How to Write 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. In general, a research plan should outline the steps that will be taken to reach the project purpose or prove the hypothesis.

Usually a research plan is done before a project starts and after a hypothesis/purpose has been specified. For some competitions, like the Robot Design Competition, a formal plan may not have been written but it is useful to create one in hindsight to show what may have been an ad hoc plan. The contents of the plan will be the same but it will actually be easier to write.

The research plan should address the entire project, including any preparation that is necessary, such as building research apparatus or acquiring specialized research materials. It should present any experiments and how results will be evaluated. For an engineering project a research plan should outline the steps that will be taken. This may include preparation of scaffolding or other support or background requirements. It should describe the components and how they will be assembled or how they work together.

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. A research plan outline can be a useful starting point.

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. 

  • A research plan is not a research paper and it does not need to include references unless these are related to the research plan.
  • A research plan MUST include any safety related information as well as any disposal procedures when necessary. This is usually the case for biological projects that detail with microorganisms, tissues, etc.

The following links provide a research plan outline as well as examples.