CommunityData:Qualitative 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 qualitative 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.

Dissemination objectives[edit]

For many planning documents, it's critical to start by stating your goals and target audience for the work. Keep in mind that this part of the work is distinct from the substance of the project itself (although it may shape that substance in ways that are important to convey!).

Important questions to answer about dissemination include:

  • Where do you intend to publish this?
  • Is there a practitioner venue or outreach component? (if so, explain)
  • When do you target to submit and then anticipate publication?
  • Will you be releasing code or datasets and, if so, how/where?

Description of substantive 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
    • Answer questions like: What questions and concerns motivate your research project? What previous findings and claims will your project test, elaborate, or extend? What phenomenon are you going to study that hasn't been investigated before in this context?
    • Clearly define each of the terms you will be using in your research questions.
    • Clearly describe the rationale for why the audience you identified is going to care about answers to the research questions you articulate.
  2. General and specific objectives
    • What is the general objective of this study? What broad goals will it achieve? Essentially, what is the main research question (or questions)?
    • What specific objectives this study will accomplish? (more narrow goals or conceptual aims related to your empirical setting)
  3. Empirical puzzle or contradictions
    • wip
  4. Ethical Concerns
    • Are identifiable data to be included? Is IRB review anticipated? How will you protect data privacy and your research subjects?
  5. Data
    • 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 tools you'll use for collecting qualitative data (e.g., will you develop an interview protocol, survey, or take on participant observation techniques to study the population in question?)
  6. Analytic approach and methods
    • What is your analytic approach in this study (e.g., will you use Grounded Theory, thematic analysis, or content analysis when analyzing your qualitative data)?
  7. 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.
  8. 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.


There are a number of examples of completed planning documents in the cdsc_examples_repository in the CDSC git repository. If you don't have access to that, contact Mako or Aaron for copies of exemplary planning documents by CDSC members and affiliates.