The Graduate School

Developing your Research Plan

From the outset of the research project, it is necessary to develop a research plan. This plan should reflect your research objectives and how you intend to achieve them. It is important to remember that research, by its very nature, is dynamic and can change and develop in accordance with your ongoing findings. However, students should remain aware of the objectives of the research project at all times, and be alert to the need to reassess both these objectives and how to achieve them as the project progresses.

Some PhD projects may be part of an existing and/or wider project with a pre-determined research plan. In such instances students need to be aware of the specifics of their role in the project and of the associated milestones.

At Queen’s, research students are expected to agree a research plan with their supervisor(s) at the outset of the research, a process formally carried out through the Initial Progress Review; the research plan should be updated regularly throughout the project’s duration.

One of the best ways of understanding the requirements of a postgraduate research project is to look at the structure and content of completed theses. Before beginning to outline your own research plan, for example, you might find it helpful to identify the research plan of completed theses and how the plan informs the project, as laid out most specifically in the introduction and conclusion. It is useful to have a checklist to fill in while analysing a thesis, so you know what to look out for and how to apply it to your own research plan.

A Typical Postgraduate Research Plan Should Address the Following Questions:

  • What is the purpose of my project?
  • What research methods will I be using?
  • Is its scope appropriate to the regulations governing that particular research degree?
  • Can the project be completed within the allocated period?
  • What original contribution will my project make to the field of knowledge?
  • Can the significance or importance of my project be explained? 


  • Plagiarism involves deliberately or inadvertently presenting someone else's ideas as your own. It is an academic offence and is treated very seriously by the University, often resulting in disciplinary action. The University’s procedures for dealing with academic offences including plagiarism can be found by consulting the general regulations here.
  • Cite 2 Write is an excellent online tool on how to cite references.

The Use of Turnitin

The use of an originality checking service for theses to assess content for originality and potential instances of plagiarism is a requirement within the General Regulations for Postgraduate Research Students.  For detailed information on the use of turnitin software, please read this Good Practice Guide for   Video Tutorials for Postgraduate Research Students on enrolling in the Turnitin Service and uploading a draft chapter can be found here.

Literature Review

As part of the research plan, you need to carry out a literature review. Literature reviews are central to all research, providing an overview of existing research on your topic which allows you to identify gaps in existing knowledge. Try looking at how other theses in your area present their literature review; a checklist of things to look out for is available here.

Training and Development needs arising from Research Plan

Following the development of your research plan, it is important that you consider your training and development needs in relation to your research project.  This should be done in conjunction with your supervisor.  The Queen's University Personal Development Planner is the tool which enables students to consider and plan for their training and development needs throughout the course of their research degree and which further supports them to plan their personal development in relation to their future employability.   The planner is aligned with the skills outlined in the Researcher Development Framework.

The Library at Queen’s

  • The McClay Library at Queen’s holds an extensive collection of books and journals across the disciplines of arts, humanities, social sciences and science and engineering, as well as housing the University’s Special Collections. It also offers access to a large number of on-line resources. To view the available on-line resources by subject, click here.
  • If you wish to contact a subject librarian for subject-specific help on using Library print and online resources, contact details for the relevant subject librarian can be found on the Subject Librarians page.
  • There is also a Medical Library at the Royal Victoria Hospital with supplementary facilities in the Biomedical Library on the Lisburn Road.
  • The Inter-Library Loans Service (ILL) helps you to obtain books, articles, theses, reports, patents or standards which you need for your work, but are not held by the University libraries. 
  • Help with Library Research Skills is readily available; there are also on-line videos to help you to Get Started.
  • The Queen's Refworks subscription enables you to create a personal database of references to books and journals, and bibliographies can be compiled in a variety of styles with the minimum of effort. The Library offers courses, divided up according to faculty, on how to use Refworks. Like all PRDP courses, these can be booked via your QSIS account.
  • The Library offers faculty-specific courses to postgraduate research students on how to effectively use all of the resources it has on offer.  Bookings can be made via QSIS.

Further Information

  • Your supervisor is there to assist you, to provide you with further information, advice and support.
  • You should also speak to other research students, and try to benefit from their experiences.
  • The University’s Postgraduate Researcher Development Programme (PRDP) runs courses to help with research planning, including ones on project management at various stages of the degree. See the PRDP website for further information.
  • Information is available from Vitae on: 
    Writing Research Proposals
    Research Planning & Project Management
  • A comprehensive list of all completed theses submitted to universities in great Britain and Ireland dating back to 1716 to available here.
  • Access completed theses, both those submitted to Queen’s and those submitted to other universities, here.