Research timeline

Research projects include many steps, all of which can take months to complete.

Research idea

First, researchers develop an idea or a research question, based on previous research from themselves or others. Refining this idea can take several months, and it usually involves several discussions between researchers.

Funding applications

The lead researchers then apply for funding to run the research project. Funding opportunities and research grants are extremely competitive, and the funding applications have to be written with great care to be selected. Once the application has been submitted, it takes several months before the researchers hear back from the funding organisation.

Study design

Once the project has received funding, the researchers can get started on the research project. This can involve the recruitment of new researchers, research students, research assistants, or other professionals. When the team is complete, they can start discussing more precisely the methods of the research project. After the methods are decided, it can be necessary (depending on the methods) to have the methods and research protocol approved by an ethics committe. The ethics process can take a few weeks to a few months.

Data collection

Once the project has received ethics approval, the team can start collecting data to answer the research question. Depending on the study, this can be done with expirements or with the recruitment and assessment of volunteer participants. In most research topics, we need a large number of participants to make sure the results are not due to chance, which means that the recruitment and assessment of participants for data collection can take several months, or even years.

Data analysis

After the end of data collection, the data is analysed, based on the analysis plan that was designed at the beginning of the study. Some analyses can be done in a couple of weeks, more complex analyses can take several months.


When the results are known, the research team shares them with the research community via the publication of research articles (called “papers” for short) in specialised research journals. Publication in these journals includes “peer-review”, a crucial step where other researchers read and review the study, and judge its quality. This is done to avoid the publication of poorly-designed studies, as their results might be inacurrate. Peer-review is thorough, which is why publishing new results generally takes several months.


Some studies can have an impact in the “real world”, for example within practices, education, or services, within a few years (maybe 2 or 3 years). In the world of research, 2 or 3 years is extremely quick and short-term impact. In reality, most studies won’t have a “real world” impact before 5 or even 10 years. This is because in most fields, one study alone is not enough to be sure that things work as the study’s results show, and the results must be replicated by other researchers. This means that once the study is published in an academic journal, other researchers can know about it, and set up their own study to check whether they reach the same results and conclusions. This starts the whole process all over again, which is why it takes so long. When several groups of researchers find the same result, we can take it to the relevant stakeholders: practitioners, educators, service providers, policy makers, and of course, families and communities. From there, it can take a few months to a few years for the new changes to be implemented. In rigorous research, the “real world” impacts are more often than not long-term impacts. 

However, a study can have other short-term impacts. Each study can create a short and accessible briefing to share with the relevant stakeholders, to let them know about their results. It might not lead to direct real world impacts, but it can help prepare people for new practices. A study can also have short-term impacts for other studies. For example, a study can have developped a new tool, a new measure, a new research practice or a new method. These innovations can be shared with other researchers very quickly to improve research practices.