How to Write a Concept Paper

What is a concept paper? Why is there a need to write a concept paper? How do you write it? This article explains the reasons why a concept paper must be prepared before writing a full blown research paper. It also provides a step-bay-step approach on how to write it.

I once browsed the internet to look for information on how to write a concept paper. It took me some time to find the information I want. However, I am not quite satisfied with those explanations because the discussion is either too short or it vaguely explains what a concept paper really is.

I somehow drew out some principles from these readings and came up with a concept paper in compliance with a request to come up with one. There are also differences in approach on how this should be prepared. Nobody complained in the output I prepared.

I was reminded once again when a colleague asked me the other day to explain what is a concept paper and how should it be written. He needs this information because students have been asking him on how to go about writing the stuff.

To him and his students I dedicate this article.

What is a Concept Paper and Why Do You Need It?

First, before going into the details on how to prepare a concept paper, let me explain what a concept paper is and why do you need it.

A concept paper is prepared as a prelude to a full paper. What is the full paper all about? The full paper may be a thesis, a program, a project, or anything that will require a longer time to prepare.

In essence, a concept paper is an embodiment of your ideas on a certain topic or item of interest. Preparing the concept paper saves time because it is possible that your thesis or review panel may say that your concept is not worth pursuing.

It is expected that the concept paper should consist only of 1 or 2 pages. Or if you want to clear up some matters, it can go up to 5 pages.

For example, as a student you may be asked to prepare your concept paper for your thesis proposal (see 4 steps in preparing the thesis proposal). This means that you will have to develop an idea and express it for others to understand. You may glean from either your experience or from the literature that you have read. Of course, your topic should be within your respective area of specialization.

If you are a student of computer science, you might want to study the behaviour of wi-fi signals in different kinds of material where these signals are bounced. Or maybe you want to create a simple gadget to concentrate signals for a portable USB wi-fi connection to improve its performance. Or probably you would like to find out the optimum size of cache that should be allocated for greatest browsing experience in the internet. The list could go on.

How Do You Write a Concept Paper?

As I mentioned a while ago, there is no hard and fast rule on how to write a concept paper. It is not actually desirable to have a format as your ideas may be limited by placing your ideas in a box. You may miss some important points which may not be in the format given to you. The point is that you are able to express to others what you intend to do.

What then are the things that the concept paper as a prelude to a thesis should be able to address or contain? To make your approach more systematic, a concept paper must have at least the following elements and in the following order:

1. A Rationale

You explain here the reasons why you need to undertake that thesis proposal of yours. You can ask yourself the following questions:

What prompted you to prepare the concept paper?
Why is the issue of such importance?
What should you be able to produce out of your intended study?

2. A Conceptual Framework

A conceptual framework is simply your guide in working on the idea you have in mind. It is like a map which you need to follow to arrive to your destination. A great way to come up with one is to do a mind mapping exercise.

That brings up another thing, what is mind mapping anyway?

A mind map is simply a list of keywords that you can connect together to make clear a certain issue. It’s our subconscious way of analyzing things. We tend to associate a thing with another thing. This actually relates to how we recall past experiences. In computers, we have the so-called “links” that connect commands in a computer module to make an application program work.

How does mind mapping work? You just have to come up with a word, for example, that will help you start off. You can start off with an issue on computers and from there, generate other ideas that connect with the previous one. There are actually a lot of literature on the internet that explains what is a mind map.

Now, after reading an explanation of the mind map, how will you come up with your conceptual framework? Well, I don’t need to explain it again here because I wrote about it previously. You may read an easy to understand explanation and example here.

3. Your Hypothesis

Once the idea on conceptual framework is quite clear to you, then you may write your hypothesis. A hypothesis is just your expected output in the course of conducting your study. You will base this hypothesis on the conceptual framework that you have prepared.

How are the variables related? Does one variable affect another? Or are they related at all?

Example of Hypotheses

Considering the issues raised a while ago, the following null hypotheses may be written:

1. There is no significant difference in wi-fi signal behaviour between wood and metal.
2. There is no significant difference in browsing speed between a 10 mb cache and a 100 mb cache storage setting using Mozilla Firefox.

At this point, you may already have a better idea on how to prepare a concept paper before working on a full thesis proposal. If you find this discussion useful or you would like to clarify further the discussion above, your feedback is welcome.

©2012 October 31 Patrick Regoniel


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