What is a concept paper? (modified from Spickard 2005)

All research projects need a concept paper: a short summary that tells the reader what the project is, why it is important, and how it will be carried out. Even if no one else ever reads it, the concept paper helps a researcher spot holes in her or his project that might later prove fatal. It is far better to be clear at the beginning than to put in a lot of effort for nothing!

Typically, a concept paper contains these elements:

1. A title in the form of a question. This may be the last part ofthe concept paper that you write, but it should appear at the heading of the paper.

2. A clear description of the research topic, including a summary of what is already known about that topic.

3. A one-sentence statement of the research question that the project will seek to answer. (This is almost always something that is not known.) The concept paper should elaborate on how this question can be answered -- something that almost always takes more than one sentence to accomplish.

4. A demonstration of why it is important to answer this research question. What good comes of this answer? Why is this project worth writing?

5. A description of how the researcher plans to answer the research question. This includes:

a. a description of the data or evidence that the researcher plans to gather or use;
b. a description of how the researcher will analyze these data; and
c. a demonstration of how these data and this analytic method will answer the research question.

Concept papers should range from 1 - 2 double-spaced pages (250-500 words). The point of a concept paper is to provide a clear summary of the research project. It should enable a casual reader to understand what the researcher is investigating, why it is important, and how the investigation will proceed.

please click the Back button on your browser to return to the previous page