Concept Papers: What They Are and How to Write Them?

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What Concept Papers Are

Concept papers are summaries of projects or issues that reflect the interests, experience and expertise of the writer or organization. Concept papers generally serve the purpose of providing in-depth discussion of a topic that the writer has a strong position on, usually with the intent of obtaining funding for that project from donors. The terms "concept paper" and "proposal" are often used interchangeably as they can be used for the same function. The concept paper may also be used as an instructional tool that may have developed as a result of extensive research, committee input and/or as a result of the outcome of a current project. In addition to providing guidance for implementation of a program, a concept paper could also discuss best practices, philosophies and other related issues that the writer believes action should be taken on in the near future.

How to Write Concept Papers

In the cases where the concept paper is written with the intent of receiving funding, most grantors publish guidelines that instruct the writer(s) on how to write the concept paper that they will consider funding. Despite the individual guidelines that may be published, the format and many of the key elements are consistent between organizations. Therefore, it is suggested that writers develop "boilerplates" or standard templates of concept papers that they can personalize and submit based on specific guidelines. This practice eliminates the extra time added to the process by completely starting a new concept paper from the beginning each time. For concept papers that are used more as an instructional or educational tool, the format may be similar with the exception of the exclusion of charts, graphs or budgets that may be geared toward the solicitation of funding.

Concept Papers - Writing Steps

There are steps to concept paper writing that are universal and can be applied in most situations in order to develop the boilerplate. First and probably most important, the writer must ensure that the mission, requirements, funding patterns and other specific information about the target grantor or audience match with those of the organization or individual project in need of funding or assistance. Grantors are very specific about what types of organizations and projects they do and do not fund so, it is important to understand that thoroughly in advance to avoid wasting time. The second step would be to summarize the project by stating the problem to be discussed/solved, the goal of the project, the objectives, the anticipated outcomes, procedures for determining whether the goals and objectives have been achieved, the population served and the theoretical model upon which the project is based. Third, the writer must develop a list of references that discuss the model to which the project will be directed. Fourth, there should be a budget developed for the project, if applicable. This would include all billable costs associated with planning and executing the project. Whether the concept paper is for the purpose of obtaining funding or merely for the purpose of conveying information, a budget may be necessary if there are costs and resources associated with the project, such as hours devoted to research and information gathering. The fifth step could entail obtaining the necessary approvals by individuals authorized to do so prior to submission. In the case of a purely informational concept paper, this may be committee input. This step may occur much earlier in the process. In addition, one must consider the timing and deadlines that submission of the concept paper must adhere to. Expect deadlines to be strict whether funding is being sought or not. There may be a bit more flexibility in due dates for those concept papers that are designed solely for disseminating information.

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