Results section should exclude data interpretation, leaving it for the Discussion section. However, interpretations gradually and secretly creep into research papers: “Reducing the data, generalizing from the data, and highlighting scientific cases are all highly interpretive processes. It should be clear by now that we do not let the data speak for themselves in research reports; in summarizing our results, we interpret them for the reader” [ 10 ]. As a result, many journals including the Journal of Experimental Medicine and the Journal of Clinical Investigation use joint Results/Discussion sections, where results are immediately followed by interpretations.

Another important aspect of this section is to create a comprehensive and supported argument or a well-researched case. This means that you should be selective in presenting data and choose only those experimental details that are essential for your reader to understand your findings. You might have conducted an experiment 20 times and collected numerous records, but this does not mean that you should present all those records in your paper. You need to distinguish your results from your data and be able to discard excessive experimental details that could distract and confuse the reader. However, creating a picture or an argument should not be confused with data manipulation or falsification, which is a willful distortion of data and results. If some of your findings contradict your ideas, you have to mention this and find a plausible explanation for the contradiction.

In addition, your text should not include irrelevant and peripheral information, including overview sentences, as in (6).

6. To show our results, we first introduce all components of experimental system and then describe the outcome of infections.

Indeed, wordiness convolutes your sentences and conceals your ideas from readers. One common source of wordiness is unnecessary intensifiers. Adverbial intensifiers such as “clearly,” “essential,” “quite,” “basically,” “rather,” “fairly,” “really,” and “virtually” not only add verbosity to your sentences, but also lower your results’ credibility. They appeal to the reader’s emotions but lower objectivity, as in the common examples in (7):

7a. Table 3 clearly shows that … 7b. It is obvious from figure 4 that …

Another source of wordiness is nominalizations, i.e., nouns derived from verbs and adjectives paired with weak verbs including “be,” “have,” “do,” “make,” “cause,” “provide,” and “get” and constructions such as “there is/are.”

8a. We tested the hypothesis that there is a disruption of membrane asymmetry. 8b. In this paper we provide an argument that stem cells repopulate injured organs.

In the sentences above, the abstract nominalizations “disruption” and “argument” do not contribute to the clarity of the sentences, but rather clutter them with useless vocabulary that distracts from the meaning. To improve your sentences, avoid unnecessary nominalizations and change passive verbs and constructions into active and direct sentences.

9a. We tested the hypothesis that the membrane asymmetry is disrupted. 9b. In this paper we argue that stem cells repopulate injured organs.

Your Results section is the heart of your paper, representing a year or more of your daily research. So lead your reader through your story by writing direct, concise, and clear sentences.

Rule 4: Be clear, concise, and objective in describing your Results.

3.3. now it is time for your introduction.

Now that you are almost half through drafting your research paper, it is time to update your outline. While describing your Methods and Results, many of you diverged from the original outline and re-focused your ideas. So before you move on to create your Introduction, re-read your Methods and Results sections and change your outline to match your research focus. The updated outline will help you review the general picture of your paper, the topic, the main idea, and the purpose, which are all important for writing your introduction.

The best way to structure your introduction is to follow the three-move approach shown in Table 3 .

Adapted from Swales and Feak [ 11 ].

The moves and information from your outline can help to create your Introduction efficiently and without missing steps. These moves are traffic signs that lead the reader through the road of your ideas. Each move plays an important role in your paper and should be presented with deep thought and care. When you establish the territory, you place your research in context and highlight the importance of your research topic. By finding the niche, you outline the scope of your research problem and enter the scientific dialogue. The final move, “occupying the niche,” is where you explain your research in a nutshell and highlight your paper’s significance. The three moves allow your readers to evaluate their interest in your paper and play a significant role in the paper review process, determining your paper reviewers.

Some academic writers assume that the reader “should follow the paper” to find the answers about your methodology and your findings. As a result, many novice writers do not present their experimental approach and the major findings, wrongly believing that the reader will locate the necessary information later while reading the subsequent sections [ 5 ]. However, this “suspense” approach is not appropriate for scientific writing. To interest the reader, scientific authors should be direct and straightforward and present informative one-sentence summaries of the results and the approach.

Another problem is that writers understate the significance of the Introduction. Many new researchers mistakenly think that all their readers understand the importance of the research question and omit this part. However, this assumption is faulty because the purpose of the section is not to evaluate the importance of the research question in general. The goal is to present the importance of your research contribution and your findings. Therefore, you should be explicit and clear in describing the benefit of the paper.

The Introduction should not be long. Indeed, for most journals, this is a very brief section of about 250 to 600 words, but it might be the most difficult section due to its importance.

Rule 5: Interest your reader in the Introduction section by signalling all its elements and stating the novelty of the work.

3.4. discussion of the results.

For many scientists, writing a Discussion section is as scary as starting a paper. Most of the fear comes from the variation in the section. Since every paper has its unique results and findings, the Discussion section differs in its length, shape, and structure. However, some general principles of writing this section still exist. Knowing these rules, or “moves,” can change your attitude about this section and help you create a comprehensive interpretation of your results.

The purpose of the Discussion section is to place your findings in the research context and “to explain the meaning of the findings and why they are important, without appearing arrogant, condescending, or patronizing” [ 11 ]. The structure of the first two moves is almost a mirror reflection of the one in the Introduction. In the Introduction, you zoom in from general to specific and from the background to your research question; in the Discussion section, you zoom out from the summary of your findings to the research context, as shown in Table 4 .

Adapted from Swales and Feak and Hess [ 11 , 12 ].

The biggest challenge for many writers is the opening paragraph of the Discussion section. Following the moves in Table 1 , the best choice is to start with the study’s major findings that provide the answer to the research question in your Introduction. The most common starting phrases are “Our findings demonstrate . . .,” or “In this study, we have shown that . . .,” or “Our results suggest . . .” In some cases, however, reminding the reader about the research question or even providing a brief context and then stating the answer would make more sense. This is important in those cases where the researcher presents a number of findings or where more than one research question was presented. Your summary of the study’s major findings should be followed by your presentation of the importance of these findings. One of the most frequent mistakes of the novice writer is to assume the importance of his findings. Even if the importance is clear to you, it may not be obvious to your reader. Digesting the findings and their importance to your reader is as crucial as stating your research question.

Another useful strategy is to be proactive in the first move by predicting and commenting on the alternative explanations of the results. Addressing potential doubts will save you from painful comments about the wrong interpretation of your results and will present you as a thoughtful and considerate researcher. Moreover, the evaluation of the alternative explanations might help you create a logical step to the next move of the discussion section: the research context.

The goal of the research context move is to show how your findings fit into the general picture of the current research and how you contribute to the existing knowledge on the topic. This is also the place to discuss any discrepancies and unexpected findings that may otherwise distort the general picture of your paper. Moreover, outlining the scope of your research by showing the limitations, weaknesses, and assumptions is essential and adds modesty to your image as a scientist. However, make sure that you do not end your paper with the problems that override your findings. Try to suggest feasible explanations and solutions.

If your submission does not require a separate Conclusion section, then adding another paragraph about the “take-home message” is a must. This should be a general statement reiterating your answer to the research question and adding its scientific implications, practical application, or advice.

Just as in all other sections of your paper, the clear and precise language and concise comprehensive sentences are vital. However, in addition to that, your writing should convey confidence and authority. The easiest way to illustrate your tone is to use the active voice and the first person pronouns. Accompanied by clarity and succinctness, these tools are the best to convince your readers of your point and your ideas.

Rule 6: Present the principles, relationships, and generalizations in a concise and convincing tone.

4. choosing the best working revision strategies.

Now that you have created the first draft, your attitude toward your writing should have improved. Moreover, you should feel more confident that you are able to accomplish your project and submit your paper within a reasonable timeframe. You also have worked out your writing schedule and followed it precisely. Do not stop ― you are only at the midpoint from your destination. Just as the best and most precious diamond is no more than an unattractive stone recognized only by trained professionals, your ideas and your results may go unnoticed if they are not polished and brushed. Despite your attempts to present your ideas in a logical and comprehensive way, first drafts are frequently a mess. Use the advice of Paul Silvia: “Your first drafts should sound like they were hastily translated from Icelandic by a non-native speaker” [ 2 ]. The degree of your success will depend on how you are able to revise and edit your paper.

The revision can be done at the macrostructure and the microstructure levels [ 13 ]. The macrostructure revision includes the revision of the organization, content, and flow. The microstructure level includes individual words, sentence structure, grammar, punctuation, and spelling.

The best way to approach the macrostructure revision is through the outline of the ideas in your paper. The last time you updated your outline was before writing the Introduction and the Discussion. Now that you have the beginning and the conclusion, you can take a bird’s-eye view of the whole paper. The outline will allow you to see if the ideas of your paper are coherently structured, if your results are logically built, and if the discussion is linked to the research question in the Introduction. You will be able to see if something is missing in any of the sections or if you need to rearrange your information to make your point.

The next step is to revise each of the sections starting from the beginning. Ideally, you should limit yourself to working on small sections of about five pages at a time [ 14 ]. After these short sections, your eyes get used to your writing and your efficiency in spotting problems decreases. When reading for content and organization, you should control your urge to edit your paper for sentence structure and grammar and focus only on the flow of your ideas and logic of your presentation. Experienced researchers tend to make almost three times the number of changes to meaning than novice writers [ 15 , 16 ]. Revising is a difficult but useful skill, which academic writers obtain with years of practice.

In contrast to the macrostructure revision, which is a linear process and is done usually through a detailed outline and by sections, microstructure revision is a non-linear process. While the goal of the macrostructure revision is to analyze your ideas and their logic, the goal of the microstructure editing is to scrutinize the form of your ideas: your paragraphs, sentences, and words. You do not need and are not recommended to follow the order of the paper to perform this type of revision. You can start from the end or from different sections. You can even revise by reading sentences backward, sentence by sentence and word by word.

One of the microstructure revision strategies frequently used during writing center consultations is to read the paper aloud [ 17 ]. You may read aloud to yourself, to a tape recorder, or to a colleague or friend. When reading and listening to your paper, you are more likely to notice the places where the fluency is disrupted and where you stumble because of a very long and unclear sentence or a wrong connector.

Another revision strategy is to learn your common errors and to do a targeted search for them [ 13 ]. All writers have a set of problems that are specific to them, i.e., their writing idiosyncrasies. Remembering these problems is as important for an academic writer as remembering your friends’ birthdays. Create a list of these idiosyncrasies and run a search for these problems using your word processor. If your problem is demonstrative pronouns without summary words, then search for “this/these/those” in your text and check if you used the word appropriately. If you have a problem with intensifiers, then search for “really” or “very” and delete them from the text. The same targeted search can be done to eliminate wordiness. Searching for “there is/are” or “and” can help you avoid the bulky sentences.

The final strategy is working with a hard copy and a pencil. Print a double space copy with font size 14 and re-read your paper in several steps. Try reading your paper line by line with the rest of the text covered with a piece of paper. When you are forced to see only a small portion of your writing, you are less likely to get distracted and are more likely to notice problems. You will end up spotting more unnecessary words, wrongly worded phrases, or unparallel constructions.

After you apply all these strategies, you are ready to share your writing with your friends, colleagues, and a writing advisor in the writing center. Get as much feedback as you can, especially from non-specialists in your field. Patiently listen to what others say to you ― you are not expected to defend your writing or explain what you wanted to say. You may decide what you want to change and how after you receive the feedback and sort it in your head. Even though some researchers make the revision an endless process and can hardly stop after a 14th draft; having from five to seven drafts of your paper is a norm in the sciences. If you can’t stop revising, then set a deadline for yourself and stick to it. Deadlines always help.

Rule 7: Revise your paper at the macrostructure and the microstructure level using different strategies and techniques. Receive feedback and revise again.

5. it is time to submit.

It is late at night again. You are still in your lab finishing revisions and getting ready to submit your paper. You feel happy ― you have finally finished a year’s worth of work. You will submit your paper tomorrow, and regardless of the outcome, you know that you can do it. If one journal does not take your paper, you will take advantage of the feedback and resubmit again. You will have a publication, and this is the most important achievement.

What is even more important is that you have your scheduled writing time that you are going to keep for your future publications, for reading and taking notes, for writing grants, and for reviewing papers. You are not going to lose stamina this time, and you will become a productive scientist. But for now, let’s celebrate the end of the paper.

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Why and How to Create a Useful Outline

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This resource describes why outlines are useful, what types of outlines exist, suggestions for developing effective outlines, and how outlines can be used as an invention strategy for writing.

Why create an outline? There are many reasons, but in general, it may be helpful to create an outline when you want to show the hierarchical relationship or logical ordering of information. For research papers, an outline may help you keep track of large amounts of information. For creative writing, an outline may help organize the various plot threads and help keep track of character traits. Many people find that organizing an oral report or presentation in outline form helps them speak more effectively in front of a crowd. Below are the primary reasons for creating an outline.

  • Aids in the process of writing
  • Helps you organize your ideas
  • Presents your material in a logical form
  • Shows the relationships among ideas in your writing
  • Constructs an ordered overview of your writing
  • Defines boundaries and groups

How do I create an outline?

  • Determine the purpose of your paper.
  • Determine the audience you are writing for.
  • Develop the thesis of your paper.
  • Brainstorm : List all the ideas that you want to include in your paper.
  • Organize : Group related ideas together.
  • Order : Arrange material in subsections from general to specific or from abstract to concrete.
  • Label : Create main and sub headings.

Remember: creating an outline before writing your paper will make organizing your thoughts a lot easier. Whether you follow the suggested guidelines is up to you, but making any kind of outline (even just some jotting down some main ideas) will be beneficial to your writing process.

Research Paper Outline Generator

🤖 research outline generator 101.

  • 📝 Template & Format
  • 🤩 Outline Tips

🔗 References

Outlining an academic assignment serves several purposes:

  • It lets students establish connections between the thesis and their ideas.
  • A template also allows them to structure papers and identify gaps in their knowledge.
  • An outline makes their writing more substantial and lets them know if they understand the topic well enough.

Our outline generator for research papers speeds up this process in several ways:

📝 Outline Generator for Research Paper: Template and Format

Our tool can help you cope with the first step in any academic work, whether it's a high school or college tasks. But what should you do next? This part of the article details the components of the research paper format. It will give you a better understanding of how your work should look.

Popular Academic Formats

The format of your research paper largely depends on the style your school uses. Three main styles are widely used in the academic setting: APA, Chicago, and MLA. Each has its features we’ll discuss briefly.

Good Example of a Template

In this section, we have detailed all the components of a comprehensive research paper. Knowing these elements will make it easy for you to structure your work.

🤩 Best Outline Tips: Research Papers & Academic Essays

We want to wrap things up by offering helpful tips for an effective outline. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing an academic essay, a research work, or a personal statement. These pieces of advice can be helpful in all types of assignments.

  • Plan and brainstorm . Make a list of ideas that can become good topics for your essay. By the way, having study buddies is also a fantastic idea! Try to brainstorm topics with fellow students. This way, you can better plan and find impactful research subjects.
  • Organize your ideas . Next, organize the ideas into separate categories. Discard bad ones and incorporate good ones in your writing. Narrow them down until you choose the main one to write a good thesis statement.
  • Use bullet points . Utilize a list format to keep your outline organized. Use headings to easily navigate the template and structure the paper logically.
  • Use online tools . If you need help, turn to online platforms for assistance. For example, our research paper outline generator can make this process faster.
  • Write in your mother tongue . If you struggle writing in English , make notes in your native language. It’s also better to research this topic in your mother tongue. You can translate your findings later.
  • Remove redundant points . Revise all the paragraphs of your finished essay template. Make sure that all the sections match the purpose of your paper and reveal the main idea. If you find too many inappropriate points, try rephrasing them to fit the topic.

We hope that our outline generator for research papers helped in your work. If you have any questions left, check out the FAQ section below. Besides we also recommend you take a look at our research guide .

❓ Research Outline Generator – FAQ

Updated: Dec 14th, 2023

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Learn everything there is to know about our awesome research paper outline generator. This instrument is guaranteed to save you lots of time and energy by creating the perfect plan for your assignment in seconds. Simply set the parameters and get to writing!

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How to Write a Compelling & Accurate Report about a Famous Person

Last Updated: April 14, 2023 References

Researching Your Topic

Writing your report, revising your report.

This article was co-authored by Emily Listmann, MA . Emily Listmann is a private tutor in San Carlos, California. She has worked as a Social Studies Teacher, Curriculum Coordinator, and an SAT Prep Teacher. She received her MA in Education from the Stanford Graduate School of Education in 2014. There are 8 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. This article has been viewed 249,105 times.

Are you stumped about how to write a report on a famous person? Many times, just starting a project like this is half the battle and once you begin all the pieces will fall into place. You will just need to do a bit of research, organize the information you learned into general categories, and then write about each of those categories. You can write a report about anyone or anything with just a bit of time, organization, and focus.

Things You Should Know

  • Learn more about your subject by researching on the internet, checking out books at the library, and watching documentaries on the person.
  • Find a focus to center your report around. Instead of writing about every detail of their life, choose something important that stands out to you, like their philanthropy efforts.
  • Create an outline to get a rough idea of what your report should look like. Here, you can craft an intro, topic sentences for body paragraphs, and a conclusion.
  • If you must choose someone from a specific time period, search for historical figures from that era and read about them until you find one that interests you.
  • You could also choose someone based on a topic. For instance, if you’re interested in electricity, you could pick Nikola Tesla, Michael Faraday, or James Prescott Joule.

Step 2 Do a basic Internet search about the person.

  • For most reports, this preliminary search won't give you sources that you want to cite in your paper. Instead, it'll give you the basic information you'll need to do a more in-depth search for credible sources. [1] X Research source
  • Try not to cite sources in your paper that are created by non-experts or are sources that can be edited by anyone. However, these can be great jumping off points for further research.

Step 3 Go to the library and gather more information.

  • When researching the subject, be careful to evaluate the credibility of your sources . If possible, use a variety of reliable sources to get the best information about the subject. [2] X Research source
  • As a general rule, you want information that has been created by experts on the person you are researching. [3] X Research source

Step 4 Take notes.

  • Write the name of the source, then list the pertinent information as you come across it. Be sure to note the page number(s) too.
  • There are different ways to take notes, so you'll have to find one that suits you.
  • Some people like to take notes on paper and some people like to type them in a computer. Do whichever you prefer.

Step 5 Find your focus.

  • For example, if you're researching Eleanor Roosevelt, you'll want to know when she was born, who her parents and her husband were, and why she's famous. However, you'll also want to focus on one aspect of her life, such as her work for women's rights.
  • Alternatively, pick the aspect that you relate to most. For example, if you're drawn to Elvis Presley because of his in the military, write your report about his time in the military.

Step 6 Keep track of all of your sources.

  • Ask your teacher if they want citations and how they'd like you to include them. There are different citation styles, so it's important to understand what your teacher expects.
  • Your teacher may also want a bibliography. This is a specifically formatted list of all of the books or websites you used. It is sometimes called "Works Cited" or "Sources Cited."
  • Make a list of all of your sources as you do your research. It will make the bibliography easier to write at the end.
  • 1 Follow the assignment guidelines. In some cases, your teacher might want you to answer a specific question about the historical figure, create a claim or thesis that guides your research, or even explain how you view the person. Read through the assignment guidelines several times and make sure that your research and report follows the expected format.

Step 2 Create an outline.

  • For example, if your main point about The Beatles is that they were the most popular band in the 1960s, say that in the introduction. The point of every following paragraph will support that assertion.
  • The outline can be created in any form you like. Some people like to start listing the points they want to make, while others prefer to create a structured outline that lays out the organization of the paper in detail.
  • You can also list an outline for the conclusion but the conclusion usually just reiterates the main point brought up in the introduction.

Step 3 Write an introduction.

  • You also need to introduce your main point. This should be a topic sentence that goes toward the end of the introduction.
  • Include when and where this person was born in the introduction. Consider waiting until the end of your report to discuss when they died.
  • Don't address the person by their first name. It sounds very unprofessional. You can call them by their full name in your introduction, but after that, use their last name.

Step 4 Write topic sentences for each paragraph.

  • For example, if the point of one paragraph is that The Beatles sold more albums than other artists in the 1960s, state that as the topic sentence.
  • Don't mince words about your point. State it clearly and strongly.
  • Each paragraph needs to have a topic sentence. If you think your paragraph doesn't have one, then you need to do some editing. [5] X Research source

Step 5 Write body paragraphs.

  • Each example you give to prove the topic sentence should be in a separate sentence. This means that your paragraphs should be around 4 to 5 sentences long.
  • Giving specific examples will help you prove the paragraph's point. Instead of giving your opinion, back up your points with facts.
  • How many paragraphs you need for your report will vary. In most cases, 5 paragraphs will be ideal: 1 for the introduction, 3 for the body, and 1 for the conclusion. [7] X Research source
  • If your teacher gives you a set word count or page count that you need to meet, you may have to increase or decrease the number of body paragraphs.

Step 6 Write the conclusion.

  • Begin the concluding paragraph by rephrasing the main point and examples. For instance, in an essay on The Beatles' popularity, you could state, "Clearly, The Beatles staggering record sales, huge fan base, and enduring legacy illustrate the bands lasting importance."
  • In some cases, the conclusion may remind the reader of your attention grabbing sentence used in the intro.
  • Don't introduce new information in your conclusion. If you are tempted to, find a place to include it in the body of the essay instead.

Step 1 Read over your report for clarity.

  • If you think you need to explain your subject more, take the time to do it. You've spent a lot of time on your report already, so it's worth a little more time to make it the best it can be.
  • After you're done writing your paper, read it out loud to catch mistakes. This will help you to catch areas of your writing that are awkward or confusing. [9] X Research source

Step 2 Make grammatical and spelling corrections.

  • For example, did you use the right version of the word "there" in your paper? A spell check program may not catch it if you used the wrong version of a word with multiple spellings.

Step 3 Have someone else edit your report.

  • Don't take it personally if you get a lot of feedback. They're only trying to help make your report the best it can be.
  • Consider having a parent or a classmate read over your report. If you have a classmate do it, offer to read over their paper in exchange for them reading over yours.

Community Q&A

Community Answer

  • Be careful to not start every sentence with the person's name. To avoid this, use he/she or move around the subject in the sentence. Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0

research paper outline person

  • Never plagiarize your work. It's not worth the short cut and it is dishonest. In fact, your teacher can put anything from your paper into a search engine and find the website you stole it from. Always rephrase sentences when using them in your paper and cite the source you got the information from. Thanks Helpful 3 Not Helpful 5

You Might Also Like

Expand Your Vocabulary

  • ↑ https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/588/02/
  • ↑ http://www.pcc.edu/library/scripts/know-your-sources/index.html
  • ↑ http://libguides.umflint.edu/research/citing
  • ↑ https://owl.english.purdue.edu/engagement/2/1/29/
  • ↑ https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/724/02/
  • ↑ https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/685/05/
  • ↑ http://writingcenter.unc.edu/handouts/editing-and-proofreading/
  • ↑ https://gustavus.edu/writingcenter/handoutdocs/editing_proofreading.php

About This Article

Emily Listmann, MA

To write a report on a famous person, search online and check out books from your library to learn about their life. Be sure to keep track of what sources you used and take notes. Once you have your information, write an introduction that gives some background about the famous person and explains why they were famous. Then write body paragraphs that provide details and facts about their life. You should include a topic sentence in each paragraph and wrap up your report with a conclusion that restates your main idea. To learn from our Education reviewer how to write topic sentences, keep reading! Did this summary help you? Yes No

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CHILSA AJIB - Research Paper- Thesis Statement and Outline Assignment

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  • Published: 28 March 2024

New water accounting reveals why the Colorado River no longer reaches the sea

  • Brian D. Richter   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0001-7216-1397 1 , 2 ,
  • Gambhir Lamsal   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0002-2593-8949 3 ,
  • Landon Marston   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0001-9116-1691 3 ,
  • Sameer Dhakal   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0003-4941-1559 3 ,
  • Laljeet Singh Sangha   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0002-0986-1785 4 ,
  • Richard R. Rushforth 4 ,
  • Dongyang Wei   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0003-0384-4340 5 ,
  • Benjamin L. Ruddell 4 ,
  • Kyle Frankel Davis   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0003-4504-1407 5 , 6 ,
  • Astrid Hernandez-Cruz   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0003-0776-5105 7 ,
  • Samuel Sandoval-Solis 8 &
  • John C. Schmidt 9  

Communications Earth & Environment volume  5 , Article number:  134 ( 2024 ) Cite this article

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  • Water resources

Persistent overuse of water supplies from the Colorado River during recent decades has substantially depleted large storage reservoirs and triggered mandatory cutbacks in water use. The river holds critical importance to more than 40 million people and more than two million hectares of cropland. Therefore, a full accounting of where the river’s water goes en route to its delta is necessary. Detailed knowledge of how and where the river’s water is used can aid design of strategies and plans for bringing water use into balance with available supplies. Here we apply authoritative primary data sources and modeled crop and riparian/wetland evapotranspiration estimates to compile a water budget based on average consumptive water use during 2000–2019. Overall water consumption includes both direct human uses in the municipal, commercial, industrial, and agricultural sectors, as well as indirect water losses to reservoir evaporation and water consumed through riparian/wetland evapotranspiration. Irrigated agriculture is responsible for 74% of direct human uses and 52% of overall water consumption. Water consumed for agriculture amounts to three times all other direct uses combined. Cattle feed crops including alfalfa and other grass hays account for 46% of all direct water consumption.

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Barely a trickle of water is left of the iconic Colorado River of the American Southwest as it approaches its outlet in the Gulf of California in Mexico after watering many cities and farms along its 2330-kilometer course. There were a few years in the 1980s in which enormous snowfall in the Rocky Mountains produced a deluge of spring snowmelt runoff capable of escaping full capture for human uses, but for most of the past 60 years the river’s water has been fully consumed before reaching its delta 1 , 2 . In fact, the river was overconsumed (i.e., total annual water consumption exceeding runoff supplies) in 16 of 21 years during 2000–2020 3 , requiring large withdrawals of water stored in Lake Mead and Lake Powell to accommodate the deficits. An average annual overdraft of 10% during this period 2 caused these reservoirs– the two largest in the US – to drop to three-quarters empty by the end of 2022 4 , triggering urgent policy decisions on where to cut consumption.

Despite the river’s importance to more than 40 million people and more than two million hectares (>5 million acres) of cropland—producing most of the vegetable produce for American and Canadian plates in wintertime and also feeding many additional people worldwide via exports—a full sectoral and crop-specific accounting of where all that water goes en route to its delta has never been attempted, until now. Detailed knowledge of how and where the river’s water is used can aid design of strategies and plans for bringing water use into balance with available supplies.

There are interesting historical reasons to explain why this full water budget accounting has not been accomplished previously, beginning a full century ago when the apportionment of rights to use the river’s water within the United States was inscribed into the Colorado River Compact of 1922 5 . That Compact was ambiguous and confusing in its allocation of water inflowing to the Colorado River from the Gila River basin in New Mexico and Arizona 6 , even though it accounts for 24% of the drainage area of the Colorado River Basin (Fig.  1 ). Because of intense disagreements over the rights to the Gila and other tributaries entering the Colorado River downstream of the Grand Canyon, the Compact negotiators decided to leave the allocation of those waters rights to a later time so that the Compact could proceed 6 . Arizona’s formal rights to the Gila and other Arizona tributaries were finally affirmed in a US Supreme Court decision in 1963 that also specified the volumes of Colorado River water allocated to California, Arizona, and Nevada 7 . Because the rights to the Gila’s waters lie outside of the Compact allocations, the Gila has not been included in formal accounting of the Colorado River Basin water budget to date 8 . Additionally, the Compact did not specify how much water Mexico—at the river’s downstream end—should receive. Mexico’s share of the river was not formalized until 22 years later, in the 1944 international treaty on “Utilization of the Waters of the Colorado and Tijuana Rivers and of the Rio Grande” (1944 Water Treaty) 9 . As a result of these political circumstances, full accounting for direct water consumption at the sectoral level—in which water use is accounted according to categories such as municipal, industrial, commercial, or agricultural uses—has not previously been compiled for the Gila River basin’s water, and sectoral accounting for Mexico was not published until 2023 10 .

figure 1

The physical boundary of the Colorado River Basin is outlined in black. Hatched areas outside of the basin boundary receive Colorado River water via inter-basin transfers (also known as ‘exports’). The Gila River basin is situated in the far southern portion of the CRB in Arizona, New Mexico, and Mexico. Map courtesy of Center for Colorado River Studies, Utah State University.

The US Bureau of Reclamation (“Reclamation”)—which owns and operates massive water infrastructure in the Colorado River Basin—has served as the primary accountant of Colorado River water. In 2012, the agency produced a “Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study” 8 that accounted for both the sectoral uses of water within the basin’s physical boundaries within the US as well as river water exported outside of the basin (Fig.  1 ). But Reclamation did not attempt to account for water generated from the Gila River basin because of that sub-basin’s exclusion from the Colorado River Compact, and it did not attempt to explain how water crossing the border into Mexico is used. The agency estimated riparian vegetation evapotranspiration for the lower Colorado River but not the remainder of the extensive river system. Richter et al. 11 published a water budget for the Colorado River that included sectoral and crop-specific water consumption but it too did not include water used in Mexico, nor reservoir evaporation or riparian evapotranspiration, and it did not account for water exported outside of the Colorado River Basin’s physical boundary as illustrated in Fig.  1 . Given that nearly one-fifth (19%) of the river’s water is exported from the basin or used in Mexico, and that the Gila is a major tributary to the Colorado, this incomplete accounting has led to inaccuracies and misinterpretations of “where the Colorado River’s water goes” and has created uncertainty in discussions based on the numbers. This paper provides fuller accounting of the fate of all river water during 2000–2019, including averaged annual consumption in each of the sub-basins including exports, consumption in major sectors of the economy, consumption in the production of specific types of crops, and water consumed by reservoir evaporation and riparian/wetland evapotranspiration.

Rising awareness of water overuse and prolonged drought has driven intensifying dialog among the seven US states sharing the basin’s waters as well as between the United States, Mexico, and 30 tribal nations within the US. Since 2000, six legal agreements affecting the US states and two international agreements with Mexico have had the effect of reducing water use from the Colorado River 7 :

In 2001, the US Secretary of the Interior issued a set of “Interim Surplus Guidelines” to reduce California’s water use by 14% to bring the state within its allocation as determined in the 1963 US Supreme Court case mentioned previously. A subsequent “Quantification Settlement Agreement” executed in 2003 spelled out details about how California was going to achieve the targeted reduction.

In 2007, the US Secretary of the Interior adopted a set of “Colorado River Interim Guidelines for Lower Basin Shortages and the Coordinated Operations for Lake Powell and Lake Mead” that reduced water deliveries to Arizona and Nevada when Lake Mead drops to specified levels, with increasing cutbacks as levels decline.

In 2012, the US and Mexican federal governments signed an addendum to the 1944 Water Treaty known as Minute 319 that reduced deliveries to Mexico as Lake Mead elevations fall.

In 2017, the US and Mexican federal governments established a “Binational Water Scarcity Contingency Plan” as part of Minute 323 that provides for deeper cuts in deliveries to Mexico under specified low reservoir elevations in Lake Mead.i

In 2019, the three Lower Basin states and the US Secretary of the Interior agreed to commitments under the “Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan” that further reduced water deliveries beyond the levels set in 2007 and added specifications for deeper cuts as Lake Mead drops to levels lower than anticipated in the 2007 Guidelines.

In 2023, the states of California, Arizona and Nevada committed to further reductions in water use through the year 2026 12 .

With each of the above agreements, overall water consumption has been reduced but many scientists assert that these reductions still fall substantially short of balancing consumptive use with 21st century water supplies 2 , 13 . With all of these agreements—excepting the Interim Surplus Guidelines of 2001—set to expire in 2026, management of the Colorado River’s binational water supply is now at a crucial point, emphasizing the need for comprehensive water budget accounting.

Our tabulation of the Colorado River’s full water consumption budget (Table  1 ) provides accounting for all direct human uses of water as either agricultural or MCI (municipal, commercial, industrial), as well as indirect losses of water to reservoir evaporation and evapotranspiration from riparian or wetland vegetation including in the Salton Sea and in a wetland in Mexico (Cienega de Santa Clara) that receives agricultural return flows from irrigated areas in Arizona. We explicitly note that all estimates represent consumptive use , resulting from the subtraction of return flows from total water withdrawals. Table  2 provides a summary based only on direct human uses and does not include indirect consumption of water. We have provided Tables  1 and 2 in English units in our Supplementary Information as Tables SI-1 and SI-2 . We have lumped municipal, commercial, and industrial (MCI) uses together because these sub-categories of consumption are not consistently differentiated within official water delivery data for cities utilizing Colorado River water. More detail on urban water use by cities dependent on the river is available in Richter 14 , among other studies.

We differentiated water consumption geographically using the ‘accounting units’ mapped in Fig.  2 , which are based on the Colorado River Basin map as revised by Schmidt 15 ; importantly, these accounting units align spatially with Reclamation’s accounting systems for the Upper Basin and Lower Basin as described in our Methods, thereby enabling readers accustomed to Reclamation’s water-use reports to easily comprehend our accounting. We have also accounted for all water consumed within the Colorado River Basin boundaries as well as water exported via inter-basin transfers. Water exported outside of the basin includes 47 individual inter-basin transfer systems (i.e., canals, pipelines, pumps) that in aggregate export ~12% of the river’s water. We note that the Imperial Irrigation District of southern California is often counted as a recipient of exported water, but we have followed the rationale of Schmidt 15 by including it as an interior part of the Lower Basin even though it receives its Colorado River water via the All American Canal (Fig.  2 ).

figure 2

The water budget estimates presented in Tables  1 and 2 are summarized for each of the seven “accounting units” displayed here.

These results confirm previous findings that irrigated agriculture is the dominant consumer of Colorado River water. Irrigated agriculture accounts for 52% of overall consumption (Table  1 ; Figs.  3 and 4 ) and 74% of direct human consumption (Table  2 ) of water from the Colorado River Basin. As highlighted in Richter et al. 11 , cattle-feed crops (alfalfa and other hay) are the dominant water-consuming crops dependent upon irrigation water from the basin (Tables  1 and 2 ; Figs.  3 and 4 ). Those crops account for 32% of all water consumed from the basin, 46% of all direct water consumption, and 62% of all agricultural water consumed (Table  1 ; Fig.  3 ). The percentage of water consumed by irrigated crops is greatest in Mexico, where they account for 86% of all direct human uses (Table  2 ) and 80% of total water consumed (Table  1 ). Cattle-feed crops consume 90% of all water used by irrigated agriculture within the Upper Basin, where the consumed volume associated with these cattle-feed crops amounts to more than three times what is consumed for municipal, commercial, or industrial uses combined.

figure 3

All estimates based on 2000–2019 averages. Both agriculture and MCI (municipal, commercial, and industrial) uses are herein referred to as “direct human uses.” “Indirect uses” include both reservoir evaporation as well as evapotranspiration by riparian/wetland vegetation.

figure 4

Water consumed by each sector in the Colorado River Basin and sub-basins (including exports), based on 2000–2019 averages.

Another important finding is that a substantial volume of water (19%) is consumed in supporting the natural environment through riparian and wetland vegetation evapotranspiration along river courses. This analysis—made possible because of recent mapping of riparian vegetation in the Colorado River Basin 16 —is an important addition to the water budget of the Colorado River Basin, given that the only previous accounting for riparian vegetation consumption has limited to the mainstem of the Colorado River below Hoover Dam and does not include vegetation upstream of Hoover Dam nor vegetation along tributary rivers 17 . Given that many of these habitats and associated species have been lost or became imperiled due to river flow depletion 18 —including the river’s vast delta ecosystem in Mexico—an ecologically sustainable approach to water management would need to allow more water to remain in the river system to support riparian and aquatic ecosystems. Additionally, 11% of all water consumed in the Colorado River Basin is lost through evaporation from reservoirs.

It is also important to note a fairly high degree of inter-annual variability in each sector of water use; for example, the range of values portrayed for the four water budget sectors shown in Fig.  5 equates to 24–47% of their 20-year averages. Also notable is a decrease in water consumed in the Lower Basin between the years 2000 and 2019 for both the MCI (−38%) and agricultural sectors (−15%), which can in part be attributed to the policy agreements summarized previously that have mandated water-use reductions.

figure 5

Inter-annual variability of water consumption within the Lower and Upper Basins, including water exported from these basins. The average (AVG) values shown are used in the water budgets detailed in Tables  1 and 2 .

The water accounting in Richter et al. 11 received a great deal of media attention including a front-page story in the New York Times 19 . These stories focused primarily on our conclusion that more than half (53%) of water consumed in the Colorado River Basin was attributable to cattle-feed crops (alfalfa and other hays) supporting beef and dairy production. However, that tabulation of the river’s water budget had notable shortcomings, as discussed previously. In this more complete accounting that includes Colorado River water exported outside of the basin’s physical boundary as well as indirect water consumption, we find that irrigated agriculture consumes half (52%) of all Colorado River Basin water, and the portion of direct consumption going to cattle-feed crops dropped from 53% as reported in Richter et al. 11 to 46% in this revised analysis.

These differences are explained by the fact that we now account for all exported water and also include indirect losses of water to reservoir evaporation and riparian/wetland evapotranspiration in our revised accounting, as well as improvements in our estimation of crop-water consumption. However, the punch line of our 2020 paper does not change fundamentally. Irrigated agriculture is the dominant consumer of water from the Colorado River, and 62% of agricultural water consumption goes to alfalfa and grass hay production.

Richter et al. 20 found that alfalfa and grass hay were the largest water consumers in 57% of all sub-basins across the western US, and their production is increasing in many western regions. Alfalfa is favored for its ability to tolerate variable climate conditions, especially its ability to persist under greatly reduced irrigation during droughts and its ability to recover production quickly after full irrigation is resumed, acting as a “shock absorber” for agricultural production under unpredictable drought conditions. The plant is also valued for fixing nitrogen in soils, reducing fertilizer costs. Perhaps most importantly, labor costs are comparatively low because alfalfa is mechanically harvested. Alfalfa is increasing in demand and price as a feed crop in the growing dairy industry of the region 21 . Any efforts to reduce water consumed by alfalfa—either through shifting to alternative lower-water crops or through compensated fallowing 20 —will need to compete with these attributes.

This new accounting provides a more comprehensive and complete understanding of how the Colorado River Basin’s water is consumed. During our study period of 2000–2019, an estimated average of 23.7 billion cubic meters (19.3 million acre-feet) of water was consumed each year before reaching its now-dry delta in Mexico. Schmidt et al. 2 have estimated that a reduction in consumptive use in the Upper and Lower Basins of 3–4 billion cubic meters (2.4–3.2 million acre-feet) per year—equivalent to 22–29% of direct use in those basins—will be necessary to stabilize reservoir levels, and an additional reduction of 1–3 billion cubic meters (~811,000–2.4 million acre-feet) per year will likely be needed by 2050 as climate warming continues to reduce runoff in the Colorado River Basin.

We hope that this new accounting will add clarity and a useful informational foundation to the public dialog and political negotiations over Colorado River Basin water allocations and cutbacks that are presently underway 2 . Because a persistent drought and intensifying aridification in the region has placed both people and river ecosystems in danger of water shortages in recent decades, knowledge of where the water goes will be essential in the design of policies for bringing the basin into a sustainable water supply-demand balance.

The data sources and analytical approaches used in this study are summarized below. Unless otherwise noted, all data were assembled for each year from 2000–2019 and then averaged. We acknowledge some inconsistency in the manner in which water consumption is measured or estimated across the various data sources and sectors used in this study, as discussed below, and each of these different approaches entail some degree of inaccuracy or uncertainty. We also note that technical measurement or estimation approaches change over time, and new approaches can yield differing results. For instance, the Upper Colorado River Commission is exploring new approaches for estimating crop evapotranspiration in the Upper Basin 22 . When new estimates become available we will update our water budget accordingly.

MCI and agricultural water consumption

The primary source of data on aggregate MCI (municipal, commercial, and industrial) and agricultural water consumption from the Upper and Lower Basins was the US Bureau of Reclamation. Water consumed from the Upper Basin is published in Reclamation’s five-year reports entitled “Colorado River—Upper Basin Consumptive Uses and Losses.” 23 These annual data have been compiled into a single spreadsheet used for this study 24 . Because measurements of agricultural diversions and return flows in the Upper Basin are not sufficiently complete to allow direct calculation of consumptive use, theoretical and indirect methods are used as described in the Consumptive Uses and Losses reports 25 . Reclamation performs these estimates for Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah, but the State of New Mexico provides its own estimates that are collaboratively reviewed with Reclamation staff. The consumptive use of water in thermoelectric power generation in the Upper Basin is provided to Reclamation by the power companies managing each generation facility. Reclamation derives estimates of consumptive use for municipal and industrial purposes from the US Geological Survey’s reporting series (published every 5 years) titled “Estimated Use of Water in the United States” at an 8-digit watershed scale 26 .

Use of shallow alluvial groundwater is included in the water accounting compiled by Reclamation but use of deeper groundwater sources—such as in Mexico and the Gila River Basin—is explicitly excluded in their accounting, and in ours. Reclamation staff involved with water accounting for the Upper and Lower Basins assume that groundwater use counted in their data reports is sourced from aquifers that are hydraulically connected to rivers and streams in the CRB (James Prairie, US Bureau of Reclamation, personal communication, 2023); because of this high connectivity, much of the groundwater being consumed is likely being sourced from river capture as discussed in Jasechko et al. 27 and Wiele et al. 28 and is soon recharged during higher river flows.

Water consumed from the Lower Basin (excluding water supplied by the Gila River Basin) is published in Reclamation’s annual reports entitled “Colorado River Accounting and Water Use Report: Arizona, California, and Nevada.” 3 These consumptive use data are based on measured deliveries and return flows for each individual water user. These data are either measured by Reclamation or provided to the agency by individual water users, tribes, states, and federal agencies 29 . When not explicitly stated in Reclamation reports, attribution of water volumes to MCI or agricultural uses was based on information obtained from each water user’s website, information provided directly by the water user, or information on export water use provided in Siddik et al. 30 . Water use by entities using less than 1.23 million cubic meters (1000 acre-feet) per year on average was allocated to MCI and agricultural uses according to the overall MCI-agricultural percentages calculated within each sub-basin indicated in Tables  1 and 2 for users of greater than 1.23 million cubic meters/year.

Disaggregation of water consumption by sector was particularly important and challenging for the Central Arizona Project given that this canal accounts for 21% of all direct water consumption in the Lower Basin. Reclamation accounts for the volumes of annual diversions into the Central Arizona Project canal but the structure serves 1071 water delivery subcontracts. We classified every unique Central Arizona Project subcontract delivery between 2000–2019 by its final water use to derive an estimated split between agricultural and MCI uses. Central Arizona Project subcontract delivery data were obtained from the current and archived versions of the project’s website summaries in addition to being directly obtained from the agency through a public information request. Subcontract deliveries were classified based on the final end use, including long-term and temporary leases of project water. This accounting also includes the storage of water in groundwater basins for later MCI or agricultural use. Additionally, water allocated to Native American agricultural uses that was subsequently leased to cities was classified as an MCI use.

Data for the Gila River basin was obtained from two sources. The Arizona Department of Water Resources has published data for surface water use in five “Active Management Areas” (AMAs) located in the Gila River basin: Prescott AMA, Phoenix AMA, Pinal AMA, Tucson AMA, and Santa Cruz AMA 31 . The water-use data for these AMAs is compiled from annual reports submitted by each water user (contractor) and then reviewed by the Arizona Department of Water Resources. The AMA water-use data are categorized by purpose of use, facilitating our separation into MCI and agricultural uses. These data are additionally categorized by water source; only surface water sourced from the Gila River hydrologic system was counted (deep groundwater use was not). The AMA data were supplemented with data for the upper Gila River basin provided by the University of Arizona 32 . We have assumed that all water supplied by the Gila River Basin is fully consumed, as the river is almost always completely dry in its lower reaches (less than 1% flows out of the basin into the Colorado River, on average 33 ).

Data for Mexico were obtained from Hernandez-Cruz et al. 10 based on estimates for 2008–2015. Agricultural demands were estimated from annual reports of irrigated area and water use published by the Ministry of Agriculture and the evapotranspiration estimates of the principal crops published by the National Institute for Forestry, Animal Husbandry, and Agricultural Research of Mexico 10 . The average annual volume of Colorado River water consumption in Mexico estimated by these researchers is within 1% of the cross-border delivery volume estimated by the Bureau of Reclamation for 2000–2019 in its Colorado River Accounting and Water Use Reports 3 .

Exported water consumption

Annual average inter-basin transfer volumes for each of 46 canals and pipelines exporting water outside of the Upper Basin were obtained from Reclamation’s Consumptive Uses and Losses spreadsheet 34 . Data for the Colorado River Aqueduct in the Lower Basin were obtained from Siddik et al. 30 Data for exported water in Mexico was available from Hernandez-Cruz et al. 10 . We assigned any seepage or evaporation losses from inter-basin transfers to their proportional end uses. All uses of exported water are considered to be consumptive uses with respect to the Colorado River, because none of the water exported out of the basin is returned to the Colorado River Basin.

We relied on data from Siddik et al. (2023) to identify whether the water exported out of the Colorado River Basin was for only MCI or agricultural use. When more than one water use purpose was identified, as well as for all major inter-basin transfers, we used government and inter-basin transfer project websites or information obtained directly from the project operator or water manager to determine the volume of water transferred and the end uses. Major recipients of exported water include the Coachella Valley Water District (California); Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (particularly for San Diego County, California); Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District; City of Denver (Colorado); the Central Utah Project; City of Albuquerque (New Mexico); and the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District (New Mexico). We did not pursue sectoral water-use information for 17 of the 46 Upper Basin inter-basin transfers due to their relatively low volumes of water transferred by each system (<247,000 cubic meters or 2000 acre-feet), and instead assigned the average MCI or agricultural percentage (72% MCI, 28% agricultural) from all other inter-basin transfers in the Upper Basin. The export volume of these 17 inter-basin transfers sums to 9.76 million cubic meters (7910 acre-feet) per year, equivalent to 1% of the total volume exported from the Upper Basin.

Reservoir evaporation

Evaporation estimates for the Upper Basin and Lower Basin are based upon Reclamation’s HydroData repository 35 . Reclamation’s evaporation estimates are based on the standardized Penman-Monteith equation as described in the “Lower Colorado River Annual Summaries of Evapotranspiration and Evaporation” reports 17 . The Penman-Monteith estimates are based on pan evaporation measurements. Evaporation estimates for the Salt River Project reservoirs in the Gila River basin were provided by the Salt River Project in Arizona (Charlie Ester, personal communication, 2023).

Another consideration with reservoirs is the volume of water that seeps into the banks or sediments surrounding the reservoir when reservoir levels are high, but then drains back into the reservoir as water levels decline 36 . This has the effect of either exacerbating reservoir losses (consumptive use) or offsetting evaporation when bank seepage flows back into a reservoir. The flow of water into and out of reservoir banks is non-trivial; during 1999–2008, an estimated 247 million cubic meters (200,000 acre-feet) of water drained from the canyon walls surrounding Lake Powell into the reservoir each year, providing additional water supply 36 . However, the annual rate of alternating gains or losses has not been sufficiently measured at any of the basin’s reservoirs and therefore is not included in Tables  1 and 2 .

Riparian and wetland vegetation evapotranspiration

We exported the total annual evapotranspiration depth at a 30 meter resolution from OpenET 37 using Google Earth Engine from 2016 to 2019 to align with OpenET’s data availability starting in 2016. Total annual precipitation depths, sourced from gridMET 38 , were resampled to align with the evapotranspiration raster resolution. Subsequently, a conservative estimate of the annual water depth utilized by riparian vegetation from the river was derived by subtracting the annual precipitation raster from the evapotranspiration raster for each year. Positive differentials, indicative of river-derived evapotranspiration, were then multiplied by the riparian vegetation area as identified in the CO-RIP 16 dataset to estimate the total annual volumetric water consumption by riparian vegetation across the Upper, Lower, and Gila River Basins. The annual volumetric water consumption calculated over four years were finally averaged to get riparian vegetation evapotranspiration in the three basins. Because the entire flow of the Colorado River is diverted into the Canal Alimentador Central near the international border, very little riparian evapotranspiration occurs along the river south of the international border in the Mexico basin.

In addition to water consumed by riparian evapotranspiration within the Lower Basin, the Salton Sea receives agricultural drain water from both the Imperial Irrigation District and the Coachella Valley Irrigation District, stormwater drainage from the Coachella Valley, and inflows from the New and Alamo Rivers 39 . Combined inflows to the Sea during 2015–2019 were added to our estimates of riparian/wetland evapotranspiration in the Lower Basin.

Similarly, Mexico receives drainage water from the Wellton–Mohawk bypass drain originating in southern Arizona that empties into the Cienega de Santa Clara (a wetland); this drainage water is included as riparian/wetland evapotranspiration in the Mexico basin.

Crop-specific water consumption

The volumes of total agricultural consumption reported for each sub-basin in Tables  1 and 2 were obtained from the same data sources described above for MCI consumption and exported water. The portion (%) of those agricultural consumption volumes going to each individual crop was then allocated according to percentage estimates of each crop’s water consumption in each accounting unit using methods described in Richter et al. 20 and detailed here.

Monthly crop water requirements during 1981–2019 for 13 individual crops, representing 68.8% of total irrigated area in the US in 2019, were estimated using the AquaCrop-OS model (Table SI- 3 ) 40 . For 17 additional crops representing about 25.4% of the total irrigated area, we used a simple crop growth model following Marston et al. 41 as crop parameters needed to run AquaCrop-OS were not available. A list of the crops included in this study is shown in Table SI- 3 . The crop water requirements used in Richter et al. 11 were based on a simplistic crop growth model, often using seasonal crop coefficients whereas we use AquaCrop-OS 40 , a robust crop growth model, to produce more realistic crop growth and crop water estimates for major crops. AquaCrop-OS is an open-source version of the AquaCrop model 42 , a crop growth model capable of simulating herbaceous crops. Additionally, we leverage detailed local data unique to the US, including planting dates and subcounty irrigated crop areas, to produce estimates at a finer spatial resolution than the previous study. We obtained crop-specific planting dates from USDA 43 progress data at the state level. For crops that did not have USDA crop progress data, we used data from FAO 44 and CUP+ model 45 for planting dates. We used climate data (precipitation, minimum and maximum air temperature, reference ET) from gridMET 38 , soil texture data from ISRIC 46 database and crop parameters from AquaCrop-OS to run the model. The modeled crop water requirement was partitioned into blue and green components following the framework from Hoekestra et al. 47 , assuming that blue and green water consumed on a given day is proportional to the amount of green and blue water soil moisture available on that day. When applying a simple crop growth model, daily gridded (2.5 arc minutes) crop-specific evapotranspiration (ETc) was computed by taking the product of reference evapotranspiration (ETo) and crop coefficient (Kc), where ETo was obtained from gridMET. Crop coefficients were calculated using planting dates and crop coefficient curves from FAO and CUP+ model. Kc was set to zero outside of the growing season. We partitioned the daily ETc into blue and green components by following the methods from ref. 41 It is assumed that the crop water demands are met by irrigation whenever it exceeds effective precipitation (the latter calculated using the USDA Soil Conservation Service method (USDA, 1968 48 ). We obtained county level harvested area from USDA 43 and disaggregated to sub-county level using Cropland Data Layer (CDL) 49 and Landsat-based National Irrigation Dataset (LANID) 50 . The CDL is an annual raster layer that provides crop-specific land cover data, while the LANID provides irrigation status information. The CDL and LANID raster were multiplied and aggregated to 2.5 arc minutes to match the AquaCrop-OS output. We produced a gridded crop area map by using this resulting product as weights to disaggregate county level area. CDL is unavailable before 2008. Therefore, we used land use data from ref. 51 in combination with average CDL map and county level harvested area to produce gridded crop harvested area. We computed volumetric water consumption by multiplying the crop water requirement depth by the corresponding crop harvested area.

Data availability

All data compiled and analyzed in this study are publicly available as cited and linked in our Methods section. Our compilation of these data is also available from Hydroshare at: http://www.hydroshare.org/resource/2098ae29ae704d9aacfd08e030690392 .

Code availability

All model code and software used in this study have been accessed from sources cited in our Methods section. We used AquaCrop-OS (v5.0a), an open source version of AquaCrop crop growth model, to run crop simulations. This model is publicly available at http://www.aquacropos.com/ . For estimating riparian evapotranspiration, we used ArcGIS Pro 3.1.3 on the Google Earth Engine. Riparian vegetation distribution maps were sourced from Dryad at https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.3g55sv8 .

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This paper is dedicated to our colleague Jack Schmidt in recognition of his retirement and enormous contributions to the science and management of the Colorado River. The authors thank James Prairie of the US Bureau of Reclamation, Luke Shawcross of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, Charlie Ester of the Salt River Project, and Brian Woodward of the University of California Cooperative Extension for their assistance in accessing data used in this study. The authors also thank Rhett Larson at the Sandra Day O’Connor School of Law at Arizona State University for their review of Arizona water budget data, and the Central Arizona Project for providing delivery data by each subcontract. G.L., L.M., and K.F.D. acknowledge support by the United States Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture grant 2022-67019-37180. L.T.M. acknowledges the support the National Science Foundation grant CBET-2144169 and the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research Grant No. FF-NIA19-0000000084. R.R.R. acknowledges the support the National Science Foundation grant CBET-2115169.

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B.D.R. designed the study, compiled and analyzed data, wrote the manuscript and supervised co-author contributions. G.L. compiled all crop data, estimated crop evapotranspiration, and prepared figures. S.D. compiled all riparian vegetation data and estimated riparian evapotranspiration. L.S.S. and R.R.R. accessed, compiled, and analyzed data from the Central Arizona Project. D.W. compiled data and prepared figures. A.H.-C. and S.S.-S. compiled and analyzed data for Mexico. J.C.S. compiled and analyzed reservoir evaporation data and edited the manuscript. L.M., B.L.R., and K.F.D. supervised data compilation and analysis and edited the manuscript.

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Richter, B.D., Lamsal, G., Marston, L. et al. New water accounting reveals why the Colorado River no longer reaches the sea. Commun Earth Environ 5 , 134 (2024). https://doi.org/10.1038/s43247-024-01291-0

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Research Identifies Characteristics of Cities That Would Support Young People’s Mental Health

Survey responses from global panel that included young people provide insights into what would make cities mental health-friendly for youth

As cities around the world continue to draw young people for work, education, and social opportunities, a new study identifies characteristics that would support young urban dwellers’ mental health. The findings, based on survey responses from a global panel that included adolescents and young adults, provide a set of priorities that city planners can adopt to build urban environments that are safe, equitable, and inclusive. 

To determine city characteristics that could bolster youth mental health, researchers administered an initial survey to a panel of more than 400, including young people and a multidisciplinary group of researchers, practitioners, and advocates. Through two subsequent surveys, participants prioritized six characteristics that would support young city dwellers’ mental health: opportunities to build life skills; age-friendly environments that accept young people’s feelings and values; free and safe public spaces where young people can connect; employment and job security; interventions that address the social determinants of health; and urban design with youth input and priorities in mind. 

The paper was published online February 21 in  Nature .

The study’s lead author is Pamela Collins, MD, MPH, chair of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Department of Mental Health. The study was conducted while Collins was on the faculty at the University of Washington. The paper was written by an international, interdisciplinary team, including citiesRISE, a global nonprofit that works to transform mental health policy and practice in cities, especially for young people.

Cities have long been a draw for young people. Research by UNICEF projects that cities will be home to 70 percent of the world’s children by 2050. Although urban environments influence a broad range of health outcomes, both positive and negative, their impacts manifest unequally. Mental disorders are the leading causes of disability among 10- to 24-year-olds globally. Exposure to urban inequality, violence, lack of green space, and fear of displacement disproportionately affects marginalized groups, increasing risk for poor mental health among urban youth.

“Right now, we are living with the largest population of adolescents in the world’s history, so this is an incredibly important group of people for global attention,” says Collins. “Investing in young people is an investment in their present well-being and future potential, and it’s an investment in the next generation—the children they will bear.” 

Data collection for the study began in April 2020 at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. To capture its possible impacts, researchers added an open-ended survey question asking panelists how the pandemic influenced their perceptions of youth mental health in cities. The panelists reported that the pandemic either shed new light on the inequality and uneven distribution of resources experienced by marginalized communities in urban areas, or confirmed their preconceptions of how social vulnerability exacerbates health outcomes. 

For their study, the researchers recruited a panel of more than 400 individuals from 53 countries, including 327 young people ages 14 to 25, from a cross-section of fields, including education, advocacy, adolescent health, mental health and substance use, urban planning and development, data and technology, housing, and criminal justice. The researchers administered three sequential surveys to panelists beginning in April 2020 that asked panelists to identify elements of urban life that would support mental health for young people.

The top 37 characteristics were then grouped into six domains: intrapersonal, interpersonal, community, organizational, policy, and environment. Within these domains, panelists ranked characteristics based on immediacy of impact on youth mental health, ability to help youth thrive, and ease or feasibility of implementation. 

Taken together, the characteristics identified in the study provide a comprehensive set of priorities that policymakers and urban planners can use as a guide to improve young city dwellers' mental health. Among them: Youth-focused mental health and educational services could support young people’s emotional development and self-efficacy. Investment in spaces that facilitate social connection may help alleviate young people’s experiences of isolation and support their need for healthy, trusting relationships. Creating employment opportunities and job security could undo the economic losses that young people and their families experienced during the pandemic and help cities retain residents after a COVID-era exodus from urban centers.  

The findings suggest that creating a mental health-friendly city for young people requires investments across multiple interconnected sectors like transportation, housing, employment, health, and urban planning, with a central focus on social and economic equity. They also require urban planning policy approaches that commit to systemic and sustained collaboration, without magnifying existing privileges through initiatives like gentrification and developing green spaces at the expense of marginalized communities in need of affordable housing.

The authors say this framework underscores that responses by cities should include young people in the planning and design of interventions that directly impact their mental health and well-being. 

“ Making cities mental health friendly for adolescents and young adults ” was co-authored by an international, interdisciplinary team of 31 researchers led by the University of Washington Consortium for Global Mental Health, Urban@UW, the University of Melbourne, and citiesRISE. Author funding is listed in the Acknowledgements section of the paper.

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Doctors can do more to help prevent gun violence, USF paper says

  • Sam Ogozalek Times staff

Doctors can do more to help prevent gun violence and offer counseling on firearms safety, according to a review by University of South Florida researchers, including a medical student who survived the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

The review, published in February in the journal Advances in Pediatrics, noted that many doctors believe they should talk to patients about firearms, but often don’t because of time constraints, a lack of training and discomfort with the topic.

In Florida, a law passed in 2011 limited what questions doctors could ask patients about guns. But a federal appeals court found the restrictions to be unconstitutional and struck them down six years later.

The law “had a very chilling effect I think for a lot of providers,” said Cameron Nereim, one of the review’s authors and an assistant professor of pediatrics at USF who focuses on patients ages 12 to 25 in Tampa.

The review noted that the American Medical Association calls gun violence a public health crisis and firearm-related injuries were the leading cause of death for U.S. children in 2020, surpassing motor vehicle crashes.

Doctors can ask patients about whether guns are kept at home and if they are locked, unloaded and separated from ammunition, according to the review.

USF medical student Nikhita Nookala, who survived the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and covered it as a reporter at The Eagle Eye, the school’s student newspaper, contributed to the review.

The Tampa Bay Times spoke with Nereim and Nookala about their work, which was published with two other authors from North Carolina and Texas medical centers.

The interviews have been edited for clarity and length.

What are the major takeaways you hope physicians get from this paper?

Nookala: It’s important to assess patients’ risks and to see if you can do some harm reduction in terms of encouraging safe storage or just telling kids to be careful around guns.

It doesn’t have to be super political. It’s just about children’s safety at the end of the day.

The paper noted some of the major barriers to physicians counseling on firearms safety are the lack of formal training, lack of confidence that patients will follow their recommendations and low perceived self-efficacy. Are there any ways to address that?

Nereim: I think there are. ... One of the things is how do we do a better job of incorporating this into our training, whether that’s while you’re going through your residency program, while you’re going through your medical school, making sure these things are actually being plugged into our curricula.

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Is there a particular stage of education where you think this would be best emphasized?

Nereim: I think medical school, before students have even differentiated in terms of what specialty or subspecialty they’ll be choosing, that’s a great opportunity to make sure we’re relaying this information.

In school so far, have people talked about gun violence as a public health issue?

Nookala: Everyone acknowledges that it’s become a problem and it’s getting worse. I think a lot of people feel very helpless because it’s something that is hard to bring up.

You’re not accusing someone of “You don’t store your gun safely, you’re putting your child in danger.” ... You want to (tread) the line of “Oh, you have guns in the home, that’s fine, are you storing them safely, are (you) using gun locks?”

It’s just small things that you can remind people, nicely, without discouraging them from coming back.

During routine visits, do you ask patients or patients’ parents whether there are guns in the home, if they are locked, securely unloaded (and) separated from ammunition?

Nereim: Yes, we do.

With the ongoing mental health crisis that’s involving young people ... I think it becomes even more critical that we do our due diligence and we ask those questions about things like firearm ownership ... how ammunition is being stored, what level of training the family members or the kids themselves have in terms of actually using these objects.

How do those conversations normally go for you? Are they difficult?

Nereim: When you’re able to successfully create that nonjudgemental space ... the vast majority of patients and families are really receptive to the questions we’re asking.

Do you ask patients more often than not? Or do you ask their parents?

Nereim: I tend to do both.

Do you ask firearm-related questions in every visit with a patient, or do you only ask them with someone who would be considered high risk?

Nereim: I wouldn’t say we ask it at every visit. I think we’re getting better at making this more a universal thing that we’re screening for, in the same way that 15, 20 years ago we would make sure at every visit we’re asking “Are you wearing your safety helmet if you’re riding your bike? Are you buckling your seat belt if you’re riding in a car?” We’re moving in that direction.

It happens a lot more consistently in these higher-risk situations, so if you have a patient who’s experiencing mood symptoms, depression or maybe even anger, irritability, impulsive behaviors.

(The paper suggested) that physicians can link those at risk of gun violence to other programs that offer support in the community. Do you do that regularly? How common is that?

Nereim: It’s extremely common. ... In the space where I work, probably anywhere from 50 to 70% of patients may have some significant social need. ... A lot of young people confide in me that they’re fearful just to be outside and to be walking in the place where they live because there have been times where they’ve heard gunshots. Or they know there was a shooting that occurred in that same square, that same block.

As you can imagine, when you have these kinds of social needs that manifest over time, there can be pretty major health consequences.

Why is this research important to you?

Nookala: In the aftermath of the (Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School) shooting, the focus was on Parkland, and Parkland became this beacon of gun violence prevention. But the reality is that outside of that one incident, which was horrible, gun violence doesn’t really occur in cities like Parkland every day. It occurs in cities like Tampa every day in marginalized communities. … The focus needs to be shifted back to that.

Training to be a doctor, I wanted to know more about ways you could make changes on an interpersonal level with your patients without being involved in these really political movements that oftentimes (are) just kind of doing nothing or (do) a little something and it gets reversed a few years later. It’s frustrating to watch that.

Nereim: Violence leads to more violence. The only really, truly effective way for us to move forward as a society is we just have to realize that prevention is incredibly important. … I just don’t think we can ignore the role this is playing in the lives of our patients and their families.

Sam Ogozalek is a reporter covering the healthcare system and mental health. He can be reached at [email protected].


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    Brainstorm: List all the ideas that you want to include in your paper. Organize: Group related ideas together. Order: Arrange material in subsections from general to specific or from abstract to concrete. Label: Create main and sub headings. Remember: creating an outline before writing your paper will make organizing your thoughts a lot easier.

  18. Free Research Paper Outline Generator

    Our outline generator for research papers speeds up this process in several ways: ⭐ High-quality. The tool is smart enough to create an outline on any topic effortlessly. It provides blueprints you can turn into examples of high-quality academic writing. 🎯 Motivating.

  19. How to Write a Report on a Famous Person: Pro Tips

    Read through the assignment guidelines several times and make sure that your research and report follows the expected format. 2. Create an outline. This is a rough plan for the report that will help you to organize your thoughts and it will actually make writing the actual paper easier. Begin with your main point.

  20. Famous Person Research Paper Outline

    Famous Person Research Paper Outline. Famous Person Research Paper Outline. I. Opening. A. Include a quote about or from the famous person. B. Explain the quote. C. Relate the quote to your thesis. D. Thesis "So and so was an important figure in American History because….". II. Early life/Childhood.


    Research Paper: Thesis Statement and Outline Assignment - Peterson investigates the real-time impact of contemporary trade policies on global markets, providing insights into the effectiveness and consequences of recent economic strategies. Responses to Economic Challenges, such as the COVID-19 Pandemic (Anderson, 2023): - Anderson examines how the modern trade debate has been influenced by ...

  22. New water accounting reveals why the Colorado River no longer ...

    The river holds critical importance to more than 40 million people and more than two million hectares of cropland. ... This paper provides fuller accounting of the fate of all river water during ...

  23. Research Identifies Characteristics of Cities That Would Support Young

    The paper was published online February 21 in ... Cities have long been a draw for young people. Research by UNICEF projects that cities will be home to 70 percent of the world's children by 2050. Although urban environments influence a broad range of health outcomes, both positive and negative, their impacts manifest unequally. ...

  24. Research Paper Outline: Templates & Examples

    Here are some additional tips to keep in mind when writing a research paper outline: 1. Pick a topic of your interest. Make sure the scope of the topic is not too broad or too narrow. 2. Formulate a thesis statement. 3. Gather all relevant ideas that give support to your thesis statement. 4.

  25. Doctors can do more to help prevent gun violence, USF paper says

    The law "had a very chilling effect I think for a lot of providers," said Cameron Nereim, one of the review's authors and an assistant professor of pediatrics at USF who focuses on patients ...