You know, the one where you throw in every bit of interesting research you uncovered, including the fungal growth in the U-joint of your kitchen sink? Everything you learn may be fascinating, but not all of it is going to be relevant to your paper.
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.
As you read and evaluate the information you discover, take notes. Keep track of your reference materials so you can cite them and build your bibliography later. The Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL) and other university writing lab websites are excellent resources to help you understand what information you’ll need to collect to properly cite references.
A prospectus is a formal proposal of a research project developed to convince a reader (a professor or research committee, or later in life, a project coordinator, funding agency, or the like) that the research can be carried out and will yield worthwhile results.
It is also very important not to be too vague. Don’t be afraid to make a strong statement. If you look at the above examples, each of them makes a specific point about the topic. Another key to crafting a strong thesis statement is making sure that your thesis is arguable. That doesn’t mean it’s controversial or particularly opinionated, but it does mean that someone could disagree.