As indicated already, outlines, whether formal or informal, can represent a collection of ideas or a carefully sequenced and divided blueprint for your paper. Many teachers require outlines as part of their research paper assignments. Your outline, however, must also leave room for the ideas of others. As you research your topic, your outline will change as your perspective and knowledge change.
Many students panic when they are unable immediately to produce an outline for a research paper. In fact, such outlines generally take longer to develop, are started later in the writing process, and remain more malleable than other outlines you have devised. You begin writing an outline after conducting some research, and you should remain open to the new evidence that continuing research provides. You should also act on any hunches you might have about where to look for new information and then expand your outline. As you manage your research project, keep the dynamic character of outlining in mind.