Creating a Research Plan for a Science Project
Before starting work on a science project, a research plan should be created. While many researchers merely do this “in their head”, it should be formally contained within a document. The research plan describes many aspects of the project. It will help both the researchers and mentors understand the overall approach that is planned for the project. The contents of this web page should serve as a guide for creating a research plan.
A written research plan should contain a description of the following.
1. The goals of the project
2. The hypothesis
3. The factors that will be studied
4. The responses (results) that will be observed
5. How the data will be analyzed and interpreted
6. The materials and equipment that will be used
7. The experimental methods (procedure) that will be used
8. The facilities where the work will be done
9. How the research plan might change
11. A bibliography that includes at least five major references.
NOTE: Steps 1-5 are focused on setting up the overall ideas and objectives. Steps 6-8 are focused on the specifics of the experimentation, such as what, how, and where the experimentation will be performed. Steps 9-11 are important for anyone looking over the project, but are particularly important if you are applying for pre-approval because it gives those reviewing the application a better sense of how well the planning was done.
The Goals of the Project
A description of the goals of the project should be a general discussion of the project. What will be studied? Why is it of interest? What do you hope to learn? This will set the stage for the rest of the research plan.
Here is where the scientific hypothesis is laid out. A proposal is made about the factors to be studied and how they might affect the responses of interest. For example, a hypothesis about the growth of maple tree saplings might start with: “We believe that recently-sprouted maple tree saplings will have their growth stunted by excessive exposure to ultraviolet light.” From here, the hypothesis is discussed in enough detail for the reader to understand exactly what is being proposed about the state of the natural world that you hope to either prove or disprove.
The Factors That Will Be Studied
In this section, you will spell out which factors will be studied in your research project as well as those that will be held constant. The factors that you study are the ones that you vary in a controlled fashion in order to explore the hypothesis. The factors that are held constant are factors that you do not want to affect the outcome of your experiment. A perfect example of these two kinds of factors at work would be growing plants in a greenhouse. The factors that are varied (for example, adding nutrients to the soil) will have the best chance of being the ones that affect the plants’ growth. By using a greenhouse, the factors that you do not wish to affect the outcome of your experiment (such as exposure of the plants to wind, rain, or animals) will not have a chance to affect the outcome.
The Responses (Results) That Will Be Observed
The response is the result you observe as the output of your experiments. An observation may be qualitative (for example, a change of color) or quantitative (for example, a change in height determined by a measurement). In a chemical experiment the product of the reaction is the response. A botanical experiment might have the change in height of the plant or the number of leaves on the plant at the end of the growing period as the response. Mention should be made if you plan to get assistance in measuring your response by using an outside expert in the field of study.
How the Data Will Be Analyzed and Interpreted
This section should discuss how the responses (results) will be treated in order to make conclusions about your work. How will the data be compared in order to make a conclusion? Will an average response be calculated? Standard deviation? Will a visual examination of the experiments be used as the basis of the data analysis? Include any details that will help the reader understand how the responses that were observed will be turned into understandable conclusions about your project.
The Materials and Equipment That Will Be Used
In this part, the materials (expendables) and equipment that will be used for the science project are discussed. Will the materials be collected from nature? Will they be purchased from a scientific supply house? Will you use special glassware that is provided by your school? Describe the materials and equipment in enough detail so that someone can understand how they will be used in your science project.
The Experimental Methods (Procedure) That Will Be Used
This section will cover how you will carry out your experiments. You will describe the methods (procedures) that you will use during your experiments. For example, a chemistry project might involve running a reaction and measuring the yield of a chemical that you make. The description would include how the chemical reaction will be run in special glassware and how the work up will isolate the product. You would also describe how the yield will be measured, such as weighing the resultant product on a balance. At the end of this section of the research plan, the reader should understand the general work flow of your experiments and how they will be run.
The Facilities Where the Work Will be Done
Describe where the experiments will be done. Your home? Your school? A special laboratory? Give enough detail for the reader to understand where you will work on your science project.
How the Research Plan Might Change
A research plan is just that, a plan! Plans don’t always proceed exactly as you envisioned them. If you have thought about changes that might need to be made as you are running your experiments, mention them here. This will indicate that you have thought about your work in great depth and are prepared to adjust accordingly.
For this section, provide a general summary of your research plan. Tell the reader what you hope to accomplish and how you will do it.
Provide at least five major references that relate to the project. This helps reviewers to understand better the depth of research that has been done in preparation for doing the research project.