How to Write a Concept Paper for Academic Research: An Ultimate Guide

Last Updated on 10/26/2020 by FilipiKnowOpens in a new tab.

A concept paper is one of the first steps in helping you fully realize your research project. Because of this, some schools opt to teach students how to write concept papers as early as high school. In college, professors sometimes require their students to submit concept papers before suggesting their research projects to serve as the foundations for their theses.

If you’re reading this right now, you’ve probably been assigned by your teacher or professor to write a concept paper. To help you get started, we’ve prepared a comprehensive guide on how to write a proper concept paper.

 

What is the concept paper?

Generally, a concept paper is a summary of everything related to your proposed project or topic. A concept paper indicates what the project is all about, why it’s important, and how and when you plan to conduct your project.

 

Different types of the concept paper and their uses.

writing a concept paper
Credit: Pixabay

1. Academic Research concept papers.

This type of concept paper is the most common type and the one most people are familiar with. Concept papers for academic research are used by students to provide an outline for their prospective research topics.

These concept papers are used to help students flesh out all the information and ideas related to their topic so that they may arrive at a more specific research hypothesis.

Since this is the most common type of concept paper, it will be the main focus of this article.

2. Advertising concept papers.

Advertising concept papers are usually written by the creative and concept teams in advertising and marketing agencies.

Through a concept paper, the foundation or theme for an advertising campaign or strategy is formed. The concept paper can also serve as a bulletin board for ideas that the creative and concept teams can add to or develop. 

This type of concept paper usually discusses who the target audience of the campaign is, what approach of the campaign will be, how the campaign will be implemented, and the projected benefits and impact of the campaign to the company’s sales, consumer base, and other aspects of the company.

3. Research grant concept papers.

This type of concept paper is most common in the academe and business world. Alongside proving why your research project should be conducted, a research grant concept paper must also appeal to the company or funding agency on why they should be granted funds.

The paper should indicate a proposed timeline and budget for the entire project. It should also be able to persuade the company or funding agency on the benefits of your research project– whether it be an increase in sales or productivity or for the benefit of the general public.

 

Concept paper vs. Research Proposal.

It’s important to discuss the differences between the two because a lot of people often use these terms interchangeably.

A concept paper is one of the first steps in conducting a research project. It is during this process that ideas and relevant information to the research topic are gathered to produce the research hypothesis. Thus, a concept paper should always precede the research proposal. 

A research proposal is a more in-depth outline of a more fleshed-out research project. This is the final step before a researcher can conduct their research project. Although both have similar elements and structures, a research proposal is more specific when it comes to how the entire research project will be conducted.

 

Getting started on your concept paper.

1. Find a research topic you are interested in.

When choosing a research topic, make sure that it is something you are passionate about or want to learn more about. If you are writing one for school, make sure it is still relevant to the subject of your class. Choosing a topic you aren’t invested in may cause you to lose interest in your project later on, which may lower the quality of the research you’ll produce.

A research project may last for months and even years, so it’s important that you will never lose interest in your topic.

Tips for finding your research topic.

  • Look for inspiration everywhere. Take a walk outside, read books, or go on your computer. Look around you and try to brainstorm ideas about everything you see. Try to remember any questions you might have asked yourself before like why something is the way it is or why can’t this be done instead of that
  • Think big. If you’re having trouble thinking up a specific topic to base your research project on, choosing a broad topic and then working your way down should help.
  • Is it achievable? A lot of students make the mistake of choosing a topic that is hard to achieve in terms of materials, data, and/or funding available. Before you decide on a research topic, make sure you consider these aspects. Doing so will save you time, money, and effort later on.
  • Be as specific as can be. Another common mistake that students make is that they sometimes choose a research topic that is too broad. This results in extra effort and wasted time while conducting their research project. For example: Instead of “The Effects of Bananas on Hungry Monkeys”, you could specify it to “The Effects of Cavendish Bananas on Potassium-deficiency in Hungry Philippine Long-tailed Macaques in Palawan, Philippines”.

2. Think of research questions that you want to answer in your project.

Now that you have a general idea of the topic of your research project, you now need to formulate research questions based on your project. These questions will serve as the basis for what your project aims to answer. Like your research topic, make sure these are specific and answerable.

Following the earlier example, possible research questions could be:

  • Do Cavendish bananas produce more visible effects on K-deficiency than other bananas?
  • How susceptible are Philippine long-tailed macaques to K-deficiency?
  • What are the effects of K-deficiency in Philippine long-tailed macaques?

3. Formulate your research hypothesis.

After formulating the research questions, you should also provide your hypothesis for each question. A research hypothesis is a tentative answer to the research problem. You must provide educated answers to the questions based on your existing knowledge of the topic before you conduct your research project.

After conducting research and collecting all of the data into the final research paper, you will then have to approve or disprove these hypotheses based on the outcome of the project.

4. Plan out how you will achieve, analyze, and present your data.

Prepare a plan on how to acquire the data you will need for your research project. Take note of the different types of analysis you will need to perform on your data to get the desired results. Determine the nature of the relationship between different variables in your research.

Also, make sure that you are able to present your data in a clear and readable manner for those who will read your concept paper. You can achieve this by using tables, charts, graphs, and other visual aids.

 

Generalized structure of a concept paper.

Since concept papers are just summaries of your research project, they are usually short and  no longer than 5 pages. However, for big research projects, concept papers can reach up to more than 20 pages.

Your teacher or professor may give you a certain format for your concept papers. Generally, most concept papers are double-spaced and are less than 500 words in length. 

Even though there are different types of concept papers, we’ve provided you with a generalized structure that contains elements that can be found in any type of concept paper.

parts of a concept paper

1. Title.

The title for your paper must be able to effectively summarize what your research is all about. Use simple words so that people who read the title of your research will know what it’s all about even without reading the entire paper. 

2. Introduction.

The introduction should give the reader a brief background of the research topic and state the main objective that your project aims to achieve. This section should also include a short overview of the benefits of the research project to persuade the reader to acknowledge the need for the project.

3. Purpose of the Study.

The Purpose of the Study should be written in a way that convinces the reader of the need to address the existing problem or gap in knowledge that the research project aims to resolve. In this section, you have to go into more detail about the benefits and value of your project for the target audience/s. 

4. Preliminary Literature Review.

This section features related studies and papers that will support your research topic. Use this section to analyze the results and methodologies of previous studies and address any gaps in knowledge or questions that your research project aims to answer. You may also use the data to assert the importance of conducting your research.

When choosing which papers and studies you should include in the Preliminary Literature Review, make sure to choose relevant and reliable sources. Reliable sources include academic journals, credible news outlets, government websites, and others. Also, take note of the authors for the papers as you will need to cite them in the References section.

5. Objectives of the Study.

Simply state the main objectives that your research is trying to achieve. The objectives should be able to indicate the direction of the study for both the reader and the researcher. As with other elements in the paper, the objectives should be specific and clearly defined.

6. Research Questions and Hypotheses.

Gather the research questions and equivalent research hypotheses you formulated in the earlier step and list them down in this section.

7. Proposed Methodology.

In this section, you should be able to guide the reader through the process of how you will conduct the research project. Make sure to state the purpose for each step of the process, as well as the type of data to be collected and the target population.

8. Proposed Research Timeline.

Depending on the nature of your research project, the length of the entire process can vary significantly. What’s important is that you are able to provide a reasonable and achievable timeline for your project.

Make sure the time you will allot for each component of your research won’t be too excessive or too insufficient so that the quality of your research won’t suffer.

9. References.

Ensure that you will give credit to all the authors of the sources you used in your paper. Depending on your area of study or the instructions of your professor, you may need to use a certain style of citation.

There are three main citation styles: the American Psychological Association (APA), Modern Language Association (MLA), and the Chicago style.

The APA style is mostly used for papers related to education, psychology, and the sciences. The APA citation style usually follows this format:

how to write concept papers 1
Credit: MendeleyOpens in a new tab.

The MLA citation style is the format used by papers and manuscripts in disciplines related to the arts and humanities. The MLA citation style follows this format:

how to write concept papers 2
Credit: MendeleyOpens in a new tab.

The Chicago citation style is usually used for papers related to business, history, and the fine arts. It follows this citation format:

 

Sample Concept Paper for Research Proposal (PDF)Opens in a new tab..

This is a concept paper sample provided by Dr. Bernard Lango from the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (modified for use in this article). Simply click the link above the download the PDF file.

 

Tips for writing your concept paper.

  • Use simple, concise language. Minimize the use of flowery language and always try to use simple and easy-to-understand language. Too many technical or difficult words in your paper may alienate your readers and make your paper hard to read. 
  • Choose your sources wisely. When scouring the Internet for sources to use, you should always be wary and double-check the authenticity of your source. Doing this will increase the authenticity of your research project’s claims and ensure better data gathered during the process.
  • Follow the specified format, if any. Make sure to follow any specified format when writing your concept paper. This is very important, especially if you’re writing your concept paper for class. Failure to follow the format will usually result in point deductions and delays because of multiple revisions needed.
  • Proofread often. Make it a point to reread different sections of your concept paper after you write them. Another way you can do this is by taking a break for a few days and then coming back to proofread your writing. You may notice certain areas you’d like to revise or mistakes you’d like to fix. Make proofreading a habit to increase the quality of your paper.

Ruth Raganit

Ruth Raganit is an aspiring geologist who obtained her Bachelor of Science degree in Geology from the University of the Philippines – Diliman. Her love affair with Earth sciences began when she saw a pretty rock and wondered how it came to be. She also likes playing video games, doing digital art, and reading manga.

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