Understanding and developing a Concept Paper
A concept paper, simply put, is a one- to two-page written document describing an idea for a project. At this stage, there is no need to flesh out details, but rather just introduce the overall rationale of the project, how it’ll be carried out and the expected outcomes. There is no hard rule as to how this should be structured, but below are some tips on what to include and why to include them.
Discuss the rationale
The need for the project is an important aspect to address, and is often something a funding body might look for when considering funding a project. A concept paper might be the first thing a funding round requests to get an idea of what the project is all about. So make sure that it includes:
- Importance of the work being proposed
- What the impact (not the same as ‘impact factor’ – see later below) will be
- How the outcomes of your project might meet or respond to the need
- Priorities of your intended audience
Outline your methodology and procedures
Your overall methodology, i.e. how you intend to approach your work, should be outlined here to give your reader an idea of how you propose to achieve your research objectives. Mentioning the proposed methodology in advance allows them to conduct an independent evaluation into whether it is a valid approach.
Further, you should highlight some exciting, specific procedures or methods that you might be especially well-placed to perform. For example, your institute may have a specific piece of equipment, or you may have access to very high quality expertise. This will inspire confidence in the review panel that you are well-positioned to take the project on.
Describe the potential impact
Impact is a term often thrown around in research circles, usually relating to the ‘impact factor’ of a journal. Impact in this instance does not refer to that. The impact that you should be describing here is the real-world impact of your work.
Will your idea or innovation change people’s lives?
Will it save the taxpayer money?
How will it do those things?
Make sure you describe impacts that go beyond discovering something new to shaking up your research community.
A concept paper is a loose framework by which you are able to quickly communicate an idea for a piece of work you might want to do in the future. At the very least, it can help you put ideas to paper and look at them as a whole, allowing you to critically assess what is needed to make it a reality. In the best case scenario, a concept paper might be used to advance your grant applications or attract investment for your idea. Whatever you are using it for, it is a valuable piece of writing that can help you formalise your idea and make it a reality.
Read next (second) in series: Writing a successful Research Proposal
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