Develop a research plan

At this point, you have a general idea of what your project will entail. It is now time to put together a more detailed plan on how to complete the project. The plan should address the entire project, including any preperation that is necessary, such as building research apparatus or aquiring specialized research materials. It should present any experiments and how results will be evaluated.

A research plan needs to be detailed. It is not sufficient to say, "I am going to make an airplane" or "I am going to see how a plant grows in dirt." The plan needs to indicate all the steps you plan on taking such that another person reading the research plan could repeat your process.

The research plan must address safety and health issues. This means you must understand the materials and processes involved, as well as the risks and the way to minimize those risks. The risks should be enumerated as well as how they will be addressed. For example, if animals are used in an experiment, then their care, feeding, and housing after the experiment must all be addressed in the research plan.

Your mentor/adult-in-charge/supervisor will review your research plan and may suggest changes. Likewise, the research plan may have to be reviewed by a safety review committee before your experiments can begin. The more details in the plan, the better the chance that it will be approved without changes.

A research plan needs to be as long as necessary. It may fit on one page or many pages. 

Basic Research Plan

The following is a minimal research plan for a bacteria related project. Note, this project would require Form 2 (Qualified Scientist) and Form 6A (Potentially Hazardous Biological Agents) as well, 

A. Problem: Do commercial cleaning products reduce the amount of bacteria on a surface?

B. Hyposesis: Commercial cleaning products kill a significant amount of bacteria

C. Procedures

  • Materials
    • 6 large, 10 cm (4 in) diameter Petri dishes
    • 6 cotton swabs
    • 5 grams of Agar
    • 1 600 mL plastic beaker
    • 2 types of cleaning products
    • 1 incubator
  • Methodology
    • Choose two locations with sufficient space to take two samples after cleaning
    • Prepare agar and place into petri dishes
    • Repeat the next steps for both locations
    • Transfer a bacteria sample using a cotton swap from the center of the area and swab it on a petri dish
    • Clean half the area with a cleaning product and allow to dry. Get another sample into the next petri dish
    • Repeat with the other cleaning product on the other half of the area.
    • Seal the petri dishes
    • Place petri dishes into incubator set to 35 degrees Celcius
    • Allow bateria to grow for one week, record status daily measuring number, color and size of growths
  • Clean up
    • The cotton swabs will be discarded in the normal trash
    • Petri dishes will be autoclaved when the experiment is complete
  • Risk Assesment
    • The cotton swabs only have the amount of bacteria the a person would normally be exposed to so they can be discarded after use
    • Bacteria growth mush be done in a biosaftey level 1 location. Our school lab is BSL-1.
    • The petri dishes have large amounts of bacteria and need to be disposed of properly. They will also remain sealed after the samples are obtained.

D. Bibliography

  1. Alcamo IE (2001). Fundamentals of microbiology. Boston: Jones and Bartlett. ISBN 0-7637-1067-9.
  2. Atlas RM (1995). Principles of microbiology. St. Louis: Mosby. ISBN 0-8016-7790-4.
  3. Bacteria,
  4. Martinko JM, Madigan MT (2005). Brock Biology of Microorganisms (11th ed.). Englewood Cliffs, N.J: Prentice Hall. ISBN 0-13-144329-1.
  5. Funke BR, Tortora GJ, Case CL (2004). Microbiology: an introduction (8th ed.). San Francisco: Benjamin Cummings. ISBN 0-8053-7614-3.


Research Plan Outline

The research plan for ALL projects is to include the following:

A. Question or Problem being addressed

B. Goals/Expected Outcomes/Hypotheses

C. Description in detail of method or procedures
(The following are important and key items that should be included when formulating ANY AND ALL research plans.)

  • Procedures: Detail all procedures and experimental design to be used for data collection
  • Data Analysis: Describe the procedures you will use to analyze the data/results that answer research questions or hypotheses

D. Bibliography: List at least five (5) major references (e.g. science journal articles, books, internet sites) from your literature review. If you plan to use vertebrate animals, one of these references must be an animal care reference.

  • Choose one style and use it consistently to reference the literature used in the research plan
  • Guidelines can be found in the Student Handbook

Items 1-4 below are subject-specific guidelines for additional items to be included in your research plan as applicable:

  1. Human participants research:
    • Participants. Describe who will participate in your study (age range, gender, racial/ethnic composition). Identify any vulnerable populations (minors, pregnant women, prisoners, mentally disabled or economically disadvantaged).
    • Recruitment. Where will you find your participants? How will they be invited to participate?
    • Methods. What will participants be asked to do? Will you use any surveys, questionnaires or tests? What is the frequency and length of time involved for each subject?
    • Risk Assessment
      • Risks. What are the risks or potential discomforts (physical, psychological, time involved, social, legal etc) to participants? How will you minimize the risks?
      • Benefits. List any benefits to society or each participant.
    • Protection of Privacy. Will any identifiable information (e.g., names, telephone numbers, birth dates, email addresses) be collected? Will data be confidential or anonymous? If anonymous, describe how the data will be collected anonymously. If not anonymous, what procedures are in place for safeguarding confidentiality? Where will the data be stored? Who will have access to the data? What will you do with the data at the end of the study?
    • Informed Consent Process. Describe how you will inform participants about the purpose of the study, what they will be asked to do, that their participation is voluntary and they have the right to stop at any time.
  2. Vertebrate animal research:
    • Briefly discuss potential ALTERNATIVES to vertebrate animal use and present a detailed justification for use of vertebrate animals
    • Explain potential impact or contribution this research may have
    • Detail all procedures to be used
    • Include methods used to minimize potential discomfort, distress, pain and injury to the animals during the course of experimentation
    • Detailed chemical concentrations and drug dosages
    • Detail animal numbers, species, strain, sex, age, source, etc.
    • Include justification of the numbers planned for the research
    • Describe housing and oversight of daily care
    • Discuss disposition of the animals at the termination of the study
  3. Potentially Hazardous Biological Agents:
    • Describe Biosafety Level Assessment process and resultant BSL determination
    • Give source of agent, source of specific cell line, etc.
    • Detail safety precautions
    • Discuss methods of disposal
  4. Hazardous Chemicals, Activities & Devices:
    • Describe Risk Assessment process and results
    • Detail chemical concentrations and drug dosages
    • Describe safety precautions and procedures to minimize risk
    • Discuss methods of disposal