Difference Between Concept Paper and Research Proposal: When Should You Use Each?

Students struggle to understand the difference between the term concept paper and research proposal. Students and researchers often get confused about what kind of paper they need to write to start their research projects. Should they start with writing a concept paper? Or is it better to begin with a research proposal? Knowing how both of these documents can help you in your research project is essential. A concept paper usually contains a summary of your main idea. On the other hand, the research paper contains more details on your research literature and methodology. To decide which one should you write, you need to understand the differences between these two.

This guide is perfect for understanding the difference between a research proposal and a concept paper so you can decide which one you should write for your research project.

Concept Paper:

It is a short paper written by researchers before starting their research paper. This paper aims to explain the concepts of their research project. It will focus on discussing the importance of the study, details, and methods used. In a concept paper, you include a research title, a small introduction of the subject, the main research question you will need to answer, the type of data you want to collect, the purpose of your study and the data collection method.

Research Paper:

A research proposal is a simple formal document that focuses on the explanation of your plan for your study, your research topic, the importance and justification of your research, and how you conducted your research. In simple words, you will briefly describe your research project in a research proposal. A research proposal aims to convince your university, committee or research supervisor that your research project is worthy and suitable. It is also important to show that you can easily manage your work in the given time to get approved.

Concept Paper vs Research Paper:

 Concept PaperResearch Proposal
ConceptIt helps to verbalize an idea in a paper for the first time. This paper’s main task is to formally present the main concepts. It focuses on a critical concept and the potential effect of an expected finding. But, this paper does not contain many details about your project.You make a research proposal through a concept paper. The only thing you further include in your research paper is other aspects such as potential outcomes, milestones, key deliverables and methodology. You will explain how you plan to achieve your research objectives 
When to use itWriting this paper at the initial level of your research project is best. It will help you develop your interest areas and determine the mechanisms and methods to conduct your research.You should typically write your research proposal after writing a concept paper. It would help if you wrote it when you are close to starting your research project and want to get approval from your supervisor.
Aim:This paper aims to win your readers or supervisor with your research idea and show them how important this concept is.The aim is to convince your supervisor to approve your research project.
BenefitsIt promotes mutual agreement and understanding among group members It is beneficial for making internal decisions It promotes consistent communications Writing this paper will show that you are doing your research respectfully and professionally.It helps to build your academic profile.You can enhance your credibility by writing a research proposal. By writing a proposal, your research project will get more exposure. It can also help you to get insights on your topic It also helps you to build professional connections with other writers and researchers. It also improves your research and writing skills.
LimitationsThis does not include important characteristics and features to design a methodology which could influence or impact the interpretation or application of the outcomes of your research.Problems with research selection and samplesIt causes issues when you have less time Limited access to data The insufficient size of samples for the measurement and analysis Improper techniques and methods for the collection of dataLack of previous studies and research on your topic

Deciding Between Research Proposal And Concept Paper:

There are two things that you need to consider while deciding which one of these two papers you should write:


It would help if you considered who will read your paper. You need to examine the relationship with whom you want to reach out.


Try to find out what you want to achieve. If you want to give that person an idea, you should write a concept document. On the other hand, if you want approval for your research, it is best to write a research proposal.

If you approach a person or organization through email, you should attach a brief concept document containing a summary of your idea in simple words. This can help you get fast response through email. In contrast, if you are reaching out to a big company, it is best to send research proposals containing more details on your research. Sometimes, you may have to upload on a portal of their website. This will enable them to check your work properly, which could not happen with just a concept summary.

My recommendation for you is to send a concept summary of most of the cases. People do not have enough time to read a full-fledged research proposal. Giving lengthy documents will only waste their time. After giving your concept summary, you can send more details if they ask.


Know your audience and the objectives you want to achieve to decide whether you want to choose a research proposal or concept paper. You can write both documents depending upon your situation and its requirements. This article is best to understand the concept of concept papers, research proposals, and their differences.

Read: How to Write Research Objectives for a Research Proposal?

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