How To Write a Concept Paper for Academic Research: An Ultimate Guide

How To Write a Concept Paper for Academic Research: An Ultimate Guide

A concept paper is one of the first steps in helping you fully realize your research project. Because of this, some schools opt to teach students how to write concept papers as early as high school. In college, professors sometimes require their students to submit concept papers before suggesting their research projects to serve as the foundations for their theses.

If you’re reading this right now, you’ve probably been assigned by your teacher or professor to write a concept paper. To help you get started, we’ve prepared a comprehensive guide on how to write a proper concept paper.

Related: How to Write Significance of the Study (with Examples)

Table of Contents

What is the concept paper, 1. academic research concept papers, 2. advertising concept papers, 3. research grant concept papers, concept paper vs. research proposal, tips for finding your research topic, 2. think of research questions that you want to answer in your project, 3. formulate your research hypothesis, 4. plan out how you will achieve, analyze, and present your data, 2. introduction, 3. purpose of the study, 4. preliminary literature review, 5. objectives of the study, 6. research questions and hypotheses, 7. proposed methodology, 8. proposed research timeline, 9. references, sample concept paper for research proposal (pdf), tips for writing your concept paper.

Generally, a concept paper is a summary of everything related to your proposed project or topic. A concept paper indicates what the project is all about, why it’s important, and how and when you plan to conduct your project.

Different Types of the Concept Paper and Their Uses

writing a concept paper

This type of concept paper is the most common type and the one most people are familiar with. Concept papers for academic research are used by students to provide an outline for their prospective research topics.

These concept papers are used to help students flesh out all the information and ideas related to their topic so that they may arrive at a more specific research hypothesis.

Since this is the most common type of concept paper, it will be the main focus of this article.

Advertising concept papers are usually written by the creative and concept teams in advertising and marketing agencies.

Through a concept paper, the foundation or theme for an advertising campaign or strategy is formed. The concept paper can also serve as a bulletin board for ideas that the creative and concept teams can add to or develop. 

This type of concept paper usually discusses who the target audience of the campaign is, what approach of the campaign will be, how the campaign will be implemented, and the projected benefits and impact of the campaign to the company’s sales, consumer base, and other aspects of the company.

This type of concept paper is most common in the academe and business world. Alongside proving why your research project should be conducted, a research grant concept paper must also appeal to the company or funding agency on why they should be granted funds.

The paper should indicate a proposed timeline and budget for the entire project. It should also be able to persuade the company or funding agency on the benefits of your research project– whether it be an increase in sales or productivity or for the benefit of the general public.

It’s important to discuss the differences between the two because a lot of people often use these terms interchangeably.

A concept paper is one of the first steps in conducting a research project. It is during this process that ideas and relevant information to the research topic are gathered to produce the research hypothesis. Thus, a concept paper should always precede the research proposal. 

A research proposal is a more in-depth outline of a more fleshed-out research project. This is the final step before a researcher can conduct their research project. Although both have similar elements and structures, a research proposal is more specific when it comes to how the entire research project will be conducted.

Getting Started on Your Concept Paper

1. find a research topic you are interested in.

When choosing a research topic, make sure that it is something you are passionate about or want to learn more about. If you are writing one for school, make sure it is still relevant to the subject of your class. Choosing a topic you aren’t invested in may cause you to lose interest in your project later on, which may lower the quality of the research you’ll produce.

A research project may last for months and even years, so it’s important that you will never lose interest in your topic.

  • Look for inspiration everywhere. Take a walk outside, read books, or go on your computer. Look around you and try to brainstorm ideas about everything you see. Try to remember any questions you might have asked yourself before like why something is the way it is or why can’t this be done instead of that . 
  • Think big. If you’re having trouble thinking up a specific topic to base your research project on, choosing a broad topic and then working your way down should help.
  • Is it achievable? A lot of students make the mistake of choosing a topic that is hard to achieve in terms of materials, data, and/or funding available. Before you decide on a research topic, make sure you consider these aspects. Doing so will save you time, money, and effort later on.
  • Be as specific as can be. Another common mistake that students make is that they sometimes choose a research topic that is too broad. This results in extra effort and wasted time while conducting their research project. For example: Instead of “The Effects of Bananas on Hungry Monkeys” , you could specify it to “The Effects of Cavendish Bananas on Potassium-deficiency in Hungry Philippine Long-tailed Macaques in Palawan, Philippines”.

Now that you have a general idea of the topic of your research project, you now need to formulate research questions based on your project. These questions will serve as the basis for what your project aims to answer. Like your research topic, make sure these are specific and answerable.

Following the earlier example, possible research questions could be:

  • Do Cavendish bananas produce more visible effects on K-deficiency than other bananas?
  • How susceptible are Philippine long-tailed macaques to K-deficiency?
  • What are the effects of K-deficiency in Philippine long-tailed macaques?

After formulating the research questions, you should also provide your hypothesis for each question. A research hypothesis is a tentative answer to the research problem. You must provide educated answers to the questions based on your existing knowledge of the topic before you conduct your research project.

After conducting research and collecting all of the data into the final research paper, you will then have to approve or disprove these hypotheses based on the outcome of the project.

Prepare a plan on how to acquire the data you will need for your research project. Take note of the different types of analysis you will need to perform on your data to get the desired results. Determine the nature of the relationship between different variables in your research.

Also, make sure that you are able to present your data in a clear and readable manner for those who will read your concept paper. You can achieve this by using tables, charts, graphs, and other visual aids.

Related: How to Make Conceptual Framework (with Examples and Templates)

Generalized Structure of a Concept Paper

Since concept papers are just summaries of your research project, they are usually short and  no longer than 5 pages. However, for big research projects, concept papers can reach up to more than 20 pages.

Your teacher or professor may give you a certain format for your concept papers. Generally, most concept papers are double-spaced and are less than 500 words in length. 

Even though there are different types of concept papers, we’ve provided you with a generalized structure that contains elements that can be found in any type of concept paper.

parts of a concept paper

The title for your paper must be able to effectively summarize what your research is all about. Use simple words so that people who read the title of your research will know what it’s all about even without reading the entire paper. 

The introduction should give the reader a brief background of the research topic and state the main objective that your project aims to achieve. This section should also include a short overview of the benefits of the research project to persuade the reader to acknowledge the need for the project.

The Purpose of the Study should be written in a way that convinces the reader of the need to address the existing problem or gap in knowledge that the research project aims to resolve. In this section, you have to go into more detail about the benefits and value of your project for the target audience/s. 

This section features related studies and papers that will support your research topic. Use this section to analyze the results and methodologies of previous studies and address any gaps in knowledge or questions that your research project aims to answer. You may also use the data to assert the importance of conducting your research.

When choosing which papers and studies you should include in the Preliminary Literature Review, make sure to choose relevant and reliable sources. Reliable sources include academic journals, credible news outlets, government websites, and others. Also, take note of the authors for the papers as you will need to cite them in the References section.

Simply state the main objectives that your research is trying to achieve. The objectives should be able to indicate the direction of the study for both the reader and the researcher. As with other elements in the paper, the objectives should be specific and clearly defined.

Gather the research questions and equivalent research hypotheses you formulated in the earlier step and list them down in this section.

In this section, you should be able to guide the reader through the process of how you will conduct the research project. Make sure to state the purpose for each step of the process, as well as the type of data to be collected and the target population.

Depending on the nature of your research project, the length of the entire process can vary significantly. What’s important is that you are able to provide a reasonable and achievable timeline for your project.

Make sure the time you will allot for each component of your research won’t be too excessive or too insufficient so that the quality of your research won’t suffer.

Ensure that you will give credit to all the authors of the sources you used in your paper. Depending on your area of study or the instructions of your professor, you may need to use a certain style of citation.

There are three main citation styles: the American Psychological Association (APA), Modern Language Association (MLA), and the Chicago style.

The APA style is mostly used for papers related to education, psychology, and the sciences. The APA citation style usually follows this format:

how to write concept papers 1

The MLA citation style is the format used by papers and manuscripts in disciplines related to the arts and humanities. The MLA citation style follows this format:

how to write concept papers 2

The Chicago citation style is usually used for papers related to business, history, and the fine arts. It follows this citation format:

how to write concept papers 3

This is a concept paper sample provided by Dr. Bernard Lango from the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (modified for use in this article). Simply click the link above the download the PDF file.

  • Use simple, concise language. Minimize the use of flowery language and always try to use simple and easy-to-understand language. Too many technical or difficult words in your paper may alienate your readers and make your paper hard to read. 
  • Choose your sources wisely. When scouring the Internet for sources to use, you should always be wary and double-check the authenticity of your source. Doing this will increase the authenticity of your research project’s claims and ensure better data gathered during the process.
  • Follow the specified format, if any. Make sure to follow any specified format when writing your concept paper. This is very important, especially if you’re writing your concept paper for class. Failure to follow the format will usually result in point deductions and delays because of multiple revisions needed.
  • Proofread often. Make it a point to reread different sections of your concept paper after you write them. Another way you can do this is by taking a break for a few days and then coming back to proofread your writing. You may notice certain areas you’d like to revise or mistakes you’d like to fix. Make proofreading a habit to increase the quality of your paper.

Written by Ruth Raganit

in Career and Education , Juander How

Last Updated May 30, 2022 04:34 PM

concept paper for academic research definition

Ruth Raganit

Ruth Raganit obtained her Bachelor of Science degree in Geology from the University of the Philippines – Diliman. Her love affair with Earth sciences began when she saw a pretty rock and wondered how it came to be. She also likes playing video games, doing digital art, and reading manga.

Browse all articles written by Ruth Raganit

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What is a Concept Paper and How do You Write One?


  • By DiscoverPhDs
  • August 26, 2020

Concept Paper

What is a Concept Paper?

A concept paper is a short document written by a researcher before starting their research project, with the purpose of explaining what the study is about, why it is important and the methods that will be used.

The concept paper will include your proposed research title, a brief introduction to the subject, the aim of the study, the research questions you intend to answer, the type of data you will collect and how you will collect it. A concept paper can also be referred to as a research proposal.

What is the Purpose of a Concept Paper?

The primary aim of a research concept paper is to convince the reader that the proposed research project is worth doing. This means that the reader should first agree that the research study is novel and interesting. They should be convinced that there is a need for this research and that the research aims and questions are appropriate.

Finally, they should be satisfied that the methods for data collection proposed are feasible, are likely to work and can be performed within the specific time period allocated for this project.

The three main scenarios in which you may need to write a concept paper are if you are:

  • A final year undergraduate or master’s student preparing to start a research project with a supervisor.
  • A student submitting a research proposal to pursue a PhD project under the supervision of a professor.
  • A principal investigator submitting a proposal to a funding body to secure financial support for a research project.

How Long is a Concept Paper?

The concept paper format is usually between 2 and 3 pages in length for students writing proposals for undergraduate, master’s or PhD projects. Concept papers written as part of funding applications may be over 20 pages in length.

How do you Write a Concept Paper?

There are 6 important aspects to consider when writing a concept paper or research proposal:

  • 1. The wording of the title page, which is best presented as a question for this type of document. At this study concept stage, you can write the title a bit catchier, for example “Are 3D Printed Engine Parts Safe for Use in Aircraft?”.
  • A brief introduction and review of relevant existing literature published within the subject area and identification of where the gaps in knowledge are. This last bit is particularly important as it guides you in defining the statement of the problem. The concept paper should provide a succinct summary of ‘the problem’, which is usually related to what is unknown or poorly understood about your research topic . By the end of the concept paper, the reader should be clear on how your research idea will provide a ‘solution’ to this problem.
  • The overarching research aim of your proposed study and the objectives and/or questions you will address to achieve this aim. Align all of these with the problem statement; i.e. write each research question as a clear response to addressing the limitations and gaps identified from previous literature. Also give a clear description of your primary hypothesis.
  • The specific data outputs that you plan to capture. For example, will this be qualitative or quantitative data? Do you plan to capture data at specific time points or at other defined intervals? Do you need to repeat data capture to asses any repeatability and reproducibility questions?
  • The research methodology you will use to capture this data, including any specific measurement or analysis equipment and software you will use, and a consideration of statistical tests to help interpret the data. If your research requires the use of questionnaires, how will these be prepared and validated? In what sort of time frame would you plan to collect this data?
  • Finally, include a statement of the significance of the study , explaining why your research is important and impactful. This can be in the form of a concluding paragraph that reiterate the statement of the problem, clarifies how your research will address this and explains who will benefit from your research and how.

You may need to include a short summary of the timeline for completing the research project. Defining milestones of the time points at which you intend to complete certain tasks can help to show that you’ve considered the practicalities of running this study. It also shows that what you have proposed is feasible in order to achieve your research goal.

If you’re pitching your proposed project to a funder, they may allocate a proportion of the money based on the satisfactory outcome of each milestone. These stakeholders may also be motivated by knowing that you intend to convert your dissertation into an article for journal publication; this level of dissemination is of high importance to them.

Additionally, you may be asked to provide a brief summary of the projected costs of running the study. For a PhD project this could be the bench fees associated with consumables and the cost of any travel if required.

Make sure to include references and cite all other literature and previous research that you discuss in your concept paper.

This guide gave you an overview of the key elements you need to know about when writing concept papers. The purpose of these are first to convey to the reader what your project’s purpose is and why your research topic is important; this is based on the development of a problem statement using evidence from your literature review.

Explain how it may positively impact your research field and if your proposed research design is appropriate and your planned research method achievable.

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concept paper for academic research definition

In the UK, a dissertation, usually around 20,000 words is written by undergraduate and Master’s students, whilst a thesis, around 80,000 words, is written as part of a PhD.

Concept Paper

A concept paper is a short document written by a researcher before starting their research project, explaining what the study is about, why it is needed and the methods that will be used.

concept paper for academic research definition

Freya’s in the final year of her PhD at the University of Leeds. Her project is about improving the precision of observations between collocated ground-based weather radar and airborne platforms.

concept paper for academic research definition

Jad is a 4th year PhD student at New York University Abu Dhabi/ New York. His project is title Smart Molecular Crystals: From Synthesis to Applications and has a particular interest in science communication.

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Concept Papers in Research: Deciphering the blueprint of brilliance

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Concept papers hold significant importance as a precursor to a full-fledged research proposal in academia and research. Understanding the nuances and significance of a concept paper is essential for any researcher aiming to lay a strong foundation for their investigation.

Table of Contents

What Is Concept Paper

A concept paper can be defined as a concise document which outlines the fundamental aspects of a grant proposal. It outlines the initial ideas, objectives, and theoretical framework of a proposed research project. It is usually two to three-page long overview of the proposal. However, they differ from both research proposal and original research paper in lacking a detailed plan and methodology for a specific study as in research proposal provides and exclusion of the findings and analysis of a completed research project as in an original research paper. A concept paper primarily focuses on introducing the basic idea, intended research question, and the framework that will guide the research.

Purpose of a Concept Paper

A concept paper serves as an initial document, commonly required by private organizations before a formal proposal submission. It offers a preliminary overview of a project or research’s purpose, method, and implementation. It acts as a roadmap, providing clarity and coherence in research direction. Additionally, it also acts as a tool for receiving informal input. The paper is used for internal decision-making, seeking approval from the board, and securing commitment from partners. It promotes cohesive communication and serves as a professional and respectful tool in collaboration.

These papers aid in focusing on the core objectives, theoretical underpinnings, and potential methodology of the research, enabling researchers to gain initial feedback and refine their ideas before delving into detailed research.

Key Elements of a Concept Paper

Key elements of a concept paper include the title page , background , literature review , problem statement , methodology, timeline, and references. It’s crucial for researchers seeking grants as it helps evaluators assess the relevance and feasibility of the proposed research.

Writing an effective concept paper in academic research involves understanding and incorporating essential elements:

Elements of Concept Papers

How to Write a Concept Paper?

To ensure an effective concept paper, it’s recommended to select a compelling research topic, pose numerous research questions and incorporate data and numbers to support the project’s rationale. The document must be concise (around five pages) after tailoring the content and following the formatting requirements. Additionally, infographics and scientific illustrations can enhance the document’s impact and engagement with the audience. The steps to write a concept paper are as follows:

1. Write a Crisp Title:

Choose a clear, descriptive title that encapsulates the main idea. The title should express the paper’s content. It should serve as a preview for the reader.

2. Provide a Background Information:

Give a background information about the issue or topic. Define the key terminologies or concepts. Review existing literature to identify the gaps your concept paper aims to fill.

3. Outline Contents in the Introduction:

Introduce the concept paper with a brief overview of the problem or idea you’re addressing. Explain its significance. Identify the specific knowledge gaps your   to address and mention any contradictory theories related to your   .

4. Define a Mission Statement:

The mission statement follows a clear problem statement that defines the problem or concept that need to be addressed. Write a concise mission statement that engages your research purpose and explains why gaining the reader’s approval will benefit your field.

5. Explain the Research Aim and Objectives:

Explain why your research is important and the specific questions you aim to answer through your research. State the specific goals and objectives your concept intends to achieve. Provide a detailed explanation of your concept. What is it, how does it work, and what makes it unique?

6. Detail the Methodology:

Discuss the research methods you plan to use, such as surveys, experiments, case studies, interviews, and observations. Mention any ethical concerns related to your research.

7. Outline Proposed Methods and Potential Impact:

Provide detailed information on how you will conduct your research, including any specialized equipment or collaborations. Discuss the expected results or impacts of implementing the concept. Highlight the potential benefits, whether social, economic, or otherwise.

8. Mention the Feasibility

Discuss the resources necessary for the concept’s execution. Mention the expected duration of the research and specific milestones. Outline a proposed timeline for implementing the concept.

9. Include a Support Section:

Include a section that breaks down the project’s budget, explaining the overall cost and individual expenses to demonstrate how the allocated funds will be used.

10. Provide a Conclusion:

Summarize the key points and restate the importance of the concept. If necessary, include a call to action or next steps.

Although the structure and elements of a concept paper may vary depending on the specific requirements, you can tailor your document based on the guidelines or instructions you’ve been given.

Here are some tips to write a concept paper:

Tips to Write Concept Paper

Example of a Concept Paper

Here is an example of a concept paper. Please note, this is a generalized example. Your concept paper should align with the specific requirements, guidelines, and objectives you aim to achieve in your proposal. Tailor it accordingly to the needs and context of the initiative you are proposing.

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Importance of a Concept Paper

Concept papers serve various fields, influencing the direction and potential of research in science, social sciences, technology, and more. They contribute to the formulation of groundbreaking studies and novel ideas that can impact societal, economic, and academic spheres.

A concept paper serves several crucial purposes in various fields:

Purpose of a Concept Paper

In summary, a well-crafted concept paper is essential in outlining a clear, concise, and structured framework for new ideas or proposals. It helps in assessing the feasibility, viability, and potential impact of the concept before investing significant resources into its implementation.

Role of AI in Writing Concept Papers

The increasing use of AI, particularly generative models, has facilitated the writing process for concept papers. Responsible use involves leveraging AI to assist in ideation, organization, and language refinement while ensuring that the originality and ethical standards of research are maintained.

AI plays a significant role in aiding the creation and development of concept papers in several ways:

1. Idea Generation and Organization

AI tools can assist in brainstorming initial ideas for concept papers based on key concepts. They can help in organizing information, creating outlines, and structuring the content effectively.

2. Summarizing Research and Data Analysis

AI-powered tools can assist in conducting comprehensive literature reviews, helping writers to gather and synthesize relevant information. AI algorithms can process and analyze vast amounts of data, providing insights and statistics to support the concept presented in the paper.

3. Language and Style Enhancement

AI grammar checker tools can help writers by offering grammar, style, and tone suggestions, ensuring professionalism. It can also facilitate translation, in case a global collaboration.

4. Collaboration and Feedback

AI platforms offer collaborative features that enable multiple authors to work simultaneously on a concept paper, allowing for real-time contributions and edits.

5. Customization and Personalization

AI algorithms can provide personalized recommendations based on the specific requirements or context of the concept paper. They can assist in tailoring the concept paper according to the target audience or specific guidelines.

6. Automation and Efficiency

AI can automate certain tasks, such as citation formatting, bibliography creation, or reference checking, saving time for the writer.

7. Analytics and Prediction

AI models can predict potential outcomes or impacts based on the information provided, helping writers anticipate the possible consequences of the proposed concept.

8. Real-Time Assistance

AI-driven chat-bots can provide real-time support and answers to specific questions related to the concept paper writing process.

AI’s role in writing concept papers significantly streamlines the writing process, enhances the quality of the content, and provides valuable assistance in various stages of development, contributing to the overall effectiveness of the final document.

Concept papers serve as the stepping stone in the research journey, aiding in the crystallization of ideas and the formulation of robust research proposals. It the cornerstone for translating ideas into impactful realities. Their significance spans diverse domains, from academia to business, enabling stakeholders to evaluate, invest, and realize the potential of groundbreaking concepts.

Frequently Asked Questions

A concept paper can be defined as a concise document outlining the fundamental aspects of a grant proposal such as the initial ideas, objectives, and theoretical framework of a proposed research project.

A good concept paper should offer a clear and comprehensive overview of the proposed research. It should demonstrate a strong understanding of the subject matter and outline a structured plan for its execution.

Concept paper is important to develop and clarify ideas, develop and evaluate proposal, inviting collaboration and collecting feedback, presenting proposals for academic and research initiatives and allocating resources.

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What Is a Concept Paper: Definition, Format, and Example


  • Concept Paper Definition
  • Concept Paper Format
  • How to Write a Concept Paper
  • 2. Introduction to the concept
  • 3. Background research
  • 4. Objectives
  • 5. Need for the study
  • 6. Research methodology
  • 7. References
  • Conceptual Paper Example
  • Introduction
  • Background Research
  • Aim and Need for the Study
  • Research Methodology
  • Concept Paper Writing Services

Research papers and dissertations are common and important writing tasks for undergraduates and post-graduate students. Researchers and other professionals from academic and scientific institutions also write research papers. These research and studies are often lengthy and time-consuming. A research study can last for one to two years, it can even exceed this time depending on the field and complexity of the research study. However, before they can write these lengthy documents, they will first need to create a concept paper for dissertation and research.

The concept paper will act as a proposal paper for dissertation and research papers. Writing this document will be the first step in proceeding with the research. Students and professionals will need to choose the best outline and format for their concept paper to gain the approval of the reader. This document is essential not only for students but also for researchers that are looking for individuals to fund their study. In this article, readers can learn how to write a concept paper and read a conceptual paper example to act as a guide in writing.

Before starting to write the document, individuals should learn what is a concept paper. This document is a summary of a research study that students and professionals will undertake. The concept paper should provide the study’s purpose, background, and research questions. The goal of this document is to capture the reader’s interest and provide information that shows the research’s merit. The researchers should view a concept paper as a proposal and write it to make the readers support the study.

Need a concept paper? I can help!

A standard concept paper format will be around two to three pages long. Undergraduates and post-graduate students typically write in this type of concept paper format. For researchers in specific fields that are looking for funding, their proposal document can be over 20 pages long. Since the definition of a concept paper states that it is a summary of a research study, most documents will need to provide complete information that will lengthen the page count. The documents that take 20 pages long often give multiple background information of related studies to emphasize the importance of the researcher’s endeavors. Papers for dissertation and research papers tend to be shorter since they are not asking for monetary funding and their topics are less complex. Individuals should look at sample papers to find the perfect format for their papers.

How to Write a Concept Paper

Individuals should consider looking at concept paper examples to better understand the document’s outline. This will make writing a concept paper an easier task. For a standard outline, individuals can follow the list below when writing the document. 

After learning the definition and correct format of a concept paper, individuals can now begin to write the document. The first task in writing a concept paper is choosing a title. This is important for every document since its readers will know and remember a research study based on its title. Researchers should write short titles that are direct to the point. The best titles for this type of document are in question format. A question statement directly tells the readers what questions and problems the researchers are going to answer. Consider looking at research document examples to get an idea of how most researchers format their titles.

Once the researchers establish a working title, they can then proceed with writing an introduction. The introduction of the concept paper should provide background information about the study. The introduction should also briefly tell the readers why the study is important and how it can benefit others. For researchers that are looking for monetary funding, they should state how an organization or institution will benefit from the study. A research study about  video games as storytellers can spark the interest of an education-focused institution which will increase the chance of a researcher to receive funding. 

Researchers should also consider the introduction as the first impression of the concept paper and the study. They should state the main objective and problem they are trying to solve. Try expounding on the title of the concept paper. Researchers can use the title as a guide when creating their thesis statement, in most research, the title is the thesis statement. Consider looking at sample thesis statements to get an idea of how to structure the sentence. Citing this in the introduction will help readers understand the purpose of the study.

The next section of the concept paper will be the background research section. Here, researchers should indicate the related studies that others have made. They should include studies that are closely related to their thesis statement or title. Citing these studies will show the readers that the topic has gained the attention of other experts. The researchers should also cite the limitations of these studies and that the researcher’s work will try to answer some of those limitations. 

An extensive version of this section is mostly found in longer concept papers. Individuals who are trying to make a case for their research and gain funding will need to make an extensive version of this section to provide more information to possible sponsors. They will need to fill this section with a large number of background studies that are relevant to their work. For documents that are only two to three pages long, researchers can cite some studies and state which limitation they are trying to solve.

While the introduction will state the main objective of the study, the objective section will provide all the specific objectives of the research. Researchers should use consistent phrasing when stating the objectives in a concept paper. Use the word “To” at the beginning of each objective statement. Avoid using statements that are in question format. Before the researchers state the objectives, they should restate the thesis statement in a paragraph before the lists of objectives. Most concept paper examples will show a list type objective section. It will be easier for the reader to recognize the objective in this format.

The next step in writing a concept paper is citing the aim and need for the study. After stating the thesis statement in the introduction, the researchers should explain their objectives further in this section. Students can use a method where they address the problems they stated in the previous sections. If the previous sections state that future researchers will need to create video games solely for educational purposes, researchers can write a response in the “aim and need” section of the concept paper. They can state how the researchers will develop a game to measure student’s recall capacity.

The need for the paper simply refers to the importance of the research. While the “aim“ talks about the purpose of the researchers, the need should state the effects of the research on a targeted group or society. Individuals should provide evidence to the claims they will be stating. This will help show their’s and the concept paper’s credibility. They should consider referring to previous researchers that have done an extensive study about the topic.

The research methodology section of the concept paper will include the instruments and measuring devices that the researchers will use. This includes laboratory equipment, computer software, questionnaires, types of tests, and other means of gathering and interpreting data. The researchers should state how they will prepare the tools and how they will authenticate the information. This section should also include the target population, type of data, and the timeline for the research. Researchers should provide all the information of their methodology. Try asking the questions who, what, where, when, and how to write a complete research methodology for the concept paper. Some concept paper outlines can also include a research timeline. This is basically a timeline of how long the research will last.

Similar to other academic documents, a concept paper should include a reference list. The researchers should cite the sources that they used while writing the document. Individuals can also use in-text citations in the aim and need section and background section. When writing the reference list, make sure to use a consistent format. Individuals can look at sample papers to find reference list formats. For students, they should ask their professors which referencing format to use. The common formats are APA, MLA, Chicago, and Harvard styles.

“Using Video Games as Educational Tools to Help High School Students Write Better Essays”

Most high school students dread essay writing homework. Writing assignments often include reading thick books that authors have filled with blocks of text. They will need to do research and reading the blocks of texts can feel exhausting to most students. On the contrary, video games tend to hold a person’s attention longer than any other medium. Despite the debate over the advantages and disadvantages of video games , there have been games that people developed to teach nursing and business students practical skills. There also have been some games that are made using real-life history that teachers can use to teach a class. However, there is a lack of research regarding the correlation between video games and writing abilities. This study will help in understanding the capacity of games to inform students and how they can help in essay writing. The study will help educators create an effective lesson plan in using video games as educational tools to help high school students write better essays.

There have been studies that promote video games as effective educational tools for all education levels. However, there are still many aspects of video games and education that researchers have yet to analyze. The research of Utoyo, Arsa on video games as tools for education concludes that using video games provides an opportunity to improve education due to realistic simulations that only the medium can offer. (Widitiarsa, 2018). The researcher stated that the next step is to design educational video games to create the standards for effective educational games. However, this study does not mention video games as good teaching tools for writing essays or any type of written works.

There have also been reports of educators using video games to teach writing to students. Students were able to write game reviews, autobiographical pieces, and other writing works. The teacher used character images, famous video game quotes, and great writing lines to inspire students to think of essay topics (Jones, 2018). The students that are interested in games were able to freely discuss topics and ideas. They use articles from game journalists to back up their claims during open discussions. This report shows that some educators are already recognizing the ability of video games to act as a teaching tool for writing essays and other written works.

The researchers aim to achieve their objective of using video games as educational tools to help high school students write better essays by answering the following specific objectives:

To analyze the influence of critical thinking in using video games as educational tools to help high school students write better essays.

To assess the influence of student’s writing skills in using video games as educational tools to help high school students write better essays.

To assess the influence of video game genres in using video games as educational tools to help high school students write better essays.

Most high school students often have difficulty with writing assignments. They dread the process of researching and writing down notes. Most students will carry this behavior up until college which can result in having difficulty writing their research papers and dissertation. Some teachers have already addressed this issue by using video game topics to help spark student interests. However, the researchers believe that targeted research is necessary to create an effective lesson plan in using video games as educational tools to help high school students write better essays.

The researchers aim to analyze the influence of critical thinking in using video games as educational tools to help high school students write better essays. The study will test how video games help in the development of critical thinking skills and how they can transfer to better essay writing. This will help educators understand how video games affect a student’s brain and thinking skills. The study also aims to assess the influence of student’s writing skills in using video games as educational tools to help high school students write better essays. The study will take into account the existing writing skills of high school students and observe how video games can help improve the existing skills. This will provide teachers and researchers quantitative data on the extent of how video games can act as writing education tools. Lastly, the study aims to assess the influence of video game genres in using video games as educational tools to help high school students write better essays. The researchers will use different games from different genres to assess how the different genres affect high school student’s writing skills. This will help to understand what type of games teachers should use to help students write better essays.

The researchers will use three different video games from the following genres: The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion from the Role-playing genre, The Sims 4 from the Simulation genre, and Firewatch from the Adventure genre to assess using video games as educational tools to help high school students write better essays. 

The researchers will conduct the study on 400 WXY high school students out of a population of 600 high school students. The researchers will take note of the students’ most recent English subject grades. This is to gather data on how existing writing skills can affect using video games as educational tools to help high schools student write better essays. The researchers will divide the students into three groups corresponding to the three video game genres state above. The students will play the games for an hour for a three-week period. After each week, the students will take critical thinking exams that will measure their critical thinking skills.

The researcher will collect primary data from the activities and secondary data from related literature. The researcher will analyze the quantitative data using descriptive and inferential statistics. The quantitative data will be from the assessment of how the different genres influence video games as tools to help high school students write better essays. The researchers will triangulate the qualitative data and report comparisons between the gathered data and existing data. 

Jones, Sarah. (2018, April 2018). Teaching Writing Through Video Games, Part I. Moving Writers.

Widitiarsa, Arsa (2018). Video Games as Tools for Education.

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Writing a concept paper is the foundation of any research study. The document will dictate whether a panelist will approve or decline a research study. This is why individuals should ensure that their concept paper effectively emphasizes the importance of their study. For individuals who feel that they don’t have the writing capabilities to create a concept paper, the writing services from CustomEssayMeister can help. The website offers a variety of services to help students and professionals with their writing tasks. They can find sample papers and how-to guides in essay writing. Students who are stuck in their thesis writing will find these services extremely helpful. Our experienced writers can write concept papers that will spark the interest of a panelist and perhaps get their approval.

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concept paper for academic research definition

How to write an effective concept paper?

How to write an effective concept paper?

Concept paper, meaning 

A concept paper refers to an academic or research paper that is written with the primary purpose of identifying and explaining an idea or a concept related to a particular scholarly field or discipline before conducting a research. It is an unbiased research written in the form of a theory or hypothesis using relevant and impartial methods of research. It unravels and explains the positive and negative aspects of a research study utilizing various opposing theories to reveal gaps and criticisms.

In technical terms, a concept paper provides an overview of the project. Concept paper helps us to have a detailed knowledge on what is the process of paper works, projects, business proposals, research paper, etc. Concept paper is very useful for both students during university projects and entrepreneurs working on a business proposal.

What is concept paper in research? 

A concept paper in research or academia refers to a critical and detailed summary of a research project by reflecting the interest and issues pertinent to a particular academic field or study. In academia, concept papers are usually written by a university student who is on the verge of conducting a research. A concept paper outlines the research about to be conducted with the purpose to have a structured goal and direction while conducting research.

Concept papers are also known to be rare proposals, which on average consists of 5000 words or less and is considered the first crucial step in proposal development. It is written by a professional, student, or a researcher in an institution or organization with the intention of providing a brief summary about a research project during the course of being conducted. It forms an assessment of an idea in a balanced manner, giving an in-depth explanation of a particular idea.

What is a concept paper in general? 

1. It clarifies a concept: Dissecting or breaking ideas into parts to give a collective idea about a concept.

2. It conveys the essence of an idea and explains it.

Point of view 

 There are two types of point of view in a concept paper

  • Subjective (personal) – light, informal, familiar, or literary: This point of view is usually found in newspaper articles where the information presented is informal for the reason that the audience can understand the language easily and enjoy having a brief overview or general idea about a particular subject without the need to emphasize deep learning. For example, articles that present concepts related to everyday living, such as inspirational philosophy written with the purpose to correlate with the common man.
  • Objective (impersonal) – serious, formal, or literary: Objective point of view refers to information that is mostly part of academic journals, academic books, and scholarly magazines that are written and presented in a highly analytical tone. For example, journal essays, articles based on philosophy, or any subject related to the academic discipline that is written with the purpose of study and reflects subject-matter expertise, contributing to scientific discussions and theories. It involves enumerating of parts, structure, levels, stages, etc. of the concept being dealt with, as well as explaining of various supporting details and stating of implications.

How to create a concept paper? 

A concept paper requires an academic format to structure and follow in order to explain a concept appropriately. The following consists of 11 fundamental ways on how a writer can explain an idea or concept in a professional and organized manner.

Patterns of development 

1. Defining: Giving the meaning of the concept

2. Describing: Characterizing the concept by providing its characteristics.

3. Comparing: Equating with other concepts to ascertain similarities between concepts.

4. Making an analogy: This is similar to comparing, but also includes any deduction about of what has been compared.

5. Contrasting: Pairing or linking it with another concept with the purpose of identifying the differences between the concepts.

6. Classifying: Arranging concepts into groups, based on ways they are alike.

7. Illustrating: Giving proof or evidence, so the reader could understand the concept.

8. Narrating: Talking about the concept elaborately in a narrative manner.

9. Explaining a process: Explaining the different aspects of the process.

10. Analyzing cause and effect: Giving a critical explanation about the causes and effects of the idea or concept.

11. Listing: Enumerating, trying to take a rundown about what these kinds of concepts are.

These patterns of developments are necessary so that the reader of your academic paper can understand with much ease, such as your arguments or not necessarily arguments but the definitions or the ideas you wish to either explain or extrapolate in your paper.

Examples of a concept paper 

The following is an example of an explanation of a concept (as part of a concept paper):

“There are five main types of food chemicals: Carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, and minerals. Carbohydrates include such things as sugars and starches and consists of carbon and hydrogen only. Fats contain oxygen and are found in dairy products and fatty meats. Together, carbohydrates and fats form the main energy-giving part of the human diet.

A protein contains nitrogen as well as carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. Every day, more than 1 million cells die in the human body, but the proteins carefully rebuild them.  Proteins are found in foods such as meats, eggs, and cheese.”

As you can see, the author of the short selection is trying to explain something about food chemicals by classifying them into carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, and minerals. The author then directed himself (or herself) to explain food chemicals by breaking down what makes up such food chemicals. He goes on by explaining the sub-ideas, just so he or she could give more insight on what food chemicals are and what they do to the human body.

It is evident that there is no added reaction to or reflection on how the selection has been written. Everything is pure and simple definition of terms and explanations. This goes to show that concept paper in its plain sense is more of a discussion-type written work by following the necessary steps on how to write an academic paper.

Why concept paper is important 

Concept papers are known for their use in different fields such as business, sciences, technology, and academics. Specifically, this output can be used while preparing for a business proposal, product, or research proposal. These are the reasons which gives concept paper its significance.

The following points provide benefits of a concept paper to understand its value and importance as well as clarification on when to write a concept paper:

1. Clarification of product value: Using a concept paper can help define the importance of a certain product feature or research development. Also, the product or research impact on society and economy can be discussed and explained in this output.

2. A better definition of the duties and responsibilities: A concept paper helps to identify the main stakeholders involved in the project. Starting with the sponsor, who will then pick the project leader, who then assembles the core team and supporting teams at the start of the project. Creating the necessary stability inflow to facilitate the execution.

3. Improvement in communication: A concept paper is an expression of what leaders, sponsors, and the core team have in mind. It involves sharing information with those who will support the project by creating the necessary engagement and communication with those who are not fully dedicated to the project.

4. Maintaining focus during the execution: A timeline is clearly defined and visualized in concept papers. These allow teams to keep the project on track and maintain the discipline of daily management routines, designer views, and event management.

Always take into consideration that the flow of a concept paper depends on what kind of output you are working on.

Why write a concept paper? 

A concept paper has several uses:

1. First, it is the basis of the full proposal.

2. Second, it helps determine whether a certain project is attainable or not.

3. Third, it is used to draw the interest of a potential funding agency or client.

4. Lastly, it is used to receive informal feedback on the ideas during the discourse of preparing a full proposal.

In short, a concept paper is a preliminary document for a proposal. It shows a preview of the improvement that the proposer would like to implement.

Additional information on explaining a concept:

There are three ways of explaining a concept

1. Definition – It is a method of identifying a given term and making its meaning clearer: its main purpose is to clarify and explain concepts, ideas, and issues.

Definition can be presented in 3 ways: informal, formal, or extended.

1. Information definition – Done through brief explanation.

2. Formal definition – Explains a term by indicating where that term came from and the quality that makes the term different from others.

3. Extended definition – It is composed of at least one paragraph, providing full description and complete information.

To better present an idea, one should identify the important elements contained in a definition: for example, as defined, for instance, meaning, to define, for example, is defined as, such as, to illustrate.

2. Explication – It is a method of explanation in which sentences, verses, quotes, or passages are taken for a literary or academic work and then interpreted and explained in a detailed manner.

3. clarification – it is a method in which the points are organized from a general abstract idea to specify and concrete examples are given.,   parts of a concept paper .

A concept paper usually ranges from 500 to 2000 words. The following sections discussed in a concept paper comprise the content of the paper.

Two outlines of concept paper:

1. concept paper for a project.

Use the following structure when you want to present a business project: 

1. Cover page

  • State the name of the proponents and their affiliations.
  • State the personal data of the proponents.
  • State the date of submission and the head of that project.

2. Introduction

  • Present what the topic contains and why they need to support the project.

3. Rationale or background

  • State the importance of the project and what are the problems that need solution.

4. Project description

  • Provide the goals and objectives of the project, timeline expressed in months and years, as well as the benefits and the possible outcome.
  • State the methodology (action, planning, project activities, or approach).

5. Project needs and cost

  • State the outline of the main budget, the description, and the amount.
  • Explain how the budget will be used.
  • List the personnel or equipment needed for the project.

2. Concept paper for academic research

Use the following structure to present an idea or concept for a research you would like to pursue.

1. Title page

  • State the proponent’s name, institution, the title of the project, and date of submission.

2. Background of the study

  • Provide the current state of the field you are researching on, knowledge and problems to be addressed by the research.
  • Supply the site of the previous study that can prove your claims, and the reason why you want to investigate the topic.

3. Preliminary literature review

  • Provide a theoretical framework, related literature that supports your topic.

4. Statement of the problem/objectives

  • State the general problem in one sentence, including the research questions and objectives.

5. Abridged methodology

  • Provide the data analysis scheme to be used, data collection procedure, instruments to be used, and the participants of the study

6. Timeline

  • Provide a timeline that is set in months and years.

7. References

  • Provide the list of all sources like books, journals, and other resources cited in your paper.

Guidelines in writing a concept paper

1. Cost and methodology should be reasonable.

2. The budget, methodology, and timeline should be clearly mentioned.

3. Use statistics and figures when discussing the rationale for the project.

4. Use no more than 5 pages (single-paced) excluding the cover page. Do not overwhelm the readers with unnecessary details.

5. Never request funding for planning the proposal.

6. Adjust your language based on the intended readers. You may use technical terms for target readers composed of scholars and scientists. However, refrain from using jargon when your targeted readers are not professionals or experts.

7. Include the overview of the budget if it is required. If not, then skip the budget section. Instead, you may simply include the type of support you require or need, such as personnel, travel expenses, and communication equipment.

8. Be sure that the basic format details are incorporated, such as page numbers.

9. Cite your references.

The aforementioned analysis will help readers to write effective concept papers for business project and academic research papers.

Relevant links

How to write an effective literature review for academic publishing – Author Assists Blog

Difference between thesis and dissertation: Main components of writing an effective thesis paper – Author Assists Blog

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concept paper for academic research definition

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Concept Paper: Definition and Example

A concept paper is an academic written discourse that explains a concept , often about something that the writer is thoroughly familiar with and passionate about. As you will note in the given example, it is a summary structured to highlight the significant parts of a more comprehensive research. Usually, a concept paper is the preliminary part of an academic research, written to obtain permission to undertake the research project, or to obtain funding for it. In senior high school and in college, chances are, you will be required to submit a concept paper before being allowed to proceed with your research assignment. This is to ensure that you know the scope and demands of your writing assignment.


Lorena A. Brillo, Ph.D. UP Open University December 1, 2017

Instructional consultation is a basic service to students, and it is an important tool in assessing the relevance of important basic institutional services. However, as perceived by students, a substantial gap still exists between the need for instructional consultation information and the current services being rendered by the school.

The post-modernist, process-oriented concept of education has led to policies requiring educators to take a more active role in the education process. The notion of a dialogic and interactive curriculum where knowledge-creation and negotiation are emphasized is a 21″ century byword, making learning more authentic and meaningful to students. The 21″-century curriculum has been described as one that is generative, outcome-based, and interactive, marked by a meaningful transaction between teacher and student.

Project Description Objectives  

  • To analyze the current instructional consultation program of the higher education unit
  • To assess students’ perception and attitude towards the current instructional consultation process

Expected outcomes  

  • Improved student-teacher relationships, resulting in optimized institutional goals
  • Adoption of improved instructional consultation practices in support of the institutional goals
  • The study could influence policies for students across all disciplines regardless of attitude towards instructional consultation. The study could also change the way teachers regard their role in instructional consultation in the context of a learning paradigm that insists on collaboration.

Indicators of achievement  

  • Increased number of students availing of their instructional consultation privileges
  • Improved consultation rooms
  • Increased number of teachers rendering consultation beyond their required consultation hours

Main activities

  • Writing letters
  • Drafting questionnaires
  • Consulting with experts on the matter
  • Distributing questionnaires and collating data
  • Interpreting results
  • Consulting with statistician
  • Interviewing respondents
  • Organizing an intra-school visit to learn best practices from peers

Project Needs and Cost (P17,000)

Communication (P12.000.00) Travel to and from interview sites Token for the respondents and consultant/s Other incidental expenses Professional fee for statistician

Supplies (P7,000.00)

Books and other learning resources Photocopying expenses Library fee

Duration and Target Date of Completion

January 1- June 30, 2018

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  • What Is a Conceptual Framework? | Tips & Examples

What Is a Conceptual Framework? | Tips & Examples

Published on August 2, 2022 by Bas Swaen and Tegan George. Revised on November 15, 2022.


A conceptual framework illustrates the expected relationship between your variables. It defines the relevant objectives for your research process and maps out how they come together to draw coherent conclusions.

Keep reading for a step-by-step guide to help you construct your own conceptual framework.

Table of contents

Developing a conceptual framework in research, step 1: choose your research question, step 2: select your independent and dependent variables, step 3: visualize your cause-and-effect relationship, step 4: identify other influencing variables, frequently asked questions about conceptual models.

A conceptual framework is a representation of the relationship you expect to see between your variables, or the characteristics or properties that you want to study.

Conceptual frameworks can be written or visual and are generally developed based on a literature review of existing studies about your topic.

Your research question guides your work by determining exactly what you want to find out, giving your research process a clear focus.

However, before you start collecting your data, consider constructing a conceptual framework. This will help you map out which variables you will measure and how you expect them to relate to one another.

In order to move forward with your research question and test a cause-and-effect relationship, you must first identify at least two key variables: your independent and dependent variables .

  • The expected cause, “hours of study,” is the independent variable (the predictor, or explanatory variable)
  • The expected effect, “exam score,” is the dependent variable (the response, or outcome variable).

Note that causal relationships often involve several independent variables that affect the dependent variable. For the purpose of this example, we’ll work with just one independent variable (“hours of study”).

Now that you’ve figured out your research question and variables, the first step in designing your conceptual framework is visualizing your expected cause-and-effect relationship.

We demonstrate this using basic design components of boxes and arrows. Here, each variable appears in a box. To indicate a causal relationship, each arrow should start from the independent variable (the cause) and point to the dependent variable (the effect).


It’s crucial to identify other variables that can influence the relationship between your independent and dependent variables early in your research process.

Some common variables to include are moderating, mediating, and control variables.

Moderating variables

Moderating variable (or moderators) alter the effect that an independent variable has on a dependent variable. In other words, moderators change the “effect” component of the cause-and-effect relationship.

Let’s add the moderator “IQ.” Here, a student’s IQ level can change the effect that the variable “hours of study” has on the exam score. The higher the IQ, the fewer hours of study are needed to do well on the exam.


Let’s take a look at how this might work. The graph below shows how the number of hours spent studying affects exam score. As expected, the more hours you study, the better your results. Here, a student who studies for 20 hours will get a perfect score.


But the graph looks different when we add our “IQ” moderator of 120. A student with this IQ will achieve a perfect score after just 15 hours of study.


Below, the value of the “IQ” moderator has been increased to 150. A student with this IQ will only need to invest five hours of study in order to get a perfect score.


Here, we see that a moderating variable does indeed change the cause-and-effect relationship between two variables.

Mediating variables

Now we’ll expand the framework by adding a mediating variable . Mediating variables link the independent and dependent variables, allowing the relationship between them to be better explained.

Here’s how the conceptual framework might look if a mediator variable were involved:


In this case, the mediator helps explain why studying more hours leads to a higher exam score. The more hours a student studies, the more practice problems they will complete; the more practice problems completed, the higher the student’s exam score will be.

Moderator vs. mediator

It’s important not to confuse moderating and mediating variables. To remember the difference, you can think of them in relation to the independent variable:

  • A moderating variable is not affected by the independent variable, even though it affects the dependent variable. For example, no matter how many hours you study (the independent variable), your IQ will not get higher.
  • A mediating variable is affected by the independent variable. In turn, it also affects the dependent variable. Therefore, it links the two variables and helps explain the relationship between them.

Control variables

Lastly,  control variables must also be taken into account. These are variables that are held constant so that they don’t interfere with the results. Even though you aren’t interested in measuring them for your study, it’s crucial to be aware of as many of them as you can be.


A mediator variable explains the process through which two variables are related, while a moderator variable affects the strength and direction of that relationship.

A confounding variable is closely related to both the independent and dependent variables in a study. An independent variable represents the supposed cause , while the dependent variable is the supposed effect . A confounding variable is a third variable that influences both the independent and dependent variables.

Failing to account for confounding variables can cause you to wrongly estimate the relationship between your independent and dependent variables.

Yes, but including more than one of either type requires multiple research questions .

For example, if you are interested in the effect of a diet on health, you can use multiple measures of health: blood sugar, blood pressure, weight, pulse, and many more. Each of these is its own dependent variable with its own research question.

You could also choose to look at the effect of exercise levels as well as diet, or even the additional effect of the two combined. Each of these is a separate independent variable .

To ensure the internal validity of an experiment , you should only change one independent variable at a time.

A control variable is any variable that’s held constant in a research study. It’s not a variable of interest in the study, but it’s controlled because it could influence the outcomes.

A confounding variable , also called a confounder or confounding factor, is a third variable in a study examining a potential cause-and-effect relationship.

A confounding variable is related to both the supposed cause and the supposed effect of the study. It can be difficult to separate the true effect of the independent variable from the effect of the confounding variable.

In your research design , it’s important to identify potential confounding variables and plan how you will reduce their impact.

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Concept Paper vs. Research Proposal – and when to use each

On the surface, concept papers sound like they do the same job as a research proposal – and essentially, they do. Both are designed to communicate the rationale, methodology and outcomes of a proposed piece of work. The difference between the two lies mostly in the level of detail and the potential audience, based on which your approach towards writing each will vary. In this article, we dig deeper into these and recommend when to use which.

Concept paper: Putting your idea to paper

  • What : A concept paper verbalises an idea and puts it to paper for the first time. Here, an overall rationale is presented, with a focus on the essential idea and potential impact of the expected outcome(s). However, what you would not include here is much in-depth detail.
  • When : Writing a concept paper is most useful when an initial expression of interest is made to either a collaborator or funder – provided the funder has mechanisms for you to do this, like an open call.
  • Why : The aim of your concept paper will be to win your audience over with your idea and its potential ramifications. 

(For more on concept papers, read: Understanding and developing a concept paper )

Research proposal: Showing how things will get done

Let’s say that through your concept paper, you find funding and collaborators for your proposed research project. You will now get into the nitty gritty of the project with a research proposal, while still keeping it “consumable” enough for a broader audience.

  • What : A research proposal builds on a concept paper by now including aspects like key deliverables, milestones and specific outcomes, as well as how you plan to achieve these. 
  • When : You will typically send a research proposal to sources of funding of an open nature, i.e. those that do not require a standardised form to be filled in, as is often the case with institutional internal funding or private investors.
  • Why : It is not necessary for you to first send someone a concept paper and follow it up with a proposal. However, you may often need to follow this sequence in order to provide only ‘need to know’ material depending on the stage of your relationship with potential partners.

( For more on research proposals, read: Writing a successful research proposal )

concept paper for academic research definition

When both are needed, a concept paper precedes a research proposal

Deciding between a concept paper and a research proposal

Whether you send someone a concept paper or a research proposal depends entirely on two things: 

  • Your existing relationship with whomever you are reaching out to
  • What you are trying to achieve

If you are emailing an organisation or individual for the first time, you are more likely to receive a response by attaching a brief, snappy concept paper that is easily read by a multitude of people. On the other hand, some larger organisations, such as pharmaceutical companies, are very used to seeing full-fledged research proposals and may have a portal on their website where you would need to upload one, enabling them to skip the preliminary step of vetting your work through a concept paper.

Our recommendation : Given how pressed many people are for time these days, it would be prudent to send concept papers more frequently than research proposals. If more information is required, you will be asked for it.

Concept papers and research proposals do very similar things, but set out and achieve very different aims. They are often sent in sequence – the concept paper first, followed by the research proposal. The need for a research proposal arises when the concept paper has achieved its mark – when, for example, more information is required for a funding decision to be reached, or due diligence is to be performed, as a result of your concept paper gaining preliminary acceptance. Following up with a research proposal fills in the gaps and will aid in answering questions arising from the concept paper.

Read previous (second) in series: Writing a successful Research Proposal

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Home » Concept – Definition, Types and Examples

Concept – Definition, Types and Examples

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Concept is a mental representation or an abstract idea that we use to understand and organize the world around us. It is a general notion that summarizes and simplifies complex information or experiences, making it easier to communicate and process.

For example, the concept of “love” is an abstract idea that represents a range of emotions and behaviors that people experience in their relationships with others. Similarly, the concept of “justice” represents a set of principles and standards that guide our sense of fairness and equality.

Types of Concept

Types of Concepts are as follows:

Concrete Concepts

These are concepts that refer to tangible objects or physical entities that can be perceived through the senses, such as a table, a car, or a flower.

Abstract Concepts

These are concepts that refer to ideas, qualities, or attributes that cannot be perceived through the senses, such as freedom, justice, or happiness.

Formal Concepts

These are concepts that are defined by specific rules or criteria, such as mathematical concepts like a triangle or a circle.

Natural Concepts

These are concepts that are based on our experience and interactions with the world, such as concepts like water, food, or family.

Social Concepts

These are concepts that are based on cultural or social norms, such as concepts like marriage, friendship, or etiquette.

Prototype Concepts

These are concepts that are based on typical or idealized examples of a category, such as a prototype concept of a bird that includes features like wings, feathers, and the ability to fly.

Exemplar Concepts

These are concepts that are based on specific examples or instances of a category, rather than on an idealized prototype.

Examples of Concept

Here are some examples of concepts:

  • Love – a feeling of strong attachment or deep affection towards someone or something.
  • Democracy – a system of government in which power is vested in the people and exercised through free and fair elections.
  • Justice – the quality of being fair and impartial, particularly in the administration of the law.
  • Equality – the state of being equal in status, rights, and opportunities.
  • Freedom – the state of being free from coercion, constraint, or oppression.
  • Creativity – the ability to produce original and imaginative ideas, works, or solutions.
  • Sustainability – the ability to maintain ecological balance and meet the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
  • Globalization – the process of integration and interdependence among people, companies, and governments across the world.
  • Diversity – the range of different cultures, ethnicities, genders, and other characteristics that exist within a group or society.
  • Leadership – the ability to inspire and guide others towards a common goal or vision.

Applications of Concept

Applications of Concept are as follows:

  • Education : Concepts play a crucial role in education, where they are used to help students develop a deeper understanding of various subjects. For example, in mathematics, concepts such as fractions, decimals, and geometric shapes are used to solve problems.
  • Science : Concepts are used extensively in scientific research to help scientists understand and explain the natural world. For instance, concepts such as energy, matter, and gravity are used to describe and explain various phenomena.
  • Business : Concepts such as marketing, branding, and customer service are essential for businesses to succeed. These concepts help businesses develop effective strategies to reach their target audience and improve customer satisfaction.
  • Technology : Concepts are the foundation of many technological innovations. For example, the concept of artificial intelligence is used to develop intelligent machines that can perform tasks that would otherwise require human intervention.
  • Philosophy : Concepts are a key aspect of philosophical inquiry, where they are used to analyze and understand complex ideas and arguments. For instance, concepts such as justice, ethics, and morality are used to explore ethical dilemmas and the nature of right and wrong.

Purpose of Concept

The purpose of a concept is to provide a mental framework or idea that helps us understand a particular topic or phenomenon. Concepts can range from simple ideas like “honesty” or “loyalty” to more complex ideas like “democracy” or “social justice.”

Concepts allow us to classify, organize, and analyze information, making it easier to understand and communicate. They also help us identify patterns, similarities, and differences between different ideas or things.

Concepts are essential for learning and intellectual development, as they provide a foundation for more advanced understanding and learning. They also allow us to build upon existing knowledge and make connections between different fields or areas of study.

Characteristics of Concept

There are several characteristics of a concept, including:

  • Abstractness: A concept is an abstract idea that represents a class of objects, events, or phenomena. It is a mental construct that does not have a physical existence.
  • Generalization : A concept represents a general idea that applies to a broad range of situations, objects, or events. It helps to identify commonalities among various things or phenomena.
  • Mental Representation : A concept is a mental representation of an idea that we use to understand the world around us.
  • Clarity : A concept should be clearly defined and understandable, so that others can comprehend it.
  • Universality : A concept is universal and can be applied across different domains or contexts.
  • Coherence : A concept should be logically consistent and coherent, so that it can be used to make sense of information and solve problems.
  • Relevance : A concept should be relevant to the context in which it is used, and should have practical applications.
  • Flexibility : A concept should be flexible enough to accommodate changes in our understanding of the world, and to adapt to new situations and contexts.
  • Abstraction : A concept is an abstraction, meaning that it represents a simplified version of reality that is easier to understand and manipulate.

Advantage of Concept

Here are some advantages of concepts:

  • Efficient Communication: Concepts provide a way to communicate efficiently by encapsulating complex ideas into simple, easily understandable units. For example, the concept of “love” represents a broad range of emotional experiences and allows us to communicate about this complex subject more easily.
  • Problem-Solving: Concepts help us to solve problems by allowing us to identify patterns and similarities between different situations. This enables us to apply solutions that have worked in similar situations to new problems.
  • Learning : Concepts provide a way to organize and structure new information, making it easier to learn and remember. By understanding the concept of “gravity,” for example, we can better understand the behavior of objects in the physical world.
  • Decision Making: Concepts enable us to make more informed decisions by providing a framework for evaluating options and considering trade-offs. For example, the concept of “opportunity cost” helps us to weigh the benefits and drawbacks of different choices.

Limitations of Concept

Limitations of the Concept are as follows:

  • Subjectivity : Concepts are inherently subjective, as they are based on individual experiences, beliefs, and cultural contexts. The meaning and interpretation of a concept may vary from person to person or culture to culture.
  • Incompleteness : Concepts are often incomplete, as they represent a simplified version of reality. They may leave out important details or nuances, leading to misunderstandings or misinterpretations.
  • Rigidity : Concepts can be rigid and inflexible, as they may not be able to accommodate new information or perspectives. This can lead to resistance to change or an inability to adapt to new situations.
  • Overgeneralization : Concepts can also be overgeneralized, as people may apply a concept to situations where it does not apply or make assumptions based on incomplete or inaccurate information.
  • Context dependence: The meaning of a concept can depend on the context in which it is used, making it difficult to apply the concept universally. This can lead to confusion or misinterpretation.

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Academic writing refers to a style of expression that researchers use to define the intellectual boundaries of their disciplines and specific areas of expertise. Characteristics of academic writing include a formal tone, use of the third-person rather than first-person perspective (usually), a clear focus on the research problem under investigation, and precise word choice. Like specialist languages adopted in other professions, such as, law or medicine, academic writing is designed to convey agreed meaning about complex ideas or concepts within a community of scholarly experts and practitioners.

Academic Writing. Writing Center. Colorado Technical College; Hartley, James. Academic Writing and Publishing: A Practical Guide . New York: Routledge, 2008; Ezza, El-Sadig Y. and Touria Drid. T eaching Academic Writing as a Discipline-Specific Skill in Higher Education . Hershey, PA: IGI Global, 2020.

Importance of Good Academic Writing

The accepted form of academic writing in the social sciences can vary considerable depending on the methodological framework and the intended audience. However, most college-level research papers require careful attention to the following stylistic elements:

I.  The Big Picture Unlike creative or journalistic writing, the overall structure of academic writing is formal and logical. It must be cohesive and possess a logically organized flow of ideas; this means that the various parts are connected to form a unified whole. There should be narrative links between sentences and paragraphs so that the reader is able to follow your argument. The introduction should include a description of how the rest of the paper is organized and all sources are properly cited throughout the paper.

II.  Tone The overall tone refers to the attitude conveyed in a piece of writing. Throughout your paper, it is important that you present the arguments of others fairly and with an appropriate narrative tone. When presenting a position or argument that you disagree with, describe this argument accurately and without loaded or biased language. In academic writing, the author is expected to investigate the research problem from an authoritative point of view. You should, therefore, state the strengths of your arguments confidently, using language that is neutral, not confrontational or dismissive.

III.  Diction Diction refers to the choice of words you use. Awareness of the words you use is important because words that have almost the same denotation [dictionary definition] can have very different connotations [implied meanings]. This is particularly true in academic writing because words and terminology can evolve a nuanced meaning that describes a particular idea, concept, or phenomenon derived from the epistemological culture of that discipline [e.g., the concept of rational choice in political science]. Therefore, use concrete words [not general] that convey a specific meaning. If this cannot be done without confusing the reader, then you need to explain what you mean within the context of how that word or phrase is used within a discipline.

IV.  Language The investigation of research problems in the social sciences is often complex and multi- dimensional . Therefore, it is important that you use unambiguous language. Well-structured paragraphs and clear topic sentences enable a reader to follow your line of thinking without difficulty. Your language should be concise, formal, and express precisely what you want it to mean. Do not use vague expressions that are not specific or precise enough for the reader to derive exact meaning ["they," "we," "people," "the organization," etc.], abbreviations like 'i.e.'  ["in other words"], 'e.g.' ["for example"], or 'a.k.a.' ["also known as"], and the use of unspecific determinate words ["super," "very," "incredible," "huge," etc.].

V.  Punctuation Scholars rely on precise words and language to establish the narrative tone of their work and, therefore, punctuation marks are used very deliberately. For example, exclamation points are rarely used to express a heightened tone because it can come across as unsophisticated or over-excited. Dashes should be limited to the insertion of an explanatory comment in a sentence, while hyphens should be limited to connecting prefixes to words [e.g., multi-disciplinary] or when forming compound phrases [e.g., commander-in-chief]. Finally, understand that semi-colons represent a pause that is longer than a comma, but shorter than a period in a sentence. In general, there are four grammatical uses of semi-colons: when a second clause expands or explains the first clause; to describe a sequence of actions or different aspects of the same topic; placed before clauses which begin with "nevertheless", "therefore", "even so," and "for instance”; and, to mark off a series of phrases or clauses which contain commas. If you are not confident about when to use semi-colons [and most of the time, they are not required for proper punctuation], rewrite using shorter sentences or revise the paragraph.

VI.  Academic Conventions Citing sources in the body of your paper and providing a list of references as either footnotes or endnotes is a key feature of academic writing. It is essential to always acknowledge the source of any ideas, research findings, data, paraphrased, or quoted text that you have used in your paper as a defense against allegations of plagiarism. Even more important, the scholarly convention of citing sources allow readers to identify the resources you used in writing your paper so they can independently verify and assess the quality of findings and conclusions based on your review of the literature. Examples of other academic conventions to follow include the appropriate use of headings and subheadings, properly spelling out acronyms when first used in the text, avoiding slang or colloquial language, avoiding emotive language or unsupported declarative statements, avoiding contractions [e.g., isn't], and using first person and second person pronouns only when necessary.

VII.  Evidence-Based Reasoning Assignments often ask you to express your own point of view about the research problem. However, what is valued in academic writing is that statements are based on evidence-based reasoning. This refers to possessing a clear understanding of the pertinent body of knowledge and academic debates that exist within, and often external to, your discipline concerning the topic. You need to support your arguments with evidence from scholarly [i.e., academic or peer-reviewed] sources. It should be an objective stance presented as a logical argument; the quality of the evidence you cite will determine the strength of your argument. The objective is to convince the reader of the validity of your thoughts through a well-documented, coherent, and logically structured piece of writing. This is particularly important when proposing solutions to problems or delineating recommended courses of action.

VIII.  Thesis-Driven Academic writing is “thesis-driven,” meaning that the starting point is a particular perspective, idea, or position applied to the chosen topic of investigation, such as, establishing, proving, or disproving solutions to the questions applied to investigating the research problem. Note that a problem statement without the research questions does not qualify as academic writing because simply identifying the research problem does not establish for the reader how you will contribute to solving the problem, what aspects you believe are most critical, or suggest a method for gathering information or data to better understand the problem.

IX.  Complexity and Higher-Order Thinking Academic writing addresses complex issues that require higher-order thinking skills applied to understanding the research problem [e.g., critical, reflective, logical, and creative thinking as opposed to, for example, descriptive or prescriptive thinking]. Higher-order thinking skills include cognitive processes that are used to comprehend, solve problems, and express concepts or that describe abstract ideas that cannot be easily acted out, pointed to, or shown with images. Think of your writing this way: One of the most important attributes of a good teacher is the ability to explain complexity in a way that is understandable and relatable to the topic being presented during class. This is also one of the main functions of academic writing--examining and explaining the significance of complex ideas as clearly as possible.  As a writer, you must adopt the role of a good teacher by summarizing complex information into a well-organized synthesis of ideas, concepts, and recommendations that contribute to a better understanding of the research problem.

Academic Writing. Writing Center. Colorado Technical College; Hartley, James. Academic Writing and Publishing: A Practical Guide . New York: Routledge, 2008; Murray, Rowena  and Sarah Moore. The Handbook of Academic Writing: A Fresh Approach . New York: Open University Press, 2006; Johnson, Roy. Improve Your Writing Skills . Manchester, UK: Clifton Press, 1995; Nygaard, Lynn P. Writing for Scholars: A Practical Guide to Making Sense and Being Heard . Second edition. Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications, 2015; Silvia, Paul J. How to Write a Lot: A Practical Guide to Productive Academic Writing . Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2007; Style, Diction, Tone, and Voice. Writing Center, Wheaton College; Sword, Helen. Stylish Academic Writing . Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012.

Strategies for...

Understanding Academic Writing and Its Jargon

The very definition of research jargon is language specific to a particular community of practitioner-researchers . Therefore, in modern university life, jargon represents the specific language and meaning assigned to words and phrases specific to a discipline or area of study. For example, the idea of being rational may hold the same general meaning in both political science and psychology, but its application to understanding and explaining phenomena within the research domain of a each discipline may have subtle differences based upon how scholars in that discipline apply the concept to the theories and practice of their work.

Given this, it is important that specialist terminology [i.e., jargon] must be used accurately and applied under the appropriate conditions . Subject-specific dictionaries are the best places to confirm the meaning of terms within the context of a specific discipline. These can be found by either searching in the USC Libraries catalog by entering the disciplinary and the word dictionary [e.g., sociology and dictionary] or using a database such as Credo Reference [a curated collection of subject encyclopedias, dictionaries, handbooks, guides from highly regarded publishers] . It is appropriate for you to use specialist language within your field of study, but you should avoid using such language when writing for non-academic or general audiences.

Problems with Opaque Writing

A common criticism of scholars is that they can utilize needlessly complex syntax or overly expansive vocabulary that is impenetrable or not well-defined. When writing, avoid problems associated with opaque writing by keeping in mind the following:

1.   Excessive use of specialized terminology . Yes, it is appropriate for you to use specialist language and a formal style of expression in academic writing, but it does not mean using "big words" just for the sake of doing so. Overuse of complex or obscure words or writing complicated sentence constructions gives readers the impression that your paper is more about style than substance; it leads the reader to question if you really know what you are talking about. Focus on creating clear, concise, and elegant prose that minimizes reliance on specialized terminology.

2.   Inappropriate use of specialized terminology . Because you are dealing with concepts, research, and data within your discipline, you need to use the technical language appropriate to that area of study. However, nothing will undermine the validity of your study quicker than the inappropriate application of a term or concept. Avoid using terms whose meaning you are unsure of--do not just guess or assume! Consult the meaning of terms in specialized, discipline-specific dictionaries by searching the USC Libraries catalog or the Credo Reference database [see above].

Additional Problems to Avoid

In addition to understanding the use of specialized language, there are other aspects of academic writing in the social sciences that you should be aware of. These problems include:

  • Personal nouns . Excessive use of personal nouns [e.g., I, me, you, us] may lead the reader to believe the study was overly subjective. These words can be interpreted as being used only to avoid presenting empirical evidence about the research problem. Limit the use of personal nouns to descriptions of things you actually did [e.g., "I interviewed ten teachers about classroom management techniques..."]. Note that personal nouns are generally found in the discussion section of a paper because this is where you as the author/researcher interpret and describe your work.
  • Directives . Avoid directives that demand the reader to "do this" or "do that." Directives should be framed as evidence-based recommendations or goals leading to specific outcomes. Note that an exception to this can be found in various forms of action research that involve evidence-based advocacy for social justice or transformative change. Within this area of the social sciences, authors may offer directives for action in a declarative tone of urgency.
  • Informal, conversational tone using slang and idioms . Academic writing relies on excellent grammar and precise word structure. Your narrative should not include regional dialects or slang terms because they can be open to interpretation. Your writing should be direct and concise using standard English.
  • Wordiness. Focus on being concise, straightforward, and developing a narrative that does not have confusing language . By doing so, you  help eliminate the possibility of the reader misinterpreting the design and purpose of your study.
  • Vague expressions (e.g., "they," "we," "people," "the company," "that area," etc.). Being concise in your writing also includes avoiding vague references to persons, places, or things. While proofreading your paper, be sure to look for and edit any vague or imprecise statements that lack context or specificity.
  • Numbered lists and bulleted items . The use of bulleted items or lists should be used only if the narrative dictates a need for clarity. For example, it is fine to state, "The four main problems with hedge funds are:" and then list them as 1, 2, 3, 4. However, in academic writing, this must then be followed by detailed explanation and analysis of each item. Given this, the question you should ask yourself while proofreading is: why begin with a list in the first place rather than just starting with systematic analysis of each item arranged in separate paragraphs? Also, be careful using numbers because they can imply a ranked order of priority or importance. If none exists, use bullets and avoid checkmarks or other symbols.
  • Descriptive writing . Describing a research problem is an important means of contextualizing a study. In fact, some description or background information may be needed because you can not assume the reader knows the key aspects of the topic. However, the content of your paper should focus on methodology, the analysis and interpretation of findings, and their implications as they apply to the research problem rather than background information and descriptions of tangential issues.
  • Personal experience. Drawing upon personal experience [e.g., traveling abroad; caring for someone with Alzheimer's disease] can be an effective way of introducing the research problem or engaging your readers in understanding its significance. Use personal experience only as an example, though, because academic writing relies on evidence-based research. To do otherwise is simply story-telling.

NOTE:   Rules concerning excellent grammar and precise word structure do not apply when quoting someone.  A quote should be inserted in the text of your paper exactly as it was stated. If the quote is especially vague or hard to understand, consider paraphrasing it or using a different quote to convey the same meaning. Consider inserting the term "sic" in brackets after the quoted text to indicate that the quotation has been transcribed exactly as found in the original source, but the source had grammar, spelling, or other errors. The adverb sic informs the reader that the errors are not yours.

Academic Writing. The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University; Academic Writing Style. First-Year Seminar Handbook. Mercer University; Bem, Daryl J. Writing the Empirical Journal Article. Cornell University; College Writing. The Writing Center. University of North Carolina; Murray, Rowena  and Sarah Moore. The Handbook of Academic Writing: A Fresh Approach . New York: Open University Press, 2006; Johnson, Eileen S. “Action Research.” In Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Education . Edited by George W. Noblit and Joseph R. Neikirk. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2020); Oppenheimer, Daniel M. "Consequences of Erudite Vernacular Utilized Irrespective of Necessity: Problems with Using Long Words Needlessly." Applied Cognitive Psychology 20 (2006): 139-156; Ezza, El-Sadig Y. and Touria Drid. T eaching Academic Writing as a Discipline-Specific Skill in Higher Education . Hershey, PA: IGI Global, 2020; Pernawan, Ari. Common Flaws in Students' Research Proposals. English Education Department. Yogyakarta State University; Style. College Writing. The Writing Center. University of North Carolina; Invention: Five Qualities of Good Writing. The Reading/Writing Center. Hunter College; Sword, Helen. Stylish Academic Writing . Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012; What Is an Academic Paper? Institute for Writing Rhetoric. Dartmouth College.

Structure and Writing Style

I. Improving Academic Writing

To improve your academic writing skills, you should focus your efforts on three key areas: 1.   Clear Writing . The act of thinking about precedes the process of writing about. Good writers spend sufficient time distilling information and reviewing major points from the literature they have reviewed before creating their work. Writing detailed outlines can help you clearly organize your thoughts. Effective academic writing begins with solid planning, so manage your time carefully. 2.  Excellent Grammar . Needless to say, English grammar can be difficult and complex; even the best scholars take many years before they have a command of the major points of good grammar. Take the time to learn the major and minor points of good grammar. Spend time practicing writing and seek detailed feedback from professors. Take advantage of the Writing Center on campus if you need help. Proper punctuation and good proofreading skills can significantly improve academic writing [see sub-tab for proofreading you paper ].

Refer to these three basic resources to help your grammar and writing skills:

  • A good writing reference book, such as, Strunk and White’s book, The Elements of Style or the St. Martin's Handbook ;
  • A college-level dictionary, such as, Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary ;
  • The latest edition of Roget's Thesaurus in Dictionary Form .

3.  Consistent Stylistic Approach . Whether your professor expresses a preference to use MLA, APA or the Chicago Manual of Style or not, choose one style manual and stick to it. Each of these style manuals provide rules on how to write out numbers, references, citations, footnotes, and lists. Consistent adherence to a style of writing helps with the narrative flow of your paper and improves its readability. Note that some disciplines require a particular style [e.g., education uses APA] so as you write more papers within your major, your familiarity with it will improve.

II. Evaluating Quality of Writing

A useful approach for evaluating the quality of your academic writing is to consider the following issues from the perspective of the reader. While proofreading your final draft, critically assess the following elements in your writing.

  • It is shaped around one clear research problem, and it explains what that problem is from the outset.
  • Your paper tells the reader why the problem is important and why people should know about it.
  • You have accurately and thoroughly informed the reader what has already been published about this problem or others related to it and noted important gaps in the research.
  • You have provided evidence to support your argument that the reader finds convincing.
  • The paper includes a description of how and why particular evidence was collected and analyzed, and why specific theoretical arguments or concepts were used.
  • The paper is made up of paragraphs, each containing only one controlling idea.
  • You indicate how each section of the paper addresses the research problem.
  • You have considered counter-arguments or counter-examples where they are relevant.
  • Arguments, evidence, and their significance have been presented in the conclusion.
  • Limitations of your research have been explained as evidence of the potential need for further study.
  • The narrative flows in a clear, accurate, and well-organized way.

Boscoloa, Pietro, Barbara Arféb, and Mara Quarisaa. “Improving the Quality of Students' Academic Writing: An Intervention Study.” Studies in Higher Education 32 (August 2007): 419-438; Academic Writing. The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University; Academic Writing Style. First-Year Seminar Handbook. Mercer University; Bem, Daryl J. Writing the Empirical Journal Article. Cornell University; Candlin, Christopher. Academic Writing Step-By-Step: A Research-based Approach . Bristol, CT: Equinox Publishing Ltd., 2016; College Writing. The Writing Center. University of North Carolina; Style . College Writing. The Writing Center. University of North Carolina; Invention: Five Qualities of Good Writing. The Reading/Writing Center. Hunter College; Sword, Helen. Stylish Academic Writing . Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012; What Is an Academic Paper? Institute for Writing Rhetoric. Dartmouth College.

Writing Tip

Considering the Passive Voice in Academic Writing

In the English language, we are able to construct sentences in the following way: 1.  "The policies of Congress caused the economic crisis." 2.  "The economic crisis was caused by the policies of Congress."

The decision about which sentence to use is governed by whether you want to focus on “Congress” and what they did, or on “the economic crisis” and what caused it. This choice in focus is achieved with the use of either the active or the passive voice. When you want your readers to focus on the "doer" of an action, you can make the "doer"' the subject of the sentence and use the active form of the verb. When you want readers to focus on the person, place, or thing affected by the action, or the action itself, you can make the effect or the action the subject of the sentence by using the passive form of the verb.

Often in academic writing, scholars don't want to focus on who is doing an action, but on who is receiving or experiencing the consequences of that action. The passive voice is useful in academic writing because it allows writers to highlight the most important participants or events within sentences by placing them at the beginning of the sentence.

Use the passive voice when:

  • You want to focus on the person, place, or thing affected by the action, or the action itself;
  • It is not important who or what did the action;
  • You want to be impersonal or more formal.

Form the passive voice by:

  • Turning the object of the active sentence into the subject of the passive sentence.
  • Changing the verb to a passive form by adding the appropriate form of the verb "to be" and the past participle of the main verb.

NOTE: Consult with your professor about using the passive voice before submitting your research paper. Some strongly discourage its use!

Active and Passive Voice. The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University; Diefenbach, Paul. Future of Digital Media Syllabus. Drexel University; Passive Voice. The Writing Center. University of North Carolina.  

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Academic Entrepreneurship Ecosystems: Systematic Literature Review and Future Research Directions

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  • Published: 16 February 2024

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  • Maria Patrocínia Correia 1 , 2 ,
  • Carla Susana Marques   ORCID: 2 ,
  • Rui Silva 2 &
  • Veland Ramadani 3  

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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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Based on four sample videos that OpenAI shared with MIT Technology Review ahead of today’s announcement, the San Francisco–based firm has pushed the envelope of what’s possible with text-to-video generation (a hot new research direction that we flagged as a trend to watch in 2024 ).

“We think building models that can understand video, and understand all these very complex interactions of our world, is an important step for all future AI systems,” says Tim Brooks, a scientist at OpenAI.

But there’s a disclaimer. OpenAI gave us a preview of Sora (which means sky in Japanese) under conditions of strict secrecy. In an unusual move, the firm would only share information about Sora if we agreed to wait until after news of the model was made public to seek the opinions of outside experts. [Editor’s note: We’ve updated this story with outside comment below.] OpenAI has not yet released a technical report or demonstrated the model actually working. And it says it won’t be releasing Sora anytime soon. [ Update: OpenAI has now shared more technical details on its website.]

The first generative models that could produce video from snippets of text appeared in late 2022. But early examples from Meta , Google, and a startup called Runway were glitchy and grainy. Since then, the tech has been getting better fast. Runway’s gen-2 model, released last year, can produce short clips that come close to matching big-studio animation in their quality. But most of these examples are still only a few seconds long.  

The sample videos from OpenAI’s Sora are high-definition and full of detail. OpenAI also says it can generate videos up to a minute long. One video of a Tokyo street scene shows that Sora has learned how objects fit together in 3D: the camera swoops into the scene to follow a couple as they walk past a row of shops.

OpenAI also claims that Sora handles occlusion well. One problem with existing models is that they can fail to keep track of objects when they drop out of view. For example, if a truck passes in front of a street sign, the sign might not reappear afterward.  

In a video of a papercraft underwater scene, Sora has added what look like cuts between different pieces of footage, and the model has maintained a consistent style between them.

It’s not perfect. In the Tokyo video, cars to the left look smaller than the people walking beside them. They also pop in and out between the tree branches. “There’s definitely some work to be done in terms of long-term coherence,” says Brooks. “For example, if someone goes out of view for a long time, they won’t come back. The model kind of forgets that they were supposed to be there.”

Impressive as they are, the sample videos shown here were no doubt cherry-picked to show Sora at its best. Without more information, it is hard to know how representative they are of the model’s typical output.   

It may be some time before we find out. OpenAI’s announcement of Sora today is a tech tease, and the company says it has no current plans to release it to the public. Instead, OpenAI will today begin sharing the model with third-party safety testers for the first time.

In particular, the firm is worried about the potential misuses of fake but photorealistic video . “We’re being careful about deployment here and making sure we have all our bases covered before we put this in the hands of the general public,” says Aditya Ramesh, a scientist at OpenAI, who created the firm’s text-to-image model DALL-E .

But OpenAI is eyeing a product launch sometime in the future. As well as safety testers, the company is also sharing the model with a select group of video makers and artists to get feedback on how to make Sora as useful as possible to creative professionals. “The other goal is to show everyone what is on the horizon, to give a preview of what these models will be capable of,” says Ramesh.

To build Sora, the team adapted the tech behind DALL-E 3, the latest version of OpenAI’s flagship text-to-image model. Like most text-to-image models, DALL-E 3 uses what’s known as a diffusion model. These are trained to turn a fuzz of random pixels into a picture.

Sora takes this approach and applies it to videos rather than still images. But the researchers also added another technique to the mix. Unlike DALL-E or most other generative video models, Sora combines its diffusion model with a type of neural network called a transformer.

Transformers are great at processing long sequences of data, like words. That has made them the special sauce inside large language models like OpenAI’s GPT-4 and Google DeepMind’s Gemini . But videos are not made of words. Instead, the researchers had to find a way to cut videos into chunks that could be treated as if they were. The approach they came up with was to dice videos up across both space and time. “It’s like if you were to have a stack of all the video frames and you cut little cubes from it,” says Brooks.

The transformer inside Sora can then process these chunks of video data in much the same way that the transformer inside a large language model processes words in a block of text. The researchers say that this let them train Sora on many more types of video than other text-to-video models, varied in terms of resolution, duration, aspect ratio, and orientation. “It really helps the model,” says Brooks. “That is something that we’re not aware of any existing work on.”

“From a technical perspective it seems like a very significant leap forward,” says Sam Gregory, executive director at Witness, a human rights organization that specializes in the use and misuse of video technology. “But there are two sides to the coin,” he says. “The expressive capabilities offer the potential for many more people to be storytellers using video. And there are also real potential avenues for misuse.” 

OpenAI is well aware of the risks that come with a generative video model. We are already seeing the large-scale misuse of deepfake images . Photorealistic video takes this to another level.

Gregory notes that you could use technology like this to misinform people about conflict zones or protests. The range of styles is also interesting, he says. If you could generate shaky footage that looked like something shot with a phone, it would come across as more authentic.

The tech is not there yet, but generative video has gone from zero to Sora in just 18 months. “We’re going to be entering a universe where there will be fully synthetic content, human-generated content and a mix of the two,” says Gregory.

The OpenAI team plans to draw on the safety testing it did last year for DALL-E 3. Sora already includes a filter that runs on all prompts sent to the model that will block requests for violent, sexual, or hateful images, as well as images of known people. Another filter will look at frames of generated videos and block material that violates OpenAI’s safety policies.

OpenAI says it is also adapting a fake-image detector developed for DALL-E 3 to use with Sora. And the company will embed industry-standard C2PA tags , metadata that states how an image was generated, into all of Sora’s output. But these steps are far from foolproof. Fake-image detectors are hit-or-miss. Metadata is easy to remove, and most social media sites strip it from uploaded images by default.  

“We’ll definitely need to get more feedback and learn more about the types of risks that need to be addressed with video before it would make sense for us to release this,” says Ramesh.

Brooks agrees. “Part of the reason that we’re talking about this research now is so that we can start getting the input that we need to do the work necessary to figure out how it could be safely deployed,” he says.

Update 2/15: Comments from Sam Gregory were added .

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