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- Indian J Anaesth
- v.60(9); 2016 Sep
How to write a research proposal?
Department of Anaesthesiology, Bangalore Medical College and Research Institute, Bengaluru, Karnataka, India
Devika Rani Duggappa
Writing the proposal of a research work in the present era is a challenging task due to the constantly evolving trends in the qualitative research design and the need to incorporate medical advances into the methodology. The proposal is a detailed plan or ‘blueprint’ for the intended study, and once it is completed, the research project should flow smoothly. Even today, many of the proposals at post-graduate evaluation committees and application proposals for funding are substandard. A search was conducted with keywords such as research proposal, writing proposal and qualitative using search engines, namely, PubMed and Google Scholar, and an attempt has been made to provide broad guidelines for writing a scientifically appropriate research proposal.
A clean, well-thought-out proposal forms the backbone for the research itself and hence becomes the most important step in the process of conduct of research.[ 1 ] The objective of preparing a research proposal would be to obtain approvals from various committees including ethics committee [details under ‘Research methodology II’ section [ Table 1 ] in this issue of IJA) and to request for grants. However, there are very few universally accepted guidelines for preparation of a good quality research proposal. A search was performed with keywords such as research proposal, funding, qualitative and writing proposals using search engines, namely, PubMed, Google Scholar and Scopus.
Five ‘C’s while writing a literature review
BASIC REQUIREMENTS OF A RESEARCH PROPOSAL
A proposal needs to show how your work fits into what is already known about the topic and what new paradigm will it add to the literature, while specifying the question that the research will answer, establishing its significance, and the implications of the answer.[ 2 ] The proposal must be capable of convincing the evaluation committee about the credibility, achievability, practicality and reproducibility (repeatability) of the research design.[ 3 ] Four categories of audience with different expectations may be present in the evaluation committees, namely academic colleagues, policy-makers, practitioners and lay audiences who evaluate the research proposal. Tips for preparation of a good research proposal include; ‘be practical, be persuasive, make broader links, aim for crystal clarity and plan before you write’. A researcher must be balanced, with a realistic understanding of what can be achieved. Being persuasive implies that researcher must be able to convince other researchers, research funding agencies, educational institutions and supervisors that the research is worth getting approval. The aim of the researcher should be clearly stated in simple language that describes the research in a way that non-specialists can comprehend, without use of jargons. The proposal must not only demonstrate that it is based on an intelligent understanding of the existing literature but also show that the writer has thought about the time needed to conduct each stage of the research.[ 4 , 5 ]
CONTENTS OF A RESEARCH PROPOSAL
The contents or formats of a research proposal vary depending on the requirements of evaluation committee and are generally provided by the evaluation committee or the institution.
In general, a cover page should contain the (i) title of the proposal, (ii) name and affiliation of the researcher (principal investigator) and co-investigators, (iii) institutional affiliation (degree of the investigator and the name of institution where the study will be performed), details of contact such as phone numbers, E-mail id's and lines for signatures of investigators.
The main contents of the proposal may be presented under the following headings: (i) introduction, (ii) review of literature, (iii) aims and objectives, (iv) research design and methods, (v) ethical considerations, (vi) budget, (vii) appendices and (viii) citations.[ 4 ]
It is also sometimes termed as ‘need for study’ or ‘abstract’. Introduction is an initial pitch of an idea; it sets the scene and puts the research in context.[ 6 ] The introduction should be designed to create interest in the reader about the topic and proposal. It should convey to the reader, what you want to do, what necessitates the study and your passion for the topic.[ 7 ] Some questions that can be used to assess the significance of the study are: (i) Who has an interest in the domain of inquiry? (ii) What do we already know about the topic? (iii) What has not been answered adequately in previous research and practice? (iv) How will this research add to knowledge, practice and policy in this area? Some of the evaluation committees, expect the last two questions, elaborated under a separate heading of ‘background and significance’.[ 8 ] Introduction should also contain the hypothesis behind the research design. If hypothesis cannot be constructed, the line of inquiry to be used in the research must be indicated.
Review of literature
It refers to all sources of scientific evidence pertaining to the topic in interest. In the present era of digitalisation and easy accessibility, there is an enormous amount of relevant data available, making it a challenge for the researcher to include all of it in his/her review.[ 9 ] It is crucial to structure this section intelligently so that the reader can grasp the argument related to your study in relation to that of other researchers, while still demonstrating to your readers that your work is original and innovative. It is preferable to summarise each article in a paragraph, highlighting the details pertinent to the topic of interest. The progression of review can move from the more general to the more focused studies, or a historical progression can be used to develop the story, without making it exhaustive.[ 1 ] Literature should include supporting data, disagreements and controversies. Five ‘C's may be kept in mind while writing a literature review[ 10 ] [ Table 1 ].
Aims and objectives
The research purpose (or goal or aim) gives a broad indication of what the researcher wishes to achieve in the research. The hypothesis to be tested can be the aim of the study. The objectives related to parameters or tools used to achieve the aim are generally categorised as primary and secondary objectives.
Research design and method
The objective here is to convince the reader that the overall research design and methods of analysis will correctly address the research problem and to impress upon the reader that the methodology/sources chosen are appropriate for the specific topic. It should be unmistakably tied to the specific aims of your study.
In this section, the methods and sources used to conduct the research must be discussed, including specific references to sites, databases, key texts or authors that will be indispensable to the project. There should be specific mention about the methodological approaches to be undertaken to gather information, about the techniques to be used to analyse it and about the tests of external validity to which researcher is committed.[ 10 , 11 ]
The components of this section include the following:[ 4 ]
Population and sample
Population refers to all the elements (individuals, objects or substances) that meet certain criteria for inclusion in a given universe,[ 12 ] and sample refers to subset of population which meets the inclusion criteria for enrolment into the study. The inclusion and exclusion criteria should be clearly defined. The details pertaining to sample size are discussed in the article “Sample size calculation: Basic priniciples” published in this issue of IJA.
The researcher is expected to give a detailed account of the methodology adopted for collection of data, which include the time frame required for the research. The methodology should be tested for its validity and ensure that, in pursuit of achieving the results, the participant's life is not jeopardised. The author should anticipate and acknowledge any potential barrier and pitfall in carrying out the research design and explain plans to address them, thereby avoiding lacunae due to incomplete data collection. If the researcher is planning to acquire data through interviews or questionnaires, copy of the questions used for the same should be attached as an annexure with the proposal.
Rigor (soundness of the research)
This addresses the strength of the research with respect to its neutrality, consistency and applicability. Rigor must be reflected throughout the proposal.
It refers to the robustness of a research method against bias. The author should convey the measures taken to avoid bias, viz. blinding and randomisation, in an elaborate way, thus ensuring that the result obtained from the adopted method is purely as chance and not influenced by other confounding variables.
Consistency considers whether the findings will be consistent if the inquiry was replicated with the same participants and in a similar context. This can be achieved by adopting standard and universally accepted methods and scales.
Applicability refers to the degree to which the findings can be applied to different contexts and groups.[ 13 ]
This section deals with the reduction and reconstruction of data and its analysis including sample size calculation. The researcher is expected to explain the steps adopted for coding and sorting the data obtained. Various tests to be used to analyse the data for its robustness, significance should be clearly stated. Author should also mention the names of statistician and suitable software which will be used in due course of data analysis and their contribution to data analysis and sample calculation.[ 9 ]
Medical research introduces special moral and ethical problems that are not usually encountered by other researchers during data collection, and hence, the researcher should take special care in ensuring that ethical standards are met. Ethical considerations refer to the protection of the participants' rights (right to self-determination, right to privacy, right to autonomy and confidentiality, right to fair treatment and right to protection from discomfort and harm), obtaining informed consent and the institutional review process (ethical approval). The researcher needs to provide adequate information on each of these aspects.
Informed consent needs to be obtained from the participants (details discussed in further chapters), as well as the research site and the relevant authorities.
When the researcher prepares a research budget, he/she should predict and cost all aspects of the research and then add an additional allowance for unpredictable disasters, delays and rising costs. All items in the budget should be justified.
Appendices are documents that support the proposal and application. The appendices will be specific for each proposal but documents that are usually required include informed consent form, supporting documents, questionnaires, measurement tools and patient information of the study in layman's language.
As with any scholarly research paper, you must cite the sources you used in composing your proposal. Although the words ‘references and bibliography’ are different, they are used interchangeably. It refers to all references cited in the research proposal.
Successful, qualitative research proposals should communicate the researcher's knowledge of the field and method and convey the emergent nature of the qualitative design. The proposal should follow a discernible logic from the introduction to presentation of the appendices.
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- How to Write a Research Proposal | Examples & Templates
How to Write a Research Proposal | Examples & Templates
Published on October 12, 2022 by Shona McCombes and Tegan George. Revised on November 21, 2023.
A research proposal describes what you will investigate, why it’s important, and how you will conduct your research.
The format of a research proposal varies between fields, but most proposals will contain at least these elements:
- Research design
While the sections may vary, the overall objective is always the same. A research proposal serves as a blueprint and guide for your research plan, helping you get organized and feel confident in the path forward you choose to take.
Table of contents
Research proposal purpose, research proposal examples, research design and methods, contribution to knowledge, research schedule, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about research proposals.
Academics often have to write research proposals to get funding for their projects. As a student, you might have to write a research proposal as part of a grad school application , or prior to starting your thesis or dissertation .
In addition to helping you figure out what your research can look like, a proposal can also serve to demonstrate why your project is worth pursuing to a funder, educational institution, or supervisor.
Research proposal length
The length of a research proposal can vary quite a bit. A bachelor’s or master’s thesis proposal can be just a few pages, while proposals for PhD dissertations or research funding are usually much longer and more detailed. Your supervisor can help you determine the best length for your work.
One trick to get started is to think of your proposal’s structure as a shorter version of your thesis or dissertation , only without the results , conclusion and discussion sections.
Download our research proposal template
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Writing a research proposal can be quite challenging, but a good starting point could be to look at some examples. We’ve included a few for you below.
- Example research proposal #1: “A Conceptual Framework for Scheduling Constraint Management”
- Example research proposal #2: “Medical Students as Mediators of Change in Tobacco Use”
Like your dissertation or thesis, the proposal will usually have a title page that includes:
- The proposed title of your project
- Your supervisor’s name
- Your institution and department
The first part of your proposal is the initial pitch for your project. Make sure it succinctly explains what you want to do and why.
Your introduction should:
- Introduce your topic
- Give necessary background and context
- Outline your problem statement and research questions
To guide your introduction , include information about:
- Who could have an interest in the topic (e.g., scientists, policymakers)
- How much is already known about the topic
- What is missing from this current knowledge
- What new insights your research will contribute
- Why you believe this research is worth doing
As you get started, it’s important to demonstrate that you’re familiar with the most important research on your topic. A strong literature review shows your reader that your project has a solid foundation in existing knowledge or theory. It also shows that you’re not simply repeating what other people have already done or said, but rather using existing research as a jumping-off point for your own.
In this section, share exactly how your project will contribute to ongoing conversations in the field by:
- Comparing and contrasting the main theories, methods, and debates
- Examining the strengths and weaknesses of different approaches
- Explaining how will you build on, challenge, or synthesize prior scholarship
Following the literature review, restate your main objectives . This brings the focus back to your own project. Next, your research design or methodology section will describe your overall approach, and the practical steps you will take to answer your research questions.
To finish your proposal on a strong note, explore the potential implications of your research for your field. Emphasize again what you aim to contribute and why it matters.
For example, your results might have implications for:
- Improving best practices
- Informing policymaking decisions
- Strengthening a theory or model
- Challenging popular or scientific beliefs
- Creating a basis for future research
Last but not least, your research proposal must include correct citations for every source you have used, compiled in a reference list . To create citations quickly and easily, you can use our free APA citation generator .
Some institutions or funders require a detailed timeline of the project, asking you to forecast what you will do at each stage and how long it may take. While not always required, be sure to check the requirements of your project.
Here’s an example schedule to help you get started. You can also download a template at the button below.
Download our research schedule template
If you are applying for research funding, chances are you will have to include a detailed budget. This shows your estimates of how much each part of your project will cost.
Make sure to check what type of costs the funding body will agree to cover. For each item, include:
- Cost : exactly how much money do you need?
- Justification : why is this cost necessary to complete the research?
- Source : how did you calculate the amount?
To determine your budget, think about:
- Travel costs : do you need to go somewhere to collect your data? How will you get there, and how much time will you need? What will you do there (e.g., interviews, archival research)?
- Materials : do you need access to any tools or technologies?
- Help : do you need to hire any research assistants for the project? What will they do, and how much will you pay them?
If you want to know more about the research process , methodology , research bias , or statistics , make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples.
- Sampling methods
- Simple random sampling
- Stratified sampling
- Cluster sampling
- Likert scales
- Null hypothesis
- Statistical power
- Probability distribution
- Effect size
- Poisson distribution
- Optimism bias
- Cognitive bias
- Implicit bias
- Hawthorne effect
- Anchoring bias
- Explicit bias
Once you’ve decided on your research objectives , you need to explain them in your paper, at the end of your problem statement .
Keep your research objectives clear and concise, and use appropriate verbs to accurately convey the work that you will carry out for each one.
I will compare …
A research aim is a broad statement indicating the general purpose of your research project. It should appear in your introduction at the end of your problem statement , before your research objectives.
Research objectives are more specific than your research aim. They indicate the specific ways you’ll address the overarching aim.
A PhD, which is short for philosophiae doctor (doctor of philosophy in Latin), is the highest university degree that can be obtained. In a PhD, students spend 3–5 years writing a dissertation , which aims to make a significant, original contribution to current knowledge.
A PhD is intended to prepare students for a career as a researcher, whether that be in academia, the public sector, or the private sector.
A master’s is a 1- or 2-year graduate degree that can prepare you for a variety of careers.
All master’s involve graduate-level coursework. Some are research-intensive and intend to prepare students for further study in a PhD; these usually require their students to write a master’s thesis . Others focus on professional training for a specific career.
Critical thinking refers to the ability to evaluate information and to be aware of biases or assumptions, including your own.
Like information literacy , it involves evaluating arguments, identifying and solving problems in an objective and systematic way, and clearly communicating your ideas.
The best way to remember the difference between a research plan and a research proposal is that they have fundamentally different audiences. A research plan helps you, the researcher, organize your thoughts. On the other hand, a dissertation proposal or research proposal aims to convince others (e.g., a supervisor, a funding body, or a dissertation committee) that your research topic is relevant and worthy of being conducted.
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How to Write a Research Proposal
Once you’re in college and really getting into academic writing , you may not recognize all the kinds of assignments you’re asked to complete. You know what an essay is, and you know how to respond to readings—but when you hear your professor mention a research proposal or a literature review, your mind might do a double take.
Don’t worry; we’ve got you. Boiled down to its core, a research proposal is simply a short piece of writing that details exactly what you’ll be covering in a larger research project. You’ll likely be required to write one for your thesis , and if you choose to continue in academia after earning your bachelor’s degree, you’ll be writing research proposals for your master’s thesis, your dissertation , and all other research you conduct. By then, you’ll be a research proposal pro. But for now, we’ll answer all your questions and help you confidently write your first one.
Here’s a tip: Want to make sure your writing shines? Grammarly can check your spelling and save you from grammar and punctuation mistakes. It even proofreads your text, so your work is extra polished wherever you write.
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What is the goal of a research proposal?
In a research proposal, the goal is to present the author’s plan for the research they intend to conduct. In some cases, part of this goal is to secure funding for said research. In others, it’s to have the research approved by the author’s supervisor or department so they can move forward with it. In some cases, a research proposal is a required part of a graduate school application. In every one of these circumstances, research proposals follow the same structure.
In a research proposal, the author demonstrates how and why their research is relevant to their field. They demonstrate that the work is necessary to the following:
- Filling a gap in the existing body of research on their subject
- Underscoring existing research on their subject, and/or
- Adding new, original knowledge to the academic community’s existing understanding of their subject
A research proposal also demonstrates that the author is capable of conducting this research and contributing to the current state of their field in a meaningful way. To do this, your research proposal needs to discuss your academic background and credentials as well as demonstrate that your proposed ideas have academic merit.
But demonstrating your research’s validity and your personal capability to carry it out isn’t enough to get your research proposal approved. Your research proposal also has to cover these things:
- The research methodology you plan to use
- The tools and procedures you will use to collect, analyze, and interpret the data you collect
- An explanation of how your research fits the budget and other constraints that come with conducting it through your institution, department, or academic program
If you’ve already read our post on literature reviews , you may be thinking that a research proposal sounds pretty similar. They’re more than just similar, though—a literature review is part of a research proposal. It’s the section that covers which sources you’re using, how you’re using them, and why they’re relevant. Think of a literature review as a mini-research proposal that fits into your larger, main proposal.
How long should a research proposal be?
Generally, research proposals for bachelor’s and master’s theses are a few pages long. Research proposals for meatier projects, like Ph.D. dissertations and funding requests, are often longer and far more detailed. A research proposal’s goal is to clearly outline exactly what your research will entail and accomplish, so including the proposal’s word count or page count isn’t nearly as important as it is to ensure that all the necessary elements and content are present.
Research proposal structure
A research proposal follows a fairly straightforward structure. In order to achieve the goals described in the previous section, nearly all research proposals include the following sections:
Your introduction achieves a few goals:
- Introduces your topic
- States your problem statement and the questions your research aims to answer
- Provides context for your research
In a research proposal, an introduction can be a few paragraphs long. It should be concise, but don’t feel like you need to cram all of your information into one paragraph.
In some cases, you need to include an abstract and/or a table of contents in your research proposal. These are included just before the introduction.
This is where you explain why your research is necessary and how it relates to established research in your field. Your work might complement existing research, strengthen it, or even challenge it—no matter how your work will “play with” other researchers’ work, you need to express it in detail in your research proposal.
This is also the section where you clearly define the existing problems your research will address. By doing this, you’re explaining why your work is necessary—in other words, this is where you answer the reader’s “so what?”
In your background significance section, you’ll also outline how you’ll conduct your research. If necessary, note which related questions and issues you won’t be covering in your research.
In your literature review , you introduce all the sources you plan to use in your research. This includes landmark studies and their data, books, and scholarly articles. A literature review isn’t merely a list of sources (that’s what your bibliography is for); a literature review delves into the collection of sources you chose and explains how you’re using them in your research.
Research design, methods, and schedule
Following your research review, you’ll discuss your research plans. In this section, make sure you cover these aspects:
- The type of research you will do. Are you conducting qualitative or quantitative research? Are you collecting original data or working with data collected by other researchers?
- Whether you’re doing experimental, correlational, or descriptive research
- The data you’re working with. For example, if you’re conducting research in the social sciences, you’ll need to describe the population you’re studying. You’ll also need to cover how you’ll select your subjects and how you’ll collect data from them.
- The tools you’ll use to collect data. Will you be running experiments? Conducting surveys? Observing phenomena? Note all data collection methods here along with why they’re effective methods for your specific research.
Beyond a comprehensive look at your research itself, you’ll also need to include:
- Your research timeline
- Your research budget
- Any potential obstacles you foresee and your plan for handling them
Suppositions and implications
Although you can’t know your research’s results until you’ve actually done the work, you should be going into the project with a clear idea of how your work will contribute to your field. This section is perhaps the most critical to your research proposal’s argument because it expresses exactly why your research is necessary.
In this section, make sure you cover the following:
- Any ways your work can challenge existing theories and assumptions in your field
- How your work will create the foundation for future research
- The practical value your findings will provide to practitioners, educators, and other academics in your field
- The problems your work can potentially help to fix
- Policies that could be impacted by your findings
- How your findings can be implemented in academia or other settings and how this will improve or otherwise transform these settings
In other words, this section isn’t about stating the specific results you expect. Rather, it’s where you state how your findings will be valuable.
This is where you wrap it all up. Your conclusion section, just like your conclusion paragraph for an essay , briefly summarizes your research proposal and reinforces your research’s stated purpose.
Yes, you need to write a bibliography in addition to your literature review. Unlike your literature review, where you explained the relevance of the sources you chose and in some cases, challenged them, your bibliography simply lists your sources and their authors.
The way you write a citation depends on the style guide you’re using. The three most common style guides for academics are MLA , APA , and Chicago , and each has its own particular rules and requirements. Keep in mind that each formatting style has specific guidelines for citing just about any kind of source, including photos , websites , speeches , and YouTube videos .
Sometimes, a full bibliography is not needed. When this is the case, you can include a references list, which is simply a scaled-down list of all the sources you cited in your work. If you’re not sure which to write, ask your supervisor.
Here’s a tip: Grammarly’s Citation Generator ensures your essays have flawless citations and no plagiarism. Try it for citing journal articles in MLA , APA , and Chicago styles.
How to write a research proposal
Research proposals, like all other kinds of academic writing, are written in a formal, objective tone. Keep in mind that being concise is a key component of academic writing; formal does not mean flowery.
Adhere to the structure outlined above. Your reader knows how a research proposal is supposed to read and expects it to fit this template. It’s crucial that you present your research proposal in a clear, logical way. Every question the reader has while reading your proposal should be answered by the final section.
Editing and proofreading a research proposal
When you’re writing a research proposal, follow the same six-step writing process you follow with every other kind of writing you do.
After you’ve got a first draft written, take some time to let it “cool off” before you start proofreading . By doing this, you’re making it easier for yourself to catch mistakes and gaps in your writing.
Common mistakes to avoid when writing a research proposal
When you’re writing a research proposal, avoid these common pitfalls:
Being too wordy
As we said earlier, formal does not mean flowery. In fact, you should aim to keep your writing as brief and to-the-point as possible. The more economically you can express your purpose and goal, the better.
Failing to cite relevant sources
When you’re conducting research, you’re adding to the existing body of knowledge on the subject you’re covering. Your research proposal should reference one or more of the landmark research pieces in your field and connect your work to these works in some way. This doesn’t just communicate your work’s relevance—it also demonstrates your familiarity with the field.
Focusing too much on minor issues
There are probably a lot of great reasons why your research is necessary. These reasons don’t all need to be in your research proposal. In fact, including too many questions and issues in your research proposal can detract from your central purpose, weakening the proposal. Save the minor issues for your research paper itself and cover only the major, key issues you aim to tackle in your proposal.
Failing to make a strong argument for your research
This is perhaps the easiest way to undermine your proposal because it’s far more subjective than the others. A research proposal is, in essence, a piece of persuasive writing . That means that although you’re presenting your proposal in an objective, academic way, the goal is to get the reader to say “yes” to your work.
This is true in every case, whether your reader is your supervisor, your department head, a graduate school admissions board, a private or government-backed funding provider, or the editor at a journal in which you’d like to publish your work.
Polish your writing into a stellar proposal
When you’re asking for approval to conduct research—especially when there’s funding involved—you need to be nothing less than 100 percent confident in your proposal. If your research proposal has spelling or grammatical mistakes, an inconsistent or inappropriate tone, or even just awkward phrasing, those will undermine your credibility.
Make sure your research proposal shines by using Grammarly to catch all of those issues. Even if you think you caught all of them while you were editing, it’s critical to double-check your work. Your research deserves the best proposal possible, and Grammarly can help you make that happen.
- Academic Skills
- Research techniques
Writing a research proposal
A guide to writing an effective proposal that effectively outlines the research you will undertake at a higher level of study.
What's it for?
A research proposal explains the nature and extent of your planned or future research. It is written for an academic reader e.g. for your supervisor or an academic with a similar disciplinary background. By thinking through your entire research project from beginning to end, it may also highlight core issues with the feasibility of the project.
W hat's in it ?
There are some disciplinary differences regarding exactly what is included in the proposal. For example, disciplines such as Psychology may include a prominent hypothesis statement, others in the Social Sciences including Education, may expect a set of research questions that the study will answer. However, all research proposals should cover the four basic elements below.
- The research topic addresses a significant problem and, therefore, advances the state of knowledge in that field.
- Identification of an appropriate methodology and underlying theory to address the problem, including data collection methods and equipment (if required).
- Details of how the collected data will be analysed in such a way that useful conclusions can be drawn.
- An organised plan for any proposed work, including a timeframe.
The structure of your research proposal will vary depending on the requirements of your discipline. Nevertheless, certain structural elements will be expected by your reader and these may be presented in the following order. Check with the Research Coordinator in your area for specific requirements.
Identifies the title of the project, your full name, the institution, department, and supervisor details. The title should be brief and descriptive and may use a colon (:) to separate the topic from the focus (i.e. Stormwater Harvesting: Managing the hazards of surface water pollution by run-off ).
Lists the sections of the Research Proposal (headings and indented sub-headings) and corresponding page numbers.
Outlines the essence of the research project. It describes the purpose and motivation for the study, the problem, the data collection methodology and analysis, significant results and implications of the research.
Provides background information for the research (i.e. the problem being addressed) and is typically structured from general information to narrow or focused ideas with your research question/s or hypotheses at the narrow end.
The Introduction should be about 10% of your proposal.
Imagine you are writing for a general reader rather than an expert audience. The Introduction includes a brief review of relevant literature or knowledge in the field, so that you are able to present a gap in existing knowledge and, therefore, the significance and originality of your research.
Finally, articulate the scope of your research (or what you will not be doing) to limit your task. Your research question/s should encapsulate the primary question/s you aim to solve.
Synthesises the literature in your field. Some disciplines will expect to see this in the Introduction but others will want it placed in this ‘stand-alone’ section (especially in more Humanities-based fields). Again, it could be structured from broad to narrow, so literature on the more general aspects of your topic could come first, narrowing down to published work on your particular area of interest. You might end this section by including a short summary of the main themes you have identified from the literature.
Includes a description and rationale for the methods of data collection and analysis, and the materials you will use in your research. Use subheadings if possible ( i.e. Data Collection, Data Analysis, Ethical Considerations etc.) and write with a future aspect, ( i.e. The research will initially examine water treatment processes in... )
Details any results that you may already have resulting from previous Honours or Masters’ research work, or perhaps from a pilot study. It is important to relate these results to the critical framework of your intended new research project.
Lists the stages of the research project in timeline, spreadsheet or tabular format, and the deadlines for completion of these stages or tasks. You should include any anticipated challenges to completion.
Outlines the proposed chapters of the thesis and the content of each chapter in several lines or a paragraph, including a Table of Contents.
Relates the expected outcomes of your research to the aims expressed in the Introduction so that the need for the study and the contribution to knowledge is clear.
Provides all the resources cited in your resource proposal using a referencing format favoured by your faculty or discipline. Do not list resources that are not directly referred to in your Proposal.
Writing the Research Proposal
How much should i write.
A research proposal is usually quite a bit longer than other written academic genres. In the Humanities, it could be around 10,000 words or even longer (excluding the Reference List); whereas those from more Science-oriented disciplines may be shorter.
What should I begin with?
Similar to other academic genres, writing the research proposal is a process. If you are proposing a ‘recycled’ topic that builds on previous assignments already written on the same topic, you might spend some time re-reading these. However, if you are starting a ‘fresh’ project you might consider two key questions:
- What am I really interested in finding out about my research topic?
- How am I going to do this in practice? Brainstorm responses to these questions under a strict time limit – say 30 minutes.
Then leave this ‘free-writing’ for at least 24 hours before reviewing it for a possible more polished second draft.
How should I approach the literature?
Reviewing the academic literature on your topic is one of the most critical stages of your research proposal. This section goes beyond a simple summary of everything written on a subject. Instead, it is a critical synthesis of materials that illuminates selected academic literature on your topic. Your coverage of the literature should reflect the argument or perspective that you have set out in your research question/s.
Try the following techniques for dealing with the literature:
- Develop a theme or series of themes from your broad reading, referencing the work of relevant authors who support your position or who provide counter-arguments against your point/s.
- Limit excessive quoting. Too many direct quotations will dilute your authority over the topic.
- Avoid beginning paragraphs with “Jones argues …”; “Smith states …” This approach risks losing a sense of your writer’s authority to the work of others. Instead, provide an overview of the paragraph in a topic sentence written in your own writer’s voice.
Adapted from Rudestam and Newton (2015) as cited in Paltridge and Starfield (2020). Thesis and dissertation writing in a second language: A handbook for students and their advisers. Routledge.
Tips for writing
- Avoid language that is overly hesitant or tentative (i.e. ‘It seems that…’, ‘It is hoped that …’). Instead, use confident language when you feel able to (i.e. ‘It is clear that…’, ‘I assert that …’).
- Break up large blocks of text into smaller sections using sub-headings and bullet-points.
- Anticipate possible problems with, or limitations of, your research. Address these issues directly for your own benefit as well as to improve the entire proposal.
- Make your proposal is easy for readers to skim read. Never assume your readers will read your work in a ‘logical’ order. Use sub-headings and restate key ideas to guide the reader through your writing.
- Find copies of other Research Proposals in your field and study the way they:
- devise titles.
- structure their proposal.
- use discipline-specific language.
- Take a note of anything else you notice. You might ask your potential supervisor/s for models of previously submitted proposals or search for relevant examples online (look for examples from reputable .edu or .org. web addresses)
Remember, your research proposal should demonstrate:
- the feasibility and logical foundations of your project
- a well-focussed research question, set of research objectives, or hypothesis
- the width and depth of the academic literature on your topic
- understanding of current issues or debates on your topic
- justification of your project through the literature
- a match between the methodology and / or methods and your research question/s
Adapted from Cadman (2002) as cited in Paltridge, B. and Starfield, S. (2020). Thesis and dissertation writing in a second language: A handbook for students and their advisers. Routledge.
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How to write a research proposal
Advice and guidance on writing a proposal for a student research project.
Purpose of a Research Proposal
A research proposal should describe what you will investigate, why it is important to the discipline and how you will conduct your research.
Simply put, it is your plan for the research you intend to conduct. All research proposals are designed to persuade someone about how and why your intended project is worthwhile.
In your proposal you will need to explain and defend your choices. Always think about the exact reasons why you are making specific choices and why they are the best options available to you and your project.
Your research proposal aims should be centred on:
- Relevance - You want to convince the reader how and why your research is relevant and significant to your field and how it is original. This is typically done in parts of the introduction and the literature review.
- Context - You should demonstrate that you are familiar with the field, you understand the current state of research on the topic and your ideas have a strong academic basis (i.e., not simply based on your instincts or personal views). This will be the focus of your introduction and literature review.
- Approach - You need to make a case for your methodology, showing that you have carefully thought about the data, tools and procedures you will need to conduct the research. You need to explicitly defend all of your choices. This will be presented in the research design section.
- Feasibility - You need to demonstrate clearly that your project is both reasonable and feasible within the practical constraints of the course, timescales, institution or funding. You need to make sure you have the time and access to resources to complete the project in a reasonable period.
Our Research Writing workshop will look at some of the main writing challenges associated with writing a large-scale research project and look at strategies to manage your writing on a day-to-day basis. It will identify ways to plan, organise and map out the structure of your writing to allow you to develop an effective writing schedule and make continuous progress on your dissertation project.
The format of a research proposal varies between fields and levels of study but most proposals should contain at least these elements: introduction, literature review, research design and reference list.
Generally, research proposals can range from 500-1500 words or one to a few pages long. Typically, proposals for larger projects such as a PhD dissertation or funding requests, are longer and much more detailed.
Remember, the goal of your research proposal is to outline clearly and concisely exactly what your research will entail and accomplish, how it will do so and why it is important. If you are writing to a strictly enforced word count, a research proposal can be a great test of your ability to express yourself concisely!
The first part of your proposal is the initial pitch for your project, so make sure it succinctly explains what you want to do and why. In other words, this is where you answer the reader’s “so what?” It should typically include: introducing the topic , outlining your problem statement and research question(s) and giving background and context. Some important questions to shape your introduction include:
- Who has an interest in the topic (e.g. scientists, practitioners, policymakers, particular members of society)?
- How much is already known about the problem and why is it important?
- What is missing from current knowledge and why?
- What new insights will your research contribute?
- Why is this research worth doing?
If your proposal is very long, you might include separate sections with more detailed information on the background and context, problem statement, aims and objectives, and importance of the research.
It’s important to show that you’re familiar with the most important research on your topic. A strong literature review convinces the reader that your project has a solid foundation in existing knowledge or theory (i.e. how it relates to established research in the field).
Your literature review will also show that you’re not simply repeating what other people have already done or said. This is also where you explain why your research is necessary. You might want to consider some of the following prompts:
- Comparing and contrasting: what are the main theories, methods, debates and controversies?
- Being critical: what are the strengths and weaknesses of different approaches?
- Showing how your research fits in: how will you build on, challenge or synthesise the work of others?
- Filling a gap in the existing body of research: why is your idea innovative?
Research design and methods
Following the literature review, it is a good idea to restate your main objectives, bringing the focus back to your own project. The research design/ methodology section should describe the overall approach and practical steps you will take to answer your research questions. You also need to demonstrate the feasibility of the project keeping in mind time and other constraints.
You should definitely include:
- Qualitative vs quantitative research? Combination?
- Will you collect original data or work with primary/secondary sources?
- Is your research design descriptive, correlational or experimental? Something completely different?
- If you are undertaking your own study, when and where will you collect the data? How will you select subjects or sources? Ethics review? Exactly what or who will you study?
- What tools and procedures will you use (e.g. systematic reviews, surveys, interviews, observation, experiments, bibliographic data) to collect your data?
- What tools/methods will you use to analyse your data?
- Why are these the best methods to answer your research question(s)? This is where you should justify your choices.
- How much time will you need to collect the data?
- How will you gain access to participants and sources?
- Do you foresee any potential obstacles and if so, how will you address them?
Make sure you are not simply compiling a list of methods. Instead, aim to make an argument for why this is the most appropriate, valid and reliable way to approach answering your question. Remember you should always be defending your choices!
Implications and Contributions to Knowledge
To ensure you finish your proposal on a strong note, it is a good idea to explore and/or emphasise the potential implications of the research. This means: what do you intend to contribute to existing knowledge on the topic?
Although you cannot know the results of your research until you have actually done the work, you should be going into the project with a clear idea of how your work will contribute to your field. This section might even be considered the most critical to your research proposal’s argument because it expresses exactly why your research is necessary.
You should consider covering at least some of the following topics:
- Ways in which your work can challenge existing theories and assumptions in your field.
- How your work will create the foundation for future research and theory.
- The practical value your findings will provide to practitioners, educators and other academics in your field.
- The problems or issues your work can potentially help to resolve.
- Policies that could be impacted by your findings.
- How your findings can be implemented in academia or other settings and how this will improve or otherwise transform these settings.
This part is not about stating the specific results that you expect to obtain but rather, this is the section where you explicitly state how your findings will be valuable.
This section is where you want to wrap it all up in a nice pretty bow. It is just like the concluding paragraph that you would structure and craft for a typical essay. You should briefly summarise your research proposal and reinforce your research purpose.
Reference List or Bibliography
Your research proposal MUST include proper citations for every source you have used and full references. Please consult your departmental referencing styles to ensure you are citing and referencing in an appropriate way.
Common mistakes to avoid
Try and avoid these common pitfalls when you are writing your research proposal:
- Being too wordy: Remember formal does not mean flowery or pretentious. In fact, you should really aim to keep your writing as concise and accessible as possible. The more economically you can express your goals and ideas, the better.
- Failing to cite relevant information/sources: You are adding to the existing body of knowledge on the subject you are covering. Therefore, your research proposal should reference the main research pieces in your field (while referencing them correctly!) and connect your proposal to these works in some way. This does not mean just communicating the relevance of your work, it should explicitly demonstrate your familiarity with the field.
- Focusing too much on minor issues: Your research is most likely important for so many great reasons. However, they do not all need to be listed in your research proposal. Generally, including too many questions and issues in your research proposal can serve as a red flag and detract from your main purpose(s). This will in turn weaken your proposal. Only involve the main/key issues you plan to address.
- Failing to make a strong argument for your research: This is the simplest way to undermine your proposal. Your proposal is a piece of persuasive and critical writing . This means that, although you are presenting your proposal in an academic and hopefully objective manner, the goal is to get the reader to say ‘yes’ to your work.
- Not polishing your writing : If your proposal has spelling or grammatical errors, an inconsistent or inappropriate tone or even just awkward phrasing it can undermine your credibility. Check out some of these resources to help guide you in the right direction: Manchester Academic Phrasebank , Proofreading Guide , Essay Checklist and Grammar Guide . Remember to double and triple check your work.
Links and Resources
You might also need to include a schedule and/or a budget depending on your requirements. Some tools to help include:
- Manchester University Academic Phrasebank
- Leeds Beckett Assignment Calculator
Writing a literature review
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How to Write a Research Proposal: Template, Format, Tips
Learn how to write a research proposal that makes you stand out from the crowd, get the funding you need, and gain entry into your dream academic institution.
14 minute read
You’ve put a lot of thought into that research project. You know it’s importan. The problem? Nobody else does. And no one is willing to fund it. Yet.
Research proposals are nerve-racking, notoriously difficult to write, and for good reason - they have a major impact on your academic career.
The best institutions and labs have thousands of talented researchers fighting to get in. And their most powerful weapon to get ahead of the pack is their research proposal.
So, how do you write a proposal that helps you outperform other applicants?
This guide will help you write stress-free research proposals that land the funding you deserve and launch your academic career .
What is a research proposal?
A research proposal is a formal academic document that outlines your research project and requests support for that project: either by funding or agreeing to supervise your research.
The main objective of a research proposal is to explain what you’re planning to research and why it’s worth researching. Research proposals are most commonly used in academia or across non-academic scientific organizations. Of course, no two research proposals are identical—in fact, those can vary greatly depending on the level of study you’re at, your field, or the exact nature of your project.
Still, there are some general requirements that all great proposals have to meet and must-have sections to include. This article will focus particularly on writing research proposals for academic grants at postgraduate level or PhD applications. However, even if you’re writing a thesis or a dissertation proposal, most of the same rules apply—it’s just that your proposal might not have to be as detailed and comprehensive. Speaking of which...
How long should a research proposal be?
Most research proposals in humanities and social sciences are between 10 and 25 pages long. Technical or scientific proposals might require you to include detailed specifications and more supporting documentation and can therefore be significantly longer. That said, each institution might have its own guidelines and requirements for research proposals and those often include the word count range. If that’s the case, you obviously have to play by the rules.
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Alright, we covered the theoretical part. Time for some practical knowledge!
Here’s how to write a research proposal:
1. write an introduction to present the subject of your research.
“Wow, I can’t wait to see the outcome of this study!” This is the kind of response you want your research proposal introduction to receive. How to make that happen? Outline your research proposal intro around these four key issues:
- What is the research problem?
- Who is this problem relevant to (general society, fellow researchers, specialized professionals, etc.)?
- What is currently known about the problem and what key pieces are missing from the current state of knowledge?
- Why should anyone care about the potential outcomes?
The easiest way to write a captivating intro to a research proposal is to follow a four-paragraph format, where each paragraph addresses one of these questions. Let’s see a practical example. (Yes, I made it up, but it works as a convenient point of reference.)
Sample outline for a research proposal introduction
The problem Investigating the impact of remote work on new joiners to previously in-house teams. Who it’s relevant to Human resources professionals, workspace psychologists, working population, business management specialists and scholars. What’s currently known There is existing research about the impact of remote work on team morale and productivity, but no research has been centered around people joining fully-remote teams that had previously worked in-house and the implications of such a situation for new employees' mental health and sense of belonging. Why should anyone care? In the era of COVID, many offices have switched to remote-only work yet they’re still hiring new employees. The findings of this study might suggest a need to change onboarding practices and HR management techniques in order to aid employee satisfaction which, in turn, can help improve work performance, NPS scores and overall business results.
2. Explain the Context and Background
Whether or not you’ll need this section depends on how detailed your proposal is. If a research problem at hand is particularly complicated or advanced, it’s usually best to add this section. It will usually be entitled “Background and Significance,” or “Rationale.” For shorter proposals, most of the actual background will have been already included in the introduction. How to write the “Background” section of a research proposal?
- Describe the broader area of research that your project fits into.
- Focus on the gaps in existing studies and explain the need to fill these gaps. That said…
- Show how your research will build upon existing knowledge.
- Explain your hypothesis and the rationale behind it.
- Establish the limits of your study (in other words, explain what the research is not about).
- Finally, reiterate why your research is important and what benefits it can reap. In other words, provide the answer to the dreaded “So what?” question.
If your research project is complex and highly technical, describing the background in a separate section is particularly helpful: this way, you can make your introduction follow a free-flowing, “sexy” narrative, and let the “Background” part do the heavy lifting. That said— Don’t make this part too detailed either. Assume you’re dealing with a very busy reader who won’t have the time to get into your methodology and timeline but still wants some hard evidence behind the relevance of your project.
3. Provide a Detailed Literature Review
Arguably, the most important (and, yes, you guessed it, the most difficult) part of the whole document— One where you have to prove that you know *all* there is to know about the topic of interest and that your research will help advance the whole field of study. The Literature Review section is, in essence, a mini-dissertation. It has to follow a logical progression and put forward the argument for your study in relation to existing research: describe and summarize what has already been discussed and demonstrate that your research goes beyond that. In the digital era of easy access to information , it might be difficult to discuss all of the existing research on your subject in the Literature Review so be critical about what studies or papers you choose to include.
But there’s a handy set of rules to help you pick the right ones—the gold standard for academic Literature Review. It’s called “ the five Cs ” and refers to the following practices:
- Cite directly from the sources to avoid digressions and drifting away from the actual literature.
- Compare different theories or arguments (in arts and humanities), methodologies and findings (in sciences and tech).
- Contrast the approaches discussed above: highlight the main differences and areas of disagreement among scholars in the field.
- Critique the research of the past. Don’t shy away from pointing out inaccuracies, mutually exclusive findings, or controversies. At the same time, give credit where it’s due. Identify the findings you find most convincing, reliable, or accurate.
- Connect the whole of the literature reviewed to your own project. Are you basing your assumptions on any previous findings? Is your goal to confront, challenge, or even debunk certain pieces of research? Either way, you need to prove that your study will be intertwined with existing ones, not floating in an academic void.
How to structure your Literature Review?
- The easiest and most reader-friendly way to format the Literature Review section is to devote each paragraph to a separate piece of literature.
- For scientific projects, it’s best to go from the more general to the more specific studies.
- For projects in arts and humanities, a historical (or chronological) progression is the most commonly-used method as it helps develop an easy-to-follow narrative.
The hard part? DONE. (No, it really is). All of what comes next boils down to technicalities and formal requirements. If they’re sold on your vision by now, you just need to show how you’re planning to achieve what you set out to do.
4. List Your Key Aims and Objectives
This section can be called “Research Questions,” or just “Aims and Objectives.” Compared to the previous ones, it should be very succinct and to-the-point. Whether you need to write about your aims and objectives or formulate those as research questions usually depends on the formal requirements of the institution to which you’re applying. The key aspect of getting this part right is distinguishing between the three: an aim, an objective, and a research question. Here’s how:
- Aims describe what you want to achieve. An aim is usually stated in a broad term.
- Objectives are the specific, measurable outputs you need to produce in order to achieve your aim. There are usually multiple objectives associated with a single aim.
- Questions are a slightly more specific way to formulate your objectives—in essence, very similar in meaning, just slightly different in format.
Again, here’s a practical example. And again, it’s simplified and not based on actual research, just here to let you better understand the disambiguation.
Sample research aims and objectives for a research proposal
To understand the importance of the quality of food in school canteens on the nutritional health of children aged 6–10. Objectives:
- Investigate the weekly menus across 28 school canteens in New Jersey with a focus on key nutritional ingredients and portion sizes.
- Conduct desk-research of state policies regulating nutrition in primary schools.
- Interview the parents of children participating in the study about their children’s nutritional habits outside of school.
- Evaluate the key health-related metrics in children participating in the study.
As I mentioned, if such are the formal requirements, your objectives can easily be translated into research questions. For instance: “Conduct desk-research of state policies regulating nutrition in primary schools.” Becomes: “What state-wide policies regulating nutrition in primary schools are there in place in the state of New Jersey?”
Remember the five Cs of literature review? When it comes to your research objectives and questions, there’s another handy acronym to serve as a sanity check for you: SMART . It stands for:
- Specific: is the objective well-defined and can be achieved with a singular action?
- Measurable: will you end up with quantified, verifiable data?
- Achievable: considering your resources and capacity, is it realistic for you to reach your objective?
- Relevant: does this objective actually contribute to your research aim?
- Timebound: do you have enough time to complete this objective, in relation to the overall timeline of your project?
5. Outline the Research Methods and Design
The grant decision makers already know what you’re trying to achieve and have a general idea about how you’re planning to achieve that. This section should prove to them that you’re well equipped (both in terms of your skills and resources) to conduct the research. The main goal is to convince the reader that your methods are adequate and appropriate for the specific topic. Any idea why “specific” is in bold? Well, this is one of those parts of a research proposal that differs the most across different documents. There’s an ideal methodology for any particular academic project and no two kinds of research design are the same. Make sure your methodology matches all of your desired outcomes.
Some usual components of the Research Methods section include:
- Qualitative or quantitative ,
- Collecting original data or basing your research on primary and secondary sources,
- Descriptive, correlational, or experimental.
Population and sample:
- The whole population of individuals or entities that meet eligibility criteria to be included in your research,
- The subset of the population that is going to be included in the particular study.
- What methods ( surveys , clinical analysis, biochemical analysis, interviews, experiments) will you use?
- Why are those methods optimal for achieving the desired objectives?
- How can you ensure that the chosen method eliminates bias?
- How will you sort and code the data obtained?
- What tools, algorithms, or techniques will you use to analyze the data?
- How much time will you need to collect the research material?
- How are you planning to gain access to the desired set of data or information?
- What obstacles might you encounter and how will you overcome them?
Now, I can’t stress that enough— This part of a research proposal will vary the most from one proposal to another. The outline above will work good for sciences (both social and exact), perhaps not equally great for arts and humanities. At the end of the day, you know your project better than anyone else. You’ll need to make the judgement call as to what methods are best.
6. (Optional) Discuss Ethical Considerations
No, this part isn’t optional because you might just disregard ethics or choose to be the evil scientist. But let’s face it— There aren’t going to be many ethical issues to consider if you’re investigating the vector shapes of tree leaves’ shadows (I kid you not, it’s a legit research issue, my friend did his PhD in Physics about it and absolutely killed it). But if your research has to do with humans, especially in fields such as medicine or psychology, it might introduce ethical problems in data collection , not often encountered by other researchers. You need to take extra care to protect your participants’ rights, get their explicit consent to process the data, as well as consult the research project with the authorities of your academic institution—for that purpose, your proposal needs to contain detailed information regarding these aspects.
7. Present Preliminary or Desired Implications and Contribution to Knowledge
This is the last argument-based part of your proposal. After that, everything will be about “boring” technicalities. This also means, it’s your last chance to convince the decision makers to back your project. Think about it this way— You already explained what exactly is going to be the scope of your project. You detailed the current state of knowledge and identified the most important gaps. You told them what you’re hoping to find out and how you’re planning to do it. Now, talk about the actual, feasible difference your finding can make. How your research can influence the future of the field, or even the very narrow niche. In other words, describe the implications of your research such as:
- How can your research challenge the current underlying assumptions on the subject matter?
- How can it inform future research and what new areas of research can it propel?
- What will the influence of your research be on policy decisions?
- What sorts of individuals, organizations, or other entities can your research benefit?
- What will be improved and optimized on the basis of your research?
All that while keeping one crucial thing in mind— Talking about the practical implications of your study shouldn’t sound like daydreaming. However “preliminary” or “desired” the said implications are, you need to base those on very clear evidence. In short, this section is about:
- Reiterating the gaps in the current state of knowledge.
- Showing how you’ll contribute to a new understanding of certain problems or even a scientific breakthrough.
- Clearly showing how your findings can be acted upon and what feasible change those actions will bring about.
And yes, it does sound lofty, but it’s true. As a researcher, you’re expanding the scope of human comprehension! Don’t shy away from highlighting the actual change you can bring to the world (or even just your narrow field, it’s just as valuable).
8. Detail Your Budget and Funding Requirements
If you do have a supervisor already, it’s best to consult this part with them. They’ve most likely submitted similar documents to the institution you’re reaching out to and will be able to provide invaluable insights on how much you can realistically expect to get paid. If you’re at a different stage of the application process, here are the key elements you should include in the funding requirements section:
- Operational costs: materials, equipment, access to labs, any software you might need, etc.
- Travel costs: including transportation, accommodation, and living costs.
- Staff: if you’ll need human assistants to help you carry out your research, you’ll most likely need to pay them. It might be the case that junior researchers or students will be able to help you to obtain necessary credits for graduation, but it’s still a cost for their institution you’ll need to include in the budget.
- Allowance: you’ll most likely have to give up on other duties that help you pay bills (be that teaching, publishing, or administrative work) but you still need those bills paid. Treat your allowance as a regular salary you need to make a living.
Note: if possible, do leave yourself some wiggle room and request for conditional extra allowance for unpredictable disasters, delays, or unexpected cost rises.
9. Provide a Timetable
Certain grant schemes come with predefined timetables (e.g. placements offered for 3, 6, or 9 months) and in such cases there’s no need for a very detailed timeline—all you need to do is convince them that the period of time for which you’ll be receiving funding is sufficient for you to complete the project. When you’re writing a proposal for a standalone project, detailing a timeline can help support your budget. The most common format is, you guessed it, a table. Divide your research into stages, list, in bullet points, what actions you’ll need to take at each stage, and list rough deadlines. I know I don’t have to tell you that but please, keep Murphy's Law in mind. Perhaps not everything that can go wrong will, but, well, expect the unexpected and be conservative with deadlines. All in all, it's easier to explain why you no longer need 3 months worth of funding than it is to ask for 6 months’ extra allowance. Don’t let delays derail your project. That’s all I have to say.
10. End with a List of Citations
This one really is self-explanatory, isn’t it. As a scholar, you need to cite the sources you’re referring to (no matter how harshly critical you are of some of those:)). Citations in research proposals can either be included in the form of references (so only the pieces of literature you actually cited) or bibliography (everything that informed your proposal). As is the case with many other elements of the proposal, the correct format depends almost exclusively on the institution you’re applying to, so make sure to check it with them or consult with your supervisor about which one is preferred. The same goes for the style of referencing. Most US universities use APA or Chicago style but each has its own set of rules and preferences. Double-check with the list of guidelines on their website. When in doubt, reach out to the head of the department you’re wishing to work with. (No, using the wrong style won’t ruin your chances but I don’t think I need to tell you how particular certain academics are so let’s not step on any toes, shall we?)
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And that’s a wrap!
To sum up, this is what a typical research proposal should include:
- Context and Background
- Literature Review
- Aims and Objectives or Research Questions
- Methods and Design
- Ethical Considerations
- Contributions to Knowledge or Implications
Writing a research proposal can be hard and feel like a never-ending process. It really isn’t much different from writing an actual thesis or dissertation. Yup, this is my roundabout way of saying: don’t get disheartened. Allow yourself a few months up to half a year to complete your proposal, follow the steps outlined in this guide and, whenever in doubt, remember to reach out to senior researchers for help. Keeping my fingers crossed for your proposal!
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