A research plan outlines your proposed science fair project and must be approved by a science fair committee before experiments are done. For this reason, it contains no experimental data but instead offers the questions you plan to address, the significance of questions, background information and experimental design. Since a committee must approve your plan, provide a proposal that represents your ideas as important, doable and unique in its approach.
Make a list of "what, when, where and how" questions that relate to your topic. Be specific. Start with all the possible questions, then eliminate those that are too vague or those you cannot answer, given your time and resources. Science Buddies provides an example of this.
Describe the significance of your questions by considering how answering them might be helpful to others in the future. Think big but not unreasonable. Answering questions about bacteria growth, for example, has implications on disease prevention. Research each implication and offer statistics or solid facts on how knowing more would be important. Keep track of your information for your bibliography.
Build a foundation for your questions with background information. Determine what is already known, who figured it out and how these finding have already affected the world. Make sure your questions are not already answered by the work of other people. If they are, find holes in the background information and find new questions that address them. Ask anyone with experience on your topic for help if you have difficult finding background information. Keep track of where you get all information for your bibliography.
Describe a detailed step-by-step method for answering your questions. Individual experiments may be necessary for individual questions. List the necessary materials and equipment. Include exact amounts and explicitly state data collection methods.
Anticipate the results you might get through the method you outlined. Consider any problems you may encounter in your experiments and how you will address them. Think critically about your planned experiments. Make sure they address the questions you stated. If not, redo either your method or your question list.
Formalize a research plan. Make it easy to read and include the following sections: questions, significance, background and materials and methods. Possible problems may be its own section or part of the materials and methods section. Follow school guidelines regarding accompanying paperwork and the order of your sections. The bibliography has its own section and is always last. Check for good grammar and spelling.
- Always cite whenever you use information from the Web or from books or people. Citations from reliable resources gives credibility to your project.
- Network at your local university. Students and faculty doing research on a related topic can be a valuable resource.
Dr. Alex Tan has been writing in science for more than six years. She is now working as a technical and science writer in California. Tan received her Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University