How to Write a Concept Note: A Step-by-Step Guide
Concept notes are important documents that serve as a brief outline of a project. They are used to present a proposed project to potential stakeholders and funders, and are usually requested before a full project proposal is submitted. If you are planning to embark on a new project, it is essential to know how to write a concept note. In this guide, we'll take you through the step-by-step process of writing a winning concept note.
Understanding the Purpose of a Concept Note
Before we delve into the details of how to write a concept note, it is important to understand its purpose. A concept note serves several functions:
What is a Concept Note?
A concept note is a brief outline of a project proposal, usually submitted to potential stakeholders and funders to solicit their support.
Let’s take an example of a non-profit organization that wants to start a new project to provide education to underprivileged children. The organization will need funding and support from donors to make this project a success. To attract potential donors, the organization will need to submit a concept note that outlines the basic details of the project.
Why is a Concept Note Important?
Concept notes are important because they help to identify potential stakeholders and funders for a proposed project. By providing a brief overview of the project, concept notes help to gauge interest and support. This is especially important when dealing with multiple potential stakeholders and funders, as it allows the organization to tailor their proposal to the interests of each party.
Moreover, concept notes help organizations to save time and resources. Instead of preparing a full proposal for every potential stakeholder or funder, concept notes can be used to filter out those who are not interested in the project, allowing the organization to focus on those who are.
When to Use a Concept Note?
Concept notes are usually requested by potential stakeholders and funders before a full project proposal is submitted. They can also be used to introduce a new project to an organization or community. In addition, concept notes can be used as a tool for internal planning and decision-making.
For example, a company may use a concept note to introduce a new product or service to its employees before launching it to the public. This allows the company to gather feedback and make any necessary changes before investing resources into a full launch.
In conclusion, concept notes are an important tool for organizations to attract support and funding for their projects. By providing a brief overview of the project, concept notes help to gauge interest and support, saving time and resources. They can be used to introduce new projects to stakeholders and funders, as well as for internal planning and decision-making.
Key Components of a Concept Note
The following are key components that should be included when writing a concept note:
The project title should be clear and concise. It should capture the essence of the project in a few words.
The project objective should be clearly stated, and should contain a succinct statement of what the project intends to achieve.
Background and Context
The background and context should provide an overview of the problem that the project intends to address. It should also highlight the relevance of the problem to the target audience and the broader community.
Target Audience and Beneficiaries
The target audience and beneficiaries should be clearly identified. This helps to ensure that the project is designed to meet the needs of the intended beneficiaries.
Project Activities and Methodology
The project activities and methodology should describe the specific steps that will be taken to achieve the project objectives. It should also provide details on how the project will be implemented.
Expected Outcomes and Impact
The expected outcomes and impact should clearly state what the project hopes to achieve and how it will contribute to the broader goals of the organization or community.
Monitoring and Evaluation
The monitoring and evaluation plan should outline how the project will be monitored and evaluated to determine its success.
Budget and Resources
The budget and resources section should provide a detailed breakdown of the costs associated with the project, as well as the resources required to implement it.
Step-by-Step Guide to Writing a Concept Note
Now that we have covered the key components of a concept note, it is time to take you through a step-by-step guide to writing a winning concept note.
Step 1: Research and Preparation
Before you start writing your concept note, it is important to conduct thorough research on the problem you are seeking to address, the target audience, and the available resources. This will help you to develop a comprehensive understanding of the project and its requirements.
Step 2: Develop a Clear Project Objective
The project objective is the backbone of your concept note. It should be clear, concise, and specific. A well-defined objective will help you to stay focused on the project and ensure that the project is designed to achieve the intended outcomes.
Step 3: Provide a Strong Background and Context
The background and context section of your concept note should provide a clear understanding of the problem the project intends to address and its relevance to the target audience and the broader community. This section should demonstrate the importance of the project and why it is needed.
Step 4: Identify Your Target Audience and Beneficiaries
The target audience and beneficiaries section of your concept note should clearly identify who the project is meant to benefit. This section should also provide details on how the project will improve the lives of the intended beneficiaries.
Step 5: Outline Your Project Activities and Methodology
The project activities and methodology section of your concept note should provide a detailed explanation of how the project will achieve its objectives. This section should outline the specific steps that will be taken to implement the project and achieve the desired outcomes.
Step 6: Describe Expected Outcomes and Impact
The expected outcomes and impact section of your concept note should detail the expected results of the project and how they will contribute to the broader goals of the organization or community. This section should also provide a clear understanding of the impact the project is expected to have on the beneficiaries.
Step 7: Develop a Monitoring and Evaluation Plan
The monitoring and evaluation plan should outline how the project will be monitored and evaluated to determine its success. This section should also include the indicators that will be used to measure the project's impact.
Step 8: Prepare a Budget and Identify Resources
The budget and resources section of your concept note should provide a detailed breakdown of the costs associated with the project, as well as the resources required to implement it. This section should also include details on how the project will be funded.
By following these steps, you will be able to develop a comprehensive and winning concept note that will help you to secure funding for your project. Remember to keep your concept note clear, concise and focused on the project objectives. Good luck!
ChatGPT Prompt for Writing a Concept Note
Use the following prompt in an AI chatbot . Below each prompt, be sure to provide additional details about your situation. These could be scratch notes, what you'd like to say or anything else that guides the AI model to write a certain way.
Please prepare a comprehensive and detailed document outlining the key ideas, objectives, and strategies for a proposed project or initiative. This document should clearly articulate the purpose of the project, the target audience, the expected outcomes, and the resources required to implement it. The concept note should be well-structured, concise, and informative, providing a clear roadmap for the proposed project and demonstrating its potential impact and value.
[ADD ADDITIONAL CONTEXT. CAN USE BULLET POINTS.]
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A concept note is a summary of a proposal containing a brief description of the idea of the project and the objectives to be pursued.
CONCEPT NOTE DEVELOPMENT
A concept paper is meant to give the university an informed idea of the applicant’s areas of research interest to avail the necessary assistance for them to develop a full research proposal and allocate supervisors to give the necessary assistance. Applicants should therefore be as specific as possible. Concept papers vary in format and specifics depending on the university but are generally concise documents containing accurate relevant information and persuasive arguments to enable decision making. These guidelines are intended to guide applicants on how to develop the concept papers as part of the application process.
2. PROCESS OF DEVELOPING A CONCEPT PAPER
1. Selection of Research Field- Each University has got specialized fields of research and therefore students have to research within those fields only. It is a requirement for the students to select a research field only offered by the University and anything outside what is offered will not be acceptable. For example, a student cannot select Robotics as a research field when it is not among the ones offered within the University. The student’s selection will be always guided by the list of the research fields that have been listed by the University.
2. Generate an area of interest- This is an area where you have a curiosity. What are you curious about (within the general area of specialization/field where you wish to do your research? A student who wishes to specialize in public administration would for example be curious about public service values. A student who wishes to do research in computer science may be very curious about systems security or internet fraud. A student who wishes to specialize in business administration may be curious about the increasing corporate governance crisis. A student who wishes to specialize in management may be curious about management styles adopted by CEOs . The selection of this area is influenced by some factors including:-
· The applicant’s knowledge of the state of the scientific discipline of his or her area of specialization
· The applicant’s knowledge of the Social problems
· The applicant’s values and research expertise in a particular file
· Social premiums
· Practical considerations and accessibility to the research subjects
· Financial constraints-applicants must gauge their financial strength to select an area of research.
· The applicant’s research paradigm-qualitative, quantitative orientation or both
· Educational background will determine what initial knowledge the applicant can bring to the research.
3. Choose one of the areas of curiosity and develop some specific questions (this is called “question framing”). Many research questions can be classified as (1) exploratory (just trying to find out about something); (2) descriptive (trying to obtain descriptive data, such as average age, income, etc.), and (3) explanatory (trying to explain the relationship between variables, like your major in college and your future earnings). Think about answers to certain questions-it is common for a good researcher writing a concept paper to ask the following questions:_
· What will be the research unit?-will the study be on individuals, groups, structures, systems, etc?
· What is the level of research?-first level (relationship between individuals), second level (relationship between individuals and groups), and third level (relationship between groups)
· What key variables are to be explored in the intended study?
· What are the anticipated relationships among the variables identified?
· What hypothesis (if any) does the applicant have on the variables identified?
4. Formulate a possible research topic or title based on the answers above. In particular, once you are clear on your variables and anticipated relationship, it becomes clear to formulate a tentative topic for investigation which will be discussed and approved by your supervisor. The title should not exceed 20 words and should be clear and concise.
5. Do any of your questions lend themselves to a research hypothesis? If so, write out any hypotheses. A research hypothesis is an “educated guess” about relationships that may explain behavior and phenomena. Sometimes we refer to our research hypothesis as our thesis or theses (plural). If research hypotheses involve quantitative data, they may be tested statistically through statistical hypothesis testing. Note that developing hypotheses may require some preliminary research or prior knowledge (which is why a hypothesis is called an educated guess).
6. Identify the ideal evidence (data) and how you will probably try to gather that evidence (your methodology). You are very likely to need multiple types of evidence (data). The methodology you will probably have to use will include the following:
· Review literature on history through secondary sources about the area of your proposed research
· Think about what type of data you may need to conduct your study and address your curiosity
· Think about the methods you are likely to use to get the data that you wish
· Think about the population and sample from which you are likely to get the information
· Think about how you are likely to analyze the data that you may collect
7. Write a Concept Paper. Draw on what you have developed in terms of areas of curiosity, research questions, research hypotheses, data sources, and methodology. Begin with a very direct and explicit statement of your area of interest and your research question(s). This should take about one paragraph. Move on to state your research hypotheses, or thesis statement. This should take another paragraph or so. Conclude with a discussion of your proposed methodology. This should take another paragraph. The entire Concept Paper should be at least 2 pages and not be more than 10 pages, double-spaced. Citations are appropriate if you used any sources in developing your Concept Paper.
8. Before turning in your concept paper, go through this checklist to make sure your concept paper is of the highest quality possible:
1. Are you proposing to research something that is really of interest to you? 2. Are your research questions truly appropriate for academic inquiry, or are they more appropriate for casual or non-scholarly consideration?
3. Are your research questions actual questions that can be researched through academic means (e.g., library sources, interviews, surveys, etc.), or are they opinions or attitudes that can’t be researched?
4. Does your concept paper attempt to research an area of interest to you and ask (and propose to answer) specific questions, or is it trying to solve some problem (finding solutions to problems is not appropriate for a research paper, although you may make policy recommendations as a result of your findings).
5. Are your questions specific?
6. Are your questions answerable through research?
7. Have you stated at least one hypothesis (research or statistical)?
8. Have you identified the data you will need and how you will get it (methodology)? 9. Have you included citations, if appropriate, and a reference list or bibliography?
3. STRUCTURE OF THE CONCEPT PAPER.
As a guide and to encourage uniformity in the assessment of the concept papers, all applicants should structure their concept papers; taking into account the preceding process guidelines; as follows:-
· Cover page include the title of your research, your names as they appear in the academic documents, the area of specialization of the Ph.D. as advertised, and months and date
· Introduction- Briefly tells us about the area of your proposed interest and why such an area is of significance to study. Justify why such an area is of utmost importance to research ( not more than 3 paragraphs)
· Problem statement – Briefly state what the problem of the investigation will be for the proposed study. Give evidence of the magnitude of the problem by either giving the statistics where applicable or citations. Remember your problem can be theoretical or practical and whichever you opt to address, make sure you have ‘convicted’ the problem (two paragraphs)
· Research Questions, Objectives, and Hypotheses . Formulate the key questions which your study intends to explore. The questions should be in harmony with the formulated objectives and any hypotheses if any; given the natural relationships among the three. No more than 6 research questions/ objectives should be formulated
· Literature – Briefly review the current literature about the proposed area of research. Use journal sources and primary sources like dissertations within your area of specialization. At this level, you can show how current you are aware of the debates and developments within your chosen area of research ( 2-3 pages would be adequate)
· Methodology . Finally, you should briefly describe the methodology you intend to follow in conducting the proposed research. You need to show in this methodology the research orientation in terms of research paradigm qualitative, quantitative or both
· References . The last part of your concept paper should be a list of references (all works cited in the text) and ensure you follow the American psychological association style of referencing (APA). Its guidelines are available on the World Wide Web.
How to Write a Concept Note for Research
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How to Write a Concept Paper in 7 Steps
Before you can write a research paper, or begin your research, you may have to write a concept paper.
A concept paper is a short academic paper that explains the research you plan to conduct. It covers your research goals, how you’ll carry out the research, how you’ll collect data, and the questions you aim to answer through your research.
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What is a concept paper?
A concept paper is typically a two- to three-page paper that concisely explains a proposed research project. If the paper is for a funding application, it may be twenty pages or longer.
In the paper, they demonstrate why their proposed project is worthwhile. The paper covers:
- Research goals
- Questions the research aims to answer
- The research methods the author will use
- The types of data that will be collected
A concept paper is also known as a research proposal. They may be submitted to investors to secure funding, or a student may submit one to their supervisor before starting a research project. Through reading a student’s concept paper, an academic supervisor can assess their project’s feasibility and, if necessary, suggest adjustments the student can make to improve their project so it’s more realistic or valuable. Similarly, prospective investors can decide whether a project is something they’d like to support. Undeveloped or unrealistic projects can end at the concept paper stage
7 steps for writing a concept paper
A concept paper’s title should directly express the paper’s content. Think of it as a preview for the reader. The title can be the question the proposed project aims to answer, or it can be a short statement that summarizes the paper.
2 Introduction outlining problem and gaps in knowledge
In the introduction section, provide an overview of your research project. This should include a short overview of the current state of your research area and existing gaps in this area. After explaining these, state which of these knowledge gaps you aim to fill with your research. This section should also mention any contradictory theories regarding the questions you aim to answer.
3 Mission statement
Your concept paper’s introduction should also include a mission statement . This is a sentence or two that concisely states your research purpose in an engaging way. Remember, the goal is to get your project approved—so your mission statement should communicate why the reader’s approval will benefit your field.
4 Research aim
Your concept paper also needs to address the reason why you’re conducting the specific research you’ve planned. This part, along with the following two sections, are sometimes grouped together as a concept paper’s project description.
In this section, cover the following:
- The reason why your research is important
- The questions you aim to answer through your research
A concept paper also needs to discuss the methodology you plan to use while conducting your research. This is the strategy or strategies you will use to collect data, such as:
- Case studies
This section should also include any ethical concerns that could arise during the research period.
6 Outline of proposed methods and potential impact
After describing your proposed methodology, write a section that discusses exactly how you’ll conduct your research using these methods. Be as specific as possible—if you plan to utilize resources like specialized equipment or collaborate with an expert in your field, include this information in this section. In this section, outline how long you expect the research to take and note the specific milestones you plan to hit during that time frame.
This section should also discuss your research’s potential impact. Discuss who your research and results will impact and how it will impact them. For example, you might conduct a study on undergraduate sleep schedules and publish a paper that supports campus-wide policy changes that promote healthy sleep cycles for students who live on campus.
A concept paper also needs to include a section that addresses the project’s budget. The section should explain the overall cost and break it down into individual expenses so readers can see exactly how the money will be spent.
Tips for writing a concept paper
Write to your audience.
A concept paper is a piece of academic writing, so use a professional tone . Avoid colloquialisms, slang, and other conversational language. Your concept paper should use the same tone and style as your accompanying research paper.
Write according to your reader’s familiarity with the subject of your concept paper. For example, if you’re proposing an IT project and your intended reader is the head of your university’s IT department, you can use technical jargon they will understand. If the intended reader is somebody in a non-technical role, avoid jargon and make sure you define every vocabulary word that might not be familiar to them. By ensuring your reader understands your concept paper, you increase the likelihood of them approving your project.
Use an engaging, accurate title
Just like a clear, intriguing subject line increases the likelihood of a recipient reading an email, an engaging title increases the likelihood of your reader not only reading your concept paper but understanding it. Choose a title that’s concise (fewer than 15 words or so) and accurately reflects your paper’s content. After reading your paper’s title, your reader should not be surprised by your proposed research.
Keep it to an appropriate length
If you’re a student writing a concept paper for an undergraduate, master’s, or doctoral project, two to three pages is generally the right length for your paper. Don’t worry about getting too detailed about the specifics of your research; a high-level overview is sufficient.
Concept papers meant to secure funding from investors can be longer than academic concept papers.
How is a concept paper different from a research paper?
The main difference between a concept paper and a research paper is when they’re written in relation to a research project. A concept paper is written before its author begins their research, and a research paper is written after they’ve completed it. In other words, a concept paper introduces readers to its author’s academic project, and a research paper explains the outcome of the project.
Concept paper FAQs
A concept paper is often a two- to three-page paper that concisely explains a proposed research project.
When do you need a concept paper?
You need a concept paper to outline a proposed research project. Often, they are part of undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral research proposals. It’s also common for entrepreneurs and individuals conducting scientific and public-service-related research to write concept papers to garner support for their work.
What are the main steps of writing a concept paper?
Write an engaging, accurate title
- Outline the problem you aim to solve
- Write a mission statement
- Explain your research aim
- Explain your research methodology
- Explain your research methods and the potential impact of your work
- Discuss your project’s budget and how it will be allocated
While a concept paper introduces a proposed research project by outlining its purpose, process, and goals, a research paper discusses a completed project in detail.
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What is a Concept Paper and How do You Write One?
- By DiscoverPhDs
- August 26, 2020
What is a Concept Paper?
A concept paper is a short document written by a researcher before starting their research project, with the purpose of explaining what the study is about, why it is important and the methods that will be used.
The concept paper will include your proposed research title, a brief introduction to the subject, the aim of the study, the research questions you intend to answer, the type of data you will collect and how you will collect it. A concept paper can also be referred to as a research proposal.
What is the Purpose of a Concept Paper?
The primary aim of a research concept paper is to convince the reader that the proposed research project is worth doing. This means that the reader should first agree that the research study is novel and interesting. They should be convinced that there is a need for this research and that the research aims and questions are appropriate.
Finally, they should be satisfied that the methods for data collection proposed are feasible, are likely to work and can be performed within the specific time period allocated for this project.
The three main scenarios in which you may need to write a concept paper are if you are:
- A final year undergraduate or master’s student preparing to start a research project with a supervisor.
- A student submitting a research proposal to pursue a PhD project under the supervision of a professor.
- A principal investigator submitting a proposal to a funding body to secure financial support for a research project.
How Long is a Concept Paper?
The concept paper format is usually between 2 and 3 pages in length for students writing proposals for undergraduate, master’s or PhD projects. Concept papers written as part of funding applications may be over 20 pages in length.
How do you Write a Concept Paper?
There are 6 important aspects to consider when writing a concept paper or research proposal:
- 1. The wording of the title page, which is best presented as a question for this type of document. At this study concept stage, you can write the title a bit catchier, for example “Are 3D Printed Engine Parts Safe for Use in Aircraft?”.
- A brief introduction and review of relevant existing literature published within the subject area and identification of where the gaps in knowledge are. This last bit is particularly important as it guides you in defining the statement of the problem. The concept paper should provide a succinct summary of ‘the problem’, which is usually related to what is unknown or poorly understood about your research topic . By the end of the concept paper, the reader should be clear on how your research idea will provide a ‘solution’ to this problem.
- The overarching research aim of your proposed study and the objectives and/or questions you will address to achieve this aim. Align all of these with the problem statement; i.e. write each research question as a clear response to addressing the limitations and gaps identified from previous literature. Also give a clear description of your primary hypothesis.
- The specific data outputs that you plan to capture. For example, will this be qualitative or quantitative data? Do you plan to capture data at specific time points or at other defined intervals? Do you need to repeat data capture to asses any repeatability and reproducibility questions?
- The research methodology you will use to capture this data, including any specific measurement or analysis equipment and software you will use, and a consideration of statistical tests to help interpret the data. If your research requires the use of questionnaires, how will these be prepared and validated? In what sort of time frame would you plan to collect this data?
- Finally, include a statement of the significance of the study , explaining why your research is important and impactful. This can be in the form of a concluding paragraph that reiterate the statement of the problem, clarifies how your research will address this and explains who will benefit from your research and how.
You may need to include a short summary of the timeline for completing the research project. Defining milestones of the time points at which you intend to complete certain tasks can help to show that you’ve considered the practicalities of running this study. It also shows that what you have proposed is feasible in order to achieve your research goal.
If you’re pitching your proposed project to a funder, they may allocate a proportion of the money based on the satisfactory outcome of each milestone. These stakeholders may also be motivated by knowing that you intend to convert your dissertation into an article for journal publication; this level of dissemination is of high importance to them.
Additionally, you may be asked to provide a brief summary of the projected costs of running the study. For a PhD project this could be the bench fees associated with consumables and the cost of any travel if required.
Make sure to include references and cite all other literature and previous research that you discuss in your concept paper.
This guide gave you an overview of the key elements you need to know about when writing concept papers. The purpose of these are first to convey to the reader what your project’s purpose is and why your research topic is important; this is based on the development of a problem statement using evidence from your literature review.
Explain how it may positively impact your research field and if your proposed research design is appropriate and your planned research method achievable.
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Concept Paper vs. Research Proposal – and when to use each
On the surface, concept papers sound like they do the same job as a research proposal – and essentially, they do. Both are designed to communicate the rationale, methodology and outcomes of a proposed piece of work. The difference between the two lies mostly in the level of detail and the potential audience, based on which your approach towards writing each will vary. In this article, we dig deeper into these and recommend when to use which.
Concept paper: Putting your idea to paper
- What : A concept paper verbalises an idea and puts it to paper for the first time. Here, an overall rationale is presented, with a focus on the essential idea and potential impact of the expected outcome(s). However, what you would not include here is much in-depth detail.
- When : Writing a concept paper is most useful when an initial expression of interest is made to either a collaborator or funder – provided the funder has mechanisms for you to do this, like an open call.
- Why : The aim of your concept paper will be to win your audience over with your idea and its potential ramifications.
(For more on concept papers, read: Understanding and developing a concept paper )
Research proposal: Showing how things will get done
Let’s say that through your concept paper, you find funding and collaborators for your proposed research project. You will now get into the nitty gritty of the project with a research proposal, while still keeping it “consumable” enough for a broader audience.
- What : A research proposal builds on a concept paper by now including aspects like key deliverables, milestones and specific outcomes, as well as how you plan to achieve these.
- When : You will typically send a research proposal to sources of funding of an open nature, i.e. those that do not require a standardised form to be filled in, as is often the case with institutional internal funding or private investors.
- Why : It is not necessary for you to first send someone a concept paper and follow it up with a proposal. However, you may often need to follow this sequence in order to provide only ‘need to know’ material depending on the stage of your relationship with potential partners.
( For more on research proposals, read: Writing a successful research proposal )
When both are needed, a concept paper precedes a research proposal
Deciding between a concept paper and a research proposal
Whether you send someone a concept paper or a research proposal depends entirely on two things:
- Your existing relationship with whomever you are reaching out to
- What you are trying to achieve
If you are emailing an organisation or individual for the first time, you are more likely to receive a response by attaching a brief, snappy concept paper that is easily read by a multitude of people. On the other hand, some larger organisations, such as pharmaceutical companies, are very used to seeing full-fledged research proposals and may have a portal on their website where you would need to upload one, enabling them to skip the preliminary step of vetting your work through a concept paper.
Our recommendation : Given how pressed many people are for time these days, it would be prudent to send concept papers more frequently than research proposals. If more information is required, you will be asked for it.
Concept papers and research proposals do very similar things, but set out and achieve very different aims. They are often sent in sequence – the concept paper first, followed by the research proposal. The need for a research proposal arises when the concept paper has achieved its mark – when, for example, more information is required for a funding decision to be reached, or due diligence is to be performed, as a result of your concept paper gaining preliminary acceptance. Following up with a research proposal fills in the gaps and will aid in answering questions arising from the concept paper.
Read previous (second) in series: Writing a successful Research Proposal
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