18.11.2013

Research Plan

 

There can be many reasons for writing a research plan (e.g. to organize your research, to apply for a study place or project, to apply for funding) and many kinds of readers (e.g. a supervisor, an evaluator, a funding committee). As a result, research plans can vary a lot in style.

The general goal of a research plan, however, is to convince the reader that the research is important, logical and focused.

The content of a research plan is usually:

    • the need for the study (e.g. a research gap it fills, a problem it solves)
    • the theoretical framework
    • the overall aim and research questions
    • the data and methods
    • the schedule for completing the study (and possibly an estimate of costs involved)
    • possible implications and applications once the study is complete
    • a bibliography of sources you've used

There can be different ways of structuring this content. The following is just one suggestion, mainly suited to research plans written as part of thesis seminars (you will find another one, particularly for postgraduate applications, here).

Some vocabulary and phrases for writing the various sections of a research report (which are similar to those of a plan) can be found here.

Working Title

A 'working title' is the temporary title for your research project while it is under development. This title may change during the process.

Tentative Table of Contents

For seminar research plans, you may be asked to compile a possible table of contents for your thesis. This will help you to plan out and structure the actual contents of your final thesis.

Introduction

In a research plan, the introduction is very important. You need to get across to the reader quickly what the aim of your study is, what it involves (briefly) and why it is important.

There are different ways of structuring this information. A traditional way is to use a general to specific structure (start from the general topic area > identify a problem or research gap > state the aim and nature of your study). In contexts where you really need to grab the reader's attention, for example in competing for funding, a direct approach can be more effective (begin directly with the aim and nature of your study > explain why the study is necessary).

Background

Again the aim is to show that your study is important, logical and focused. Here, this means explaining relevant theory and previous research, and showing how your study will contribute to its field.

In a thesis a background section often involves giving a general overview of a field. Research plans, however, tend to be quite short and need to convince the reader quickly that the study is worthwhile. You should therefore only include points that are relevant and that clearly support what you are doing.

The structure can be quite flexible, as long as the line of thought in the text is logical and convincing. Again, it could follow a general to specific structure (identify important theoretical points on the topic > describe relevant previous research > state your study's contribution) or it could take a more direct approach (explain your study's theoretical approach > explain how your study will build on previous research findings).

Research Aim and Questions

Explain the aim of your research again and then break it down into the specific question(s) that your study will answer. The aim can be more general, but the questions should be focused and concrete, i.e. something that you can actually answer through analysing your data. You may also need to add some explanation and rationale for the question(s) to make it clear that they are logical based on your theory and research aim.

Methods

  • What is your data? Why?
  • How will you gather it? Why?
  • How will you analyze it? Why?

Again in this section you should be specific, while making it clear that your data and methods are logical considering your theory and research aim.

Schedule

When will you complete the various stages of your study?

Implications and Applications

Explain why the results of the study will be important.

E.g. What does it contribute to the field? Whom does it benefit? Will it solve any problem(s)?

Bibliography

See House guidelines (APA style).