What is a research plan?

Research is one of the most important of all human activities. It is also one of the oldest, as old, in fact, as the human race itself. Man has always been motivated, on the one hand, by his natural curiosity about the world around him and on the other, the desire to have better things and better ways of doing things; these two forces have propelled him to seek new knowledge and make improvements in living. None of the machines that we take for granted today could possibly exist were it not for the vast amounts of research conducted by scientists and engineers over the years. For many college and university courses, too, research papers are the “backbone.”

The foremost quality that defines research is its systematic nature. A researcher uses firmly established methods to evaluate ideas and to find out new things. In order to do research on any subject, therefore, one needs to have a plan that is clearly established. The purpose of this article will be to teach the reader how to write up a research plan that is well thought out.

Decide exactly what it is that you are researching.

In carrying out this step you want to be as specific as possible. If for instance the research you want to do is to be in the field of American history, or even on the Civil War, you cannot say so because that is too broad. A much narrower subtopic within that field might be “how the Civil War spurred the development of new weapons” or “U. S. foreign policy during the Civil War.” Both of these ideas are general but limited.

It is important to realize that topics for research become more focused as you go from lower- to higher-level courses. If your instructor has given you free reign inyour choice of topic, do not choose an issue on which much has been written already, such as gun control, illegal immigration or the legalization of marihuana. Not only are these subjects worn and therefore boring, but it is all too easy to plagiarize in such areas.

You should choose instead to investigate something about which little or nothing has been written. A good example of such a topic might be the recent development of the economy of Ghana or the goals of various “third parties” like the Constitution Party. In fact, you should think of yourself as a pioneer in your field, opening up new frontiers therein just as Daniel Boone and Meriwether Lewis explored new lands on the continent. You might consider an area where two topics overlap, such as language and religion.

Some other factors that you should take into consideration when choosing your topic are:
• It should be on something current.
• It should be responsive to research.

Once you have chosen your topic, remain focused and disciplined. Resist the temptation to stray too far off topic.

Figure out if you will be doing fundamental or directed research.

These are the two chief forms of research. They are distinguished chiefly by the motivations that lie behind them, similar to the distinction between pure and applied science: Fundamental, or basic, research is conducted for the purpose of learning more about the laws of nature, while directed, or applied, research is done with the understanding that the new knowledge gained as a result will be used to solve practical problems. The former type is more difficult to plan or direct because the researcher does not know in advance what he or she will be exploring and likewise the results can seldom be predicted.

Directed research, on the other hand, is typically aimed at some specific objective such as the development of a new process, material or product. An example of directed research is that which resulted in the development of the magnetic tape recorder: Those who contributed to this invention did so by applying their fundamental knowledge of magnetism.

Prepare a thesis statement.

The thesis is the most important element of any research project. It is, specifically, a statement to be proven through your studies. Again, it is essential that you make your thesis as limited as possible because the more so yours is, the easier it will be to figure out the criteria that can be used to prove or disprove the case. However, you also need to keep an open mind and not have too firmly fixed an idea of what your thesis should be until the research is well underway. You might very easily find that you need to change the thesis, as so often happens.

Focus your research.

Keeping focused is the thing you want to do more than anything else all during your research project. At the beginning stages you will be reading about a wide range of things and perhaps only one percent of what you find will actually find its way into your final paper.

When you study via the Internet, there are two services, both provided by Google, that you might find to be particularly useful: Books and Scholar. The most recent books on a given subject will, of course, be covered by copyright laws and therefore will probably not be available for viewing in its entirety, but you may be able to sign them out at your library, get them through interlibrary loan or even buy them yourself. Those in the public domain are mostly older but they should not be ruled out as much of the information that they contain might still be relevant and useful today. Google Scholar contains references to articles that were published within the last year, enabling you to form a network of resources.

Organize and revise your paper.

Start writing as soon as your research ends. Once again, be flexible and recognize the need to revise the paper as needed. Craft your introduction and conclusion and then tackle what comes in between.


Cynthia Lopez