Research Plan, Research Protocol

A Research Plan (aka Research Protocol) is a brief summary of planned research.


Research Plans are a common genre in scientific and social science communities.

Investigators in workplace settings submit Research Plans for independent ethics review when conducting research involving Human Subjects Research or Animal Research. Research Plans may be an independent document or they may be a subsection of a research proposal. They tend to be very concise documents with references.

In school settings, Research Proposals are also common. They provide teachers with the opportunity to give helpful feedback to students before they engage a lot of time in a topic. Circulating a proposal widely and seeking as much critical feedback as possible helps investigators avoid wasted time, resources, and money.

A Research Plan may have multiple audiences:

  • an M.A. or Ph.D. Thesis Committee
  • an IRB, Institutional Review Board
  • an anonymous peer-review panel
  • a mentor or boss

Because they are written for multiple audiences who may lack the investigator’s expertise, Research Plans are written as simply as possible. They avoid jargon and acronyms. They do not presume disciplinary expertise.

Research Plans differ across disciplines. In the humanities or in other contexts where the research methodology is hypothesis generating as opposed to hypothesis testing,

That said, Research Plans frequently

  1. identify the audience, purpose, and significance of the research study in a research abstract
  2. introduce a Research Question(s)
    • provide an abbreviated literature review that informs readers about the significance of the topic to various stakeholders
    • identity, in the case of quantitative studies, independent variables (causes) and dependent variables (effects)
  3. identify methods for gathering data
    • clarify whether the the method is descriptive/observational, quasi-experimental, experimental?
    • define what qualitative data will be gathered and the schedule for gathering the data
    • will quantitative data be generated?
  4. address ethical concerns
    • How will the subjects be selected?
    • Will anonymity be promised and if so how preserved?
    • How will data be protected from hackers or inappropriate usage