Creating an outline is really about structuring your paper. Don’t be too formulaic, but it can be helpful to follow patterns and guides. In high school you might have written three- or five-paragraph essays, and it’s okay to use those same patterns for a college research paper, but be sure that whatever format you choose makes sense for your paper.
Take time to understand exactly what you are being asked to write and how you will be graded on it. And if you aren’t sure, ask! Ask your teacher for clarification before you even pick a topic. That way, you will be sure you are on the right track.
If you have two main points in your thesis, three or five main sections might not work for your research paper. If the assignment asks you to introduce a topic, explain different opinions on the topic, and then choose and explain your opinion, then your paper probably needs three main sections, one for each of those objectives.
If you have the freedom to choose what your research paper could be about, take advantage of the situation and choose a topic that you are interested in or a topic you are curious about. By doing this, it gives you motivation to do necessary research for it. Be specific when selecting a topic because most writers make a mistake in choosing a topic that is too general.
If your teacher requires you to turn in a bibliography with your research paper; you ought to already know exactly what the assignment is by now!), create a bibliography that meets the requirements for the paper. If you are just making one just for yourself, think about how you would like to organize your research.