Writing a research project concept paper is the first assignment that postgraduate students are required to pass before proceeding to the research proposal.  A concept paper is a brief summary of a research that postgraduate students write when preparing to carry out a study in a given phenomenon. The purpose of the research project concept is to outline the planned project into a short paper of 6-8 pages. By giving the department an idea of what the topic of a planned research is all about, the administrators will be in a position to identify the broad area of the intended research and allocate the supervisors accordingly.

Contents of a Research Project Concept Paper

Although the structure and content of concept papers differ from one institution to another, a research project concept paper has five main areas as explained below.

A. Title of the Proposed Study

The title of the proposed study summarizes the main idea or ideas of the study. When choosing a title, ensure to consider guidelines provided by your institution. A good title should contain the fewest possible words that provide an adequate description of the contents of your research paper. What researchers need to know is that the title is the most read part of the research project concept paper and it is read first. Too long titles are accused of having too many unnecessary words while too short topics adopt words that are too general, thus, lacking focus. A good research topic to be presented on the face of a research proposal concept paper must have the following characteristics:

  • Indicating accurately the subject and scope of a study.
  • Not displaying any abbreviations.
  • Made of words that create a positive impression and stimulate the interest of readers.
  • Identifying key variables (independent and dependent) of the study.
  • Having a clear suggestion of the relationship between dependent and independent variable supporting the main hypothesis.
  • The number of words limited to 10-25.
  • Does not include words such as ‘analysis of’, ‘investigation of’, and ‘study of’.
  • Observe capitalization (for example first letter of each word should be capitalized).

An example of a research title is:

Strategic Workforce Diversity Perspectives and Organizational Performance in Kenya Commercial Bank.

B. Area of Study

The area of study relates to the concentration or specialization. A course such as MBA or MSc or MA may has several areas of specialization.  For example, MBA has five areas including Finance, Strategic management, monitoring & evaluation, human resource management and marketing. In this section of the research project concept paper, you are required to indicate your area of study. For the above topic, the area of study is strategic management.

C. Background of the Study

In this section, your institution is asking you to write what you have read that has had an impact on your thinking about the topic. The background is not limited to specific items; you write any content that you have read about the topic that has affected how you understand your phenomenon of interest. The background focuses on global, regional and local characterizations of your research variables. Therefore, when writing the background of the study for your research project concept paper, remember to pay attention to both dependent and independent variables. However, considering that this is a research project concept paper, the background will be required to be kept short such as a paragraph of two. Much of the content will be written when writing a research proposal and/or doing a research project.  

D. Statement of the Problem

The problem relates to the gap in knowledge that answers the question why the study needs to be conducted. A research problem is a short, succinct explanation of a problem facing a given aspect of choice and a proposed solution to the problem. Problem statement is usually placed immediately after the background to ascertain why the study is being carried out. For a research project concept paper, the problem is stated in few sentences and much of the details are included when writing the research proposal/thesis. There are three areas of consideration when writing a statement of the problem, which results to identification of the gaps. These area:

  • Conceptual gap-this relates to both empirical gap and the way concepts are used.
  • Methodological gap-the nature of research methods, strategies and approaches used.
  • Contextual gap-the area or circumstances in which a study was carried out.

Writing a good statement of the problem requires attention to be paid to:

  1. The ideal state (what should the existing state of affairs).
  2. The current state (what is actually happening in the present).
  3. The cause of the difference between the ideal state and the current state
  4. How your research seeks to harmonize the idea state and the current state.

The research problem is usually based on the dependent variable. If a study is about ‘the effect of online marketing on performance of SACCOs in Kenya’, the problem comes from performance of SACCOs. In this case then it means you will need to identify:

  1. How SACCOs should ideally perform.
  2. How SACCOs are currently performing.
  3. The cause of the difference between how SACCOs ought to perform and how they are actually performing.
  4. How your research will help SACCOs transform from current performance to how they are actually performing.

The fundamental question that helps you to write a clear statement of the problem is asking yourself, “Who is complaining?” This will help you create a researchable problem.

When summarizing your research problem for a research project concept paper, remember to focus on the 5Ws (Why, When, Where, What, and Who. Moreover, ensure to:

  1. Explain your problem
  2. Explain the financial costs of your problem
  3. Back up your assertions with literature and research evidence.
  4. Give a proposed solution.
  5. Explain the benefits of the solution.

E. Objectives of the Study

Objectives seek to answer the question of what the study wants to achieve. A research project concept paper should identify one general objective and 3-5 specific objectives of the study in question. When writing objectives, ensure that they meet the SMART criteria, that is, specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound. An example of a general objective/aim is:

  • To establish the effect of strategic workforce diversity perspectives on organizational performance in Kenya Commercial Bank.

Examples of specific objectives relating to the above topic include:

  1. To determine the effect of demographic perspectives on organizational performance in Kenya Commercial Bank.
  2. To assess the effect of Human Resources perspective on organization performance in Kenya Commercial Bank.
  3. To determine the effect of flexible work arrangement perspective on organization performance in Kenya Commercial Bank.

The independent variable for this study strategic workforce diversity perspectives. This was broken down into the three independent variables including demographic perspectives, human resource perspectives, and flexible work arrangement perspective, which were used to construct specific objectives.

F. Research Questions/Hypotheses

It is also critical to include research/questions in the research project concept paper. These help to provide direction for the study. Research questions/hypotheses should originate from the independent variables. The decision whether to adopt research hypotheses or research questions is determined by the nature of data to be collected. Hypotheses are adopted when data is quantitative in nature and seeking to find out relationships between two or more variables. Hypotheses can either be null or alternative. Research questions are used when research is explorative in nature and adopting qualitative data techniques. Using the above general aim and objectives, the research questions will be stated as follows:

  1. What is the effect of the effect of demographic perspectives on organizational performance of Kenya Commercial Bank?
  2. How does human resources perspective influence organization performance of Kenya Commercial Bank?
  3. What is the effect of flexible work arrangement perspective on organization performance in Kenya Commercial Bank?

Research hypotheses, on the other hand, will be stated as follows:

Ho1:     There is no significant relationship between demographics perspectives and organizational performance of Kenya Commercial Bank of Kenya.

Ho2:     There is no significant relationship between Human Resource perspectives and organizational performance of Kenya Commercial Bank of Kenya.

Ho3:     There is no significant relationship between a flexible work arrangement perspective and organizational performance of Kenya Commercial Bank of Kenya.

G. Literature Review

In a research project concept paper, the literature review section requires you to identify the literature that you intend to review and why you want to review that particular literature. In this section, you are required to provide brief definitions of concepts that characterise the study and critique empirical literature. The section should identify at least eight (8) previous studies relating to the current title of your study. Use the sources (mostly peer reviewed journals to identify gaps in literature and justify why you think these sources of literature are instrumental to your study. In some institutions, this section is presented in the form of annotated bibliography.

H. Theoretical Framework

This section is used to identify 3-4 theories that underpins the study. Everything that we do can be explained based on existing theories. When writing this section of the research project concept paper, you need to search and read a number of theories, then select those that you feel are most relevant to your area of study, and explain them. When presenting the theoretical framework, consider:

  1. Proponents of the theory.
  2. What the theory says in general terms (propositions of the theory).
  3. The variable that the theory explains in your study
  4. The relevance of the theory to the current study.

Given the title of strategic workforce and performance of KCB, the most applicable theories include social identity theory, the balance scorecard theory and social exchange theory. Further explanations relating to the proponents, propositions, the variable that each help explain and the relevance can be briefly explained to make the concept paper for a research project clear.

I. Proposed Design, methods and procedures

Proposed design, methods and procedures is what is actually referred to as the research methodology at proposal or project level. The research methodology identifies and justifies the methodological techniques, strategies and approaches to your study. Elements that should come clear in this section include the research design, research strategy, population and sampling techniques, data collection and analysis procedures, and ethical considerations. In the research project concept paper, attention should be given to the multiple regression formula for quantitative and coding for qualitative studies. For the topic we used in this post as an example and the variables, we can form a multiple regression equation as follows.

Y= β1 X1 + β2 X2+ β3X3 +e

Where: Y=Dependent variable (organizational performance), β1, β2 and β3 = Beta coefficients, X1=Demographic Perspectives, X2=human resources perspective, X3=flexible work arrangement perspective. After data collection, data will be coded and entered into an analysis software, which will generate values that will be substituted in the equation to make it a predictive equation.

K. Bibliography

This is the final section of a research project concept paper. The role of this section is to identify the sources of information that have been used in the concept paper. It is required that the sources should be referenced properly using any of the referencing styles such as APA, MLA, Harvard, and Oxford. Social science dissertations require the use of APA while English papers mostly adopt MLA. Oxford is mostly reserved for law and history papers. An example of a reference cited as per the APA guidelines is:


Bratton, J., & Gold, J. (2017). Human resource management: theory and practice. Palgrave.

Journal article:

Mutuku, C., K’Obonyo, P., & Awino, Z. B. (2013). Top management team diversity, quality of decisions and performance of commercial banks in Kenya. Asian Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences (AJHSS), 1(3), 205-218.

Up to this point, you can now write a research project concept paper. What you need to keep in mind is that your title should originate from something you are passionate about if you want to undergo a seamless research process. Somewhere on the way, you may find difficult executing certain areas of the concept paper. If this happens, you do not need to tense. You can seek expert training so that you can progress and complete your work within the predetermined schedule. Tobit Research Consulting has a multiplicity of training programs spanning proposal development and data analysis software such as SPSS, STATA, and Eviews, which can highly enhance your speed of understanding and completing your research endeavors.