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13.1 Formatting a Research Paper

Learning objectives.

  • Identify the major components of a research paper written using American Psychological Association (APA) style.
  • Apply general APA style and formatting conventions in a research paper.

In this chapter, you will learn how to use APA style , the documentation and formatting style followed by the American Psychological Association, as well as MLA style , from the Modern Language Association. There are a few major formatting styles used in academic texts, including AMA, Chicago, and Turabian:

  • AMA (American Medical Association) for medicine, health, and biological sciences
  • APA (American Psychological Association) for education, psychology, and the social sciences
  • Chicago—a common style used in everyday publications like magazines, newspapers, and books
  • MLA (Modern Language Association) for English, literature, arts, and humanities
  • Turabian—another common style designed for its universal application across all subjects and disciplines

While all the formatting and citation styles have their own use and applications, in this chapter we focus our attention on the two styles you are most likely to use in your academic studies: APA and MLA.

If you find that the rules of proper source documentation are difficult to keep straight, you are not alone. Writing a good research paper is, in and of itself, a major intellectual challenge. Having to follow detailed citation and formatting guidelines as well may seem like just one more task to add to an already-too-long list of requirements.

Following these guidelines, however, serves several important purposes. First, it signals to your readers that your paper should be taken seriously as a student’s contribution to a given academic or professional field; it is the literary equivalent of wearing a tailored suit to a job interview. Second, it shows that you respect other people’s work enough to give them proper credit for it. Finally, it helps your reader find additional materials if he or she wishes to learn more about your topic.

Furthermore, producing a letter-perfect APA-style paper need not be burdensome. Yes, it requires careful attention to detail. However, you can simplify the process if you keep these broad guidelines in mind:

  • Work ahead whenever you can. Chapter 11 “Writing from Research: What Will I Learn?” includes tips for keeping track of your sources early in the research process, which will save time later on.
  • Get it right the first time. Apply APA guidelines as you write, so you will not have much to correct during the editing stage. Again, putting in a little extra time early on can save time later.
  • Use the resources available to you. In addition to the guidelines provided in this chapter, you may wish to consult the APA website at http://www.apa.org or the Purdue University Online Writing lab at http://owl.english.purdue.edu , which regularly updates its online style guidelines.

General Formatting Guidelines

This chapter provides detailed guidelines for using the citation and formatting conventions developed by the American Psychological Association, or APA. Writers in disciplines as diverse as astrophysics, biology, psychology, and education follow APA style. The major components of a paper written in APA style are listed in the following box.

These are the major components of an APA-style paper:

Body, which includes the following:

  • Headings and, if necessary, subheadings to organize the content
  • In-text citations of research sources
  • References page

All these components must be saved in one document, not as separate documents.

The title page of your paper includes the following information:

  • Title of the paper
  • Author’s name
  • Name of the institution with which the author is affiliated
  • Header at the top of the page with the paper title (in capital letters) and the page number (If the title is lengthy, you may use a shortened form of it in the header.)

List the first three elements in the order given in the previous list, centered about one third of the way down from the top of the page. Use the headers and footers tool of your word-processing program to add the header, with the title text at the left and the page number in the upper-right corner. Your title page should look like the following example.

Beyond the Hype: Evaluating Low-Carb Diets cover page

The next page of your paper provides an abstract , or brief summary of your findings. An abstract does not need to be provided in every paper, but an abstract should be used in papers that include a hypothesis. A good abstract is concise—about one hundred fifty to two hundred fifty words—and is written in an objective, impersonal style. Your writing voice will not be as apparent here as in the body of your paper. When writing the abstract, take a just-the-facts approach, and summarize your research question and your findings in a few sentences.

In Chapter 12 “Writing a Research Paper” , you read a paper written by a student named Jorge, who researched the effectiveness of low-carbohydrate diets. Read Jorge’s abstract. Note how it sums up the major ideas in his paper without going into excessive detail.

Beyond the Hype: Abstract

Write an abstract summarizing your paper. Briefly introduce the topic, state your findings, and sum up what conclusions you can draw from your research. Use the word count feature of your word-processing program to make sure your abstract does not exceed one hundred fifty words.

Depending on your field of study, you may sometimes write research papers that present extensive primary research, such as your own experiment or survey. In your abstract, summarize your research question and your findings, and briefly indicate how your study relates to prior research in the field.

Margins, Pagination, and Headings

APA style requirements also address specific formatting concerns, such as margins, pagination, and heading styles, within the body of the paper. Review the following APA guidelines.

Use these general guidelines to format the paper:

  • Set the top, bottom, and side margins of your paper at 1 inch.
  • Use double-spaced text throughout your paper.
  • Use a standard font, such as Times New Roman or Arial, in a legible size (10- to 12-point).
  • Use continuous pagination throughout the paper, including the title page and the references section. Page numbers appear flush right within your header.
  • Section headings and subsection headings within the body of your paper use different types of formatting depending on the level of information you are presenting. Additional details from Jorge’s paper are provided.

Cover Page

Begin formatting the final draft of your paper according to APA guidelines. You may work with an existing document or set up a new document if you choose. Include the following:

  • Your title page
  • The abstract you created in Note 13.8 “Exercise 1”
  • Correct headers and page numbers for your title page and abstract

APA style uses section headings to organize information, making it easy for the reader to follow the writer’s train of thought and to know immediately what major topics are covered. Depending on the length and complexity of the paper, its major sections may also be divided into subsections, sub-subsections, and so on. These smaller sections, in turn, use different heading styles to indicate different levels of information. In essence, you are using headings to create a hierarchy of information.

The following heading styles used in APA formatting are listed in order of greatest to least importance:

  • Section headings use centered, boldface type. Headings use title case, with important words in the heading capitalized.
  • Subsection headings use left-aligned, boldface type. Headings use title case.
  • The third level uses left-aligned, indented, boldface type. Headings use a capital letter only for the first word, and they end in a period.
  • The fourth level follows the same style used for the previous level, but the headings are boldfaced and italicized.
  • The fifth level follows the same style used for the previous level, but the headings are italicized and not boldfaced.

Visually, the hierarchy of information is organized as indicated in Table 13.1 “Section Headings” .

Table 13.1 Section Headings

A college research paper may not use all the heading levels shown in Table 13.1 “Section Headings” , but you are likely to encounter them in academic journal articles that use APA style. For a brief paper, you may find that level 1 headings suffice. Longer or more complex papers may need level 2 headings or other lower-level headings to organize information clearly. Use your outline to craft your major section headings and determine whether any subtopics are substantial enough to require additional levels of headings.

Working with the document you developed in Note 13.11 “Exercise 2” , begin setting up the heading structure of the final draft of your research paper according to APA guidelines. Include your title and at least two to three major section headings, and follow the formatting guidelines provided above. If your major sections should be broken into subsections, add those headings as well. Use your outline to help you.

Because Jorge used only level 1 headings, his Exercise 3 would look like the following:

Citation Guidelines

In-text citations.

Throughout the body of your paper, include a citation whenever you quote or paraphrase material from your research sources. As you learned in Chapter 11 “Writing from Research: What Will I Learn?” , the purpose of citations is twofold: to give credit to others for their ideas and to allow your reader to follow up and learn more about the topic if desired. Your in-text citations provide basic information about your source; each source you cite will have a longer entry in the references section that provides more detailed information.

In-text citations must provide the name of the author or authors and the year the source was published. (When a given source does not list an individual author, you may provide the source title or the name of the organization that published the material instead.) When directly quoting a source, it is also required that you include the page number where the quote appears in your citation.

This information may be included within the sentence or in a parenthetical reference at the end of the sentence, as in these examples.

Epstein (2010) points out that “junk food cannot be considered addictive in the same way that we think of psychoactive drugs as addictive” (p. 137).

Here, the writer names the source author when introducing the quote and provides the publication date in parentheses after the author’s name. The page number appears in parentheses after the closing quotation marks and before the period that ends the sentence.

Addiction researchers caution that “junk food cannot be considered addictive in the same way that we think of psychoactive drugs as addictive” (Epstein, 2010, p. 137).

Here, the writer provides a parenthetical citation at the end of the sentence that includes the author’s name, the year of publication, and the page number separated by commas. Again, the parenthetical citation is placed after the closing quotation marks and before the period at the end of the sentence.

As noted in the book Junk Food, Junk Science (Epstein, 2010, p. 137), “junk food cannot be considered addictive in the same way that we think of psychoactive drugs as addictive.”

Here, the writer chose to mention the source title in the sentence (an optional piece of information to include) and followed the title with a parenthetical citation. Note that the parenthetical citation is placed before the comma that signals the end of the introductory phrase.

David Epstein’s book Junk Food, Junk Science (2010) pointed out that “junk food cannot be considered addictive in the same way that we think of psychoactive drugs as addictive” (p. 137).

Another variation is to introduce the author and the source title in your sentence and include the publication date and page number in parentheses within the sentence or at the end of the sentence. As long as you have included the essential information, you can choose the option that works best for that particular sentence and source.

Citing a book with a single author is usually a straightforward task. Of course, your research may require that you cite many other types of sources, such as books or articles with more than one author or sources with no individual author listed. You may also need to cite sources available in both print and online and nonprint sources, such as websites and personal interviews. Chapter 13 “APA and MLA Documentation and Formatting” , Section 13.2 “Citing and Referencing Techniques” and Section 13.3 “Creating a References Section” provide extensive guidelines for citing a variety of source types.

Writing at Work

APA is just one of several different styles with its own guidelines for documentation, formatting, and language usage. Depending on your field of interest, you may be exposed to additional styles, such as the following:

  • MLA style. Determined by the Modern Languages Association and used for papers in literature, languages, and other disciplines in the humanities.
  • Chicago style. Outlined in the Chicago Manual of Style and sometimes used for papers in the humanities and the sciences; many professional organizations use this style for publications as well.
  • Associated Press (AP) style. Used by professional journalists.

References List

The brief citations included in the body of your paper correspond to the more detailed citations provided at the end of the paper in the references section. In-text citations provide basic information—the author’s name, the publication date, and the page number if necessary—while the references section provides more extensive bibliographical information. Again, this information allows your reader to follow up on the sources you cited and do additional reading about the topic if desired.

The specific format of entries in the list of references varies slightly for different source types, but the entries generally include the following information:

  • The name(s) of the author(s) or institution that wrote the source
  • The year of publication and, where applicable, the exact date of publication
  • The full title of the source
  • For books, the city of publication
  • For articles or essays, the name of the periodical or book in which the article or essay appears
  • For magazine and journal articles, the volume number, issue number, and pages where the article appears
  • For sources on the web, the URL where the source is located

The references page is double spaced and lists entries in alphabetical order by the author’s last name. If an entry continues for more than one line, the second line and each subsequent line are indented five spaces. Review the following example. ( Chapter 13 “APA and MLA Documentation and Formatting” , Section 13.3 “Creating a References Section” provides extensive guidelines for formatting reference entries for different types of sources.)

References Section

In APA style, book and article titles are formatted in sentence case, not title case. Sentence case means that only the first word is capitalized, along with any proper nouns.

Key Takeaways

  • Following proper citation and formatting guidelines helps writers ensure that their work will be taken seriously, give proper credit to other authors for their work, and provide valuable information to readers.
  • Working ahead and taking care to cite sources correctly the first time are ways writers can save time during the editing stage of writing a research paper.
  • APA papers usually include an abstract that concisely summarizes the paper.
  • APA papers use a specific headings structure to provide a clear hierarchy of information.
  • In APA papers, in-text citations usually include the name(s) of the author(s) and the year of publication.
  • In-text citations correspond to entries in the references section, which provide detailed bibliographical information about a source.

Writing for Success Copyright © 2015 by University of Minnesota is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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How to format a research paper

Last updated

7 February 2023

Reviewed by

Miroslav Damyanov

Writing a research paper can be daunting if you’re not experienced with the process. Getting the proper format is one of the most challenging aspects of the task. Reviewers will immediately dismiss a paper that doesn't comply with standard formatting, regardless of the valuable content it contains. 

In this article, we'll delve into the essential characteristics of a research paper, including the proper formatting.

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  • What is a research paper?

A research paper is a document that provides a thorough analysis of a topic , usually for an academic institution or professional organization. A research paper may be of any length, but they are typically 2,000–10,000 words. 

Unlike less formal papers, such as articles or essays, empirical evidence and data are key to research papers. In addition to students handing in papers, scientists, attorneys, medical researchers, and independent scholars may need to produce research papers.

People typically write research papers to prove a particular point or make an argument. This could support or disprove a theoretical point, legal case, scientific theory, or an existing piece of research on any topic. 

One of the distinguishing characteristics of research papers is that they contain citations to prior research. Citing sources using the correct format is essential for creating a legitimate research paper. 

  • Top considerations for writing a research paper

To write a research paper, you must consider several factors. Fields such as the sciences, humanities, and technical professions have certain criteria for writing research papers. 

You’ll write a research paper using one of several types of formatting. These include APA, MLA, and CMOS styles, which we’ll cover in detail to guide you on citations and other formatting rules. 

Specific requirements of the assignment

If the paper is for a college, university, or any specific organization, they’ll give you certain requirements, such as the range of topics, length, and formatting requirements.

You should study the specifics of the assignment carefully, as these will override more general guidelines you may find elsewhere. If you're writing for a particular professor, they may ask for single or double spacing or a certain citation style. 

  • Components of a research paper

Here are the basic steps to writing a quality research paper, assuming you've chosen your topic and considered the requirements of the paper. Depending on the specific conditions of the paper you're writing, you may need the following elements:

Thesis statement

The thesis statement provides a blueprint for the paper. It conveys the theme and purpose of the paper. It also informs you and readers what your paper will argue and the type of research it will contain. As you write the paper, you can refer to the thesis statement to help you decide whether or not to include certain items.

Most research papers require an abstract as well as a thesis. While the thesis is a short (usually a single sentence) summary of the work, an abstract contains more detail. Many papers use the IMRaD structure for the abstract, especially in scientific fields. This consists of four elements:

Introduction : Summarize the purpose of the paper

Methods : Describe the research methods (e.g., collecting data , interviews , field research)

Results: Summarize your conclusions.  

Discussion: Discuss the implications of your research. Mention any significant limitations to your approach and suggest areas for further research.

The thesis and abstract come at the beginning of a paper, but you should write them after completing the paper. This approach ensures a clear idea of your main topic and argument, which can evolve as you write the paper.

Table of contents

Like most nonfiction books, a research paper usually includes a table of contents. 

Tables, charts, and illustrations

If your paper contains multiple tables, charts, illustrations, or other graphics, you can create a list of these. 

Works cited or reference page

This page lists all the works you cited in your paper. For MLA and APA styles, you will use in-text citations in the body of the paper. For Chicago (CMOS) style, you'll use footnotes. 


While you use a reference page to note all cited papers, a bibliography lists all the works you consulted in your research, even if you don't specifically cite them. 

While references are essential, a bibliography is optional but usually advisable to demonstrate the breadth of your research.

Dedication and acknowledgments

You may include a dedication or acknowledgments at the beginning of the paper directly after the title page and before the abstract.

  • Steps for writing a research paper

These are the most critical steps for researching, writing, and formatting a research paper:

Create an outline

The outline is not part of the published paper; it’s for your use. An outline makes it easier to structure the paper, ensuring you include all necessary points and research. 

Here you can list all topics and subtopics that will support your argument. When doing your research, you can refer to the outline to ensure you include everything. 

Gather research

Solid research is the hallmark of a research paper. In addition to accumulating research, you need to present it clearly. However, gathering research is one of the first tasks. If you compile each piece of research correctly, it will be easier to format the paper correctly. You want to avoid having to go back and look up information constantly.

Start by skimming potentially useful sources and putting them aside for later use. Reading each source thoroughly at this stage will be time-consuming and slow your progress. You can thoroughly review the sources to decide what to include and discard later. At this stage, note essential information such as names, dates, page numbers, and website links. Citing sources will be easier when you’ve written all the information down.

Be aware of the quality of your sources. A research paper should reference scholarly, academic, or scientific journals. It’s vital to understand the difference between primary and secondary sources. 

A primary source is an original, firsthand account of a topic. A secondary source is someone else covering the topic, as in a popular article or interview. While you may include secondary sources, your paper should also include primary research . Online research can be convenient, but you need to be extra careful when assessing the quality of your sources.

Write the first draft

Create a first draft where you put together all your research and address the topic described in your thesis and abstract. 

Edit and format the paper

Proofread, edit, and make any necessary adjustments and improvements to the first draft. List your citations as described below. Ensure your thesis and abstract describe your research accurately. 

  • Formatting a research paper: MLA, APA, and CMOS styles

There are several popular formats for research papers: MLA (Modern Language Association) and APA (American Psychological Association). Certain academic papers use CMOS (Chicago Manual of Style). Other formats may apply to particular fields. 

For example, medical research may use AMA (American Medical Association) formatting and IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) for particular technical papers. The following are the guidelines and examples of the most popular formats:

The humanities typically use MLA format, including literature, history, and culture. Look over examples of papers created in MLA format . Here are the main rules to keep in mind:

Double-spaced lines.

Indent new paragraphs 1/2 inch.

Title case for headings, where all major words are capitalized, as in "How to Write a Research Paper." 

Use a popular font such as Times New Roman. This applies to all formatting styles.

Use one-inch margins on all sides. 

Number sections of the paper using Arabic numerals (1, 2, 3, etc.). 

Use a running head for each page on the upper right-hand corner, which consists of your last name and the page number.

Use an in-text citation within the text, using the author's last name followed by the page number: "Anything worth dying for is certainly worth living for" (Heller 155).  

On the citations page, list the full name, book or periodical, and other information. For MLA, you will not need footnotes, only in-text citations.

List citations in alphabetical order on a separate page at the end of the paper entitled “Works Cited.” 

Continuing with the above example from Heller, the listing would be: Heller, Joseph. Catch-22, Simon & Schuster, 1961.

For a periodical, the format is "Thompson, Hunter S. "The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved" Scanlon's, June 1970."

Use title case for source titles, as in "On the Origin of Species."

The sciences typically use APA format, including physical sciences such as physics and social sciences such as psychology. Simply Psychology provides examples of APA formatting . The following are the most important rules of the APA format.

Begin the paper with a title page, which is not required for MLA.

Use double-line spacing.

Use a running head for each page in the upper right-hand corner, which consists of the paper's title in capital letters followed by the page number.

The citations page at the end should be titled "References."

In-text citations should include the publication date: (Smith, 1999, p. 50). Note also that there's a "p" for "page," whereas in MLA, you write the page number without a "p."

As with MLA, use title case for headings, as in "Most Popular Treatments for Cognitive Disorders."

Use sentence case for titles of sources, as in "History of the decline and fall of the Roman empire." Note "Roman" starts with a capital because it's a proper noun.  

When citing in-text references, use the author's last name and the first and middle initials. 

Always use the Oxford comma. This comma goes before the words "or" and "and" in a list. For example, "At the store, I bought oranges, paper towels, and pasta."

CMOS formatting

Book publishers and many academic papers use CMOS formatting based on the Chicago Manual of Style. CMOS is also called Turabian, named after Kate L. Turabian, who wrote the first manual for this style. Here are examples of CMOS style formatting and citations.

Include an unnumbered title page.

Place page numbers on the upper right-hand corner of the page. Do not list your name or the paper's title as you would for MLA or APA styles.

Use title case for both headings and sources (same as MLA).

Unlike MLA and APA, the Chicago style uses footnotes for citations. Use a superscript for footnotes: "Smith argues against Jones' theory¹.” Footnotes may appear at the bottom of the page or the end of the document.  

CMOS supports both short notes and full notes. In most cases, you'll use the full note: "Michael Pollan, The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (New York: Penguin, 2006), 76." For further references to the same source, use a short note: " Pollan, Omnivore's Dilemma, 45." The requirements of some papers may specify using only short notes for all footnotes.

  • General guidelines for writing and formatting research papers

Keep these guidelines in mind for all types of research papers:

Initial formatting

As you create your first draft, don't worry about formatting. If you try to format it perfectly as you write the paper, it will be difficult to progress and develop a flow of thought. With the first draft, you don't have to be concerned about ordering the sections. You can rearrange headings and sections later. 

Citation tools

Use automation tools for citations . Some useful tools make citations easier by automatically generating a citation list and bibliography. Many work with APA, MLA, and CMOS styles.

Check for plagiarism

Use a plagiarism detector to make sure your paper isn't unintentionally plagiarizing. There are many free and paid plagiarism checkers online, such as Grammarly. 

Proofread your work

Do several rounds of editing and proofreading. Editing is necessary for any type of writing, but you’ll need to revisit several distinct areas with a research paper:

Check for spelling and grammatical errors.

Read the paper to make sure it's well-argued and that you’ve organized it properly. 

Check that you’ve correctly formatted citations. It's easy to make errors, such as incorrect numbering of footnotes (e.g., Chicago style) or forgetting to include a source on your citations page.

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Research Method

Home » Research Paper – Structure, Examples and Writing Guide

Research Paper – Structure, Examples and Writing Guide

Table of Contents

Research Paper

Research Paper


Research Paper is a written document that presents the author’s original research, analysis, and interpretation of a specific topic or issue.

It is typically based on Empirical Evidence, and may involve qualitative or quantitative research methods, or a combination of both. The purpose of a research paper is to contribute new knowledge or insights to a particular field of study, and to demonstrate the author’s understanding of the existing literature and theories related to the topic.

Structure of Research Paper

The structure of a research paper typically follows a standard format, consisting of several sections that convey specific information about the research study. The following is a detailed explanation of the structure of a research paper:

The title page contains the title of the paper, the name(s) of the author(s), and the affiliation(s) of the author(s). It also includes the date of submission and possibly, the name of the journal or conference where the paper is to be published.

The abstract is a brief summary of the research paper, typically ranging from 100 to 250 words. It should include the research question, the methods used, the key findings, and the implications of the results. The abstract should be written in a concise and clear manner to allow readers to quickly grasp the essence of the research.


The introduction section of a research paper provides background information about the research problem, the research question, and the research objectives. It also outlines the significance of the research, the research gap that it aims to fill, and the approach taken to address the research question. Finally, the introduction section ends with a clear statement of the research hypothesis or research question.

Literature Review

The literature review section of a research paper provides an overview of the existing literature on the topic of study. It includes a critical analysis and synthesis of the literature, highlighting the key concepts, themes, and debates. The literature review should also demonstrate the research gap and how the current study seeks to address it.

The methods section of a research paper describes the research design, the sample selection, the data collection and analysis procedures, and the statistical methods used to analyze the data. This section should provide sufficient detail for other researchers to replicate the study.

The results section presents the findings of the research, using tables, graphs, and figures to illustrate the data. The findings should be presented in a clear and concise manner, with reference to the research question and hypothesis.

The discussion section of a research paper interprets the findings and discusses their implications for the research question, the literature review, and the field of study. It should also address the limitations of the study and suggest future research directions.

The conclusion section summarizes the main findings of the study, restates the research question and hypothesis, and provides a final reflection on the significance of the research.

The references section provides a list of all the sources cited in the paper, following a specific citation style such as APA, MLA or Chicago.

How to Write Research Paper

You can write Research Paper by the following guide:

  • Choose a Topic: The first step is to select a topic that interests you and is relevant to your field of study. Brainstorm ideas and narrow down to a research question that is specific and researchable.
  • Conduct a Literature Review: The literature review helps you identify the gap in the existing research and provides a basis for your research question. It also helps you to develop a theoretical framework and research hypothesis.
  • Develop a Thesis Statement : The thesis statement is the main argument of your research paper. It should be clear, concise and specific to your research question.
  • Plan your Research: Develop a research plan that outlines the methods, data sources, and data analysis procedures. This will help you to collect and analyze data effectively.
  • Collect and Analyze Data: Collect data using various methods such as surveys, interviews, observations, or experiments. Analyze data using statistical tools or other qualitative methods.
  • Organize your Paper : Organize your paper into sections such as Introduction, Literature Review, Methods, Results, Discussion, and Conclusion. Ensure that each section is coherent and follows a logical flow.
  • Write your Paper : Start by writing the introduction, followed by the literature review, methods, results, discussion, and conclusion. Ensure that your writing is clear, concise, and follows the required formatting and citation styles.
  • Edit and Proofread your Paper: Review your paper for grammar and spelling errors, and ensure that it is well-structured and easy to read. Ask someone else to review your paper to get feedback and suggestions for improvement.
  • Cite your Sources: Ensure that you properly cite all sources used in your research paper. This is essential for giving credit to the original authors and avoiding plagiarism.

Research Paper Example

Note : The below example research paper is for illustrative purposes only and is not an actual research paper. Actual research papers may have different structures, contents, and formats depending on the field of study, research question, data collection and analysis methods, and other factors. Students should always consult with their professors or supervisors for specific guidelines and expectations for their research papers.

Research Paper Example sample for Students:

Title: The Impact of Social Media on Mental Health among Young Adults

Abstract: This study aims to investigate the impact of social media use on the mental health of young adults. A literature review was conducted to examine the existing research on the topic. A survey was then administered to 200 university students to collect data on their social media use, mental health status, and perceived impact of social media on their mental health. The results showed that social media use is positively associated with depression, anxiety, and stress. The study also found that social comparison, cyberbullying, and FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) are significant predictors of mental health problems among young adults.

Introduction: Social media has become an integral part of modern life, particularly among young adults. While social media has many benefits, including increased communication and social connectivity, it has also been associated with negative outcomes, such as addiction, cyberbullying, and mental health problems. This study aims to investigate the impact of social media use on the mental health of young adults.

Literature Review: The literature review highlights the existing research on the impact of social media use on mental health. The review shows that social media use is associated with depression, anxiety, stress, and other mental health problems. The review also identifies the factors that contribute to the negative impact of social media, including social comparison, cyberbullying, and FOMO.

Methods : A survey was administered to 200 university students to collect data on their social media use, mental health status, and perceived impact of social media on their mental health. The survey included questions on social media use, mental health status (measured using the DASS-21), and perceived impact of social media on their mental health. Data were analyzed using descriptive statistics and regression analysis.

Results : The results showed that social media use is positively associated with depression, anxiety, and stress. The study also found that social comparison, cyberbullying, and FOMO are significant predictors of mental health problems among young adults.

Discussion : The study’s findings suggest that social media use has a negative impact on the mental health of young adults. The study highlights the need for interventions that address the factors contributing to the negative impact of social media, such as social comparison, cyberbullying, and FOMO.

Conclusion : In conclusion, social media use has a significant impact on the mental health of young adults. The study’s findings underscore the need for interventions that promote healthy social media use and address the negative outcomes associated with social media use. Future research can explore the effectiveness of interventions aimed at reducing the negative impact of social media on mental health. Additionally, longitudinal studies can investigate the long-term effects of social media use on mental health.

Limitations : The study has some limitations, including the use of self-report measures and a cross-sectional design. The use of self-report measures may result in biased responses, and a cross-sectional design limits the ability to establish causality.

Implications: The study’s findings have implications for mental health professionals, educators, and policymakers. Mental health professionals can use the findings to develop interventions that address the negative impact of social media use on mental health. Educators can incorporate social media literacy into their curriculum to promote healthy social media use among young adults. Policymakers can use the findings to develop policies that protect young adults from the negative outcomes associated with social media use.

References :

  • Twenge, J. M., & Campbell, W. K. (2019). Associations between screen time and lower psychological well-being among children and adolescents: Evidence from a population-based study. Preventive medicine reports, 15, 100918.
  • Primack, B. A., Shensa, A., Escobar-Viera, C. G., Barrett, E. L., Sidani, J. E., Colditz, J. B., … & James, A. E. (2017). Use of multiple social media platforms and symptoms of depression and anxiety: A nationally-representative study among US young adults. Computers in Human Behavior, 69, 1-9.
  • Van der Meer, T. G., & Verhoeven, J. W. (2017). Social media and its impact on academic performance of students. Journal of Information Technology Education: Research, 16, 383-398.

Appendix : The survey used in this study is provided below.

Social Media and Mental Health Survey

  • How often do you use social media per day?
  • Less than 30 minutes
  • 30 minutes to 1 hour
  • 1 to 2 hours
  • 2 to 4 hours
  • More than 4 hours
  • Which social media platforms do you use?
  • Others (Please specify)
  • How often do you experience the following on social media?
  • Social comparison (comparing yourself to others)
  • Cyberbullying
  • Fear of Missing Out (FOMO)
  • Have you ever experienced any of the following mental health problems in the past month?
  • Do you think social media use has a positive or negative impact on your mental health?
  • Very positive
  • Somewhat positive
  • Somewhat negative
  • Very negative
  • In your opinion, which factors contribute to the negative impact of social media on mental health?
  • Social comparison
  • In your opinion, what interventions could be effective in reducing the negative impact of social media on mental health?
  • Education on healthy social media use
  • Counseling for mental health problems caused by social media
  • Social media detox programs
  • Regulation of social media use

Thank you for your participation!

Applications of Research Paper

Research papers have several applications in various fields, including:

  • Advancing knowledge: Research papers contribute to the advancement of knowledge by generating new insights, theories, and findings that can inform future research and practice. They help to answer important questions, clarify existing knowledge, and identify areas that require further investigation.
  • Informing policy: Research papers can inform policy decisions by providing evidence-based recommendations for policymakers. They can help to identify gaps in current policies, evaluate the effectiveness of interventions, and inform the development of new policies and regulations.
  • Improving practice: Research papers can improve practice by providing evidence-based guidance for professionals in various fields, including medicine, education, business, and psychology. They can inform the development of best practices, guidelines, and standards of care that can improve outcomes for individuals and organizations.
  • Educating students : Research papers are often used as teaching tools in universities and colleges to educate students about research methods, data analysis, and academic writing. They help students to develop critical thinking skills, research skills, and communication skills that are essential for success in many careers.
  • Fostering collaboration: Research papers can foster collaboration among researchers, practitioners, and policymakers by providing a platform for sharing knowledge and ideas. They can facilitate interdisciplinary collaborations and partnerships that can lead to innovative solutions to complex problems.

When to Write Research Paper

Research papers are typically written when a person has completed a research project or when they have conducted a study and have obtained data or findings that they want to share with the academic or professional community. Research papers are usually written in academic settings, such as universities, but they can also be written in professional settings, such as research organizations, government agencies, or private companies.

Here are some common situations where a person might need to write a research paper:

  • For academic purposes: Students in universities and colleges are often required to write research papers as part of their coursework, particularly in the social sciences, natural sciences, and humanities. Writing research papers helps students to develop research skills, critical thinking skills, and academic writing skills.
  • For publication: Researchers often write research papers to publish their findings in academic journals or to present their work at academic conferences. Publishing research papers is an important way to disseminate research findings to the academic community and to establish oneself as an expert in a particular field.
  • To inform policy or practice : Researchers may write research papers to inform policy decisions or to improve practice in various fields. Research findings can be used to inform the development of policies, guidelines, and best practices that can improve outcomes for individuals and organizations.
  • To share new insights or ideas: Researchers may write research papers to share new insights or ideas with the academic or professional community. They may present new theories, propose new research methods, or challenge existing paradigms in their field.

Purpose of Research Paper

The purpose of a research paper is to present the results of a study or investigation in a clear, concise, and structured manner. Research papers are written to communicate new knowledge, ideas, or findings to a specific audience, such as researchers, scholars, practitioners, or policymakers. The primary purposes of a research paper are:

  • To contribute to the body of knowledge : Research papers aim to add new knowledge or insights to a particular field or discipline. They do this by reporting the results of empirical studies, reviewing and synthesizing existing literature, proposing new theories, or providing new perspectives on a topic.
  • To inform or persuade: Research papers are written to inform or persuade the reader about a particular issue, topic, or phenomenon. They present evidence and arguments to support their claims and seek to persuade the reader of the validity of their findings or recommendations.
  • To advance the field: Research papers seek to advance the field or discipline by identifying gaps in knowledge, proposing new research questions or approaches, or challenging existing assumptions or paradigms. They aim to contribute to ongoing debates and discussions within a field and to stimulate further research and inquiry.
  • To demonstrate research skills: Research papers demonstrate the author’s research skills, including their ability to design and conduct a study, collect and analyze data, and interpret and communicate findings. They also demonstrate the author’s ability to critically evaluate existing literature, synthesize information from multiple sources, and write in a clear and structured manner.

Characteristics of Research Paper

Research papers have several characteristics that distinguish them from other forms of academic or professional writing. Here are some common characteristics of research papers:

  • Evidence-based: Research papers are based on empirical evidence, which is collected through rigorous research methods such as experiments, surveys, observations, or interviews. They rely on objective data and facts to support their claims and conclusions.
  • Structured and organized: Research papers have a clear and logical structure, with sections such as introduction, literature review, methods, results, discussion, and conclusion. They are organized in a way that helps the reader to follow the argument and understand the findings.
  • Formal and objective: Research papers are written in a formal and objective tone, with an emphasis on clarity, precision, and accuracy. They avoid subjective language or personal opinions and instead rely on objective data and analysis to support their arguments.
  • Citations and references: Research papers include citations and references to acknowledge the sources of information and ideas used in the paper. They use a specific citation style, such as APA, MLA, or Chicago, to ensure consistency and accuracy.
  • Peer-reviewed: Research papers are often peer-reviewed, which means they are evaluated by other experts in the field before they are published. Peer-review ensures that the research is of high quality, meets ethical standards, and contributes to the advancement of knowledge in the field.
  • Objective and unbiased: Research papers strive to be objective and unbiased in their presentation of the findings. They avoid personal biases or preconceptions and instead rely on the data and analysis to draw conclusions.

Advantages of Research Paper

Research papers have many advantages, both for the individual researcher and for the broader academic and professional community. Here are some advantages of research papers:

  • Contribution to knowledge: Research papers contribute to the body of knowledge in a particular field or discipline. They add new information, insights, and perspectives to existing literature and help advance the understanding of a particular phenomenon or issue.
  • Opportunity for intellectual growth: Research papers provide an opportunity for intellectual growth for the researcher. They require critical thinking, problem-solving, and creativity, which can help develop the researcher’s skills and knowledge.
  • Career advancement: Research papers can help advance the researcher’s career by demonstrating their expertise and contributions to the field. They can also lead to new research opportunities, collaborations, and funding.
  • Academic recognition: Research papers can lead to academic recognition in the form of awards, grants, or invitations to speak at conferences or events. They can also contribute to the researcher’s reputation and standing in the field.
  • Impact on policy and practice: Research papers can have a significant impact on policy and practice. They can inform policy decisions, guide practice, and lead to changes in laws, regulations, or procedures.
  • Advancement of society: Research papers can contribute to the advancement of society by addressing important issues, identifying solutions to problems, and promoting social justice and equality.

Limitations of Research Paper

Research papers also have some limitations that should be considered when interpreting their findings or implications. Here are some common limitations of research papers:

  • Limited generalizability: Research findings may not be generalizable to other populations, settings, or contexts. Studies often use specific samples or conditions that may not reflect the broader population or real-world situations.
  • Potential for bias : Research papers may be biased due to factors such as sample selection, measurement errors, or researcher biases. It is important to evaluate the quality of the research design and methods used to ensure that the findings are valid and reliable.
  • Ethical concerns: Research papers may raise ethical concerns, such as the use of vulnerable populations or invasive procedures. Researchers must adhere to ethical guidelines and obtain informed consent from participants to ensure that the research is conducted in a responsible and respectful manner.
  • Limitations of methodology: Research papers may be limited by the methodology used to collect and analyze data. For example, certain research methods may not capture the complexity or nuance of a particular phenomenon, or may not be appropriate for certain research questions.
  • Publication bias: Research papers may be subject to publication bias, where positive or significant findings are more likely to be published than negative or non-significant findings. This can skew the overall findings of a particular area of research.
  • Time and resource constraints: Research papers may be limited by time and resource constraints, which can affect the quality and scope of the research. Researchers may not have access to certain data or resources, or may be unable to conduct long-term studies due to practical limitations.

About the author

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Muhammad Hassan

Researcher, Academic Writer, Web developer

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Writing Research Papers

  • Research Paper Structure

Whether you are writing a B.S. Degree Research Paper or completing a research report for a Psychology course, it is highly likely that you will need to organize your research paper in accordance with American Psychological Association (APA) guidelines.  Here we discuss the structure of research papers according to APA style.

Major Sections of a Research Paper in APA Style

A complete research paper in APA style that is reporting on experimental research will typically contain a Title page, Abstract, Introduction, Methods, Results, Discussion, and References sections. 1  Many will also contain Figures and Tables and some will have an Appendix or Appendices.  These sections are detailed as follows (for a more in-depth guide, please refer to " How to Write a Research Paper in APA Style ”, a comprehensive guide developed by Prof. Emma Geller). 2

What is this paper called and who wrote it? – the first page of the paper; this includes the name of the paper, a “running head”, authors, and institutional affiliation of the authors.  The institutional affiliation is usually listed in an Author Note that is placed towards the bottom of the title page.  In some cases, the Author Note also contains an acknowledgment of any funding support and of any individuals that assisted with the research project.

One-paragraph summary of the entire study – typically no more than 250 words in length (and in many cases it is well shorter than that), the Abstract provides an overview of the study.


What is the topic and why is it worth studying? – the first major section of text in the paper, the Introduction commonly describes the topic under investigation, summarizes or discusses relevant prior research (for related details, please see the Writing Literature Reviews section of this website), identifies unresolved issues that the current research will address, and provides an overview of the research that is to be described in greater detail in the sections to follow.

What did you do? – a section which details how the research was performed.  It typically features a description of the participants/subjects that were involved, the study design, the materials that were used, and the study procedure.  If there were multiple experiments, then each experiment may require a separate Methods section.  A rule of thumb is that the Methods section should be sufficiently detailed for another researcher to duplicate your research.

What did you find? – a section which describes the data that was collected and the results of any statistical tests that were performed.  It may also be prefaced by a description of the analysis procedure that was used. If there were multiple experiments, then each experiment may require a separate Results section.

What is the significance of your results? – the final major section of text in the paper.  The Discussion commonly features a summary of the results that were obtained in the study, describes how those results address the topic under investigation and/or the issues that the research was designed to address, and may expand upon the implications of those findings.  Limitations and directions for future research are also commonly addressed.

List of articles and any books cited – an alphabetized list of the sources that are cited in the paper (by last name of the first author of each source).  Each reference should follow specific APA guidelines regarding author names, dates, article titles, journal titles, journal volume numbers, page numbers, book publishers, publisher locations, websites, and so on (for more information, please see the Citing References in APA Style page of this website).

Tables and Figures

Graphs and data (optional in some cases) – depending on the type of research being performed, there may be Tables and/or Figures (however, in some cases, there may be neither).  In APA style, each Table and each Figure is placed on a separate page and all Tables and Figures are included after the References.   Tables are included first, followed by Figures.   However, for some journals and undergraduate research papers (such as the B.S. Research Paper or Honors Thesis), Tables and Figures may be embedded in the text (depending on the instructor’s or editor’s policies; for more details, see "Deviations from APA Style" below).

Supplementary information (optional) – in some cases, additional information that is not critical to understanding the research paper, such as a list of experiment stimuli, details of a secondary analysis, or programming code, is provided.  This is often placed in an Appendix.

Variations of Research Papers in APA Style

Although the major sections described above are common to most research papers written in APA style, there are variations on that pattern.  These variations include: 

  • Literature reviews – when a paper is reviewing prior published research and not presenting new empirical research itself (such as in a review article, and particularly a qualitative review), then the authors may forgo any Methods and Results sections. Instead, there is a different structure such as an Introduction section followed by sections for each of the different aspects of the body of research being reviewed, and then perhaps a Discussion section. 
  • Multi-experiment papers – when there are multiple experiments, it is common to follow the Introduction with an Experiment 1 section, itself containing Methods, Results, and Discussion subsections. Then there is an Experiment 2 section with a similar structure, an Experiment 3 section with a similar structure, and so on until all experiments are covered.  Towards the end of the paper there is a General Discussion section followed by References.  Additionally, in multi-experiment papers, it is common for the Results and Discussion subsections for individual experiments to be combined into single “Results and Discussion” sections.

Departures from APA Style

In some cases, official APA style might not be followed (however, be sure to check with your editor, instructor, or other sources before deviating from standards of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association).  Such deviations may include:

  • Placement of Tables and Figures  – in some cases, to make reading through the paper easier, Tables and/or Figures are embedded in the text (for example, having a bar graph placed in the relevant Results section). The embedding of Tables and/or Figures in the text is one of the most common deviations from APA style (and is commonly allowed in B.S. Degree Research Papers and Honors Theses; however you should check with your instructor, supervisor, or editor first). 
  • Incomplete research – sometimes a B.S. Degree Research Paper in this department is written about research that is currently being planned or is in progress. In those circumstances, sometimes only an Introduction and Methods section, followed by References, is included (that is, in cases where the research itself has not formally begun).  In other cases, preliminary results are presented and noted as such in the Results section (such as in cases where the study is underway but not complete), and the Discussion section includes caveats about the in-progress nature of the research.  Again, you should check with your instructor, supervisor, or editor first.
  • Class assignments – in some classes in this department, an assignment must be written in APA style but is not exactly a traditional research paper (for instance, a student asked to write about an article that they read, and to write that report in APA style). In that case, the structure of the paper might approximate the typical sections of a research paper in APA style, but not entirely.  You should check with your instructor for further guidelines.

Workshops and Downloadable Resources

  • For in-person discussion of the process of writing research papers, please consider attending this department’s “Writing Research Papers” workshop (for dates and times, please check the undergraduate workshops calendar).

Downloadable Resources

  • How to Write APA Style Research Papers (a comprehensive guide) [ PDF ]
  • Tips for Writing APA Style Research Papers (a brief summary) [ PDF ]
  • Example APA Style Research Paper (for B.S. Degree – empirical research) [ PDF ]
  • Example APA Style Research Paper (for B.S. Degree – literature review) [ PDF ]

Further Resources

How-To Videos     

  • Writing Research Paper Videos

APA Journal Article Reporting Guidelines

  • Appelbaum, M., Cooper, H., Kline, R. B., Mayo-Wilson, E., Nezu, A. M., & Rao, S. M. (2018). Journal article reporting standards for quantitative research in psychology: The APA Publications and Communications Board task force report . American Psychologist , 73 (1), 3.
  • Levitt, H. M., Bamberg, M., Creswell, J. W., Frost, D. M., Josselson, R., & Suárez-Orozco, C. (2018). Journal article reporting standards for qualitative primary, qualitative meta-analytic, and mixed methods research in psychology: The APA Publications and Communications Board task force report . American Psychologist , 73 (1), 26.  

External Resources

  • Formatting APA Style Papers in Microsoft Word
  • How to Write an APA Style Research Paper from Hamilton University
  • WikiHow Guide to Writing APA Research Papers
  • Sample APA Formatted Paper with Comments
  • Sample APA Formatted Paper
  • Tips for Writing a Paper in APA Style

1 VandenBos, G. R. (Ed). (2010). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (6th ed.) (pp. 41-60).  Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

2 geller, e. (2018).  how to write an apa-style research report . [instructional materials]. , prepared by s. c. pan for ucsd psychology.

Back to top  

  • Formatting Research Papers
  • Using Databases and Finding References
  • What Types of References Are Appropriate?
  • Evaluating References and Taking Notes
  • Citing References
  • Writing a Literature Review
  • Writing Process and Revising
  • Improving Scientific Writing
  • Academic Integrity and Avoiding Plagiarism
  • Writing Research Papers Videos

Grad Coach (R)

What’s Included: Research Paper Template

If you’re preparing to write an academic research paper, our free research paper template is the perfect starting point. In the template, we cover every section step by step, with clear, straightforward explanations and examples .

The template’s structure is based on the tried and trusted best-practice format for formal academic research papers. The template structure reflects the overall research process, ensuring your paper will have a smooth, logical flow from chapter to chapter.

The research paper template covers the following core sections:

  • The title page/cover page
  • Abstract (sometimes also called the executive summary)
  • Section 1: Introduction 
  • Section 2: Literature review 
  • Section 3: Methodology
  • Section 4: Findings /results
  • Section 5: Discussion
  • Section 6: Conclusion
  • Reference list

Each section is explained in plain, straightforward language , followed by an overview of the key elements that you need to cover within each section. We’ve also included links to free resources to help you understand how to write each section.

The cleanly formatted Google Doc can be downloaded as a fully editable MS Word Document (DOCX format), so you can use it as-is or convert it to LaTeX.

FAQs: Research Paper Template

What format is the template (doc, pdf, ppt, etc.).

The research paper template is provided as a Google Doc. You can download it in MS Word format or make a copy to your Google Drive. You’re also welcome to convert it to whatever format works best for you, such as LaTeX or PDF.

What types of research papers can this template be used for?

The template follows the standard best-practice structure for formal academic research papers, so it is suitable for the vast majority of degrees, particularly those within the sciences.

Some universities may have some additional requirements, but these are typically minor, with the core structure remaining the same. Therefore, it’s always a good idea to double-check your university’s requirements before you finalise your structure.

Is this template for an undergrad, Masters or PhD-level research paper?

This template can be used for a research paper at any level of study. It may be slight overkill for an undergraduate-level study, but it certainly won’t be missing anything.

How long should my research paper be?

This depends entirely on your university’s specific requirements, so it’s best to check with them. We include generic word count ranges for each section within the template, but these are purely indicative. 

What about the research proposal?

If you’re still working on your research proposal, we’ve got a template for that here .

We’ve also got loads of proposal-related guides and videos over on the Grad Coach blog .

How do I write a literature review?

We have a wealth of free resources on the Grad Coach Blog that unpack how to write a literature review from scratch. You can check out the literature review section of the blog here.

How do I create a research methodology?

We have a wealth of free resources on the Grad Coach Blog that unpack research methodology, both qualitative and quantitative. You can check out the methodology section of the blog here.

Can I share this research paper template with my friends/colleagues?

Yes, you’re welcome to share this template. If you want to post about it on your blog or social media, all we ask is that you reference this page as your source.

Can Grad Coach help me with my research paper?

Within the template, you’ll find plain-language explanations of each section, which should give you a fair amount of guidance. However, you’re also welcome to consider our private coaching services .

Free Webinar: Literature Review 101

Purdue Online Writing Lab Purdue OWL® College of Liberal Arts

Writing a Research Paper

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This page is brought to you by the OWL at Purdue University. When printing this page, you must include the entire legal notice.

Copyright ©1995-2018 by The Writing Lab & The OWL at Purdue and Purdue University. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, reproduced, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission. Use of this site constitutes acceptance of our terms and conditions of fair use.

The pages in this section provide detailed information about how to write research papers including discussing research papers as a genre, choosing topics, and finding sources.

The Research Paper

There will come a time in most students' careers when they are assigned a research paper. Such an assignment often creates a great deal of unneeded anxiety in the student, which may result in procrastination and a feeling of confusion and inadequacy. This anxiety frequently stems from the fact that many students are unfamiliar and inexperienced with this genre of writing. Never fear—inexperience and unfamiliarity are situations you can change through practice! Writing a research paper is an essential aspect of academics and should not be avoided on account of one's anxiety. In fact, the process of writing a research paper can be one of the more rewarding experiences one may encounter in academics. What is more, many students will continue to do research throughout their careers, which is one of the reasons this topic is so important.

Becoming an experienced researcher and writer in any field or discipline takes a great deal of practice. There are few individuals for whom this process comes naturally. Remember, even the most seasoned academic veterans have had to learn how to write a research paper at some point in their career. Therefore, with diligence, organization, practice, a willingness to learn (and to make mistakes!), and, perhaps most important of all, patience, students will find that they can achieve great things through their research and writing.

The pages in this section cover the following topic areas related to the process of writing a research paper:

  • Genre - This section will provide an overview for understanding the difference between an analytical and argumentative research paper.
  • Choosing a Topic - This section will guide the student through the process of choosing topics, whether the topic be one that is assigned or one that the student chooses themselves.
  • Identifying an Audience - This section will help the student understand the often times confusing topic of audience by offering some basic guidelines for the process.
  • Where Do I Begin - This section concludes the handout by offering several links to resources at Purdue, and also provides an overview of the final stages of writing a research paper.
  • Open access
  • Published: 08 February 2024

Evaluating the impact of the supporting the advancement of research skills (STARS) programme on research knowledge, engagement and capacity-building in a health and social care organisation in England

  • Gulshan Tajuria   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0001-5559-0333 1 , 2 ,
  • David Dobel-Ober   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0001-8457-4148 1 ,
  • Eleanor Bradley   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0001-5877-2298 3 ,
  • Claire Charnley 1 ,
  • Ruth Lambley-Burke   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0003-0416-6908 1 ,
  • Christian Mallen   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0002-2677-1028 1 , 2 ,
  • Kate Honeyford 1 &
  • Tom Kingstone   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0001-9179-2303 1 , 2  

BMC Medical Education volume  24 , Article number:  126 ( 2024 ) Cite this article

262 Accesses

Metrics details

To evaluate the impact a novel education programme - to improve research engagement, awareness, understanding and confidence - had on a diverse health and social care workforce. Barriers and facilitators to engagement were explored together with research capacity-building opportunities and ways to embed a research culture. The programme is entitled ‘Supporting The Advancement of Research Skills’ (STARS programme); the paper reports findings from a health and social care setting in England, UK.

A four-level outcome framework guided the approach to evaluation and was further informed by key principles of research capacity development and relevant theory. Quantitative data were collected from learners before and after engagement; these were analysed descriptively. Semi-structured online interviews were conducted with learners and analysed thematically. A purposive sample was achieved to include a diversity in age, gender, health and social care profession, and level of attendance (regular attendees, moderate attendees and non-attenders).

The evaluation spanned 18 half-day workshops and 11 seminars delivered by expert educators. 165 (2% of total staff at Midlands Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust (MPFT)) staffs booked one or more education sessions; 128 (77%) including Allied Health Professionals (AHPs), psychologists, nursing and midwifery, and social workers attended one or more session. Key themes of engagement with teaching sessions, relevance and impact of training and promoting a research active environment were identified with relevant sub-themes. Positive impacts of training were described in terms of research confidence, intentions, career planning and application of research skills as a direct result of training. Lack of dedicated time for research engagement, work pressures and time commitments required for the programme were key barriers. Facilitators that facilitated engagement are also described.


Findings demonstrate the impact that a free, virtual and high-quality research education programme had at individual and organisational levels. The programme is the product of a successful collaboration between health and social care and academic organisations; this provides a useful framework for others to adapt and adopt. Key barriers to attendance and engagement spoke to system-wide challenges that an education programme could not address in the short-term. Potential solutions are discussed in relation to protecting staff time, achieving management buy-in, recognising research champions, and having a clear communication strategy.

Peer Review reports

Research has played a pivotal role in the advancement of health and social care by, for example, informing early diagnosis, the development and testing of new treatments for prevention, cure, recovery and palliative care [ 1 ]. The importance of research is heralded by key health and social care bodies in the UK, the context for this paper. The UK Government policy paper on clinical research delivery identifies the need to: ‘support healthcare professionals to develop research skills relevant to their clinical role and to design studies in ways which ensure delivering research is a rewarding experience, rather than an additional burden’ [ 2 ]. The Chief Nursing Officer for England’s strategic plan for research also emphasises the importance of developing a culture where research is relevant to all nurses, either through direct involvement or the use of research evidence as a key element in professional decision-making [ 3 ]. Similarly, the Royal College of Physicians [ 4 ] states that healthcare providers should see research as an integral element in care delivery, and to emphasise its ongoing commitment to social care research, the NIHR became the ‘National Institute for Health and Care Research’ in April 2022. The response from the research community to the Covid-19 pandemic has further boosted the impetus and appetite for health and social care to embed global and multi-disciplinary research strategies for the future [ 5 ].

Having sufficient research capacity and capability is important to enabling health and social care services and workers to translate research into practice [ 6 ]. However, inequalities exist in so far as research is not perceived as accessible and inclusive by all. Several studies describe workplace barriers including time [ 4 , 7 , 8 ] resources, such as access to published research [ 8 , 9 ] and lack of research knowledge, experience and expertise, both in terms of carrying out their own research and putting the findings of published research into practice [ 9 ]. Some professional groups describe lack of access to relevant training as a barrier to developing research knowledge and skills, (e.g. nurses [ 8 , 9 , 10 ]). Fry and Attawet [ 8 ] also identified a lack of organisational and management support for research linked to the absence of a culture that promotes research as an integral part of clinical practice. Thus, to nurture research engagement an individual (bottom-up) and service-level (top-down) approach to research capacity development (RCD) is necessary [ 11 ].

A recent evaluation of National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) funding awards suggested that whilst funding could be transformative and contribute to a healthy research culture in health and care organisations, issues of inequality were identified by professionals working in specialisms with less research experience or expertise. These were in organisations without connections to more research-intensive universities and by those working in non-medical professional groups (e.g. Allied Health Professionals (AHPs), nurses) [ 12 ]. This was further highlighted by a study with social care staff, which found they valued research but showed low levels of engagement and skill [ 13 ]. Authors would like to highlight here that they recognise that social care staff and social workers provide different functions. Social workers aim, “to provide support for people to help them to deal with the personal and social issues which affect their lives”… whereas “Social care is one of the terms which is used to refer to the strategies which are used to help to care for people who are in need” [ 14 ]. Even though these terms may be used sometimes interchangeably they are different in terms of qualification required to attain the title and the duties they perform. A growing evidence base identifies the key mechanisms to support Research Capacity Development (RCD) in health and social care. A rapid evidence review [ 15 ] highlighted intrinsic factors (e.g. attitudes and beliefs) and extrinsic factors (such as recognition of research skills acquisition within career progression and professional development via professional bodies, creation of personal awards); and observation of impacts on practice as helpful to encourage NHS staff to engage with researcher development.

Context to the STARS programme

MPFT is a health and social care NHS trust with a track record in research delivery and is in the process of developing research leadership. At the time of writing, the NHS Trust had not achieved university hospital status, although it works closely with two universities which developed the STARS programme in partnership (see Fig.  1 and Supplementary File 1 for a full overview of the structure of the programme). The STARS programme provides a useful resource to address disparities in research engagement between different professional groups in health and social care. Despite more opportunities for research having been generated for nurses and AHPs by organizations such as the NIHR Collaborations for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care (CLAHRCs) and Clinical Research Networks (CRNs), disparities persist between non-academic clinicians and the opportunities available to certain clinical specialities [ 16 , 17 , 18 ]. Challenges and barriers to research training engagement highlighted in this paper are likely to have global relevance [ 19 ]. Thus, more broadly, offering programmes such as STARS may also help address global disparities in research engagement given the UK has the highest percentage of doctors (28.6%) and nurses (15%) who are trained in foreign countries [ 20 ]. STARS was designed in consultation with staff to identify existing barriers to engagement in research training, provide all staff with improved access to high-quality research training to enhance their confidence in research and enable the best use of empirical evidence in practice. The STARS programme was launched in January 2021.

figure 1

Supporting the advancement of research skills (STARS) programme

This paper reports findings from the evaluation which aimed to evaluate the delivery of the STARS programme to assess delivery outcomes, understand learner experiences, facilitators and barriers to engagement, and future opportunities

The approach to evaluation of this training programme was informed by Kirkpatrick’s four-level outcome framework: reaction (was training enjoyed?), learning (did learning occur?), behaviour (did behaviour change?) and results (was performance effected?) [ 21 ]. As this is a new programme, data was gathered against the first three levels of Kirkpatrick’s evaluation model. Contemporary criticisms and revisions of the model were incorporated to better understand the chains of evidence and wider contextual factors that may influence the delivery of a new programme [ 22 ], such as the STARS programme.

Data collection

Quantitative data.

Data including information such as highest educational qualification, job role, the reason for attending and the line manager’s approval to attend the training was collected at the point learners registered for a teaching session. Data indicating service areas, rate of dropouts, staff backgrounds, highest and lowest rate of attendance was collected from the attendance record. Data was also collected using a brief post-session feedback (see Supplementary material - Learner Evaluation Form) form, which included a likert scale question inviting learners to rate the quality of the training.

Statistical analysis

Quantitative analysis was performed at a descriptive level, using Microsoft Excel (2016).

Qualitative methods

Semi-structured interviews were conducted with programme participants to explore learner experiences (aligned with Kirkpatrick’s reaction level), outcomes (learning) and intentions to apply research knowledge ( intended behaviours). Flexible interview formats were offered to encourage participation, such as online interviews and providing responses via email. Interviews were facilitated using a topic guide (see Supplementary material - STARS Interview Guide) that was iteratively revised.

Recruitment and sampling

A purposive sample of participants was identified using data from the programme booking form and attendance records:

Regular attenders: Those who attended a minimum of five teaching sessions across the whole programme or a single pathway.

Occasional attenders: Those who attended very few (1–2) sessions across the whole programme.

Non-attenders: Those who registered to attend, but eventually didn’t attend, to explore barriers to engagement.

Participants were invited by email for a maximum 30-minute interview. All potential participants were emailed a participant information sheet. They were given time to read the information and a contact name for any questions related to their participation, before being asked to confirm their participation in the study.

Description of sample

Thirty-six staff members were categorised as regular attenders; all were invited to take part in an interview. Two individuals declined to participate citing a lack of relevance, as they left their learning events halfway; two individuals declined due to work pressure following illness; three were ‘out of office’ according to email replies, and no response was received from 14 individuals. The remaining 15 agreed to participate in an interview with 10 choosing to use Microsoft Teams and five to provide written responses- ‘email interviews’. This method is becoming increasingly used to help supplement other forms of data and support involvement of healthcare professionals, who may have limited time/capacity for research but valuable knowledge to share [ 23 , 24 ]. Participants represented a diverse range of professional backgrounds, including: AHPs, psychologists, nursing and midwifery, and social workers; this reflected the broad range of learners on the programme. A semi-structured interview guide was used. The interviews were audio recorded and later transcribed in full by the lead author (GT).

Occasional ( n  = 17) and non-attenders ( n  = 13) were invited to participate in an interview. These were staff members who had booked several teaching sessions (1–12) but either did not attend any with/without apologies ( n  = 30) or attended only one or two. Seven email addresses were not valid as the staff had either left the service or changed role; four had an automated ‘out of office’ response set; four staff declined to participate and there was no response from 11 email addresses. Five staff agreed to be interviewed. A brief topic guide was used with questions aiming to find out just the reason/s behind non-attendance in the training. As these interviews were brief, non-verbatim notes were taken by the interviewer and included in analysis. At the end of each of these interviews, the notes were validated with the interviewee.

Qualitative analysis

The data analysis followed a thematic approach [ 22 ] to identify key themes. Data-driven coding was conducted to establish meaning from the words of participants; coding was also informed, a-priori, by the levels of the evaluation framework [ 25 ]. Initial coding was done by GT and TK who read all transcripts to support familiarisation before generating an initial set of codes. Right from initial codes to final themes, other than the authors, the wider STARS team gave input in various Team meetings. Similar codes were then compared and grouped to identify initial themes; these were reviewed to shape a preliminary set of main themes. Preliminary themes were shared and discussed with the team before finalising.

Quantitative findings

Over the 12-month evaluation period, a total of 18 half-day workshops were delivered, six from the research in clinical practice pathway; four from the research delivery pathway; eight from the research leader pathway (refer to Fig.  1 ); and 11 seminars to support the development of key skills. In total, 165 (2% of total staff at MPFT) staff members booked one or more teaching session. 128 (77%) attended one or more teaching session. On average, sessions in the research in practice pathway were attended by 25 staff; 12 in research delivery pathway; 21 in the research leader pathway; and 17 in seminars.

Qualifications, backgrounds and expectations

According to the booking form, attenders represented a range of professional groups.

Nursing registered − 29 (23%).

AHPs − 23 (17%).

Additional clinical services (all healthcare services) − 21 (16%).

Additional professional scientific and technical (such as pharmacist, qualified psychological therapist, social worker etc.) -15 (12%).

Medical profession − 14 (11%).

Other (e.g. research staff) − 26 (20%).

Approximately 85% of staff had reported prior educational qualifications, the majority included: 20% ( n  = 33) bachelor’s, 19% ( n  = 31) master’s, 3% ( n  = 5) doctoral degrees, 6% ( n  = 10) diplomas and nearly 2% ( n  = 3) MBBS (Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery); remaining attenders did not provide information on their educational background.

Explanations for booking the training and number of staff

At the time of booking the course, staff were asked to provide reasons and expectations from STARS sessions using an open text box. Descriptive analysis of responses is presented in Table  1 :

A better understanding of research in practice, additional support for academic work and the development of research in trust were the most common reasons provided (Table  1 ).

Post session evaluation feedback

Learners demonstrated their learning from the sessions in a variety of ways and more often using the session specific feedback. In total, 195 feedback forms were completed and covered 24 sessions. The number of ratings completed per session ranged from 1 to 25. 136 (70%) learners rated the session they attended as ‘very good’, 52 (27%) rated as ‘good’, 4 (2%) rated ‘adequate’ and 2 (1%) rated ‘poor’. Qualitative findings, presented below, help us to make sense of the session ratings.

Qualitative findings

The main themes and sub-themes from the analysis of qualitative data from interviews are summarised in Table  2 and described with illustrative quotes in the following sections.

Engagement with teaching sessions

The reasons given by staff attending the training in booking forms (Table  1 ) and discussed in interviews were reflected to a large extent in the way participants chose the teaching sessions they attended. Eight interviewees had received research training as part of their degree-level qualifications; one was currently involved in conducting research at work.

Factors considered while selecting teaching sessions

Some staff were much focused on what they wanted to take from teaching sessions and booked selectively; however, some wanted to attend all, indiscriminately, due to unequal access in such training opportunities in the past and/or in their departments:

“I wanted to do them all because my concern is that they might not be offered again because we’ve never had them in social care… we’ve never had researchers come and talk to us in social care and social work unless you go to Uni.” P 4.

Some staff described their learning as focused on intrinsic factors such as:

“It’s always good to update because I think you find your own way in doing things like informed consent. P 11.

For other staff, learning on the programme was driven by extrinsic factors like:

“Social work and social care does have a huge gap in terms of research participation. We are trying to develop that within the organization and regionally” P 13.

Relevance of a teaching session to the current role was considered before booking by staff who either had knowledge or were currently involved in doing research but the staff without previous opportunities like this booked relatively indiscriminately. Intrinsic factors such as personal interest and career progressions and extrinsic factors such as organisational development were additional reasons to attend the teaching sessions.

Barriers to attendance

Getting data from those who did not attend after booking proved difficult. Four staff declined to take part in evaluation interviews because of work pressure or illnesses; this may reflect some of the reasons for non-attendance. Another five agreed to take part in short interviews to discuss their lack of attendance with the programme. All interviewees pointed towards time pressure as the main issue.

Qualitative data from the interviews with the regular attenders about barriers to attending some of the training after booking revealed similarities in reasons as the non-attenders. A general lack of time due to staff shortages highlighted the role of the line manager’s approval in attending the training as discussed by two staff members:

“some sessions that I could not attend as my manager didn’t think I should attend so many sessions, because of the pressures of the service following the covid backlogs etc” P 5.

One staff member briefly raised the issues of empowerment where some staff might find it difficult to get the line manager’s approval to attend such training:

“And perhaps you need to get the buy in from the managers, because there’s an awful, awful lot of staff that aren’t really empowered to be able to go off and do this and then influence their work” P 7.

Communication and marketing of the new training was highlighted as a barrier to attendance by staff from one of the departments:

“I think one was probably in the promotion, I came across it by chance…that’s something to do with our organization because it kind of sits slightly outside of MPFT, so I think sometimes that messaging doesn’t always get through” P3 .

Prioritising paid training over STARS training was also a reason for one of the staff to miss some of the teaching sessions:

“I’ve missed some STARS trainings because of attending other trainings which are paid training or conferences that have cost money. So obviously I’ve prioritized them over some of the STARS training” P 9.

Barriers to engagement

Providing training across different professional groups highlighted difficulties in understanding respective languages. Two respondents reported that some content used clinical language that was difficult to understand:

“There’s also an element of understanding research and how it can be applied there’s probably an element of language as well, so it’s not just clinical…or health orientated, it’s also care. So it is just understanding that language barrier so that social work and social care staff know that it’s appropriate for everybody in the organization” P 13.

For one staff member the pace of delivering the graphic and statistical information teaching was very fast and difficult to understand:

“Sometimes it felt like the presenters for some statistical information went too fast when that was the area that most people are weaker on, so perhaps some courses tried to fit too much into one session” P 5.

A couple of staff discussed the workshops as disengaging due to long presentations and less interaction:

“the ones where you will just kind of like listening for three hours. They were really hard to stay engaged with” P 9.

For two staff the breakout rooms were not as helpful as explained by one:

“it can be awkward when you’re with people you don’t know and haven’t got a full grasp of the subject, and trying to think of contributions” P 5.

One staff also highlighted how attending the training from a shared office space can be problematic compared to a private space:

“As when doing it in the office, it’s harder to engage in group discussions due to fear of disrupting other colleagues” P 2.

Other ways of delivering the training were also suggested due to long commitments for the workshops. Two participants suggested that three-hour workshops were too long when delivered online; face-to-face learning was preferred:

“it would be nice to have it when we can to have some classroom based stuff because again, it just feels more natural to ask questions and you get to have those conversations in breaks” P 1.

And according to one participant, the training could be delivered using pre-recorded content:

“If there was a way to like the website on the Internet, all these links that you could click on to watch re-watch everything so you know where to go to one place to see all” P 6.

However, for two participants the recordings of teaching sessions were not as good as attending in real-time, as explained by one:

“You’re not the one engaging in it like because obviously you’re just watching it after the fact, so I don’t sit through the whole thing…If you’ve got questions, there’s nowhere to ask those questions” P 9.

Facilitators to engagement

Online synchronous delivery of the teaching sessions was valued by all interview participants, in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic. Use of breakout rooms for small group discussion and interaction was considered useful by most of the interview participants, for example:

“that was quite nice that you’d catch up with people that you were in the breakout rooms and could get to know a bit more about what they were doing and so I found that quite helpful from like a networking perspective” P 10.

Most of the staff members discussed keeping the recorded videos for future reference as very helpful:

“I know I’m not going to have time to apply myself to do in any sort of research at the moment with how things are at work, but I’ve got all the recordings and so could go back to those” P 10.

To summarise, barriers to attend the training included a lack of time on the participants’ end and lack of promotion. Perceived value due to no direct cost associated with the training was also revealed as a reason to miss a session after booking. Pace, professional-specific language, length of teaching and shared office space were highlighted as some of the barriers to engagement. Regarding facilitators to attend and maintain engagement, all staff were happy with online delivery and the availability of recordings was useful. However, mixed opinions were shared about the usefulness of breakout rooms given the range of professional groups that the staff belonged to.

Relevance and impact of training

Staff described various benefits to their research practice since attending STARS sessions, such as, writing and publishing a short report; working on a literature review; signing on to a university course; successfully receiving regulatory research approvals; and completing preliminary work to attend a professional doctorate or equivalent.

Training content relevance and suitability

All interview participants commented on the programme content and described it as comprehensive and well-balanced in terms of topics and delivery:

“I think it was really well balanced. The presenters came from diverse backgrounds and research was treated holistically by all, so everything felt relevant” P 12.

Impact on knowledge, skills and attributes

One participant described how learning was helpful to understand key areas in greater depth:

“I have an understanding of some critical appraisal and things like that, but it was probably more surface level and the STARS programme helped me to develop that quite significantly” P 1.

For another staff it helped with attending and presenting at different teaching sessions:

“So I’ve attended the regional teaching partnership programs we’ve presented our [name] project across [organisation] who are now looking at setting up a regional program. We’ve presented at NIHR events so yeah, definitely useful” P 13 .

The teaching sessions had a prompt impact on the knowledge and skills of those staff who already had some knowledge of research and also those who had identified specific opportunities to put into practice.

Applying new learning

Some learning on the training had wider applications that went beyond research, topics such as informed consent:

“Things like the informed consent training because for all our new staff that’s a major part of research. So from that we’ve drafted kind of a memoirs and processes formally based on sort of training materials on how an informed consent should be conducted so that we know that everybody starting at the same level” P 11.

Learning on one particular workshop helped to build a participant’s confidence in reading, making sense, and talking about research followed by conducting their own literature review:

“I used the literature review knowledge that I gained to do a very comprehensive literature review. Very rapid, quite comprehensive and then presented it. So I was able to put it into practice straight away” P 3 .

Overall, most of the participants mentioned using the new learning in practice but only a few staff members were able to provide practical examples.

Promoting a research-active environment

Staff discussed how they were using more resources from the organisation such as websites, the local research department, and library services in creating a research identity for themselves and contributing towards a research-active environment within and across their respective departments.

Research career pathways

The STARS programme helped to awaken ambitions for research and staff showed how keen they were on getting involved in doing research. Participants described doing their own research as a better option when other routes for progression were limited in their department:

“where I’m at in my role, there isn’t really anywhere to go unless you want to be a team leader, which isn’t really what I want to do. I really enjoy the patient facing side of things, and so I’ve always kind of said I’d be more interested in more specialized role or doing some research” P 10.

STARS was also useful in the stages of career development and for some it was helpful in starting the new paths as discussed by one:

“It’s either doing a feasibility or that sort of level today as part of a master’s course or doing their pre doctoral the NIHR sort of work to get a project effectively ready” P 6.

However, there was also a sense of being unfulfilled among some of the participants:

“I’d like to progress in it, but it’s where do I take it because I don’t know what opportunities are out there and how to apply for anything really” P 4.
“I’m really interested in doing some research in the area that I work in because I feel like there’s lots of improvements and things that could be made with how we do things and for the clients to get the most out of the service…I think with the STARS stuff I’ve sort of parked it so I’ve got it all saved together in a folder like ready so I can go and access it” P 10.

STARS opened up different routes for career progression for some staff. On the other hand, staff without immediate opportunities to get involved in research reported experiencing frustration because of the fact that there were no obvious opportunities for them to put their improved skills into practice. Success stories (going on a pre-doctoral path; progression for those who were already doing their master’s/doctorate etc.) of those who had some research base highlights the initiation of research identities.

Workforce satisfaction

In addition to feeling motivated to complete their academic qualifications, two staff members discussed how much they valued the STARS training and one participant described staying in their job, in order to access the training:

“I’ve not come across any other type of research training that is like is what the STARS programme offered. I purposely stayed within my role to access this stars training” P 9.

Improving awareness about research support services

The staff interviewees appreciated the associations to other support and resources that they had found out about while attending the STARS training. This included the library services and the R&I team:

“And the fact that our library helps us is phenomenal…So it’s given me a lot of knowledge about the wide organization and just how invested we are in research and that there are people [R&I] to help” P 7.

The STARS programme has been developed with contributions from different departments in order to make it suitable for all staff members to access and understand. This was reflected in the discussion where the interviewees appreciated the other links and resources.

The current paper reports findings from a mixed-methods study, which aimed to evaluate the delivery of a novel research training programme to health and social care staff in a single organisation in England (MPFT). The mixed methods approach generated key data against three of Kirkpatrick’s framework (reaction, learning and behaviour). Quantitative findings demonstrated good engagement with the programme from a diverse range of professional groups; a broad range of reasons were given for engagement. All of which demonstrates the broad appeal and initial reaction to the programme offer, particularly among professional groups who may not ordinarily engage in research (e.g. social care, nursing and midwifery staff). Ratings of session quality were very positive with 97% of ratings either very good or good. Qualitative findings highlighted three key themes: engagement with training, relevance, and impact of training, and promoting a research-active environment. Within these themes, positive reactions to training (e.g. appreciation, satisfaction, collaboration with others, access to new resources), evidence of learning (e.g. understanding critical appraisal) and change in behaviour through practical application (e.g. conducting a literature review) and sharing learning (e.g. networking) were identified. However, barriers still exist for many, including research terminology, limited capacity and the need for wider promotional campaigns.

Comparisons with findings from previous research in other areas and with elements of Gee and Cooke [ 26 ] framework for Research Capacity Development in health care are made, particularly within the areas of Close to Practice (CTP), Infrastructure (INF) and Skills and Confidence Building, which closely align with our findings and help support transferability to other contexts whilst also realising that a training programme can only do so much.

Close to practice

Gee and Cooke’s [ 26 ] ‘Close to Practice’ principle covers themes such as keeping research relevant to health care and informing day-to-day practice The current programme tried to be inclusive of all professional types (i.e. being close to practice); however, as identified in the engaging with teaching sessions theme, some language barriers were highlighted by staff from social care backgrounds who felt excluded due to the clinical/academic language used to deliver the training session – which may have obscured the relevance of the content for this group of learners. Still, the way the STARS programme supports this principle is evident in the content, which addresses both the main strands of the UK and English health policy, driving increased health and care involved in research:

the routine use of research findings in day to day practice;

increased involvement in research activity within the health service.

(referred to by Wakefield et al. [ 13 ] as ‘using research’ and ‘doing research’). The findings of the current evaluation demonstrated that participants’ reasons for booking onto the programme usually included one or both elements. Participants’ motivations also mirrored those found by Dimova et al. [ 15 ], presenting expectations that the STARS content supported both individual career development and organisational objectives such as high-quality patient care. In line with Ariely et al. [ 27 ] and Abramovich and McBride [ 28 ] booking but not attending the current training sessions was an indication toward the perceived low value of the training considering it was completely free for the staff. As the training is free to attend for the staff & managers with no direct impact on teams’ budgets, the priority to attend was given to paid trainings over STARS, sometimes.

Support infrastructure

Gee and Cooke’s [ 26 ] ‘Developing a support infrastructure’ principle covers ‘building additional resources and/or processes into the Trust’s organizational system to enable the smooth and effective running of research projects and for research capacity building’. The findings from the current evaluation, particularly under the ‘Promoting a research-active environment’ them, also showed how a wide-ranging in-house research skills training programme open to all staff can help build resources and processes within a healthcare provider that can support greater research activity.

In terms of processes, distinctive features of this training programme were that it was delivered in-house and entirely online. While the move to online training was necessitated by the pandemic (COVID-19), the evaluation showed that online training has the potential to become the delivery method of choice, particularly for in-house training for organisations covering a wide geographical area. Evaluations comparing online synchronous learning to traditional face-to-face learning have generally shown that (though with certain limitations) online approaches can be effective (George et al. [ 29 ], found this was the case for post registration medical education). In line with previous research, the current evaluation has also shown that an online-only training programme has challenges but can have a positive impact on applying research skills and developing confidence among healthcare staff [ 29 , 30 ].

Participants’ feedback identified the importance yet challenge of incorporating interactivity into online training [ 31 , 32 , 33 ]. Feedback on the length of the teaching sessions demonstrated that long sessions (in this case two hours or longer) could reduce engagement [ 33 , 34 ].

The literature on barriers to health and social care staff carrying out either or both of these activities (research finding use or research activity) identified four main barriers:

lack of time and/or resources;

lack of organisational or management support in other ways;

lack of skills, knowledge, and confidence to undertake research or put evidence into practice and.

lack of opportunities to develop these skills.

The first two of these are linked to infrastructure, resources and processes. The findings of the STARS evaluation showed mixed evidence in this respect. On one hand, the evaluation echoed previous research [ 7 , 8 ] that lack of time or staffing pressures was a major barrier to healthcare staff gaining research skills. Lack of protected time for research activities remains an important barrier to embedding a research-active environment into an organisation. As suggested by King et al. [ 11 ] the current evaluation was also conducted keeping in mind the long-term impacts on the organisational level. The STARS evaluation found the issue of management support, also identified previously [ 8 ], and affected both attendance and opportunities to put skills learnt into practice. On the other hand, the evaluation produced at least one positive example of a manager supporting an attendee in putting skills learnt into practice, resulting in changes in practice.

Research skills and confidence in the workforce

Gee and Cooke’s [ 26 ] ‘skills’ principle covers the provision of training and development opportunities to enable the health and care workforce to develop the skills and confidence to both ‘use’ and ‘do’ research. This principle speaks to the second theme of ‘Relevance and impact of training’ and matches the third and fourth barriers to doing and using research from the research literature mentioned above. This evaluation focused on how the STARS training programme addressed this principle and these barriers.

In terms of the provision of opportunities, the analysis of benefits reported by participants suggest that taking part in the programme contributed to improved skills and confidence in both the ‘using’ and ‘doing’ areas. Comments from the interviews also showed how the STARS programme had addressed the barrier of a lack of opportunities to develop these skills, with two (social care) participants commenting that STARS represented an opportunity not traditionally available to staff from their sector. This helps address one of Wakefield et al’s [ 13 ] recommendations about access to research training opportunities.

Previous research [ 8 , 10 , 13 ] showed that a lack of research skills, confidence and opportunities to gain them were issues associated with non-medical staff groups, particularly nurses, AHPs and social workers. However, the opportunity to gain knowledge and new skills through STARS was valued and staff had plans of using them in the future, echoing the results reported by Bullock et al. [ 35 ] The analysis of demographic data for the STARS programme was based on broad nationally defined staff categories (United Kingdom Electronic Staff Record (ESR) categories – see ‘A Guide to the Staff Group, Job Role and Area of Work classifications used in ESR’); it was difficult to separate, for example, social workers from other staff categories who usually have higher degrees, a high level of research skills, confidence and knowledge. However, the high level of take-up from nursing and midwifery and AHPs suggest that the STARS programme had been of interest to staff groups that previous research had identified as lacking skills, confidence and training opportunities to make evidence-based practice and research activity part of their working culture.

Comments received in the STARS evaluation raised the dilemma of whether it was possible to make content available and relevant to groups of participants with very different professional backgrounds and levels of research knowledge and experience; or whether attempting to achieve this meant the course content did not meet any group’s needs well. The evaluation found both positives and negatives in this respect – gains from sharing the training with colleagues from very different areas and perspectives versus content failing to suit the needs of the participants, very different prior research and professional knowledge and so inhibiting learning in some cases. Previous research was found, evaluating multidisciplinary training provisions that either spanned a range of professional groups working in the same area or students at a similar stage of education studying in different subject areas [ 7 , 9 , 10 , 12 ]. However, no previous research was found evaluating training programmes that matched the STARS participants’ mix of both professional backgrounds and work areas (spanning a range of inpatient and community health and social care settings as well as support services).

Strengths and limitations

The current evaluation contains both quantitative and qualitative primary data from engagers and non-engagers in a novel research education and training programme for a broad range of health and social care professionals. Qualitative methods were designed to be flexible and pragmatic to capture views from busy health and social practitioners; however, emailed responses did not support in-depth exploration. As the interviewer was also a staff member of the same organisation there might have been some undisclosed responses. Findings report key the components of training that worked/did not work; this information could eventually be used to improve future training in this setting and others. As the participants of the STARS programme and current evaluation are located within a health and social care NHS trust in England, the conclusions are relevant to similar settings only. However, findings seem relevant to non-UK health and social care workers. For example, Withington et al. described how their targeted training and mentoring model enhanced research capacity among social workers [ 19 ] Also similar to finding in STARS collaborative approaches have also been discussed as essential by Nystrom et al., in in health and social care context in Sweden to ensure support, trust and understanding among those working in healthcare system [ 36 ]. Despite this limitation, the findings highlight how a research training programme can be tailored around the needs of staff and run virtually during a pandemic.

This evaluation covered a 12-month period in which the STARS programme was rolled out for the first time at MPFT. Findings demonstrate the positive impact that access to free, high-quality, online research education can have in terms of enhancing research awareness and confidence across a diverse range of professional types; some of whom reported unequal access to such training in the past (e.g., social care, nursing and midwifery). Service-level barriers remain that a novel training programme cannot address (e.g., competing burden of clinical roles). It is too early to assess longer-term outcomes relating to the fourth level of Kirkpatrick’s framework (performance) or research culture at an organisation-level; further follow-up research is needed. The STARS programme demonstrates what strong collaboration between NHS and academic institutions can produce and provides a training model that can be adopted and adapted elsewhere to nurture research-active environments and promote research capacity building within and beyond the UK.

Availability of data and materials

The anonymised quantitative raw data from evaluation registers and qualitative data from interviews is available on reasonable requests. The corresponding and first author, GT, should be contacted if someone wants to request the data from this study.

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The authors acknowledge and sincerely thank the members of the STARS working group for their contributions in delivering the project.

The authors thank CRN I&I strategic funding programme for funding the STARS program.

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This study was classified through the Health Research Authority (HRA) automated systems as not requiring ethical approval, as per the UK Policy Framework for Health and Social Care Research28 [ 37 ]. The study was reviewed by the Research and Innovation department form the authors’ organisation (MPFT) prior to being placed on the local evaluation register (ref: e2021-10) and it followed GDPR principles with regard to data management and was conducted in compliance with the Declaration of Helsinki29 [ 38 ]. A written informed consent was obtained from all participants before participation in the study. All prospective participants received information about the study and were asked to return a signed copy of the consent form via email. Additionally, at the start of each interview, participants were asked to confirm verbally that they consented to take part; this was audio recorded, as were the interviews. The author is happy to share the consent forms if needed but those would need to redact to maintain anonymity.

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Tajuria, G., Dobel-Ober, D., Bradley, E. et al. Evaluating the impact of the supporting the advancement of research skills (STARS) programme on research knowledge, engagement and capacity-building in a health and social care organisation in England. BMC Med Educ 24 , 126 (2024). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12909-024-05059-0

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Academic Entrepreneurship Ecosystems: Systematic Literature Review and Future Research Directions

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  • Maria Patrocínia Correia 1 , 2 ,
  • Carla Susana Marques   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0003-1557-1319 2 ,
  • Rui Silva 2 &
  • Veland Ramadani 3  

Research on the entrepreneurship ecosystem, based on different data and scales, limits the acceptance of a single definition. This conceptual limitation and the still recent research and higher education institutions have come to be seen as ecosystems associated with entrepreneurship. The aim of this study is to contribute to the field of knowledge, identify current and emerging thematic areas and trends and reveal the scientific roots of research on entrepreneurial ecosystems and their relationship with higher education institutions. A bibliometric analysis was developed to analyse a final sample of 110 articles published between 2011 and 2022. In order to develop the analysis, Bibliometrix R-Tool was used and the metadata of two databases (Web of Science and Scopus) was retrieved and merged. The software creates a reference co-citation’s map, which allowed emphasize the state of the art and indicate three thematic clusters: (i) the importance of the higher education context for the entrepreneurial ecosystem, (ii) the evolution and challenges of entrepreneurship education and (iii) academic entrepreneurship ecosystems. The paper concludes by suggesting future research focused on the importance of building an integrated approach to entrepreneurial ecosystems and higher education institutions on a context regional scale.

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The new research on the “entrepreneurship ecosystem” (EE) limits the acceptance of a single definition. According to this conceptual limitation and the still recent research, higher education institutions (HEIs) have come to be seen as ecosystems associated with entrepreneurship. While several bibliometric and systematic literature reviews have advanced for a research agenda for academic entrepreneurial ecosystems (AEEs), a holistic approach that integrates theories, attributes and methods is still necessary.

The concept of EE in HEIs has emerged in the literature (Fetters et al., 2010 ). Consequently, initial studies have addressed the components of these ecosystems (Fetters et al., 2010 ; Graham, 2014 ; Meyer et al., 2020 ), and internal and external actors have been identified (e.g. Hayter, 2016 ; Hayter et al., 2018 ; Meyer et al., 2020 ). Hayter ( 2016 ) and Hayter et al. ( 2018 ) further elaborated on the research by relating the effectiveness of academic EEs to the levels of the interconnectedness of the constituent elements and their collective capacity.

Higher education institutions (HEIs) and their surroundings play a “fundamental role for contemporary societies in the field of education and knowledge generation” (Kobylinska & Lavios, 2020 : 118). For the authors, during the last decade, the university and its surroundings have become a special ecosystem. Specifically, favourable conditions are created for cooperation between various entities, namely, HEI, business incubators, technology transfer centres and funding institutions, which contribute to developing academic entrepreneurship ecosystem (AEE) (Meyer et al., 2020 ; Kobylinska & Lavios, 2020 ). The combination of EE and HEI requires further research.

The systematic literature review (SLR) developed in this article found five studies that allow us to assess what is known about this subject. Malecki ( 2018 ) reviews the literature, concepts and operationalizations of the concept of EE with a bibliometric analysis. Kansheba and Wald ( 2020 ) present a systematic review of the existing literature, develop a research agenda and analysing, only, articles that focused on EEs (conceptual, theoretical or empirical). They concluded that the concept of EEs is poorly theorised and dominated by conceptual studies, revealing existing theoretical and empirical gaps on EEs. In the third SLR found, Kobylinska and Lavios ( 2020 ) aimed to analyse the state of research on University EE and to identify research trends related to the topic. They concluded that the study of University EE is little recognized in the literature, lacking a solid methodological basis and revealed that the topic may constitute a research area of interest. In the fourth review, Guindalini et al. ( 2021 ) present an SLR with bibliometric and network analysis, with the aim of mapping AEE. In this SLR, as in the two previously mentioned, the authors conclude that this topic is at an “embryonic stage of academic research” (Guindalini et al., 2021 : 6). They also find a gap in research regarding evaluation studies that support the targeting of potential scientific discoveries in the market. With bibliometric and SLR, the study develops a holistic framework that integrates sustainability factors into the EE literature. They confirm that EE research has mostly focused on academic entrepreneurship, innovation and regional development, among others.

The originality of this research is directly linked to the chosen emerging theme. In this context, this study aims to complement and stand out from the five reviews found and understand the characteristics of an AEE and their successful development as a potential research area relevant in the future. To this end, a bibliometric analysis is proposed to answer the following research questions: (a) RQ1: Is it possible establish common attributes for AEE?; (b) RQ2: What are the opportunities and challenges that HEIs must recognize to achieve an successful EE?; (c) RQ3: What key areas require further research with regards to AEE?

In order to complement the proposed research questions, this study also responds to the subsequent objectives: to provide a comprehensive overview of the origins of the EE concept, to explore the research conducted so far in this field of study, to reveal the scientific roots of research on EEs and their relationship with the HEIs and to create knowledge for future research on AEEs.

To achieve them, the SLR followed in this article included a rigorous protocol and definition of research steps and a literature review based on scientific articles published in Web of Science (WoS) and Scopus. In addition, the 110 articles related to EEs were submitted to a bibliometric analysis with the Bibliometrix-R tool . In this quantitative bibliometric, we used the analysis of co-citations, which allowed obtaining a citation network composed of clusters.

The article is structured in seven parts. After this introductory section, the theoretical framework on the concept is presented in the second section of the paper and is organized as follows: entrepreneurial ecosystems and academic entrepreneurial ecosystems. In the third section, the methodological characteristics of the research used in the SLR, the sample and the bibliometric analysis method are presented. The results are explained in the fourth section. The thematic analysis exposing the resulting visual maps and discussing the results of the articles classified by clusters is the fifth section. In the sixth and final section, the future lines of research and conclusions are addressed presenting limitations that resulted from the review and future of research.

Theoretical Framework

Defining entrepreneurial ecosystems and academic entrepreneurship ecosystem.

The concept of entrepreneurial ecosystem is an ambiguous term, but, in fact, this concept has been increasingly explored by researchers over the years (Bischoff et al., 2018 ; Clarysse et al., 2014 ; Cohen, 2006 ; Isenberg, 2010 , 2011 ; Kansheba & Wald, 2020 ; Stam & Spigel, 2017 ; Van de Ven, 1993 ). The term entrepreneurial ecosystem (EE) is a composite of two terms.

The component of the term—entrepreneur—according to Mason and Brown ( 2014 ) is often associated with “high growth start-ups” or “economies of scale” as being a source of innovation and growth in productivity and employment. The other component of the term—ecosystem—is associated with biology and is defined as the physical environment and all possible interactions in the complex of living and non-living components (Stam, 2015 ). As in ecology, the biological perspective focuses on the rise and fall of many organizations and institutions that are mutually related and play different but complementary roles that enable their birth, growth and survival (Astley & Van de Ven, 1983 ; Freeman & Audia, 2006 ).

Cohen ( 2006 ) was the first to use the concept of EE building on the study of Neck et al. ( 2004 ). Neck et al. ( 2004 ) used qualitative analysis to identify the components present in the EE in Boulder, USA. This concept became more prominent through Daniel Isenberg, in 2010. For this author, an EE is a set of individual elements combined in a complex way. In isolation, each can generate entrepreneurship but cannot sustain it (Isenberg, 2010 , 2011 ). Mason and Brown ( 2014 : 5) more broadly defined an EE as a “set of interrelated entrepreneurial actors, entrepreneurial organizations, institutions and entrepreneurial processes that formally or informally cooperate in relating and mediate performance within the local entrepreneurial environment.” Audretsh and Belitski ( 2017 : 1031) define EE as “institutional and organisational systems as well as other systemic factors that interact and influence the identification and commercialisation of entrepreneurial opportunities.” Acs et al. ( 2014 ) defined entrepreneurial ecosystems as a dynamic, institutionally embedded interaction between entrepreneurial attitudes, capabilities and aspirations of individuals that drives the allocation of resources through the creation and operation of new projects. Stam and Spigel ( 2017 ) point out that it is the coordination that occurs between actors and interdependent factors that enables productive entrepreneurship in each territory.

As this term has captured the attention of researchers, experts and policymakers significant knowledge gaps have also emerged in terms of its conceptual meaning, theoretical foundation and application (Audretsh et al., 2019 ; Kansheba & Wald, 2020 ). According to Audretsh et al. ( 2019 ), the question remains as to what exactly an EE is and what it comprises. It also mentions that the definition of EE does not add value to academic discourses that rely on “networks”, “cluster initiatives”, “triple helix initiatives” or “public–private partnerships”. For the authors, thinking in terms of EEs may only reflect the importance of a particular topic, such as “business ecosystems”, “digital ecosystems”, “financial ecosystems” and “university ecosystems”, among others.

Combining EEs and HEIs: An Overview of Academic Entrepreneurship Ecosystems

In recent decades, some universities have oriented themselves towards a more entrepreneurial direction through the realization of the third mission as a key player in promoting national and regional economic and social development (Etzkowitz & Leydesdorff, 2000 ; Yi & Uyarra, 2018 ) resulting from the interaction of three actors belonging to different helixes—university-industry-government: triple helix model (Etzkowitz & Leydesdorff, 2000 ). Etzkowitz and Zhou ( 2017 ) point out that the thesis of the model is that the university starts to abandon a social, yet important, role of providing higher education and research and starts to assume an essential role equivalent to that of industry and government as a generator of new industries and enterprises. As a result, the entrepreneurial university has become an increasingly significant academic configuration and is considered a vital element (Etzkowitz & Zhou, 2017 ; Wang et al., 2021 ). Pita et al. ( 2021 ) agree, pointing out that universities actively contribute to the development of EEs by providing a skilled workforce and stimulating new enterprises, such as start-ups or spin-offs.

In the entrepreneurial university, knowledge-sharing processes are outlined, which requires the university to reconfigure its traditional educational programmes and approaches to create a favourable context for university entrepreneurship by supporting students in a process that moves from idea generation to idea development, business model and commercialisation (Secundo et al., 2021 ). Another challenge facing HEIs is to shift their focus from education about entrepreneurship to educating for entrepreneurship. This encompasses any programme or pedagogical process of education aimed at achieving entrepreneurial skills and attitudes (Bischoff et al., 2018 ).

Against entrepreneurial HEIs and their pedagogical competencies of entrepreneurship education, researchers highlight that the entrepreneurial university itself can form an EE (Miller & Acs, 2017 ; Wang et al., 2021 ). The EE developed with an academic campus as a context is referred to as “University-based Entrepreneurship Ecosystem” (UBEE) or “University Entrepreneurship Ecosystem” (UEE) or “Academic Entrepreneurship Ecosystem” (AEE). All these terms refer to the ecosystem developed on the university campus, which are part of a wider ecosystem. For Wang et al., ( 2021 : 2), the creation of UEEs, currently, is a “hot topic.”

Naturally, many definitions were put forward, leading to the decision to present, chronologically, a selection of definitions (Table  1 ).

An effective AEE is critical for entrepreneurial academic activities as they not only act as a catalyst for the acceleration of knowledge commercialisation but also as a platform and dynamic in maintaining the sustainable development of academic entrepreneurship (Yi & Uyarra, 2018 ). However, little literature exists on the AEE’s structure and function and particularly how the transition from the academic entrepreneurial system to an AEE occurs (Hayter, 2016 ; Yi & Uyarra, 2018 ).

Similarly, to research on EE, academics attach greater importance to the conceptualisation and elements of the UEE. Several authors identify the factors contributing to the evolution of EEUs (Fetters et al., 2010 ; Graham, 2014 ; Meyer et al., 2020 ). Fetters et al. ( 2010 ) cite seven factors contributing to the evolution of UBEEs: senior leadership, strong teaching and programmatic capacity, long-term commitment, the commitment of financial resources, the commitment to continuous innovation in programmes and curricula, adequate organizational infrastructure and the commitment to increasing critical mass and creating enterprises. Graham ( 2014 ) also identifies seven factors that underpin UEEs: institutions, culture, university leadership, university research capacity, regional or governmental support, effective institutional strategies and strong demand for entrepreneurial students.

Brush ( 2014 ) believed that entrepreneurship education is the core of the UEE. The researcher divided the internal entrepreneurial education ecosystem into three broad areas (introductory/curricular courses, extracurricular activities and research) and four dimensions (stakeholders, resources, infrastructure and culture). Sherwood ( 2018 ), in addition to the elements, identified curricular, extra-curricular components, Technology Transfer Offices (TTO), resources and informal and community engagement. For Wang et al. ( 2021 ), diversified extracurricular activities have played an important role in stimulating students’ interest in entrepreneurship by providing them with a large number of resources. For the authors, student entrepreneurs also tend to get the guidance and resources they need through these activities.

For Bischoff et al. ( 2018 ), although the concrete strengths and conceptualization of UBEEs generally vary between universities, a number of common characteristics can be identified. Secundo et al. ( 2021 ) mention that UBEE facilitates innovation and entrepreneurial opportunities thanks to the knowledge-sharing processes between the various actors. Within a UBEE, for the author, each actor needs to be connected to the other members through a constant flow of knowledge from information that enables the overflow of entrepreneurial knowledge. The author points out that universities may assume different roles according to the size and composition of the entrepreneurial ecosystem, interacting through different channels.

In accordance with the review carried out, the other authors initiate the development of methods to evaluate an AEE. Table 2 shows three of the conceptual models highlighted in the literature review and published chronologically in the last 5 years.

Within this context, further research work on evaluations of AEE is needed. The findings draw attention to considerations as “unique entrepreneurial architecture” (Prokop & Thompson, 2022 : 17). The Prokop and Thompson ( 2022 : 181) study include 81 UEE and, according to the author, “it is in no way reflective of all types of sub-ecosystems, or broader ecosystems.” The study of university and broader EEs is a critical feature to recognize and involve in future studies. This study aims to contribute to this challenge.


To produce a comprehensive review article, Hulland ( 2020 ) refers that authors should carry out their studies in a systematic way. A systematic review needs the definition of clear questions, criteria and conclusions that provide new information based on the examined content. According to Aria and Cuccurullo ( 2017 ), this means that the phases adopted in the review can be replicated in all procedures and there should be clarity in all of them. The authors state that the working model of an SLR is based on five stages: study design, data collection, data analysis, data visualization and interpretation.

Ferreira et al. ( 2019 ) mention that one of the most suitable methods for analysing past research works is bibliometric analysis. According to Aria and Cuccurullo ( 2017 ) and Thelwall ( 2008 ), there are relevant points when using bibliometric. For Aria and Cuccurullo ( 2017 ), there are three types of research questions that can be answered using bibliometrics: identify the knowledge base of a topic or field of research, examine the conceptual structure of a topic or field of research and produce a network structure based on a particular scientific community. The relevance for Thelwall ( 2008 ) concerns the types of procedures in bibliometric analysis. The author identified two types of procedures, evaluation bibliometric and relational bibliometric. The first evaluates the productivity and impact of researchers, research centres and countries. The second type examines the similarity and relationship between publications, authors and keywords using co-word, co-authorship and co-citation analyses.

The article will use the suggestions of both authors in bibliometric analysis. It will respond to the three types of questions posed by Aria and Cuccurullo ( 2017 ) and uses both types of procedures, evaluation bibliometric and relational bibliometric. In evaluation bibliometric, mappings, qualitative analyses and baseline indicators are carried out. In relational bibliometrics will analyse co-citations and the respective clusters.

Data Collection and Eligibility Criteria

In additional search, the research papers were determined through the comprehensive advanced search in two databases including Scopus and Web of Science. These choices were justified for two reasons: they are two multidisciplinary databases that include all indexed journals with the highest number of citations in their respective areas of scientific specialization (Huang et al., 2020 ; Pranckuté, 2021 ). They also provide a citation index, generating information about each publication in documents that cite them as well as cited.

Table 3 elucidates the stages that followed in this study.

The keywords come from the research question and was defined the following search query: “entrepreneur* ecosystem*” (in title) AND “universit*” OR “polytechnic*” OR “higher education institution*” (in topic). All the articles from the current year were excluded because at the time of this research the year had not finished. The document type was limited to “article” and “review.” After applying these criteria, it was obtained 183 papers from the research process (104 obtained in SCOPUS and 79 results in Web of Science) (stages 1 and 2 from Table  3 and Fig.  1 ).

figure 1

Process of data collection and analysis

In the third stage, wherein some records were excluded, the data was filtered. To this end, other restrictions were applied:

Eliminating the repeats by cross-referencing the databases (62 documents)

The exclusion of 11 documents, after analysing the content of each, because the global subject of the articles was different from the scope of the study

Although language was not a filter, it should be noted that the search was developed utilizing English, which could be understood as “quasi-filter.”

The procedures followed in the data collection and the application of the eligibility criteria complete Fig.  1 which demonstrates the careful way in which the final database was obtained ( n  = 110).

Mapping and Qualitative Analysis

R-Bibliometrix summarized the mapping of the documents included in the final database with the information considered relevant, as shown in Table  4 . Table 4 reveals that the dataset contains 110 documents published between 2011 and 2022, representing the work of 276 authors from 32 different countries. The average years from publication is 3.31 and the average number of citations per documents 13.4. The number of authors and co-authors per document is 2.5 and 2.7.

The first study in the final database addressed the entrepreneurship ecosystems, and the global innovation networks were written by Malecki in 2011. For the author, the existing knowledge is dispersed as it results from entrepreneurial activity originating from small and medium enterprises, research institutes and universities. Malecki ( 2011 ) suggested the simultaneous integration of local and global knowledge as well as internal and external.

A reading of Tables  4 and  5 reveals that various articles have been published recently (during 2011–2022). Moreover, an increase of publications (except 2012 and 2013) shows an increasing trend, suggesting that the subject has been progressively gaining popularity in the academic community. The results reveal and confirm the increase prevalence of research on EEs over the past 11 years.

In 2022, the number reached 24 articles in the last year of the period. After 2014, there was a considerable increase in the number of published articles. The data shows a turning point in 2018 (14) and 2019 (23). This latter year and 2022 standing out with the highest number of published articles. It is important to mention that more than half of the articles (62) were published in the last 3 years. The production growth rate is 33.5%.

According to the average number of citations, per year, the articles written in 2022 were those with a higher number (9.79) followed by articles from the years 2011, 2018 and 2019. This increment in the interest of EE results from the fact that this concept has assumed a global and multidisciplinary dimension recognized and associated with innovation by the various economic and social actors.

Table 6 presents the five authors and journals that have contributed for research’s development. The most cited papers by author were those of Malecki, with 185, followed by Audretsh, with 111, and Carayannis, with 110. The three authors who have published the most with the highest local impact (TC index) are Cunningham (4 publications, TC 156), Audretsh (3 publications, TC 184) and Menter (3 publications, TC 154).

R-Bibliometrix software was used to identify the keywords mentioned in the 110 documents of the final sample. As can be seen in the Fig.  2 , the most frequently terms mentioned are “entrepreneurial ecosystem”, “entrepreneurial university”, “entrepreneurial education”, “university”, innovation” and “higher education”. This also shows that of the studies analysed word association results as “academic entrepreneurship”.

figure 2

Most mentioned keywords

Table 7 summarizes the applied methodologies. As an emerging theoretical stream, EEs have been studied through qualitative methods. Thus, several articles use a case study technique. There is an increase on quantitative methods using factor analysis and structural equation modelling to understand variations in entrepreneurship and develop metrics. Researchers have used mixed methods, both qualitative and quantitative data collection techniques to address the complexity of the phenomenon.

Concerning methodologies, of a total 110 articles, 59 documents (54%) use a qualitative approach, through the technique of data collection via interviews (in-depth and semi-structured), samples, observation and documentary analysis. The case study technique, inserted in this approach, focuses on 25 articles, meaning that its weighting is 42% in relation to the total number of articles that use qualitative methodologies. The 28 articles (around 25%) use a quantitative approach through data collection techniques involving the application of questionnaires and secondary data (statistics) and eight articles (7%) use mixed methods, namely, they use both qualitative and quantitative data collection techniques. Eight conceptual articles (7%) and seven literature review articles (6%) were identified. Of this literature review, five are based on systematic literature reviews. From the numbers, we deduce that there is no balance of methods in EE and HEI studies and literature reviews are the least frequent type of publication.

Thematic Analysis

In this part of the article, the thematic analysis results will be examined. It will start with the strategic and evolutionary analysis and, subsequently, the networks created by the co-citation analysis. The subsequent figures will be presented all results.

Strategic and Evolutionary Thematic Analysis

The strategic diagram for the studied subject is presented in Fig.  3 . The size of the circles represents the number of occurrences of these words. The upper right quadrant represents the main themes, and the upper left quadrant depicts the more specific themes, considered niche themes. The lower right quadrant represents the basic themes, and the lower left means that the theme may be emerging or disappearing.

figure 3

Strategic diagram

The themes in the upper right quadrant are “academic entrepreneurship” and “entrepreneurial”. All these sets of themes are crucial to the research in this paper.

The theme in the upper left quadrant is “start-ups”, “case study” and “networks.

The lower right quadrant represents the basic themes necessary for understanding the present study: “entrepreneurial ecosystem”, “entrepreneurial education”, “entrepreneurial university”. Also “university” and “technology transfer” are essential for the understanding on the topic. The lower left quadrant given the inexistence of declining themes but also gives the emerging themes, “entrepreneurial education” and “entrepreneur”. All this fact enhances the importance of the sets of themes in the article.

Thus, “networks”, “case study” and “academic entrepreneurship” reveal themselves as major themes. The transversal themes are “entrepreneurial ecosystems” and “university incubators”. This last phase, 2022, was the growth stage of an approach integrating Entrepreneurial Ecosystems and the Entrepreneurial University. Therefore, 2023 could be a high growth phase for an integrated approach to AEEs.

Figure  4 presents the evolution of research topics in entrepreneurial ecosystems and the relationship with the university. The data were analysed using the author’s keywords and cut-off points in the years 2014, 2018 and 2020. The results reveal a thematic evolution of the conceptual frameworks from 2011 to 2022. From the general concept of “Entrepreneurial Ecosystem” (2011–2014), “innovation” emerges in the thematic evolution (2015–2017). Therefore, the cut-off points were two periods when the first publications on the topic of the paper appeared (three publications in 2011–2014 and nine publications in 2015–2017).

figure 4

Thematic evolution, with cut-off points

In 2018, results of the emergence of thematic areas such as “education” and “higher education” are revealed. From 2019, “entrepreneurial ecosystem” gives way to “entrepreneurial education”, “entrepreneurial university” and its “ecosystem”. Likewise, the area of “innovation” gives way to a unique “entrepreneurial ecosystem” based on “entrepreneurial education”, “university”, “higher education” and “academic entrepreneurship”. The thematic evolution of the conceptual framework between 2018 and 2022 revealed that these periods are the most productive and creative with the highest number of base themes and driving themes evolving in these periods.

Cluster Analysis

A bibliometric analysis was carried out to understand how this field of study is divided into research clusters, and the co-citations were analysed. No cut-off point for the number of citations per document has been defined. All linked documents were selected, leaving us with a final analysis with 50 documents distributed by clusters. Each of the clusters, identified with different colours, can be observed in Fig.  5 . The colours indicate the clusters and the articles belonging to them. In addition, each article’s weight is assigned based on the links’ total strength, and the number of citations the publication has received. The top nodes are the publications with the highest link strength.

figure 5

Clusters networks through the co-citation analysis technique

Based on the visualization of Fig.  5 and after analysing the resulting network and the content of the articles, it is concluded that the research is divided into three thematic clusters (Table  8 ).

Cluster 1 (Blue)—Conceptualization and Attributes of Entrepreneurship Ecosystems

The first cluster is focused on the definition and attributes present in EEs. No consensus has been reached in the academic community on the theoretical characterization of the concept and the elements that characterize it.

While there is none accepted definition of an EE, as Spigel ( 2018 ) points out, the most active area of interest has been around the types of domains (Isenberg, 2010 , 2011 ), components (Cohen, 2006 ) or attributes (Spigel, 2017 ).

Diverse literature provides tools that show several factors considered important for a successful EE. Cohen ( 2006 ) refers to formal and informal networks, government, university, skilled human resources, support services, funding and talent. The works of Isenberg ( 2010 , 2011 ) list six domains present in the ecosystem: policy, funding, culture, support, human capital and markets.

Spigel ( 2017 ) efforts to rank the categories of an EE in terms of (i) cultural attributes (entrepreneurship stories, supportive culture), (ii) social attributes (talent, mentors, networks, investment capital) and (iii) material attributes (infrastructure, universities, support services, public policies, open markets). Spigel and Harrison ( 2018 ) give attention to several factors such as governance, knowledge, industry, actors, resources and benefits.

Table 9 summarizes the attributes by applying them to the EEs.

Although the topic on the attributes of EEs is innovative, it has not been without trials. Several articles highlight criticisms of previous work (Alvedalen & Boschma, 2017 ; Brown & Mason, 2017 ; Malecki, 2018 ; Nicotra et al., 2018 ; Stam & Spigel, 2017 ). Alvedalen and Boschma ( 2017 ), Nicotra et al. ( 2018 ) and Stam and Spigel ( 2017 ) highlighted the lack of a clear analytical framework to empirically explain the cause-effect relationship of EEs’ attributes and their effects on productive entrepreneurship. The static approach of EE studies was another criticism highlighted as its evolution over time was not considered. Finally, Malecki ( 2018 ) noted the lack of an issue related to spatial scale.

Cluster 2 (Red)—Spatial Context and Knowledge Ecosystems

Beyond definitional debates, the lead author of this cluster, Stam ( 2015 ), expresses himself critically concerning studies of EEs. He underlines that it is not only generating entrepreneurship that makes it a good EE. He also mentions that the approaches only offer a long list of elements without a cause-effect relationship and concludes that it is unclear what level of geographical analysis the approaches have taken into consideration. The author refers that a new emerging approach to EE occurs, conveying a new view on people, networks and institutions. From this emerging approach, differentiations have emerged at two levels: spatial context and dynamics of knowledge ecosystems.

The first sub-division of this cluster refers to the importance of context in EEs (Acs et al., 2014 ; Cohen, 2006 ; Spigel, 2017 ; Stam, 2015 ). For Stam ( 2015 ), the common denominator in this sub-cluster seems to be that entrepreneurs create value in a specific institutional context. The author approach emphasizes the interdependencies within the context and provides a bottom-up analysis of the performance of regional economies. Stam ( 2015 ) argues that EEs open the door to a shared responsibility among actors that foster, encourage and support entrepreneurs, asking about the systemic services that a region tries to achieve.

The second sub-cluster analyses the dynamics of knowledge ecosystems, namely, the role of HEIs for value creation in a given context. Kuratko ( 2005 ), in his study, notes that younger people have become the most entrepreneurial generation since the Industrial Revolution. The growth and development in programmes and curricula dedicated to entrepreneurship and the creation of new projects have been remarkable. The number of colleges and universities offering entrepreneurship-related courses has increased. However, among this enormous expansion, for Kuratko ( 2005 ) there remains the challenge of the academic legitimacy of entrepreneurship. Although there has been this significant growth, the author points out two specific challenges to academia: (i) development of academic programmes and specialized human resources to improve the quality of courses and (ii) commitment by institutions to create formal academic programmes.

Clarysse et al. ( 2014 ) analysed the tension between knowledge and business ecosystems. In relation to the success factors, they seem similar: diversity of organizations and key actors. However, regarding the factors, anchor organizations in knowledge are universities and public research organizations that do not directly compete with the ecosystem. In contrast, key actors in EEs are based on companies that are competitors in the ecosystem. Another difference lies in value creation. In knowledge ecosystems, to Clarysse et al. ( 2014 ), the value creation flows from upstream to downstream, while in EEs, the value creation process is non-linear . The author’s note that some studies already include universities as part of the knowledge system but that further research could focus on analysing the circumstances under which a university could be considered an ecosystem and how the interaction between knowledge and business ecosystems would occur. Miller and Acs ( 2017 ) explore the EE of higher education by choosing a university campus because the “entrepreneurial opportunities had been identified and/or the process of firm-formation had begun by multiple founders…” (p. 82).

Cluster 3 (Green)—Inter-institutional Relationships in University’s Ecosystem

This third cluster leads us to the wider set of relationships in the university’s ecosystem, strategies and their specificities of regional/local factors. Audretsch et al. ( 2019 ) refers that EE is a vehicle for carrying entrepreneurs, policymakers and managers of linked companies and all their relationships organizing the EE. For the author, an EE is defined by frontiers, and the necessary resources are produced and absorbed within and beyond those boundaries.

Audretsch and Belitski ( 2017 ) set out to develop a model that captured both regional and local systemic factors to better understand and explain variations in entrepreneurial activity. In their study, they found four domains under EEs in European cities: norms and culture, infrastructure and equipment, formal institutions and Internet access and connections. To Audretsch and Link ( 2017 : 431), conceptually a university represents a “reservoir of knowledge, knowledge embodied in faculty…”. Universities are one part of the complexity of the research. They have evolved towards taking an active role in regional development and the dynamics of local networks. This evolution in the model involves inter-institutional relationships between the three actors, leading to an increasing overlap of their roles. The work of Schaeffer and Matt ( 2016 ) showed that universities cannot replicate the mechanisms that lead to the success of an EE but rather adapt their strategies to the specificities of each regional context.

Can academia encompass a third mission, beyond research and teaching? This question was formulated by Etzkowitz and Leydesdorff ( 2000 : 110). Three spaces emerge from the triple helix model: the consensus space, a knowledge space (R&D activities) and innovation space.

Schaeffer and Matt ( 2016 ) state these are coordinated and managed by a regional innovation officer. The authors refer that this responsibility can be assigned to the university to contribute to developing the regional networks. They analysed the university of Strasbourg’s Technology Transfer Offices (TTO) and supported entrepreneurial academic activities over 15 years. The study reveals a strong growth in the structure of the TTO and its role as a boundary, changing objectives and developing collaborations with other regional actors. As pointed by Fini et al. ( 2011 ) and Vohora et al. ( 2004 ), since university faculty have limited entrepreneurial experience, networks with outside contacts are crucial to motivate the creation of entrepreneurial activities as well as their success.

In addition to TTOs, entrepreneurship education, either as part of the academic programme or as an extra-curricular offering, can provide students and faculty with important knowledge to stimulate and support entrepreneurial efforts (relationship to Cluster 2). While most of the study streams have focused on the role of faculty as academic entrepreneurs, Boh et al. ( 2016 ) focused on the role of students. The typology created by the authors provides insight into the various responsibilities of students and faculty in technology commercialisation. It is the different relationships between students, faculty and entrepreneurs and the analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of each that can lead to the creation of a successful spinoff. The authors, Boh et al. ( 2016 ), group into six the university practices, independent of the TTOs: project disciplines for technology commercialisation, mentoring programmes, incubator programmes, entrepreneurial business plans and entrepreneurial education for students and university professionals.

Other authors analyse the relation between social networks and academic entrepreneurship (Clarysse et al., 2011 ; Fini et al., 2011 ; Vohora et al., 2004 ), Spinoffs (Lockett & Wright, 2005 ; Fini et al, 2011 , 2017 ; Vohora et al., 2004 ; Clarysse et al., 2011 ; Hayter, 2016 ) and the entrepreneurial environment and academic programmes supporting entrepreneurship (Fini et al., 2011 ). As pointed by Fini et al. ( 2011 ) and Vohora et al. ( 2004 ), since university faculty have limited entrepreneurial experience, networks with outside contacts are crucial to motivate the creation of entrepreneurial activities as well as their success. Vohora et al. ( 2004 ) argues that networks are pathways through which access to opportunities will be achieved, for example, gaining knowledge of the market that motivates the creation of the spinoff. Hayter ( 2016 ) uses Vohora et al. ( 2004 ) qualitative model of entrepreneurial development and that includes four stages of development: opportunity recognition, commitment, credibility and sustainability, as well as the resources and network elements associated with each stage. Entrepreneurial development and its success are reflected in the progression of the university spinoff , overcoming the obstacles of each stage, with the aim of achieving entrepreneurial sustainability.

Hayter ( 2016 ), using mixed methods, compares the composition and contribution of social networks among entrepreneurial academics and analyses how these networks relate to the development trajectory of university spinoffs . The traditional definition of spinoff , according to Hayter et al. ( 2017 ) focuses on the role of faculty establishing a company based on a technology licensing agreement, with their home university. University spinoffs , for Hayter ( 2016 ), are an important vehicle for generating productivity, job creation and prosperity for regional economies. The author also mentions that spinoffs are a window through which the contributions of universities can be examined. He compares the composition and contribution of social networks among entrepreneurial academics and analyses how these networks relate to the development trajectory of university spinoffs.

Cluster Relations

The three clusters are related. The cluster 2 indicates the importance of higher education for EE and cluster 3 leads us to the triple helix model with the focus on university entrepreneurial experience. Cluster 1 introduces definitions and attributes necessaries to understand the EE and their relationship with or within the HEIs. This cluster creates a theoretical background with relevant publications in entrepreneurship research.

Clusters 2 and 3 have a robust relation. Notably, the position of Stam ( 2015 ) and Spigel ( 2017 ) influences 2 clusters, indicating higher link strength and confirming its centrality in the EE literature. Various articles from cluster 2 criticize the analytical framework that produces long lists of factors that enhance entrepreneurship. Their perspective enables researchers to measure an EE within a country or territory by considering their specificities. This understanding highlights the configuration, structure and evolution of ecosystems influenced by ecosystem process and territorial boundaries.

In cluster 3 it is evident that the challenge of the third mission that academia encompass emphasizes entrepreneurship and the corresponding emergence of the entrepreneurial university. The relationships between students, faculty and entrepreneurs and the analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of each can lead to the creation of a successful spinoff.

To understand the substance of AEE and how the broad research was advanced, the group of these three clusters creates a fundamental and theoretical base to: the terminology of EE, the higher education context and the emergence of an AEE (Fig.  6 ).

figure 6

Academic entrepreneurship ecosystem model

Contributions and Future Research Directions

The scientific literature about entrepreneurial ecosystems has been growing, and within it, one area that has been gaining impulse has been the academic ecosystem. This paper contributes by attempting to consolidate the most important of this growing literature and to try to confirm it.

This study brings important theoretical contributions to the existing literature. Firstly, this study led to a survey and mapping of the main investigations on EE and their relationship with the HEI. Secondly, this study strengthens the credibility of the AEE theoretical frameworks in lending support to the importance of analysing the specific contributions of HEIs to the development of an EE. Thirdly, the developed co-citation analysis allowed obtaining an understanding about the existing field of knowledge on EEs and AEE, identifying their scientific origins and revealing research roots.

Most contributions are conceptual providing an understanding of the different elements that form conducive AEE. Therefore, as a fourth contribution, this study emphasizes the need for more empirical research, especially regarding potential causal relations between elements, context factors, outputs and outcomes of entrepreneurial ecosystems. The few empirical studies on entrepreneurial ecosystems have majorly applied case studies including qualitative methods (Kansheba & Wald, 2020 ; Malecki, 2018 ; Nicotra et al., 2018 ). There is a need of deploying other methodological approaches for more rigor and generalizability purposes.

The above leads us to propose as possible future research directions. As mentioned, most research studies on EEs and AEEs have adopted the qualitative methodological approach (particularly case studies), which is understandable since the research topic is emergent. However, considering the systematic research conducted here, it is believed that this topic would benefit from implementing mixed methodologies (as has already been carried out by some of the authors included here). Thus, with the adoption of qualitative and quantitative methodologies, it will be attempted, in a future line of research, to build an assessment tool for an AEE.

The composition of clusters groups generated research points. Studying an AEE based on a regional scale will imply, firstly, building a theoretical framework, based on multiple dimensions, which allows the development of the EE model. HEIs are a complex process which involves an extensive research approach to accurately represent the levels and components of the entire entrepreneurial ecosystem (cluster 1). It will be necessary to study whether the HEI develops strategies adapted to the specificities of its EE. Likewise, to explore the pillars of the model from the point of view of young university students who show varying degrees of entrepreneurial intention (cluster 2). Several studies have found that entrepreneurship education has a positive impact on students’ entrepreneurial intention (Peterman & Kennedy, 2003 ; Souitaris et al., 2007 ; Pruett et al., 2009 ; Engle et al., 2010 ; Lanero et al., 2011 ; Sanchez, 2013 ; Bae et al., 2014 ; Sansone et al., 2021 ). Vanevenhoven ( 2013 ) and Fiore et al. ( 2019 ) have warned of the need for more research into the impact of entrepreneurship education on students in different contexts. Although there has been a growing number of publications on the role of intentions in the entrepreneurial process (Liñán & Fayolle, 2015 ; Ferreira-Neto et al, 2023 ), there is still a gap in research on how to improve the presence of higher education students in entrepreneurial activities so that they can face the problems of the labour market. A broader study could be undertaken, from a mixed approach, to establish mechanisms to collect appropriate data and to establish the different levels of success of EE outcomes, by the HEI (cluster 3).

Finally, the relevance of knowledge of skilled people has brought to the policy agenda of governments worldwide the need to modernize science and higher education systems and institutions (Santos et al., 2016 ; Scott, 2000 ). Portugal is characterized as a developed country but with a poorly qualified workforce in European average terms, facing structural barriers to economic growth (Carneiro et al., 2014 ). It was also a country that has seen one of the fastest developments in its scientific system at the beginning of the twenty-first century (Heitor et al., 2014 ). The emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic has brought new challenges to the country: the establishment of telework and the intense decline in economic activity were some of the most evident cross-cutting changes, with direct consequences for the emergence of new forms and policies to support the employment (Sousa & Paiva, 2023 ).

All these reasons have been supporting the need to make a RSL focused on how young graduates capture new forms and conditions of the exercise of work. This knowledge is crucial to investigate wow the entrepreneurial skills or the academic entrepreneurship path is in the future.

Conclusions and Limitations

The quest to identify and define EEs has become an issue of great importance as countries, regions and cities handle with an entrepreneurial economy. The range of these topics is wide and ambiguous. Researchers and practitioners have assessed various contributions, most of which identify HEIs as important development institutions. Marques et al., ( 2021 : 133) highlight their importance, stating that HEIs “… are seen as organizations responsible for human resource training, knowledge transfer, and regional development”.

This work used data from the Scopus and WoS databases. Based on 110 academic articles obtained through a rigorous data collection process, the study went beyond describing elementary information, standing out in relation to the review studies found and filling a gap in the field of EEs taking into consideration higher education institutions. It also revealed the embryonic state of research (2011–2022) and reinforced the scientific importance of the topic since about 56% of the articles were published in the last 3 years. The results were published in a variety of indexed journals. However, this study shows the limitations in other literature reviews.

Despite considering that this study constitutes a work that will be the object of the development in the coming years, the study is not without limitations. The first limitation concerns to the search strategy. This study is based on the regular updating of databases with the consequent increase or decrease in the number of indexed journals, so a bibliometric analysis of an emerging topic can be subject to substantial variations in just a very few years. The other limitation of this study is that it used two different databases to analyse a particular topic. Despite being two of the most influential databases, the overview could be improved by including other databases. Another limitation is the subjectivity present in the scientific articles analysis. Although bibliometric methods help to reduce subjectivity, it is not possible to completely exclude some interpretative biases.

Data Availability

Available upon reasonable request from the corresponding author.

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Correia, M.P., Marques, C.S., Silva, R. et al. Academic Entrepreneurship Ecosystems: Systematic Literature Review and Future Research Directions. J Knowl Econ (2024). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13132-024-01819-x

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  • How to Write a Research Proposal | Examples & Templates

How to Write a Research Proposal | Examples & Templates

Published on October 12, 2022 by Shona McCombes and Tegan George. Revised on November 21, 2023.

Structure of a research proposal

A research proposal describes what you will investigate, why it’s important, and how you will conduct your research.

The format of a research proposal varies between fields, but most proposals will contain at least these elements:


Literature review.

  • Research design

Reference list

While the sections may vary, the overall objective is always the same. A research proposal serves as a blueprint and guide for your research plan, helping you get organized and feel confident in the path forward you choose to take.

Table of contents

Research proposal purpose, research proposal examples, research design and methods, contribution to knowledge, research schedule, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about research proposals.

Academics often have to write research proposals to get funding for their projects. As a student, you might have to write a research proposal as part of a grad school application , or prior to starting your thesis or dissertation .

In addition to helping you figure out what your research can look like, a proposal can also serve to demonstrate why your project is worth pursuing to a funder, educational institution, or supervisor.

Research proposal length

The length of a research proposal can vary quite a bit. A bachelor’s or master’s thesis proposal can be just a few pages, while proposals for PhD dissertations or research funding are usually much longer and more detailed. Your supervisor can help you determine the best length for your work.

One trick to get started is to think of your proposal’s structure as a shorter version of your thesis or dissertation , only without the results , conclusion and discussion sections.

Download our research proposal template

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Writing a research proposal can be quite challenging, but a good starting point could be to look at some examples. We’ve included a few for you below.

  • Example research proposal #1: “A Conceptual Framework for Scheduling Constraint Management”
  • Example research proposal #2: “Medical Students as Mediators of Change in Tobacco Use”

Like your dissertation or thesis, the proposal will usually have a title page that includes:

  • The proposed title of your project
  • Your supervisor’s name
  • Your institution and department

The first part of your proposal is the initial pitch for your project. Make sure it succinctly explains what you want to do and why.

Your introduction should:

  • Introduce your topic
  • Give necessary background and context
  • Outline your  problem statement  and research questions

To guide your introduction , include information about:

  • Who could have an interest in the topic (e.g., scientists, policymakers)
  • How much is already known about the topic
  • What is missing from this current knowledge
  • What new insights your research will contribute
  • Why you believe this research is worth doing

As you get started, it’s important to demonstrate that you’re familiar with the most important research on your topic. A strong literature review  shows your reader that your project has a solid foundation in existing knowledge or theory. It also shows that you’re not simply repeating what other people have already done or said, but rather using existing research as a jumping-off point for your own.

In this section, share exactly how your project will contribute to ongoing conversations in the field by:

  • Comparing and contrasting the main theories, methods, and debates
  • Examining the strengths and weaknesses of different approaches
  • Explaining how will you build on, challenge, or synthesize prior scholarship

Following the literature review, restate your main  objectives . This brings the focus back to your own project. Next, your research design or methodology section will describe your overall approach, and the practical steps you will take to answer your research questions.

To finish your proposal on a strong note, explore the potential implications of your research for your field. Emphasize again what you aim to contribute and why it matters.

For example, your results might have implications for:

  • Improving best practices
  • Informing policymaking decisions
  • Strengthening a theory or model
  • Challenging popular or scientific beliefs
  • Creating a basis for future research

Last but not least, your research proposal must include correct citations for every source you have used, compiled in a reference list . To create citations quickly and easily, you can use our free APA citation generator .

Some institutions or funders require a detailed timeline of the project, asking you to forecast what you will do at each stage and how long it may take. While not always required, be sure to check the requirements of your project.

Here’s an example schedule to help you get started. You can also download a template at the button below.

Download our research schedule template

If you are applying for research funding, chances are you will have to include a detailed budget. This shows your estimates of how much each part of your project will cost.

Make sure to check what type of costs the funding body will agree to cover. For each item, include:

  • Cost : exactly how much money do you need?
  • Justification : why is this cost necessary to complete the research?
  • Source : how did you calculate the amount?

To determine your budget, think about:

  • Travel costs : do you need to go somewhere to collect your data? How will you get there, and how much time will you need? What will you do there (e.g., interviews, archival research)?
  • Materials : do you need access to any tools or technologies?
  • Help : do you need to hire any research assistants for the project? What will they do, and how much will you pay them?

If you want to know more about the research process , methodology , research bias , or statistics , make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples.


  • Sampling methods
  • Simple random sampling
  • Stratified sampling
  • Cluster sampling
  • Likert scales
  • Reproducibility


  • Null hypothesis
  • Statistical power
  • Probability distribution
  • Effect size
  • Poisson distribution

Research bias

  • Optimism bias
  • Cognitive bias
  • Implicit bias
  • Hawthorne effect
  • Anchoring bias
  • Explicit bias

Once you’ve decided on your research objectives , you need to explain them in your paper, at the end of your problem statement .

Keep your research objectives clear and concise, and use appropriate verbs to accurately convey the work that you will carry out for each one.

I will compare …

A research aim is a broad statement indicating the general purpose of your research project. It should appear in your introduction at the end of your problem statement , before your research objectives.

Research objectives are more specific than your research aim. They indicate the specific ways you’ll address the overarching aim.

A PhD, which is short for philosophiae doctor (doctor of philosophy in Latin), is the highest university degree that can be obtained. In a PhD, students spend 3–5 years writing a dissertation , which aims to make a significant, original contribution to current knowledge.

A PhD is intended to prepare students for a career as a researcher, whether that be in academia, the public sector, or the private sector.

A master’s is a 1- or 2-year graduate degree that can prepare you for a variety of careers.

All master’s involve graduate-level coursework. Some are research-intensive and intend to prepare students for further study in a PhD; these usually require their students to write a master’s thesis . Others focus on professional training for a specific career.

Critical thinking refers to the ability to evaluate information and to be aware of biases or assumptions, including your own.

Like information literacy , it involves evaluating arguments, identifying and solving problems in an objective and systematic way, and clearly communicating your ideas.

The best way to remember the difference between a research plan and a research proposal is that they have fundamentally different audiences. A research plan helps you, the researcher, organize your thoughts. On the other hand, a dissertation proposal or research proposal aims to convince others (e.g., a supervisor, a funding body, or a dissertation committee) that your research topic is relevant and worthy of being conducted.

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