What Is a Preliminary Outline for a Research Paper?

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A preliminary outline for a research paper is an organized list of topics to be included in the research paper along with notes under each topic about the details to be written in the paper. Outlines can also be completed with charts and index cards.

Before writing a research paper, many writers first create an outline of the topics and main subjects to include. The outline serves as a blueprint or map of what the research paper plans to contain. A traditional outline for a research paper has Roman numerals or bullet points and/or letters and numbers that organize the outline by topic, subtopic and details. However, it is not necessary to follow the traditional numbered or bullet-point format. Some writers prefer the more visual approach of making a chart either by hand or with a software program, while others like to organize their thoughts with index cards kept together as an outline deck.

Whether the outline is made by a list, a chart or index cards, the key to making a good outline is to do plenty of research for the paper. The outline is going to serve as a list of directions and information that go into the research paper, and if the outline is missing key points, the research paper is likely to miss those points as well.