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The Research Process: Organizing Your Paper

This guide is created to help students through the steps of writing a research paper or project.

Create an Outline

Creating an outline assists you with organizing your ideas, and helps you to remain focused while writing your paper. 

An outline will also help with:

• presenting your ideas clearly

• overcoming writers block - it will show you where you're going and what the next step is

• getting you back on track should you find yourself straying from the subject

• showing the relationship between your ideas

• knowing what direction to research and what areas of the outline need additional sources

Steps to Creating Your Outline

1. Identify the research topic/question: this is your main point of the paper.

2. Identify the subtopics: your introduction will describe all of the subtopics and the rest of the paper will expand on those. The number of subtopics you use depends on the amount of information that you are trying to cover. 

3. Identify points within your subtopics that will support your main point. 

(adapted from the University of Southern California Libraries)

Alphanumeric Outlines: the most common type used, 

• starts with Roman numerals - I, II, III, IV, V,...

• then uses Capitalized letters - A, B, C,...

• then uses Arabic numerals - 1, 2, 3,...

• and last uses Lowercase letters - a, b, c,...

• if you need to subdivide beyond this use Arabic numerals in parenthesis - (1), (2), (3),...

Here are some sample outlines courtesy of The Purdue OWL

Be Flexible!


                 Don't let the outline ruin your paper.

As you investigate and learn more about your research topic your analysis may take another direction. Feel free to reorganize the outline. Relax and enjoy the learning process. 

Keep it Organized!

Here's a few ideas to keep yourself on track while writing:

• as you're writing keep your outline close by and compare it to your paper 

• if you see that your paper is not following the same route as your outline then take a close look at what you have written and see if you can recreate your outline 

• if the recreated outline says what you want it to say and the order is easy to follow, then you've been successful with your organization! 

• if you cannot recreate the outline then you will need to revise your paper