I will be starting my second semester of my master's program in a couple of weeks. I've been going back and forth with a professor I want to do my thesis under and he has asked to me to write a white paper outlining my research plan.

While what he's asking seems pretty straight forward on the surface, I'm not sure how to even get started on writing one. I've read through other questions on this site as well as articles on google, but I'm rather lost as this is a bit new to me. Any advice on how/where to start is appreciated.

  • 1
    What is the research question you want to answer and how will you go about answering it? That is what you should write. But why don't you simply ask your supervisor for more guidance? That is what they're there for, after all. Commented Jan 10, 2021 at 13:51
  • I have emailed him but I also wanted to see if people here had guidance for me.
    – ironduke97
    Commented Jan 10, 2021 at 17:26
  • Write a research proposal, similar to a grant proposal.
    – user2768
    Commented Jan 11, 2021 at 10:04

1 Answer 1


The definition of a "white paper" seems rather loose: see here and here, for example. I would check with your supervisor to make sure of what he has in mind, so that you don't write something overly detailed or overly brief. My guess is that the difference between a white paper and a proposal is largely formal: the latter has to be structured and formatted according to the requirements of the institution you are submitting it to; the former gives you a bit more leeway. Regardless, based on my experience and on this book I would structure it as follows:

  • Abstract - I find it useful to draft it at the beginning, for your own guidance, and re-write it once the rest of the proposal is completed so that it reflects the proposal best and it really "pitches" your research project.

  • Introduction/Background - a summary of the state of the art in your research field, leading to...

  • Statement of need/Problem - where you define a gap in the existing knowledge that you want to address, or something that is considered correct but that you want to challenge for whatever reason (to be stated).

  • Objectives/Aims/Research questions - your goals, hypothesis to be tested and/or research question(s) to be answered.

  • Approach/strategy - similar to the "Material and Methods" of a research paper.

  • Significance/Impact - why you think your question is worth for you to research, or your goal to pursue, and for an institution to finance your effort.

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