How to write a concept paper for college?

How to write a concept paper for college?

Have you been required to submit a concept paper prior to your research paper, and you are now wondering how to write a concept paper? You are not alone. As a student pursuing any course at the tertiary level, it is inevitable that before you complete your course, you will be required to do a research paper to show that you can apply what you have been studying in your area of specialization to a real-life situation. It is one of the most essential parts of the course requirements. Before your research paper, you will be required to come up with a concept paper that gives an outline of your research idea. Here is an article on how to write a concept paper.

How to write a concept paper

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A research paper is usually done at the very last year or semester and is vital for the satisfactory completion of your course. You as the student are required to come up with a topic of research that you find relevant and essential to potentially solve an existing problem or answer a controversial question in your area of study or industry in question.

Before doing your research or writing your research paper, you will need to draft a catchy summary of what the research is about and how it contributes to the world of academia, and especially with regards to the particular industry in question. This summary is what is known as a concept paper. The concept paper will be read by your lecturer or supervisor who will be tasked to determine the suitability of the research project you want to undertake. Based on their analysis and your prowess in convincing them that it is a worthy and helpful research project, they will either give you the go-ahead to carry on with the project, suggest similar alternative topics you can focus on, or tell you to come up with another project altogether. This article details how to write a concept paper, but first, let us look at what a concept paper is.

Concept paper definition

A concept paper is a document which summarizes what your project is about, why it is important, and how you intend to carry it out. It consists of the topic under research, the hypothesis that you seek to approve or disprove, research questions, data required, and methods of obtaining it. It is sometimes known as a proposal or an abstract. The latter two are usually more detailed than a concept paper but often serve the same purpose, that is, to convince the party evaluating it that the research project is worthwhile.

Depending on the research you are carrying out, your concept paper can range from 2-3 pages for a small research project to up to 20 pages for massive research projects. As for the formatting, the spacing should be double, the font size should be 12, and the font style should preferably be Times New Roman. If you refer to any sources while drafting your concept paper, it is important that you cite them at the end of your document or whenever the citation may be necessary for the process of concept paper writing.

How to write a concept paper

Writing a concept paper is the first step in writing your research project. A winning concept paper will capture the attention of whoever is reading it and get you the results you need. Below are the steps you need to follow to ensure that your concept paper will get a smile and a nod from the reader.

1. Come up with a research topic that genuinely interests you

The research topic should span areas that interest you as an individual and are still relevant to your area of study or course. How do you come up with a research topic?

How to come up with a research topic

As you studied throughout your junior classes, you may have encountered certain concepts that awoke your curiosity. These may give you ideas of what your research could be about. Alternatively, while randomly reading a newspaper, watching TV, reading books, and so on, you may have come across ideas or concepts that aroused your interests. These can serve as research topics you may consider pursuing. Personal experiences can also be good starting points when you are searching for a topic to write about.

List all the ideas you can remember or think of that you would be interested in doing a research on. Afterward, choose the area that interests you most in the list you made as the one in which you will carry out your research. Ensure it is a topic that is academically relevant and researchable.

2. Write down the research questions you need to research on depending on the idea you have chosen

You can come up with as many questions as possible. The more the questions, the longer your research paper will be as it will seek to answer each of them. The questions can range from:

  • Exploratory questions, where you want to find out more about the topic under study,
  • Explanatory question, where your aim is to explore the relationship or lack thereof between two or more variables, and
  • Descriptive questions such as determining the averages, means, and modes of a variable or variables in the topic under study.

3. Develop a research hypothesis from each of the research questions that you have listed

A hypothesis, also known as a thesis or theses in plural, is a tentative, usually informed or educated guess about a certain scenario. It is referred to as ‘an educated or informed guess’ as it is based on some prior knowledge about the topic either by some pre-known theory, or a previous research you may have carried out. The hypothesis is what you will either prove or disprove when the research is done and therefore, be able to draw your conclusion.

4. Identify the kind of data you need to answer these hypothetical questions and how you will gather the data

  • Depending on the type of research you are carrying out, data that you may need may include actual numbers, averages, and so on. Data can either be primary or secondary, qualitative or quantitative.
  • Primary data is first-hand information obtained from the ground, for example, by carrying out interviews and site visits.
  • Secondary data is second-hand information obtained from reading books, watching news, videos, the internet, and other already documented material.
  • Qualitative data is based on subjective factors such as people’s opinions, while quantitative data is based on actual numbers and is, therefore, more objective.

5. Identify how you will analyze, interpret, and present the data

Come up with conclusive and tangible evidence to prove or disprove all the hypotheses you had stated earlier. Methods of data analysis include the use of statistical analysis such as mean, totals, income, or the general relationship between variables which can be enhanced by the use of graphical methods where possible.

Having developed all the above, you are now ready to come up with your concept paper, which will detail each of the steps outlined. The following is a guideline on how to structure your ideas for the perfect concept paper.

How to structure your concept paper

Here are the major elements of a concept paper format:

1. The title page

You should begin with a title that fully summarizes what the project you are carrying out is about. Avoid being wordy and stick to the main point.

2. Introduction and statement of the problem

This serves as the most important part of the concept paper. You must be seeking to add value and convince the reader that you are doing so. For example, your research should seek to solve an existing problem or provide further insights into a scarcely researched topic. The problem should be clear. Why would you want to investigate the topic under study, and how your research will be helpful in achieving this? Herein, you need to provide the evidence that the research you need to carry out is necessary in that it has not been carried out before or has not been adequately done. Here are some questions that may help you nail this element:

  • What is the problem?
  • Why do you feel that it is important?
  • How does your study relate to or add to research that has already been done?

3. Value of the study

Outline specific groups of people who the study may benefit and how it will benefit them.

4. A preliminary literature review

You need to back up your passion for the topic under research with solid literature that supports the topic, for example, literature that supports the fact that further research needs to be carried out in that area. You need to show that there exists an information gap which your research seeks to fill. The wider the variety of literature review you have carried out, the more solid and convincing your concept paper will be.

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5. State the research goals or objectives

This is a broad statement or statements of what the research seeks to achieve. It should start with ‘to’ and answer the questions who, what, when, which, or how.

6. Write down all the research questions

These are important as they will direct you on every research area, for example, the type of data to collect and how to analyze it. Make sure you have exhausted all the questions for the research to be complete.

7. The research hypothesis

The research hypotheses stem from the research topic or the research questions and are, therefore, easy to draft. They are a statement of the situation you anticipate based on some prior knowledge you have, even before you carry out the research. The research seeks to find out if these hypotheses are true or not. There should be a positive and a negative hypothesis for each statement given. A positive hypothesis agrees with the statement in question while a negative hypothesis opposes it. At the end of the research paper, you will either accept or reject your positive hypothesis based on your findings.

8. State the methodology you intend to use

The research methodology states the ‘how’ of carrying out the research. It details the research design, that is, what kind of research you intend to carry out. You can either carry out:

  • An exploratory design that seeks to expound on the area of study that you have an idea in, in order to understand it better.
  • An explanatory design that seeks to carry out an in-depth study on a certain idea that was not tackled in-depth. It mostly requires the use of qualitative methods of data collection.
  • A descriptive research that seeks to find out the relationship between two variables of data you need. It uses analyses methods such as mean and mode.

9. A timeline for completion of each element of the research project

Undertaking a research can take a very long time if not well planned for, and it is, therefore, important to lay out just how much time you may need to complete each element of the research project and ultimately the whole project. In this section, you need to set a time frame that is realistic.

10. Outline citations

Always remember to give credit to any sources you may have sourced your information from. This can be done within the document or at the end of the concept paper.

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concept paper

Concept paper example

Below is an example of a concept paper how to write. It will give you a detailed picture of what to include in your concept paper and ease the process of coming up with your own.



Of late, there have been so many cases of food-related illnesses that are being directly associated with the low quality of food products being released to the market by the many food processing firms. It is clear that the quality of products that these firms are producing is below the industry mark. Surprisingly, these food firms which are already losing their reputation still seem to be blossoming. There is a general perception that quality affects the performance of firms and this ironic trend, therefore, begs the question as to just how vital quality is in the production process.

Statement of the problem

This study seeks to answer the question on just how much the quality considerations of a firm affect its performance in terms of factors such as the ability to make more sales, maintain profit, as well as remain in the market. Is quality that much a factor as we all imagine it to be? If it is, why are these firms still doing so well, and if it is not what other factors are causing these firms to continue to prosper? Have we lost the quality battle by offering sub-standard products to our people, and should we reconsider our quality restrictions?

It has been widely agreed that quality is a factor that firms need to consider in order to compete in the global market (Paiva, 2013). Is this however the scenario on the ground and does quality play such a great role in the performance of food producing firms?

Value of the study

The findings for the study will be helpful to the following parties:

  • Quality regulatory bodies that will be able to determine the quality gap that exists and take necessary action.
  • Researchers who will identify further areas of study as will be outlined in this research and hence lead to an increase in the body of knowledge.

Definition of variables

What is quality?

In this study, we will define quality as the ability of a product to perform suitably as per expectations (Reid & Sanders 2012). The study shall focus on the four main quality components including Quality planning, control, assurance, and improvement, and how each affects the performance of a firm when well implemented.

What is performance?

In this study, we will define performance as the ability to meet and /or exceed set standards. Examples of performance standards include sales levels, brand image, reduced rework rates, and customer retention rates.

A brief Literature Review

Many documented texts agree that there is a relationship between quality considerations and the performance of firms. According to Garvin 1984, quality is based on innate excellence, recognizable on through experience. Abbot describes it as a measurable variable, and in another study, quality is subjective and individual based (Maio 2007). According to Sower 2010, quality refers to the conformance to prior set specifications. The final argument is that quality is based on cost and prices (Jones 2014).

The above scholars argue that quality is essential in the performance of a firm. The literature reviews however fall short as they fail to answer a few questions which this study paper will seek to outline. These are:

  • To what extent quality actually affects performance, and
  • Which approach firms use to measure quality and how these approaches affect their performance.

Research objectives

This research paper will be guided by the following objectives;

  1. To find out the systems that food producing firms in the country have put in place to guarantee quality of their products.
  2. To determine the extent to which these quality systems affect their performance.

Research hypothesis

H0. Adherence to quality management system is integral to the performance of food producing firms.

H1. Adherence to quality management systems is not integral to the performance of food processing firms.

Research methodology

Research design

This will be a descriptive study analyzing different firms, the kinds of quality systems they have in place, and the relationship between these quality systems and the performance of the firms in question.

Population of study

The study will involve a sample of 35 food producing firms based in the capital, irrespective of their size or age.

Data collection

Data used will be primary data collected by use of questionnaires to be filled by personnel in the Operations Department of the various firms or other relevant department. The questions will be broad and detailed, seeking to draw information on the types of quality systems that the firms have put in place. For this study, we will focus on the four main quality components including Quality planning, quality control, quality assurance, and quality improvement. Details of their performance in terms of factors such as sales revenues will also be sought. Data on performance will also be sourced from secondary sources such as company financial statements and sales records, some of which are available online.

Data analyses and interpretation

The data of the two variables collected, Quality, (X), and p

Performance, (Y), will be used to draw up a regression analysis to determine the strength as well as the nature of the relationship between the two variables. A conclusion will then be drawn from the resulting findings.


The project is expected to be completed in 13 weeks with the following as the timeline for each part of the project:

  • Introduction and literature review: 3 weeks
  • Research methodology: 5 weeks
  • Data analysis, data interpretation, and presentation: 2 weeks
  • Summary, conclusion, and recommendations: 2 weeks
  • Polishing up the work for submission: 1 week


  • American Society for Quality. (2015, January 13). Quality Assurance. Quality Engineering .
  • Besterfield Dale .H, D... (2011). Total Quality Management (Revised ed.). Delhi, CRC Noida, India: Pearson.
  • Carton, R. B. (2006). Measuring Organizational performance: Metrics for entrepreneurship and strategic management research. Northampton, Massachusetts, United States of America: Edwards Elgar Publishing.
  • Ciotti, G. (2013, May 22nd). Help Scout. Retrieved February 23rd, 2015, from Help scout website:
  • Crosby, P. B. (1995). Quality Without Tears:The art of Hassle Free Management. (J. H. David E.Fogarty, Ed.) Town Penn Plaza, New York, United States of America :McGraw- Hill.
  • David J Ketchen, J. c. (2004). Improving Firm Performance by matching strategic Decision-Making processes to competitive Dynamics. The Academy of Management Executive, 18 (4), 29-43.
  •, J. G. (2005).Research in social Stratification and Mobility (Vol. 2). (K. T. Leicht, Ed.) Amsterdam, Netherlands: Elsevier.
  • Frank M. Gryna, B. G. (2005). Juran, Quality and a century of Improvement (15th ed.). (K. S. Stephens, Ed.) Milwaukee, Winsconsin, United States of America: ASQ Press

After following the above outline, you can be sure to submit a convincing concept paper for your research project to be approved. Finally, remember that the concept paper is based on facts and your personal opinions are not allowed. Ensure that your topic is researchable through any academic means such as the use of libraries, interviews, internet, and the like. The research must add value and be useful in the academic fraternity and not be casual. It must have a question or questions that are very specific and answerable by carrying out the research. It should have at least one hypothesis, and the data you need must obtainable in a cost-effective way. Of importance is to provide proper citation for all your work. I trust that you are now well versed with how to write a concept paper that you will be proud of.


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