SREL Reprint #2417




Defining the Beginning:  The Importance of Research Design

Justin D. Congdon
Savannah River Ecology Lab, P 0. Drawer E, Aiken, South Carolina 29802 USA; Tel: +1 (803) 725-5341; Fax: +1 (803) 725-3309; email:

Arthur E. Dunham
Department of Biology, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19104 USA;
Tel: +1 (215) 898-4117,- Fax: +1 (215) 898-8780; email:,


A proverb: "Success is like a turtle climbing a mountain.
Failure is like water running down hill."



The probability of success of a research project is greatly enhanced when the "beginning," is correctly defined as a precise statement of goals and justification. Having accomplished this, the sequential steps necessary for writing a research plan and then successfully executing a research project are easier to identify and organize. Therefore, the message of this chapter is: by the time the laboratory is prepared or the first datum collected in the field, substantial effort should already have been invested in the conceptual and logistical framework of a project. This chapter discusses the steps that should result in a well-designed and integrated research plan.

A research plan consists of two general areas: research concepts and context (Table 1) and research logistics (Table 2). How well a research project is planned and how well the steps in the plan are integrated can make the difference between success or failure. The process of writing a research plan should start as soon as possible in the development of research ideas. For assistance with the process of writin-gresearch plans and research proposals, see Reis-Lehrer (1995).

SREL Reprint #2417

Congdon, J.D. and A.E. Dunham. 1999. Defining the beginning: the importance of research design. p. 83-87. In Research and Management Techniques for the Conservation of Sea Turtles, edited by K.L. Eckert, K.A. Bjorndal, F.A. Abreu-Grobois, and M. Donnelly. 4 Vol. IUCN/SSC Marine Turtle Specialist Group.


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