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HOW TO WRITE A RESEARCH OUTLINE

October 26, 2021

Okay, before you panic and start overthinking things, pause, breathe and tell yourself you’ve got this. Writing a research outline can be daunting because a lot of the time you don’t know where to begin. I have been there myself, and I have guided many others after me. So, in this blog, I am going to guide you on writing solid a research outline and hopefully put your worries to rest.

What is a research outline?

The answer is simple; a research outline, as the name suggests, is an outline of what you plan to research. Your planned thesis. It’s the skeleton of your research paper, and it typically includes an introduction, a problem statement and research questions or hypotheses, a methodology section, and a conclusion. Note, that the content of this skeleton will most likely change as you proceed with your research; so the topic of your outline doesn’t have to be final, or even anything like your final product.

What is the purpose of a research outline?

The purpose of a research outline is for the admissions panel to see that you know how to define a problem you want to address, that you can point out its significance, that you know what research questions are best suited to investigate it, and what methods are best suited for that. 

There are various sources online that offer good examples of proposals. A research outline is essentially a mini-proposal. You can also visit your campus library, or any other academic repositories, and have a look at past theses. Most introductory chapters of a thesis are essentially the proposal, so take that and make it small scale.

The advantages of a research outline?

A research outline isn’t just for the admissions panel; it also helps you. Here’s why this part of the process is beneficial to you:

  1. It provides structure to your plan
  2. It organises your thoughts and helps with writers’ block
  3. It gives you a snapshot of the ‘big picture’ of your research
  4. It helps with time management
  5. It lessens anxiety, increases productivity and keeps you motivated

What constitutes a good research outline?

As I mentioned earlier, it is not expected that you have everything figured out at the outset, so the simple questions to ask yourself in order to determine whether you’ve nailed it, are:

  • Does it identify a gap in knowledge?
  • Does it tell us why it is important to fill that gap, and to whom it is important?
  • Does it tell us how you’re going to fill that gap, and why that is the best way?

A step-by-step guide to your research outline

Introduction

First, you will need an introduction, which should be intriguing, engaging, and informative, without giving away too much. You want the reader to want to continue reading on. This section should present a little background story of your topic (paint a pretty picture), a gap you’ve found in existing knowledge, definitions of key terms to be used throughout the study, and the main issues you’d like to address with your research. To make your introduction stand out, try to include the following:

A surprising fact or an interesting statistic: Who doesn’t enjoy an interesting fact? Something to make them think “Oh, really? I didn’t know that!”. Naturally, they will want to read on, right? I know I would…

A thought-provoking quotation: A relevant quote from an expert in the field, or any well-known figure who said something poignant that relates to your topic, makes a great hook for an introduction. 

Problem statement

This is the very essence of your research paper. It answers the questions: Why is this necessary, and how do you know it’s necessary? Keep this very brief (just a few sentences will do). A good problem statement gives context (what is already known about your topic), the relevance of your study (why it’s important), and aims and objectives (what do you wanna do about it?).

Still not clear? Here are a few problem statements to get your brain going. You’re welcome 🙂

Hypotheses, research questions and objectives

Research questions are typically used in qualitative and quantitative research. The tip here is to word your knowledge gap as a question, and as an objective. The same gap you’ve identified in your problem statement? Just take that and word it as a question. And word it as an aim for the research objective. With the objective, you start with the word “to”, and with the question, you end with a “?”. Hypotheses are typically used in quantitative research, and are essentially ‘educated guesses’. It’s a statement made of what you predict the outcome of your research will be.

Let’s see how all these play out in an example. You feel that there isn’t much knowledge on why GBV is so prevalent in South Africa, and that this makes it hard to tackle, and so womxn continue to be murdered (problem statement). Add a little sprinkle of academic language, and your research question becomes “What are the factors that cause gender-based violence in South Africa?”. Similarly, your research objective becomes “To determine the factors that cause gender-based violence in South Africa”. Your hypothesis would be “Gender-based violence is caused by financial strain, alcoholism, and trash men”. See? Simple!

Methodology

Now that you’ve told the panel what the problem is and what you’re going to do about it, this is your chance to briefly describe how you’re going to do that. Don’t worry, you don’t have to figure this all out by yourself. There are long-established methods in academia to approach studies – you just need to pick the best one for yours. Your choices here all depend on the research objectives and questions that you established in the previous step.

For example, you’re going to conduct interviews with perpetrators of GBV to ask them some burning questions. Or you’re going to analyse some psychological reports about GBV perpetrators. Remember, you will always need to give reasons to justify why these chosen methods are the best way to get the answers you’re looking for.

Conclusion 

To wrap up your research outline, your conclusion should include a summary of all the items you’ve written above. Reiterate your strongest points without going into too much detail. This should sum up, most importantly, what the gap is, and how you’re going to fill it.

Wow, I feel like I just gave an entire lecture! I hope that you found this valuable and that it will help you with your future research outlines. 

Happy writing!

Yours in glamorous writing,

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