A Research Protocol is a brief summary of planned research. Investigators use Research Protocols

  • to plan research and identify obstacles (e.g., coordinate research work on large teams)
  • to communicate with other investigators in order to coordinate work or receive critical feedback
  • to receive approval to conduct Human Subjects Research or Animal Research
  • to enable subsequent investigators to perform follow-up studies.

*Alternative Title(s): Research Plan

Key Concepts: Empiricism; Human Subjects Research; Research Methodologies;

Research Protocols are a common genre in scientific and social science communities.

Investigators in workplace and academic settings submit Research Plans for independent ethics review when conducting research involving Human Subjects Research or Animal Research.


A Research Protocol may have multiple audiences:

  • an M.A. or Ph.D. Thesis Committee
  • an IRB, Institutional Review Board
  • an anonymous peer-review panel
  • a mentor or boss
  • co investigators
  • a funding source (e.g., NSF, NIH, NEH, etc.)

Because they are written for multiple audiences who may lack the investigator’s expertise, Research Plans are written as simply as possible. They avoid jargon and acronyms. They are reader-based as opposed to writer-based. They do not presume disciplinary expertise.


Regardless of audience, the goal of a Research Protocol is to lay out a plan for conducting research.

Research Protocols

  1. identify the audience, purpose, and significance of the research study in a research abstract
  2. introduce a Research Question(s)
    • provide an abbreviated literature review that informs readers about the significance of the topic to various stakeholders
    • identity, in the case of quantitative studies, independent variables (causes) and dependent variables (effects)
  3. identify methods for gathering data
    • clarify whether the the method is descriptive/observational, quasi-experimental, experimental?
    • define what qualitative data will be gathered and the schedule for gathering the data
    • will quantitative data be generated?
  4. address ethical concerns
    • How will the subjects be selected?
    • Will anonymity be promised and if so how preserved?
    • How will data be protected from hackers or inappropriate usage

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