What is a Concept Paper?

A concept paper is a brief document that a researcher creates before they start their research project. It explains the study’s purpose, its importance, and the methods that will use it.

Your proposed research title, brief introduction about the subject, research questions, research methods, and data type will be included in the concept paper. You can also refer to a concept paper as a proposal for research.

What is the Purpose of Concept Paper?

A research concept paper’s primary purpose is to convince the reader that the proposed project is worthwhile. The reader must first agree that the proposed research project is innovative and worthwhile. The reader should first agree that this research is needed and that the questions and research goals are appropriate.

They should also be satisfied that the data collection methods proposed are feasible, likely to work, and can be completed within the time frame allocated.

These are the three most common scenarios where you might need to write a conceptual paper:

  • Final year undergraduate or master’s student who is preparing to begin a research project together with a supervisor.
  • A student submits a proposal for a PhD research project.
  • Principal investigator who submits a proposal to a funding agency to obtain financial support for a research program.

Writing a Concept Paper and the Suggested Format

Private foundations often require that a concept paper is submitted to be reviewed before submitting a full proposal.

Federal and state agencies have encouraged the use of concept paper to get informal feedback from applicants on their ideas and projects before preparing a proposal. These agencies may now require that a concept paper is submitted as part the formal submission process.

A concept paper is designed to assist applicants in developing more competitive proposals. It also helps to cut down on time by eliminating those proposals that are unlikely to be funded.

The purpose of a concept paper is for the applicant to attract the attention of the funding agency and show that their idea is worth further consideration.

The first sentence of a concept document is therefore very important. The funding agency representatives and board members should continue reading.


The Introduction should contain information about the funding agency. It is important to show that you are knowledgeable about the funding agency’s mission and the types and projects they support.

Next, identify the agency that you represent. Describe how your agency and the funding agent’s missions mesh. Describe the partners agencies involved in the project and their interests.


Next, describe the problem, question or need to be addressed (Purpose).Provide supporting documentation to support the importance of this question, problem, or need. Use statistical data if you have it. Numbers are always persuasive.

In other words, let’s say why everyone should care. Although it may seem harsh, when you’re close to an issue, it’s easy to forget that not everyone understands the situation.

You should cite other people’s work in relation to your research or project so that the funding agency believes you are an expert. Don’t claim that you are the only one who has ever suggested such a project. Even the most innovative and brilliant ideas are built on the work of people in related fields.

Description of the Project

  • Tell us about your project. What your agency will do, why it is unique, and who will benefit. (Project Description). Briefly explain your goals and objectives, or your research questions. A goal is a statement that describes a broad, abstract intention, state, or condition. A statement that identifies measurable outcomes related to the goal is called an objective. An objective can include information about “who, what, or when”. It does not include information about “how”.
  • Provide an overview of your method, including how the project will be executed and any new techniques or processes. Be sure to link the methods, goals, and objectives. You should include a timeline for the things you want to achieve.
  • List the expected benefits and who they will benefit from the research. Basic research is more difficult. However, you should still be able to explain how your research will contribute to the scientific body and the number of students who will benefit from your work.
  • Keep your concept papers to five pages. Be concise, clear, and brief. You don’t need to overwhelm readers with details, but you should not sound vague or unsure of what you are trying to achieve.
  • Be positive, definite, and specific. Instead of saying that an objective may be achieved, indicate that it “will be achieved” within a specified time. If the purpose of the funding program is to fund “planning”, it’s best not to ask for money for that. Funding agencies will not fund projects that are beyond the planning phase.
  • Think about your audience. Scientific terms and technical jargon are acceptable if your concept paper will be reviewed by scientists from your field. This type of language may not be appropriate if your proposal will be reviewed by lay people or generalists.
  • Do not include budgetary information unless it is requested (Support). If you are required to give dollar amounts, you should work with the Office of Sponsored Projects in order to create your budget. Otherwise, describe what support you require, such as personnel, travel, and equipment.
  • Last but not least, appearance is key. This concept sheet represents you! You should make sure that the font size is large enough for easy reading and that the margins are standard. Check for spelling errors before submission. Attention to detail is crucial.
  • Number all pages. Include your name and the date in header. Include your contact information in the concept paper (Contact).

Here is an outline of a concept paper. Use the format provided by your agency if it is different.

The suggested format for a concept paper

  1. Introduction
  2. Project Purpose
  3. Project Description
  4. Research Questions/Objectives/Goals
  5. Timelines and Methodology
  6. Benefits and Expected Outcomes
  7. If requested, support and costs
  8. Contact Information

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