CommunityData:Planning document

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Research planning documents can help you design, scope, execute, document, and write up empirical studies. This page provides pre-defined categories and questions you should address in your research planning documents. Your mileage may vary depending on the particulars of the project design you are pursuing.

If you're reading this as part of a class, the instructor will (should?) distribute examples of a planning document in class.

Description of document sections[edit]

The general advice is to start writing brief responses for the categories below. Bullet points and short sentences are fine. No need to offer long elaborations or literature reviews. Cut to the chase, define what your project is about and how you intend to make it happen. Elaborate and refine your plans later when you're ready to prepare a more polished report or writeup of the project.

  1. Rationale
    • What questions and concerns motivate your research project?
    • What previous findings and claims will your project test, elaborate, or extend?
  2. General and specific objectives
    • What is the general objective of this study? What broad goals will it achieve? (this might be an overarching research question)
    • What specific objectives this study will accomplish? (more narrow goals or conceptual aims)
  3. Hypotheses or propositions
    • List specific hypotheses or theoretical propositions that this study will test. Note: theoretical propositions tend to involve statements about the relationships between concepts (e.g., "I propose that increased education leads to increased well-being"). Hypotheses, on the other hand, should articulate relationships between variables (e.g., "I hypothesize that additional years of schooling lead to increased annual income, reduced blood pressure, and higher general self-efficacy (GSE) survey instrument scores.").
  4. Conceptual model (including diagram)
    • Explain the relationships or processes that exist between the dependent and independent variables most relevant to your propositions or hypotheses.
    • Use a flow chart or some other sort of visualization to diagram the conceptual model you plan to test.
  5. Data & measures
    • Briefly describe the data used in this study. Be sure to identify the data source, the unit of analysis, the population of interest, the sample included in the study, the sampling technique (and the relationship of the sample to the population).
    • Describe the key variables & measures in your conceptual model. Present these in a tabular format or a well-formatted list. Where relevant, explain the sources of measures and/or their validity.
  6. Analytic approach and methods
    • What is your analytic approach in this study (i.e., what identification strategy will you pursue)?
    • If the study is an experiment, describe the experimental protocol and why it will allow you to test the propositions/hypotheses described above. If the study is observational, describe the analytic approach and explain why it will allow you to identify the efffect of interest.
    • What methods of analysis will you use? Specifically, what estimators and estimation techniques will you apply?
  7. "Dummy" findings, tables, & visualizations
    • A list of analysis results, tables, and visualizations you plan to include to report your findings in the study.
  8. Threats to validity & limitations
    • Are there potential sources of bias or threats to the validity of your study? List them out and explain why they are (or are not) salient.
    • Discuss any strategies or analyses you will pursue to test for, address, or mitigate potential biases and threats.
  9. Sources and relevant literature
    • A brief list of sources. Only include those you have cited above and others that are centrally relevant to your work here.


Please contact Mako or Aaron for copies of exemplary planning documents by CDSC members and affiliates.