Research Timelines – how do you come up with one that works for you?

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    I’m interested in how experienced researchers come up with a workable research timetable or timeline. What advice would they have for those new to research?

    Obviously each research project’s timeline will be different; dependent on one’s specific research question or problem, the resources available to us, our skills, and the submission date for our work.

    But what are the key principles at play to help new researchers and students come up with a timetable for doing research that works for them?

    If anyone would be willing to share examples of their research plans and timelines, this would be a great resource for the student community and would give new researchers and students something concrete to work from when discussing their own timeline with their tutors or research supervisors.

    Dr Fiona MacKichan

    Hi Patrick,

    I’m not sure if this will help, but here goes:

    When planning a project, once I have an outline of aims and objectives and a rough idea of the plan of investigation, I tend to physically draw it out to map the components and their sequence. From this I can see what is likely to work within the time available, and can add/drop components where appropriate. It’s very much an iterative process, and this feeds in to the structured gantt chart. I do think you develop an idea of how long elements will take as you gain experience, e.g., I now know roughly how long it takes to gain ethics approvals, conduct a systematic review, collect interview data. Your supervisors/more experienced researchers should be happy to offer guidance on these things.

    Other tips:

     – Have a look at any available published protocols (e.g., the NIHR HTA publish some protocols online) for ideas, and ask colleagues if they’ll share their timetables

     – Use Excel to prepare a decent gantt chart – there are some helpful youtube vids e.g., <; I find once my timetable is presented as a gantt chart I can see where there might be problems, e.g., having too much on at once

     – don’t forget to factor in holidays, time for ethics submissions, conference attendance etc. – these things can eat your time up

     – prepare more in-depth timetables for specific periods/components. I kept a timetable for writing up and submitting my PhD thesis – it was amended a lot, but I kept it somewhere prominent and it included things like the availability of supervisors for reading chapters.


    Hi Fiona,

    That’s extremely useful, thanks very much indeed.

    I guess the tough thing is workign out, when you have no research experience, how long different parts of the process are likely to last. Here, you’re right, talking to your tutor or supervisor is absolutely the best thing, but lots of undergrad students only have limited access to their supervisor. The consequence is that sometimes student researchers run out of time for analysis or writing up, or perhaps spend too much time on the literature review.

    I agree completely, though, that visualising the whole process by literally drawing it up on excel or a big piece of paper is invaluable. And of course part of the process involves making sure that one’s initial research question is devised to suit the time available for the project. Perhaps a longitudinal study of the complete lifecycle or Trobriand Islanders would be over-ambitious for an u/g dissertation topic with only six weeks to complete their project from start to finish.

    So be sensible about one’s research question; the accessibility of one’s data; how you’ll handle it; how much you’ll need etc etc 


    1. A good place to start for practical advice is in the project management literature at your library and on the web.  Also read practical “how to books about methods”. 

    2. Collect all your required fixed deadlines.  Your, institution, faculty, graduate school and department probably have some basic requirements about meeting milestones and deadlines. End of funding (if you are lucky enough to have it.) is a good example? Money or the lack of it is a great motivator!

    3. Then I’d list what your dissertation advisor /mentor has as his or her own expectations for you. Does he/she expect you to have an abstract submitted and accepted for a major conference in your discipline? Where, when, how much money is it. will you have to apply for bursory to attend. If you expected to be publishing parts of your thesis before defence find out about that process. What are you expectations to meet your “life after the dissertation” goals? list these some where. As undergraduates the professor fied the date for exams etc and we met them. Create realistic deadlines. 

    4. You may have personal, family or other deadlines you need to factor in.  Do you have children,  unwell parents who you need to help.  Life happens!   Add these to your list as well.  Are you a teaching/lab assistant and have heavy  teaching/grading periods that pull you away from your research/wriitng tasks. 

    5. When I plan a project, I try to figure out what the end point is for my deliverables.  Then I work backwards toward today’s date.  You don’t need fancy programs.  I just rough it out useing the table function in MS Word.    I use the “landscape mode”  and make a table with 2 rows lots of colums. the first row has the months for each year starting from this month at the extreme left and working into the future going toward the right.Then I start sticking in major milestones, deadlines that are fix.

    6. Read about and talk to colleagues about how long methodological steps take.  Lets say you are going to do some  interviewing:If you are doing the transcription of your own audio tapes do you actually realize how long it takes to transcribe 1 hour of talking? How long it takes to “clean” a transcription?  when and how long you want give your participants to reply to you if you are including memberchecking as part of the process.  Do you know how to create a code book for your transcriptions to code the data and how long that might take to create and then how long the coding could take?  How long do you want to allocate for first drafts, turnaround time from your advisory committee and re-writes.  


    7. Over estimate rather than underestimate how long things take to happen. If you don’t know ask.


    Time lines can be at the MACRO level such as the above.

    But you might also want to think about MICRO level ( week and day)  Regular daily time for writing (HIGH priority), other responsiblities to teaching/grading if a TA, family life and other social responsiblities.  



    This is a great question – here is an excellent resource for learning about the practical aspects of conducting research – – all of the content is free – if you browse topics, and  look under study management, you can find information about organizing and planning a project.


    Good stuff, Rebecca, thanks. I’m keen to hear from others too. There are so many ways of approaching the development of one’s research timeline.

    For instance, typically, where can students and researchers be flexible and speed up parts of a study to meet tighter deadlines? And where is there no room at all for flexibility?

    Jp Munoz

    I come up with an idea from this website. This website really helps me about research method:

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