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Research paper outline

       When writing a dissertation or any paper, the research paper outline will be your key to success. As with any large document, you need a plan (in this case, the research paper outline) that will organize your thoughts, and thus your research, structure, and final document. Once the plan is in place every following stage will become easier.

       The outline is also an essential element of the document for those who will judge the merit of your research paper. Therefore, it is doubly important for it to be both thorough and clear.

       Before you begin a research paper outline, make sure you know what your professor’s requirements are. Should it be in chronological order? How much detail is needed?

       Next you need to decide on the hierarchy of information. The outline will move from general to specific information, whether it is in chronological order or not, so figure out which ideas are the most important and then arrange the subsidiary ideas under these main ones. For example, if your paper is about horseracing and your thesis argues that one form of breeding method would increase the longevity of racehorses, your main ideas could be breeding methods, training accidents, and competition accidents.

       Main ideas are usually indicated with Roman numerals, secondary ideas with letters of the alphabet and indentation, and tertiary ideas (if there are any) with Arabic numbering and further indentation. So, in our example of a research paper outline, you might have:

  1. Breeding Methods
    1. Method A
      1. Advantages
      2. Disadvantages
    2. Method B
      1. Advantages
      2. Disadvantages
  2. Training Accidents
    1. Endurance
      1. Method A-trained
      2. Method-B trained
    2. Speed
  3. Competition Accidents
    1. Steeplechase
      1. Method-A trained
      2. Method-B trained
    2. Distance
    3. Sprints

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       It is important to make sure you develop the secondary ideas in your outline in order for it to be useful for research and writing. You should fill in whatever information you plan to deal with that will support your thesis statement. To continue with the horseracing example, you would need to give some detail on the shortcomings and advantages of each method, as well as data on the types of accidents, and evidence in favour of one method over the other. This is called the development section of a research paper outline, and will become the body text of your final document.

       Do not be afraid to alter the outline or planned essay structure as you work on it. This is your chance to make sure all your ideas and data will support your thesis as strongly as possible. This stage provides a chance for you to see where you may run into problems as you write, and to fix them early.

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