Prepare your Research Plan
Prof. Constantinos Cartalis (University of Athens)
The selection of the research strategy for the formulation of your research plan is probably the most important decision to be made. The choice of the strategy, whether analytical, experimental, descriptive or a combination of these, depends on several inter-correlated parameters and preconditions. Broadly speaking a research plan has four main points:
c. methods and techniques to be employed (how it will be done – plan/methodology);
d. validation process of results (how reliable is what will be done).
Typically a research project may be described as in Figure 1 below. Each step builds on the preceding one(s): the research plan follows the research idea, literature review, the formulation of the research problem and finally the research question(s). It is then followed by data collection and analysis, answering the research questions, interpreting the results, comparing with earlier research in the field and finally extracting the conclusions. It follows that the research plan supports the thorough exploration of the research idea; it is thus critical that it is well structured and realistic.
In practical terms the research plan should include four elements:
1/ Title. It should provide a summary of the proposed work; it needs to be descriptive and concise so as to avoid either being very detailed or not providing enough detail.
2/ Abstract. It should repeat the main research question (s), the rationale for the study, the hypothesis (if any), and the method in brief (e.g. design, procedures, type of data, sampling and any instruments that will be used). A well written abstract of the research plan allows a quick understanding of the four main points: what will be done, why it will be done, how it will be done, how reliable is what will be done.
3/ Introduction. This is the place to show what is interesting and even innovative in your research plan. An introduction typically begins with a concise re-statement of the research problem; this is essential for the construction of a research plan (research objectives, hypotheses, methodology, work plan and schedule, etc).
4/ Methodology. Once the research problem is restated and the hypothesis described, it is time to refer to the methodology to be used to collect, analyze, and process data. In the event that more than one method is chosen to address the problem, for each method a clear explanation of its relevance to the problem needs to be made (possibly referring also to the advantages and disadvantages of each method).
At this stage it is important to decide if the method will lead to quantitative or qualitative analysis or a combination of both. This decision will influence critical aspects of the research plan, for instance the type of data to be selected, the temporal and/or spatial characteristics of data and the analysis tools to be used.
It is also important that the topic of the research plan is well defined so as to support a concise methodology. If the topic is too broad, it may be difficult to do more than just a rough analysis. Narrowing the topic will make it more manageable. A way to narrow the topic, is to conduct some preliminary research so as to exclude topics which may be impossible to do (for instance due to lack of data or requiring a too complicated process). An alternative to preliminary research, may be to discuss the topic and the research plan with others, preferably experts in the field. You may wish to contact GLOBE scientists in particular.
Once you deal with the above, its time to prepare your methodology. You may use the following steps:
Step 1. Define the tools and methods (including protocols) to be used to identify, collect, and assess data. Develop a simple road map (see also Figure 2).
Step 2. Provide a short description of the protocol(s) for data collection and refer to any challenges that may occur.
Step 3. Identify the key variables of the study. The research plan should allow you to examine the potential effect of variations in independent variables on dependent variables.
Step 4. Refer to specific methods of data collection you are going to use, such as observations, surveys, interviews, questionnaires, etc. Set the standards for each of the methods.
Step 5. Explain how you intend to analyze your results. Which variables are to be correlated and what is the physical meaning of such correlations; For instance if urban heat island in your city is examined, a valuable correlation is between land surface or air temperature and vegetation; on the contrary a correlation of limited value may be the one between land surface and snow cover. In addition describe if statistical analysis will be used or if the analysis will be based on theoretical interpretations.
Step 6. Describe ways to examine possible issues found in the methodology or in data analysis. Such ways may be the repetition of the experiment or of the survey, the enrichment of the data base with new measurements, redesign of the experiment, change of methodology or variables, etc.). Allow for the research plan to be iterative. This is important because the research plan may face obstacles which could prevent its implementation. An iteration of the process may allow the modification of an hypothesis and the inclusion of new information or variables.
Step 7. Describe potential limitations. Are there any practical limitations that could affect the research plan (e.g. lack of data, out of date equipment or even limited theoretical knowledge of the problem)? If the methodology leads to problems, describe potential corrective measures.
Step 8. Explain how data and their analysis will be validated and how quality control will be achieved. Define in particular the steps to be taken to assure quality control (laboratory procedures, equipment calibration, ground validation of data extracted from satellite images, random verification of surveys, etc.).
Step 9. Define the work schedule, work out the phases and work packages and secure a time table which allows the gradual implementation of the research plan. Remember that researching well needs time. To this end it is better to provide adequate time to conduct your research, as well as to modify parts of the research plan if needed. Placing tight deliverable dates usually results in implementation problems.
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Research Plan Methodology, available at https://hasanuzzaman.weebly.com/uploads/9/3/4/0/934025/04._research_planning_methodology.pdf, last accessed 25/10/2017
Student Resources, BCPS Independent Research Seminar, Online Research Framework, available at https://www.bcps.org/offices/lis/researchcourse/steps.html, last accessed 3/11/2017.