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What (Exactly) Is A Research Proposal?

A simple explainer with examples + free template.

By: Derek Jansen (MBA) | Reviewed By: Dr Eunice Rautenbach | June 2020 (Updated April 2023)

Whether you’re nearing the end of your degree and your dissertation is on the horizon, or you’re planning to apply for a PhD program, chances are you’ll need to craft a convincing research proposal . If you’re on this page, you’re probably unsure exactly what the research proposal is all about. Well, you’ve come to the right place.

Overview: Research Proposal Basics

  • What a research proposal is
  • What a research proposal needs to cover
  • How to structure your research proposal
  • Example /sample proposals
  • Proposal writing FAQs
  • Key takeaways & additional resources

What is a research proposal?

Simply put, a research proposal is a structured, formal document that explains what you plan to research (your research topic), why it’s worth researching (your justification), and how  you plan to investigate it (your methodology). 

The purpose of the research proposal (its job, so to speak) is to convince  your research supervisor, committee or university that your research is  suitable  (for the requirements of the degree program) and  manageable  (given the time and resource constraints you will face). 

The most important word here is “ convince ” – in other words, your research proposal needs to  sell  your research idea (to whoever is going to approve it). If it doesn’t convince them (of its suitability and manageability), you’ll need to revise and resubmit . This will cost you valuable time, which will either delay the start of your research or eat into its time allowance (which is bad news). 

A research proposal is a  formal document that explains what you plan to research , why it's worth researching and how you'll do it.

What goes into a research proposal?

A good dissertation or thesis proposal needs to cover the “ what “, “ why ” and” how ” of the proposed study. Let’s look at each of these attributes in a little more detail:

Your proposal needs to clearly articulate your research topic . This needs to be specific and unambiguous . Your research topic should make it clear exactly what you plan to research and in what context. Here’s an example of a well-articulated research topic:

An investigation into the factors which impact female Generation Y consumer’s likelihood to promote a specific makeup brand to their peers: a British context

As you can see, this topic is extremely clear. From this one line we can see exactly:

  • What’s being investigated – factors that make people promote or advocate for a brand of a specific makeup brand
  • Who it involves – female Gen-Y consumers
  • In what context – the United Kingdom

So, make sure that your research proposal provides a detailed explanation of your research topic . If possible, also briefly outline your research aims and objectives , and perhaps even your research questions (although in some cases you’ll only develop these at a later stage). Needless to say, don’t start writing your proposal until you have a clear topic in mind , or you’ll end up waffling and your research proposal will suffer as a result of this.

Need a helping hand?

is research proposal study

As we touched on earlier, it’s not good enough to simply propose a research topic – you need to justify why your topic is original . In other words, what makes it  unique ? What gap in the current literature does it fill? If it’s simply a rehash of the existing research, it’s probably not going to get approval – it needs to be fresh.

But,  originality  alone is not enough. Once you’ve ticked that box, you also need to justify why your proposed topic is  important . In other words, what value will it add to the world if you achieve your research aims?

As an example, let’s look at the sample research topic we mentioned earlier (factors impacting brand advocacy). In this case, if the research could uncover relevant factors, these findings would be very useful to marketers in the cosmetics industry, and would, therefore, have commercial value . That is a clear justification for the research.

So, when you’re crafting your research proposal, remember that it’s not enough for a topic to simply be unique. It needs to be useful and value-creating – and you need to convey that value in your proposal. If you’re struggling to find a research topic that makes the cut, watch  our video covering how to find a research topic .

Free Webinar: How To Write A Research Proposal

It’s all good and well to have a great topic that’s original and valuable, but you’re not going to convince anyone to approve it without discussing the practicalities – in other words:

  • How will you actually undertake your research (i.e., your methodology)?
  • Is your research methodology appropriate given your research aims?
  • Is your approach manageable given your constraints (time, money, etc.)?

While it’s generally not expected that you’ll have a fully fleshed-out methodology at the proposal stage, you’ll likely still need to provide a high-level overview of your research methodology . Here are some important questions you’ll need to address in your research proposal:

  • Will you take a qualitative , quantitative or mixed -method approach?
  • What sampling strategy will you adopt?
  • How will you collect your data (e.g., interviews, surveys, etc)?
  • How will you analyse your data (e.g., descriptive and inferential statistics , content analysis, discourse analysis, etc, .)?
  • What potential limitations will your methodology carry?

So, be sure to give some thought to the practicalities of your research and have at least a basic methodological plan before you start writing up your proposal. If this all sounds rather intimidating, the video below provides a good introduction to research methodology and the key choices you’ll need to make.

How To Structure A Research Proposal

Now that we’ve covered the key points that need to be addressed in a proposal, you may be wondering, “ But how is a research proposal structured? “.

While the exact structure and format required for a research proposal differs from university to university, there are four “essential ingredients” that commonly make up the structure of a research proposal:

  • A rich introduction and background to the proposed research
  • An initial literature review covering the existing research
  • An overview of the proposed research methodology
  • A discussion regarding the practicalities (project plans, timelines, etc.)

In the video below, we unpack each of these four sections, step by step.

Research Proposal Examples/Samples

In the video below, we provide a detailed walkthrough of two successful research proposals (Master’s and PhD-level), as well as our popular free proposal template.

Proposal Writing FAQs

How long should a research proposal be.

This varies tremendously, depending on the university, the field of study (e.g., social sciences vs natural sciences), and the level of the degree (e.g. undergraduate, Masters or PhD) – so it’s always best to check with your university what their specific requirements are before you start planning your proposal.

As a rough guide, a formal research proposal at Masters-level often ranges between 2000-3000 words, while a PhD-level proposal can be far more detailed, ranging from 5000-8000 words. In some cases, a rough outline of the topic is all that’s needed, while in other cases, universities expect a very detailed proposal that essentially forms the first three chapters of the dissertation or thesis.

The takeaway – be sure to check with your institution before you start writing.

How do I choose a topic for my research proposal?

Finding a good research topic is a process that involves multiple steps. We cover the topic ideation process in this video post.

How do I write a literature review for my proposal?

While you typically won’t need a comprehensive literature review at the proposal stage, you still need to demonstrate that you’re familiar with the key literature and are able to synthesise it. We explain the literature review process here.

How do I create a timeline and budget for my proposal?

We explain how to craft a project plan/timeline and budget in Research Proposal Bootcamp .

Which referencing format should I use in my research proposal?

The expectations and requirements regarding formatting and referencing vary from institution to institution. Therefore, you’ll need to check this information with your university.

What common proposal writing mistakes do I need to look out for?

We’ve create a video post about some of the most common mistakes students make when writing a proposal – you can access that here . If you’re short on time, here’s a quick summary:

  • The research topic is too broad (or just poorly articulated).
  • The research aims, objectives and questions don’t align.
  • The research topic is not well justified.
  • The study has a weak theoretical foundation.
  • The research design is not well articulated well enough.
  • Poor writing and sloppy presentation.
  • Poor project planning and risk management.
  • Not following the university’s specific criteria.

Key Takeaways & Additional Resources

As you write up your research proposal, remember the all-important core purpose:  to convince . Your research proposal needs to sell your study in terms of suitability and viability. So, focus on crafting a convincing narrative to ensure a strong proposal.

At the same time, pay close attention to your university’s requirements. While we’ve covered the essentials here, every institution has its own set of expectations and it’s essential that you follow these to maximise your chances of approval.

By the way, we’ve got plenty more resources to help you fast-track your research proposal. Here are some of our most popular resources to get you started:

  • Proposal Writing 101 : A Introductory Webinar
  • Research Proposal Bootcamp : The Ultimate Online Course
  • Template : A basic template to help you craft your proposal

If you’re looking for 1-on-1 support with your research proposal, be sure to check out our private coaching service , where we hold your hand through the proposal development process (and the entire research journey), step by step.

Literature Review Course

Psst… there’s more!

This post is an extract from our bestselling Udemy Course, Research Proposal Bootcamp . If you want to work smart, you don't want to miss this .

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50 Comments

Myrna Pereira

I truly enjoyed this video, as it was eye-opening to what I have to do in the preparation of preparing a Research proposal.

I would be interested in getting some coaching.

BARAKAELI TEREVAELI

I real appreciate on your elaboration on how to develop research proposal,the video explains each steps clearly.

masebo joseph

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In view of the above, I welcome more coaching.

Zakia Ghafoor

Wonderful guidelines, thanks

Annie Malupande

This is very helpful. Would love to continue even as I prepare for starting my masters next year.

KYARIKUNDA MOREEN

Thanks for the work done, the text was helpful to me

Ahsanullah Mangal

Bundle of thanks to you for the research proposal guide it was really good and useful if it is possible please send me the sample of research proposal

Derek Jansen

You’re most welcome. We don’t have any research proposals that we can share (the students own the intellectual property), but you might find our research proposal template useful: https://gradcoach.com/research-proposal-template/

Cheruiyot Moses Kipyegon

Cheruiyot Moses Kipyegon

Thanks alot. It was an eye opener that came timely enough before my imminent proposal defense. Thanks, again

agnelius

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Abubakar

I am an undergraduate student (First Degree) preparing to write my project,this video and explanation had shed more light to me thanks for your efforts keep it up.

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Wonderful guidelines for writing a research proposal, I am a student of m.phil( education), this guideline is suitable for me. Thanks

You’re welcome 🙂

Marjorie

Thank you, this was so helpful.

Amitash Degan

A really great and insightful video. It opened my eyes as to how to write a research paper. I would like to receive more guidance for writing my research paper from your esteemed faculty.

Glaudia Njuguna

Thank you, great insights

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Yebirgual

Wow thank you, great insights, thanks a lot

Roseline Soetan

Thank you. This is a great insight. I am a student preparing for a PhD program. I am requested to write my Research Proposal as part of what I am required to submit before my unconditional admission. I am grateful having listened to this video which will go a long way in helping me to actually choose a topic of interest and not just any topic as well as to narrow down the topic and be specific about it. I indeed need more of this especially as am trying to choose a topic suitable for a DBA am about embarking on. Thank you once more. The video is indeed helpful.

Rebecca

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Roswitta

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I need any research proposal

Silverline

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The goal of a research proposal is twofold: to present and justify the need to study a research problem and to present the practical ways in which the proposed study should be conducted. The design elements and procedures for conducting research are governed by standards of the predominant discipline in which the problem resides, therefore, the guidelines for research proposals are more exacting and less formal than a general project proposal. Research proposals contain extensive literature reviews. They must provide persuasive evidence that a need exists for the proposed study. In addition to providing a rationale, a proposal describes detailed methodology for conducting the research consistent with requirements of the professional or academic field and a statement on anticipated outcomes and benefits derived from the study's completion.

Krathwohl, David R. How to Prepare a Dissertation Proposal: Suggestions for Students in Education and the Social and Behavioral Sciences . Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2005.

How to Approach Writing a Research Proposal

Your professor may assign the task of writing a research proposal for the following reasons:

  • Develop your skills in thinking about and designing a comprehensive research study;
  • Learn how to conduct a comprehensive review of the literature to determine that the research problem has not been adequately addressed or has been answered ineffectively and, in so doing, become better at locating pertinent scholarship related to your topic;
  • Improve your general research and writing skills;
  • Practice identifying the logical steps that must be taken to accomplish one's research goals;
  • Critically review, examine, and consider the use of different methods for gathering and analyzing data related to the research problem; and,
  • Nurture a sense of inquisitiveness within yourself and to help see yourself as an active participant in the process of conducting scholarly research.

A proposal should contain all the key elements involved in designing a completed research study, with sufficient information that allows readers to assess the validity and usefulness of your proposed study. The only elements missing from a research proposal are the findings of the study and your analysis of those findings. Finally, an effective proposal is judged on the quality of your writing and, therefore, it is important that your proposal is coherent, clear, and compelling.

Regardless of the research problem you are investigating and the methodology you choose, all research proposals must address the following questions:

  • What do you plan to accomplish? Be clear and succinct in defining the research problem and what it is you are proposing to investigate.
  • Why do you want to do the research? In addition to detailing your research design, you also must conduct a thorough review of the literature and provide convincing evidence that it is a topic worthy of in-depth study. A successful research proposal must answer the "So What?" question.
  • How are you going to conduct the research? Be sure that what you propose is doable. If you're having difficulty formulating a research problem to propose investigating, go here for strategies in developing a problem to study.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

  • Failure to be concise . A research proposal must be focused and not be "all over the map" or diverge into unrelated tangents without a clear sense of purpose.
  • Failure to cite landmark works in your literature review . Proposals should be grounded in foundational research that lays a foundation for understanding the development and scope of the the topic and its relevance.
  • Failure to delimit the contextual scope of your research [e.g., time, place, people, etc.]. As with any research paper, your proposed study must inform the reader how and in what ways the study will frame the problem.
  • Failure to develop a coherent and persuasive argument for the proposed research . This is critical. In many workplace settings, the research proposal is a formal document intended to argue for why a study should be funded.
  • Sloppy or imprecise writing, or poor grammar . Although a research proposal does not represent a completed research study, there is still an expectation that it is well-written and follows the style and rules of good academic writing.
  • Too much detail on minor issues, but not enough detail on major issues . Your proposal should focus on only a few key research questions in order to support the argument that the research needs to be conducted. Minor issues, even if valid, can be mentioned but they should not dominate the overall narrative.

Procter, Margaret. The Academic Proposal.  The Lab Report. University College Writing Centre. University of Toronto; Sanford, Keith. Information for Students: Writing a Research Proposal. Baylor University; Wong, Paul T. P. How to Write a Research Proposal. International Network on Personal Meaning. Trinity Western University; Writing Academic Proposals: Conferences, Articles, and Books. The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University; Writing a Research Proposal. University Library. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Structure and Writing Style

Beginning the Proposal Process

As with writing most college-level academic papers, research proposals are generally organized the same way throughout most social science disciplines. The text of proposals generally vary in length between ten and thirty-five pages, followed by the list of references. However, before you begin, read the assignment carefully and, if anything seems unclear, ask your professor whether there are any specific requirements for organizing and writing the proposal.

A good place to begin is to ask yourself a series of questions:

  • What do I want to study?
  • Why is the topic important?
  • How is it significant within the subject areas covered in my class?
  • What problems will it help solve?
  • How does it build upon [and hopefully go beyond] research already conducted on the topic?
  • What exactly should I plan to do, and can I get it done in the time available?

In general, a compelling research proposal should document your knowledge of the topic and demonstrate your enthusiasm for conducting the study. Approach it with the intention of leaving your readers feeling like, "Wow, that's an exciting idea and I can’t wait to see how it turns out!"

Most proposals should include the following sections:

I.  Introduction

In the real world of higher education, a research proposal is most often written by scholars seeking grant funding for a research project or it's the first step in getting approval to write a doctoral dissertation. Even if this is just a course assignment, treat your introduction as the initial pitch of an idea based on a thorough examination of the significance of a research problem. After reading the introduction, your readers should not only have an understanding of what you want to do, but they should also be able to gain a sense of your passion for the topic and to be excited about the study's possible outcomes. Note that most proposals do not include an abstract [summary] before the introduction.

Think about your introduction as a narrative written in two to four paragraphs that succinctly answers the following four questions :

  • What is the central research problem?
  • What is the topic of study related to that research problem?
  • What methods should be used to analyze the research problem?
  • Answer the "So What?" question by explaining why this is important research, what is its significance, and why should someone reading the proposal care about the outcomes of the proposed study?

II.  Background and Significance

This is where you explain the scope and context of your proposal and describe in detail why it's important. It can be melded into your introduction or you can create a separate section to help with the organization and narrative flow of your proposal. Approach writing this section with the thought that you can’t assume your readers will know as much about the research problem as you do. Note that this section is not an essay going over everything you have learned about the topic; instead, you must choose what is most relevant in explaining the aims of your research.

To that end, while there are no prescribed rules for establishing the significance of your proposed study, you should attempt to address some or all of the following:

  • State the research problem and give a more detailed explanation about the purpose of the study than what you stated in the introduction. This is particularly important if the problem is complex or multifaceted .
  • Present the rationale of your proposed study and clearly indicate why it is worth doing; be sure to answer the "So What? question [i.e., why should anyone care?].
  • Describe the major issues or problems examined by your research. This can be in the form of questions to be addressed. Be sure to note how your proposed study builds on previous assumptions about the research problem.
  • Explain the methods you plan to use for conducting your research. Clearly identify the key sources you intend to use and explain how they will contribute to your analysis of the topic.
  • Describe the boundaries of your proposed research in order to provide a clear focus. Where appropriate, state not only what you plan to study, but what aspects of the research problem will be excluded from the study.
  • If necessary, provide definitions of key concepts, theories, or terms.

III.  Literature Review

Connected to the background and significance of your study is a section of your proposal devoted to a more deliberate review and synthesis of prior studies related to the research problem under investigation . The purpose here is to place your project within the larger whole of what is currently being explored, while at the same time, demonstrating to your readers that your work is original and innovative. Think about what questions other researchers have asked, what methodological approaches they have used, and what is your understanding of their findings and, when stated, their recommendations. Also pay attention to any suggestions for further research.

Since a literature review is information dense, it is crucial that this section is intelligently structured to enable a reader to grasp the key arguments underpinning your proposed study in relation to the arguments put forth by other researchers. A good strategy is to break the literature into "conceptual categories" [themes] rather than systematically or chronologically describing groups of materials one at a time. Note that conceptual categories generally reveal themselves after you have read most of the pertinent literature on your topic so adding new categories is an on-going process of discovery as you review more studies. How do you know you've covered the key conceptual categories underlying the research literature? Generally, you can have confidence that all of the significant conceptual categories have been identified if you start to see repetition in the conclusions or recommendations that are being made.

NOTE: Do not shy away from challenging the conclusions made in prior research as a basis for supporting the need for your proposal. Assess what you believe is missing and state how previous research has failed to adequately examine the issue that your study addresses. Highlighting the problematic conclusions strengthens your proposal. For more information on writing literature reviews, GO HERE .

To help frame your proposal's review of prior research, consider the "five C’s" of writing a literature review:

  • Cite , so as to keep the primary focus on the literature pertinent to your research problem.
  • Compare the various arguments, theories, methodologies, and findings expressed in the literature: what do the authors agree on? Who applies similar approaches to analyzing the research problem?
  • Contrast the various arguments, themes, methodologies, approaches, and controversies expressed in the literature: describe what are the major areas of disagreement, controversy, or debate among scholars?
  • Critique the literature: Which arguments are more persuasive, and why? Which approaches, findings, and methodologies seem most reliable, valid, or appropriate, and why? Pay attention to the verbs you use to describe what an author says/does [e.g., asserts, demonstrates, argues, etc.].
  • Connect the literature to your own area of research and investigation: how does your own work draw upon, depart from, synthesize, or add a new perspective to what has been said in the literature?

IV.  Research Design and Methods

This section must be well-written and logically organized because you are not actually doing the research, yet, your reader must have confidence that you have a plan worth pursuing . The reader will never have a study outcome from which to evaluate whether your methodological choices were the correct ones. Thus, the objective here is to convince the reader that your overall research design and proposed methods of analysis will correctly address the problem and that the methods will provide the means to effectively interpret the potential results. Your design and methods should be unmistakably tied to the specific aims of your study.

Describe the overall research design by building upon and drawing examples from your review of the literature. Consider not only methods that other researchers have used, but methods of data gathering that have not been used but perhaps could be. Be specific about the methodological approaches you plan to undertake to obtain information, the techniques you would use to analyze the data, and the tests of external validity to which you commit yourself [i.e., the trustworthiness by which you can generalize from your study to other people, places, events, and/or periods of time].

When describing the methods you will use, be sure to cover the following:

  • Specify the research process you will undertake and the way you will interpret the results obtained in relation to the research problem. Don't just describe what you intend to achieve from applying the methods you choose, but state how you will spend your time while applying these methods [e.g., coding text from interviews to find statements about the need to change school curriculum; running a regression to determine if there is a relationship between campaign advertising on social media sites and election outcomes in Europe ].
  • Keep in mind that the methodology is not just a list of tasks; it is a deliberate argument as to why techniques for gathering information add up to the best way to investigate the research problem. This is an important point because the mere listing of tasks to be performed does not demonstrate that, collectively, they effectively address the research problem. Be sure you clearly explain this.
  • Anticipate and acknowledge any potential barriers and pitfalls in carrying out your research design and explain how you plan to address them. No method applied to research in the social and behavioral sciences is perfect, so you need to describe where you believe challenges may exist in obtaining data or accessing information. It's always better to acknowledge this than to have it brought up by your professor!

V.  Preliminary Suppositions and Implications

Just because you don't have to actually conduct the study and analyze the results, doesn't mean you can skip talking about the analytical process and potential implications . The purpose of this section is to argue how and in what ways you believe your research will refine, revise, or extend existing knowledge in the subject area under investigation. Depending on the aims and objectives of your study, describe how the anticipated results will impact future scholarly research, theory, practice, forms of interventions, or policy making. Note that such discussions may have either substantive [a potential new policy], theoretical [a potential new understanding], or methodological [a potential new way of analyzing] significance.   When thinking about the potential implications of your study, ask the following questions:

  • What might the results mean in regards to challenging the theoretical framework and underlying assumptions that support the study?
  • What suggestions for subsequent research could arise from the potential outcomes of the study?
  • What will the results mean to practitioners in the natural settings of their workplace, organization, or community?
  • Will the results influence programs, methods, and/or forms of intervention?
  • How might the results contribute to the solution of social, economic, or other types of problems?
  • Will the results influence policy decisions?
  • In what way do individuals or groups benefit should your study be pursued?
  • What will be improved or changed as a result of the proposed research?
  • How will the results of the study be implemented and what innovations or transformative insights could emerge from the process of implementation?

NOTE:   This section should not delve into idle speculation, opinion, or be formulated on the basis of unclear evidence . The purpose is to reflect upon gaps or understudied areas of the current literature and describe how your proposed research contributes to a new understanding of the research problem should the study be implemented as designed.

ANOTHER NOTE : This section is also where you describe any potential limitations to your proposed study. While it is impossible to highlight all potential limitations because the study has yet to be conducted, you still must tell the reader where and in what form impediments may arise and how you plan to address them.

VI.  Conclusion

The conclusion reiterates the importance or significance of your proposal and provides a brief summary of the entire study . This section should be only one or two paragraphs long, emphasizing why the research problem is worth investigating, why your research study is unique, and how it should advance existing knowledge.

Someone reading this section should come away with an understanding of:

  • Why the study should be done;
  • The specific purpose of the study and the research questions it attempts to answer;
  • The decision for why the research design and methods used where chosen over other options;
  • The potential implications emerging from your proposed study of the research problem; and
  • A sense of how your study fits within the broader scholarship about the research problem.

VII.  Citations

As with any scholarly research paper, you must cite the sources you used . In a standard research proposal, this section can take two forms, so consult with your professor about which one is preferred.

  • References -- a list of only the sources you actually used in creating your proposal.
  • Bibliography -- a list of everything you used in creating your proposal, along with additional citations to any key sources relevant to understanding the research problem.

In either case, this section should testify to the fact that you did enough preparatory work to ensure the project will complement and not just duplicate the efforts of other researchers. It demonstrates to the reader that you have a thorough understanding of prior research on the topic.

Most proposal formats have you start a new page and use the heading "References" or "Bibliography" centered at the top of the page. Cited works should always use a standard format that follows the writing style advised by the discipline of your course [e.g., education=APA; history=Chicago] or that is preferred by your professor. This section normally does not count towards the total page length of your research proposal.

Develop a Research Proposal: Writing the Proposal. Office of Library Information Services. Baltimore County Public Schools; Heath, M. Teresa Pereira and Caroline Tynan. “Crafting a Research Proposal.” The Marketing Review 10 (Summer 2010): 147-168; Jones, Mark. “Writing a Research Proposal.” In MasterClass in Geography Education: Transforming Teaching and Learning . Graham Butt, editor. (New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2015), pp. 113-127; Juni, Muhamad Hanafiah. “Writing a Research Proposal.” International Journal of Public Health and Clinical Sciences 1 (September/October 2014): 229-240; Krathwohl, David R. How to Prepare a Dissertation Proposal: Suggestions for Students in Education and the Social and Behavioral Sciences . Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2005; Procter, Margaret. The Academic Proposal. The Lab Report. University College Writing Centre. University of Toronto; Punch, Keith and Wayne McGowan. "Developing and Writing a Research Proposal." In From Postgraduate to Social Scientist: A Guide to Key Skills . Nigel Gilbert, ed. (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2006), 59-81; Wong, Paul T. P. How to Write a Research Proposal. International Network on Personal Meaning. Trinity Western University; Writing Academic Proposals: Conferences , Articles, and Books. The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University; Writing a Research Proposal. University Library. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

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  • How to Write a Research Proposal | Examples & Templates

How to Write a Research Proposal | Examples & Templates

Published on 30 October 2022 by Shona McCombes and Tegan George. Revised on 13 June 2023.

Structure of a research proposal

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:

Introduction

Literature review.

  • Research design

Reference list

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 organised 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, frequently asked questions.

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 synthesise 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. Emphasise 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?

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.

Cite this Scribbr article

If you want to cite this source, you can copy and paste the citation or click the ‘Cite this Scribbr article’ button to automatically add the citation to our free Reference Generator.

McCombes, S. & George, T. (2023, June 13). How to Write a Research Proposal | Examples & Templates. Scribbr. Retrieved 19 February 2024, from https://www.scribbr.co.uk/the-research-process/research-proposal-explained/

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How to prepare a Research Proposal

Health research, medical education and clinical practice form the three pillars of modern day medical practice. As one authority rightly put it: ‘Health research is not a luxury, but an essential need that no nation can afford to ignore’. Health research can and should be pursued by a broad range of people. Even if they do not conduct research themselves, they need to grasp the principles of the scientific method to understand the value and limitations of science and to be able to assess and evaluate results of research before applying them. This review paper aims to highlight the essential concepts to the students and beginning researchers and sensitize and motivate the readers to access the vast literature available on research methodologies.

Most students and beginning researchers do not fully understand what a research proposal means, nor do they understand its importance. 1 A research proposal is a detailed description of a proposed study designed to investigate a given problem. 2

A research proposal is intended to convince others that you have a worthwhile research project and that you have the competence and the work-plan to complete it. Broadly the research proposal must address the following questions regardless of your research area and the methodology you choose: What you plan to accomplish, why do you want to do it and how are you going to do it. 1 The aim of this article is to highlight the essential concepts and not to provide extensive details about this topic.

The elements of a research proposal are highlighted below:

1. Title: It should be concise and descriptive. It must be informative and catchy. An effective title not only prick’s the readers interest, but also predisposes him/her favorably towards the proposal. Often titles are stated in terms of a functional relationship, because such titles clearly indicate the independent and dependent variables. 1 The title may need to be revised after completion of writing of the protocol to reflect more closely the sense of the study. 3

2. Abstract: It is a brief summary of approximately 300 words. It should include the main research question, the rationale for the study, the hypothesis (if any) and the method. Descriptions of the method may include the design, procedures, the sample and any instruments that will be used. 1 It should stand on its own, and not refer the reader to points in the project description. 3

3. Introduction: The introduction provides the readers with the background information. Its purpose is to establish a framework for the research, so that readers can understand how it relates to other research. 4 It should answer the question of why the research needs to be done and what will be its relevance. It puts the proposal in context. 3

The introduction typically begins with a statement of the research problem in precise and clear terms. 1

The importance of the statement of the research problem 5 : The statement of the problem is the essential basis for the construction of a research proposal (research objectives, hypotheses, methodology, work plan and budget etc). It is an integral part of selecting a research topic. It will guide and put into sharper focus the research design being considered for solving the problem. It allows the investigator to describe the problem systematically, to reflect on its importance, its priority in the country and region and to point out why the proposed research on the problem should be undertaken. It also facilitates peer review of the research proposal by the funding agencies.

Then it is necessary to provide the context and set the stage for the research question in such a way as to show its necessity and importance. 1 This step is necessary for the investigators to familiarize themselves with existing knowledge about the research problem and to find out whether or not others have investigated the same or similar problems. This step is accomplished by a thorough and critical review of the literature and by personal communication with experts. 5 It helps further understanding of the problem proposed for research and may lead to refining the statement of the problem, to identify the study variables and conceptualize their relationships, and in formulation and selection of a research hypothesis. 5 It ensures that you are not "re-inventing the wheel" and demonstrates your understanding of the research problem. It gives due credit to those who have laid the groundwork for your proposed research. 1 In a proposal, the literature review is generally brief and to the point. The literature selected should be pertinent and relevant. 6

Against this background, you then present the rationale of the proposed study and clearly indicate why it is worth doing.

4. Objectives: Research objectives are the goals to be achieved by conducting the research. 5 They may be stated as ‘general’ and ‘specific’.

The general objective of the research is what is to be accomplished by the research project, for example, to determine whether or not a new vaccine should be incorporated in a public health program.

The specific objectives relate to the specific research questions the investigator wants to answer through the proposed study and may be presented as primary and secondary objectives, for example, primary: To determine the degree of protection that is attributable to the new vaccine in a study population by comparing the vaccinated and unvaccinated groups. 5 Secondary: To study the cost-effectiveness of this programme.

Young investigators are advised to resist the temptation to put too many objectives or over-ambitious objectives that cannot be adequately achieved by the implementation of the protocol. 3

5. Variables: During the planning stage, it is necessary to identify the key variables of the study and their method of measurement and unit of measurement must be clearly indicated. Four types of variables are important in research 5 :

a. Independent variables: variables that are manipulated or treated in a study in order to see what effect differences in them will have on those variables proposed as being dependent on them. The different synonyms for the term ‘independent variable’ which are used in literature are: cause, input, predisposing factor, risk factor, determinant, antecedent, characteristic and attribute.

b. Dependent variables: variables in which changes are results of the level or amount of the independent variable or variables.

Synonyms: effect, outcome, consequence, result, condition, disease.

c. Confounding or intervening variables: variables that should be studied because they may influence or ‘mix’ the effect of the independent variables. For instance, in a study of the effect of measles (independent variable) on child mortality (dependent variable), the nutritional status of the child may play an intervening (confounding) role.

d. Background variables: variables that are so often of relevance in investigations of groups or populations that they should be considered for possible inclusion in the study. For example sex, age, ethnic origin, education, marital status, social status etc.

The objective of research is usually to determine the effect of changes in one or more independent variables on one or more dependent variables. For example, a study may ask "Will alcohol intake (independent variable) have an effect on development of gastric ulcer (dependent variable)?"

Certain variables may not be easy to identify. The characteristics that define these variables must be clearly identified for the purpose of the study.

6. Questions and/ or hypotheses: If you as a researcher know enough to make prediction concerning what you are studying, then the hypothesis may be formulated. A hypothesis can be defined as a tentative prediction or explanation of the relationship between two or more variables. In other words, the hypothesis translates the problem statement into a precise, unambiguous prediction of expected outcomes. Hypotheses are not meant to be haphazard guesses, but should reflect the depth of knowledge, imagination and experience of the investigator. 5 In the process of formulating the hypotheses, all variables relevant to the study must be identified. For example: "Health education involving active participation by mothers will produce more positive changes in child feeding than health education based on lectures". Here the independent variable is types of health education and the dependent variable is changes in child feeding.

A research question poses a relationship between two or more variables but phrases the relationship as a question; a hypothesis represents a declarative statement of the relations between two or more variables. 7

For exploratory or phenomenological research, you may not have any hypothesis (please do not confuse the hypothesis with the statistical null hypothesis). 1 Questions are relevant to normative or census type research (How many of them are there? Is there a relationship between them?). Deciding whether to use questions or hypotheses depends on factors such as the purpose of the study, the nature of the design and methodology, and the audience of the research (at times even the outlook and preference of the committee members, particularly the Chair). 6

7. Methodology: The method section is very important because it tells your research Committee how you plan to tackle your research problem. The guiding principle for writing the Methods section is that it should contain sufficient information for the reader to determine whether the methodology is sound. Some even argue that a good proposal should contain sufficient details for another qualified researcher to implement the study. 1 Indicate the methodological steps you will take to answer every question or to test every hypothesis illustrated in the Questions/hypotheses section. 6 It is vital that you consult a biostatistician during the planning stage of your study, 8 to resolve the methodological issues before submitting the proposal.

This section should include:

Research design: The selection of the research strategy is the core of research design and is probably the single most important decision the investigator has to make. The choice of the strategy, whether descriptive, analytical, experimental, operational or a combination of these depend on a number of considerations, 5 but this choice must be explained in relation to the study objectives. 3

Research subjects or participants: Depending on the type of your study, the following questions should be answered 3 , 5

  • - What are the criteria for inclusion or selection?
  • - What are the criteria for exclusion?
  • - What is the sampling procedure you will use so as to ensure representativeness and reliability of the sample and to minimize sampling errors? The key reason for being concerned with sampling is the issue of validity-both internal and external of the study results. 9
  • - Will there be use of controls in your study? Controls or comparison groups are used in scientific research in order to increase the validity of the conclusions. Control groups are necessary in all analytical epidemiological studies, in experimental studies of drug trials, in research on effects of intervention programmes and disease control measures and in many other investigations. Some descriptive studies (studies of existing data, surveys) may not require control groups.
  • - What are the criteria for discontinuation?

Sample size: The proposal should provide information and justification (basis on which the sample size is calculated) about sample size in the methodology section. 3 A larger sample size than needed to test the research hypothesis increases the cost and duration of the study and will be unethical if it exposes human subjects to any potential unnecessary risk without additional benefit. A smaller sample size than needed can also be unethical as it exposes human subjects to risk with no benefit to scientific knowledge. Calculation of sample size has been made easy by computer software programmes, but the principles underlying the estimation should be well understood.

Interventions: If an intervention is introduced, a description must be given of the drugs or devices (proprietary names, manufacturer, chemical composition, dose, frequency of administration) if they are already commercially available. If they are in phases of experimentation or are already commercially available but used for other indications, information must be provided on available pre-clinical investigations in animals and/or results of studies already conducted in humans (in such cases, approval of the drug regulatory agency in the country is needed before the study). 3

Ethical issues 3 : Ethical considerations apply to all types of health research. Before the proposal is submitted to the Ethics Committee for approval, two important documents mentioned below (where appropriate) must be appended to the proposal. In additions, there is another vital issue of Conflict of Interest, wherein the researchers should furnish a statement regarding the same.

The Informed consent form (informed decision-making): A consent form, where appropriate, must be developed and attached to the proposal. It should be written in the prospective subjects’ mother tongue and in simple language which can be easily understood by the subject. The use of medical terminology should be avoided as far as possible. Special care is needed when subjects are illiterate. It should explain why the study is being done and why the subject has been asked to participate. It should describe, in sequence, what will happen in the course of the study, giving enough detail for the subject to gain a clear idea of what to expect. It should clarify whether or not the study procedures offer any benefits to the subject or to others, and explain the nature, likelihood and treatment of anticipated discomfort or adverse effects, including psychological and social risks, if any. Where relevant, a comparison with risks posed by standard drugs or treatment must be included. If the risks are unknown or a comparative risk cannot be given it should be so stated. It should indicate that the subject has the right to withdraw from the study at any time without, in any way, affecting his/her further medical care. It should assure the participant of confidentiality of the findings.

Ethics checklist: The proposal must describe the measures that will be undertaken to ensure that the proposed research is carried out in accordance with the World Medical Association Declaration of Helsinki on Ethical Principles for Medical research involving Human Subjects. 10 It must answer the following questions:

  • • Is the research design adequate to provide answers to the research question? It is unethical to expose subjects to research that will have no value.
  • • Is the method of selection of research subjects justified? The use of vulnerable subjects as research participants needs special justification. Vulnerable subjects include those in prison, minors and persons with mental disability. In international research it is important to mention that the population in which the study is conducted will benefit from any potential outcome of the research and the research is not being conducted solely for the benefit of some other population. Justification is needed for any inducement, financial or otherwise, for the participants to be enrolled in the study.
  • • Are the interventions justified, in terms of risk/benefit ratio? Risks are not limited to physical harm. Psychological and social risks must also be considered.
  • • For observations made, have measures been taken to ensure confidentiality?

Research setting 5 : The research setting includes all the pertinent facets of the study, such as the population to be studied (sampling frame), the place and time of study.

Study instruments 3 , 5 : Instruments are the tools by which the data are collected. For validated questionnaires/interview schedules, reference to published work should be given and the instrument appended to the proposal. For new a questionnaire which is being designed specifically for your study the details about preparing, precoding and pretesting of questionnaire should be furnished and the document appended to the proposal. Descriptions of other methods of observations like medical examination, laboratory tests and screening procedures is necessary- for established procedures, reference of published work cited but for new or modified procedure, an adequate description is necessary with justification for the same.

Collection of data: A short description of the protocol of data collection. For example, in a study on blood pressure measurement: time of participant arrival, rest for 5p. 10 minutes, which apparatus (standard calibrated) to be used, in which room to take measurement, measurement in sitting or lying down position, how many measurements, measurement in which arm first (whether this is going to be randomized), details of cuff and its placement, who will take the measurement. This minimizes the possibility of confusion, delays and errors.

Data analysis: The description should include the design of the analysis form, plans for processing and coding the data and the choice of the statistical method to be applied to each data. What will be the procedures for accounting for missing, unused or spurious data?

Monitoring, supervision and quality control: Detailed statement about the all logistical issues to satisfy the requirements of Good Clinical Practices (GCP), protocol procedures, responsibilities of each member of the research team, training of study investigators, steps taken to assure quality control (laboratory procedures, equipment calibration etc)

Gantt chart: A Gantt chart is an overview of tasks/proposed activities and a time frame for the same. You put weeks, days or months at one side, and the tasks at the other. You draw fat lines to indicate the period the task will be performed to give a timeline for your research study (take help of tutorial on youtube). 11

Significance of the study: Indicate how your research will refine, revise or extend existing knowledge in the area under investigation. How will it benefit the concerned stakeholders? What could be the larger implications of your research study?

Dissemination of the study results: How do you propose to share the findings of your study with professional peers, practitioners, participants and the funding agency?

Budget: A proposal budget with item wise/activity wise breakdown and justification for the same. Indicate how will the study be financed.

References: The proposal should end with relevant references on the subject. For web based search include the date of access for the cited website, for example: add the sentence "accessed on June 10, 2008".

Appendixes: Include the appropriate appendixes in the proposal. For example: Interview protocols, sample of informed consent forms, cover letters sent to appropriate stakeholders, official letters for permission to conduct research. Regarding original scales or questionnaires, if the instrument is copyrighted then permission in writing to reproduce the instrument from the copyright holder or proof of purchase of the instrument must be submitted.

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11.2 Steps in Developing a Research Proposal

Learning objectives.

  • Identify the steps in developing a research proposal.
  • Choose a topic and formulate a research question and working thesis.
  • Develop a research proposal.

Writing a good research paper takes time, thought, and effort. Although this assignment is challenging, it is manageable. Focusing on one step at a time will help you develop a thoughtful, informative, well-supported research paper.

Your first step is to choose a topic and then to develop research questions, a working thesis, and a written research proposal. Set aside adequate time for this part of the process. Fully exploring ideas will help you build a solid foundation for your paper.

Choosing a Topic

When you choose a topic for a research paper, you are making a major commitment. Your choice will help determine whether you enjoy the lengthy process of research and writing—and whether your final paper fulfills the assignment requirements. If you choose your topic hastily, you may later find it difficult to work with your topic. By taking your time and choosing carefully, you can ensure that this assignment is not only challenging but also rewarding.

Writers understand the importance of choosing a topic that fulfills the assignment requirements and fits the assignment’s purpose and audience. (For more information about purpose and audience, see Chapter 6 “Writing Paragraphs: Separating Ideas and Shaping Content” .) Choosing a topic that interests you is also crucial. You instructor may provide a list of suggested topics or ask that you develop a topic on your own. In either case, try to identify topics that genuinely interest you.

After identifying potential topic ideas, you will need to evaluate your ideas and choose one topic to pursue. Will you be able to find enough information about the topic? Can you develop a paper about this topic that presents and supports your original ideas? Is the topic too broad or too narrow for the scope of the assignment? If so, can you modify it so it is more manageable? You will ask these questions during this preliminary phase of the research process.

Identifying Potential Topics

Sometimes, your instructor may provide a list of suggested topics. If so, you may benefit from identifying several possibilities before committing to one idea. It is important to know how to narrow down your ideas into a concise, manageable thesis. You may also use the list as a starting point to help you identify additional, related topics. Discussing your ideas with your instructor will help ensure that you choose a manageable topic that fits the requirements of the assignment.

In this chapter, you will follow a writer named Jorge, who is studying health care administration, as he prepares a research paper. You will also plan, research, and draft your own research paper.

Jorge was assigned to write a research paper on health and the media for an introductory course in health care. Although a general topic was selected for the students, Jorge had to decide which specific issues interested him. He brainstormed a list of possibilities.

If you are writing a research paper for a specialized course, look back through your notes and course activities. Identify reading assignments and class discussions that especially engaged you. Doing so can help you identify topics to pursue.

  • Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs) in the news
  • Sexual education programs
  • Hollywood and eating disorders
  • Americans’ access to public health information
  • Media portrayal of health care reform bill
  • Depictions of drugs on television
  • The effect of the Internet on mental health
  • Popularized diets (such as low-carbohydrate diets)
  • Fear of pandemics (bird flu, HINI, SARS)
  • Electronic entertainment and obesity
  • Advertisements for prescription drugs
  • Public education and disease prevention

Set a timer for five minutes. Use brainstorming or idea mapping to create a list of topics you would be interested in researching for a paper about the influence of the Internet on social networking. Do you closely follow the media coverage of a particular website, such as Twitter? Would you like to learn more about a certain industry, such as online dating? Which social networking sites do you and your friends use? List as many ideas related to this topic as you can.

Narrowing Your Topic

Once you have a list of potential topics, you will need to choose one as the focus of your essay. You will also need to narrow your topic. Most writers find that the topics they listed during brainstorming or idea mapping are broad—too broad for the scope of the assignment. Working with an overly broad topic, such as sexual education programs or popularized diets, can be frustrating and overwhelming. Each topic has so many facets that it would be impossible to cover them all in a college research paper. However, more specific choices, such as the pros and cons of sexual education in kids’ television programs or the physical effects of the South Beach diet, are specific enough to write about without being too narrow to sustain an entire research paper.

A good research paper provides focused, in-depth information and analysis. If your topic is too broad, you will find it difficult to do more than skim the surface when you research it and write about it. Narrowing your focus is essential to making your topic manageable. To narrow your focus, explore your topic in writing, conduct preliminary research, and discuss both the topic and the research with others.

Exploring Your Topic in Writing

“How am I supposed to narrow my topic when I haven’t even begun researching yet?” In fact, you may already know more than you realize. Review your list and identify your top two or three topics. Set aside some time to explore each one through freewriting. (For more information about freewriting, see Chapter 8 “The Writing Process: How Do I Begin?” .) Simply taking the time to focus on your topic may yield fresh angles.

Jorge knew that he was especially interested in the topic of diet fads, but he also knew that it was much too broad for his assignment. He used freewriting to explore his thoughts so he could narrow his topic. Read Jorge’s ideas.

Conducting Preliminary Research

Another way writers may focus a topic is to conduct preliminary research . Like freewriting, exploratory reading can help you identify interesting angles. Surfing the web and browsing through newspaper and magazine articles are good ways to start. Find out what people are saying about your topic on blogs and online discussion groups. Discussing your topic with others can also inspire you. Talk about your ideas with your classmates, your friends, or your instructor.

Jorge’s freewriting exercise helped him realize that the assigned topic of health and the media intersected with a few of his interests—diet, nutrition, and obesity. Preliminary online research and discussions with his classmates strengthened his impression that many people are confused or misled by media coverage of these subjects.

Jorge decided to focus his paper on a topic that had garnered a great deal of media attention—low-carbohydrate diets. He wanted to find out whether low-carbohydrate diets were as effective as their proponents claimed.

Writing at Work

At work, you may need to research a topic quickly to find general information. This information can be useful in understanding trends in a given industry or generating competition. For example, a company may research a competitor’s prices and use the information when pricing their own product. You may find it useful to skim a variety of reliable sources and take notes on your findings.

The reliability of online sources varies greatly. In this exploratory phase of your research, you do not need to evaluate sources as closely as you will later. However, use common sense as you refine your paper topic. If you read a fascinating blog comment that gives you a new idea for your paper, be sure to check out other, more reliable sources as well to make sure the idea is worth pursuing.

Review the list of topics you created in Note 11.18 “Exercise 1” and identify two or three topics you would like to explore further. For each of these topics, spend five to ten minutes writing about the topic without stopping. Then review your writing to identify possible areas of focus.

Set aside time to conduct preliminary research about your potential topics. Then choose a topic to pursue for your research paper.

Collaboration

Please share your topic list with a classmate. Select one or two topics on his or her list that you would like to learn more about and return it to him or her. Discuss why you found the topics interesting, and learn which of your topics your classmate selected and why.

A Plan for Research

Your freewriting and preliminary research have helped you choose a focused, manageable topic for your research paper. To work with your topic successfully, you will need to determine what exactly you want to learn about it—and later, what you want to say about it. Before you begin conducting in-depth research, you will further define your focus by developing a research question , a working thesis, and a research proposal.

Formulating a Research Question

In forming a research question, you are setting a goal for your research. Your main research question should be substantial enough to form the guiding principle of your paper—but focused enough to guide your research. A strong research question requires you not only to find information but also to put together different pieces of information, interpret and analyze them, and figure out what you think. As you consider potential research questions, ask yourself whether they would be too hard or too easy to answer.

To determine your research question, review the freewriting you completed earlier. Skim through books, articles, and websites and list the questions you have. (You may wish to use the 5WH strategy to help you formulate questions. See Chapter 8 “The Writing Process: How Do I Begin?” for more information about 5WH questions.) Include simple, factual questions and more complex questions that would require analysis and interpretation. Determine your main question—the primary focus of your paper—and several subquestions that you will need to research to answer your main question.

Here are the research questions Jorge will use to focus his research. Notice that his main research question has no obvious, straightforward answer. Jorge will need to research his subquestions, which address narrower topics, to answer his main question.

Using the topic you selected in Note 11.24 “Exercise 2” , write your main research question and at least four to five subquestions. Check that your main research question is appropriately complex for your assignment.

Constructing a Working ThesIs

A working thesis concisely states a writer’s initial answer to the main research question. It does not merely state a fact or present a subjective opinion. Instead, it expresses a debatable idea or claim that you hope to prove through additional research. Your working thesis is called a working thesis for a reason—it is subject to change. As you learn more about your topic, you may change your thinking in light of your research findings. Let your working thesis serve as a guide to your research, but do not be afraid to modify it based on what you learn.

Jorge began his research with a strong point of view based on his preliminary writing and research. Read his working thesis statement, which presents the point he will argue. Notice how it states Jorge’s tentative answer to his research question.

One way to determine your working thesis is to consider how you would complete sentences such as I believe or My opinion is . However, keep in mind that academic writing generally does not use first-person pronouns. These statements are useful starting points, but formal research papers use an objective voice.

Write a working thesis statement that presents your preliminary answer to the research question you wrote in Note 11.27 “Exercise 3” . Check that your working thesis statement presents an idea or claim that could be supported or refuted by evidence from research.

Creating a Research Proposal

A research proposal is a brief document—no more than one typed page—that summarizes the preliminary work you have completed. Your purpose in writing it is to formalize your plan for research and present it to your instructor for feedback. In your research proposal, you will present your main research question, related subquestions, and working thesis. You will also briefly discuss the value of researching this topic and indicate how you plan to gather information.

When Jorge began drafting his research proposal, he realized that he had already created most of the pieces he needed. However, he knew he also had to explain how his research would be relevant to other future health care professionals. In addition, he wanted to form a general plan for doing the research and identifying potentially useful sources. Read Jorge’s research proposal.

Read Jorge's research proposal

Before you begin a new project at work, you may have to develop a project summary document that states the purpose of the project, explains why it would be a wise use of company resources, and briefly outlines the steps involved in completing the project. This type of document is similar to a research proposal. Both documents define and limit a project, explain its value, discuss how to proceed, and identify what resources you will use.

Writing Your Own Research Proposal

Now you may write your own research proposal, if you have not done so already. Follow the guidelines provided in this lesson.

Key Takeaways

  • Developing a research proposal involves the following preliminary steps: identifying potential ideas, choosing ideas to explore further, choosing and narrowing a topic, formulating a research question, and developing a working thesis.
  • A good topic for a research paper interests the writer and fulfills the requirements of the assignment.
  • Defining and narrowing a topic helps writers conduct focused, in-depth research.
  • Writers conduct preliminary research to identify possible topics and research questions and to develop a working thesis.
  • A good research question interests readers, is neither too broad nor too narrow, and has no obvious answer.
  • A good working thesis expresses a debatable idea or claim that can be supported with evidence from research.
  • Writers create a research proposal to present their topic, main research question, subquestions, and working thesis to an instructor for approval or feedback.

Writing for Success Copyright © 2015 by University of Minnesota is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

Organizing Your Social Sciences Research Paper: Writing a Research Proposal

  • Purpose of Guide
  • Writing a Research Proposal
  • Design Flaws to Avoid
  • Independent and Dependent Variables
  • Narrowing a Topic Idea
  • Broadening a Topic Idea
  • The Research Problem/Question
  • Academic Writing Style
  • Choosing a Title
  • Making an Outline
  • Paragraph Development
  • The C.A.R.S. Model
  • Background Information
  • Theoretical Framework
  • Citation Tracking
  • Evaluating Sources
  • Reading Research Effectively
  • Primary Sources
  • Secondary Sources
  • What Is Scholarly vs. Popular?
  • Is it Peer-Reviewed?
  • Qualitative Methods
  • Quantitative Methods
  • Common Grammar Mistakes
  • Writing Concisely
  • Avoiding Plagiarism [linked guide]
  • Annotated Bibliography
  • Grading Someone Else's Paper

The goal of a research proposal is to present and justify the need to study a research problem and to present the practical ways in which the proposed study should be conducted. The design elements and procedures for conducting the research are governed by standards within the predominant discipline in which the problem resides, so guidelines for research proposals are more exacting and less formal than a general project proposal. Research proposals contain extensive literature reviews. They must provide persuasive evidence that a need exists for the proposed study. In addition to providing a rationale, a proposal describes detailed methodology for conducting the research consistent with requirements of the professional or academic field and a statement on anticipated outcomes and/or benefits derived from the study's completion.

Krathwohl, David R. How to Prepare a Dissertation Proposal: Suggestions for Students in Education and the Social and Behavioral Sciences . Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2005.

How to Approach Writing a Research Proposal

Your professor may assign the task of writing a research proposal for the following reasons:

  • Develop your skills in thinking about and designing a comprehensive research study;
  • Learn how to conduct a comprehensive review of the literature to ensure a research problem has not already been answered [or you may determine the problem has been answered ineffectively] and, in so doing, become better at locating scholarship related to your topic;
  • Improve your general research and writing skills;
  • Practice identifying the logical steps that must be taken to accomplish one's research goals;
  • Critically review, examine, and consider the use of different methods for gathering and analyzing data related to the research problem; and,
  • Nurture a sense of inquisitiveness within yourself and to help see yourself as an active participant in the process of doing scholarly research.

A proposal should contain all the key elements involved in designing a completed research study, with sufficient information that allows readers to assess the validity and usefulness of your proposed study. The only elements missing from a research proposal are the findings of the study and your analysis of those results. Finally, an effective proposal is judged on the quality of your writing and, therefore, it is important that your writing is coherent, clear, and compelling.

Regardless of the research problem you are investigating and the methodology you choose, all research proposals must address the following questions:

  • What do you plan to accomplish? Be clear and succinct in defining the research problem and what it is you are proposing to research.
  • Why do you want to do it? In addition to detailing your research design, you also must conduct a thorough review of the literature and provide convincing evidence that it is a topic worthy of study. Be sure to answer the "So What?" question.
  • How are you going to do it? Be sure that what you propose is doable. If you're having trouble formulating a research problem to propose investigating, go here .

Common Mistakes to Avoid

  • Failure to be concise; being "all over the map" without a clear sense of purpose.
  • Failure to cite landmark works in your literature review.
  • Failure to delimit the contextual boundaries of your research [e.g., time, place, people, etc.].
  • Failure to develop a coherent and persuasive argument for the proposed research.
  • Failure to stay focused on the research problem; going off on unrelated tangents.
  • Sloppy or imprecise writing, or poor grammar.
  • Too much detail on minor issues, but not enough detail on major issues.

Procter, Margaret. The Academic Proposal .  The Lab Report. University College Writing Centre. University of Toronto; Sanford, Keith. Information for Students: Writing a Research Proposal . Baylor University; Wong, Paul T. P. How to Write a Research Proposal . International Network on Personal Meaning. Trinity Western University; Writing Academic Proposals: Conferences, Articles, and Books . The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University; Writing a Research Proposal . University Library. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Structure and Writing Style

Beginning the Proposal Process

As with writing a regular academic paper, research proposals are generally organized the same way throughout most social science disciplines. Proposals vary between ten and twenty-five pages in length. However, before you begin, read the assignment carefully and, if anything seems unclear, ask your professor whether there are any specific requirements for organizing and writing the proposal.

A good place to begin is to ask yourself a series of questions:

  • What do I want to study?
  • Why is the topic important?
  • How is it significant within the subject areas covered in my class?
  • What problems will it help solve?
  • How does it build upon [and hopefully go beyond] research already conducted on the topic?
  • What exactly should I plan to do, and can I get it done in the time available?

In general, a compelling research proposal should document your knowledge of the topic and demonstrate your enthusiasm for conducting the study. Approach it with the intention of leaving your readers feeling like--"Wow, that's an exciting idea and I can’t wait to see how it turns out!"

In general your proposal should include the following sections:

I.  Introduction

In the real world of higher education, a research proposal is most often written by scholars seeking grant funding for a research project or it's the first step in getting approval to write a doctoral dissertation. Even if this is just a course assignment, treat your introduction as the initial pitch of an idea or a thorough examination of the significance of a research problem. After reading the introduction, your readers should not only have an understanding of what you want to do, but they should also be able to gain a sense of your passion for the topic and be excited about the study's possible outcomes. Note that most proposals do not include an abstract [summary] before the introduction.

Think about your introduction as a narrative written in one to three paragraphs that succinctly answers the following four questions :

  • What is the central research problem?
  • What is the topic of study related to that problem?
  • What methods should be used to analyze the research problem?
  • Why is this important research, what is its significance, and why should someone reading the proposal care about the outcomes of the proposed study?

II.  Background and Significance

This section can be melded into your introduction or you can create a separate section to help with the organization and narrative flow of your proposal. This is where you explain the context of your proposal and describe in detail why it's important. Approach writing this section with the thought that you can’t assume your readers will know as much about the research problem as you do. Note that this section is not an essay going over everything you have learned about the topic; instead, you must choose what is relevant to help explain the goals for your study.

To that end, while there are no hard and fast rules, you should attempt to address some or all of the following key points:

  • State the research problem and give a more detailed explanation about the purpose of the study than what you stated in the introduction. This is particularly important if the problem is complex or multifaceted .
  • Present the rationale of your proposed study and clearly indicate why it is worth doing. Answer the "So What? question [i.e., why should anyone care].
  • Describe the major issues or problems to be addressed by your research. Be sure to note how your proposed study builds on previous assumptions about the research problem.
  • Explain how you plan to go about conducting your research. Clearly identify the key sources you intend to use and explain how they will contribute to your analysis of the topic.
  • Set the boundaries of your proposed research in order to provide a clear focus. Where appropriate, state not only what you will study, but what is excluded from the study.
  • If necessary, provide definitions of key concepts or terms.

III.  Literature Review

Connected to the background and significance of your study is a section of your proposal devoted to a more deliberate review and synthesis of prior studies related to the research problem under investigation . The purpose here is to place your project within the larger whole of what is currently being explored, while demonstrating to your readers that your work is original and innovative. Think about what questions other researchers have asked, what methods they have used, and what is your understanding of their findings and, where stated, their recommendations. Do not be afraid to challenge the conclusions of prior research. Assess what you believe is missing and state how previous research has failed to adequately examine the issue that your study addresses. For more information on writing literature reviews, GO HERE .

Since a literature review is information dense, it is crucial that this section is intelligently structured to enable a reader to grasp the key arguments underpinning your study in relation to that of other researchers. A good strategy is to break the literature into "conceptual categories" [themes] rather than systematically describing groups of materials one at a time. Note that conceptual categories generally reveal themselves after you have read most of the pertinent literature on your topic so adding new categories is an on-going process of discovery as you read more studies. How do you know you've covered the key conceptual categories underlying the research literature? Generally, you can have confidence that all of the significant conceptual categories have been identified if you start to see repetition in the conclusions or recommendations that are being made.

To help frame your proposal's literature review, here are the "five C’s" of writing a literature review:

  • Cite , so as to keep the primary focus on the literature pertinent to your research problem.
  • Compare the various arguments, theories, methodologies, and findings expressed in the literature: what do the authors agree on? Who applies similar approaches to analyzing the research problem?
  • Contrast the various arguments, themes, methodologies, approaches, and controversies expressed in the literature: what are the major areas of disagreement, controversy, or debate?
  • Critique the literature: Which arguments are more persuasive, and why? Which approaches, findings, methodologies seem most reliable, valid, or appropriate, and why? Pay attention to the verbs you use to describe what an author says/does [e.g., asserts, demonstrates, argues, etc.] .
  • Connect the literature to your own area of research and investigation: how does your own work draw upon, depart from, synthesize, or add a new perspective to what has been said in the literature?

IV.  Research Design and Methods

This section must be well-written and logically organized because you are not actually doing the research, yet, your reader must have confidence that it is worth pursuing . The reader will never have a study outcome from which to evaluate whether your methodological choices were the correct ones. Thus, the objective here is to convince the reader that your overall research design and methods of analysis will correctly address the problem and that the methods will provide the means to effectively interpret the potential results. Your design and methods should be unmistakably tied to the specific aims of your study.

Describe the overall research design by building upon and drawing examples from your review of the literature. Consider not only methods that other researchers have used but methods of data gathering that have not been used but perhaps could be. Be specific about the methodological approaches you plan to undertake to obtain information, the techniques you would use to analyze the data, and the tests of external validity to which you commit yourself [i.e., the trustworthiness by which you can generalize from your study to other people, places, events, and/or periods of time].

When describing the methods you will use, be sure to cover the following:

  • Specify the research operations you will undertake and the way you will interpret the results of these operations in relation to the research problem. Don't just describe what you intend to achieve from applying the methods you choose, but state how you will spend your time while applying these methods [e.g., coding text from interviews to find statements about the need to change school curriculum; running a regression to determine if there is a relationship between campaign advertising on social media sites and election outcomes in Europe ].
  • Keep in mind that a methodology is not just a list of tasks; it is an argument as to why these tasks add up to the best way to investigate the research problem. This is an important point because the mere listing of tasks to be performed does not demonstrate that, collectively, they effectively address the research problem. Be sure you explain this.
  • Anticipate and acknowledge any potential barriers and pitfalls in carrying out your research design and explain how you plan to address them. No method is perfect so you need to describe where you believe challenges may exist in obtaining data or accessing information. It's always better to acknowledge this than to have it brought up by your reader.

Develop a Research Proposal: Writing the Proposal . Office of Library Information Services. Baltimore County Public Schools; Heath, M. Teresa Pereira and Caroline Tynan. “Crafting a Research Proposal.” The Marketing Review 10 (Summer 2010): 147-168; Jones, Mark. “Writing a Research Proposal.” In MasterClass in Geography Education: Transforming Teaching and Learning . Graham Butt, editor. (New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2015), pp. 113-127; Juni, Muhamad Hanafiah. “Writing a Research Proposal.” International Journal of Public Health and Clinical Sciences 1 (September/October 2014): 229-240; Krathwohl, David R. How to Prepare a Dissertation Proposal: Suggestions for Students in Education and the Social and Behavioral Sciences . Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2005; Procter, Margaret. The Academic Proposal . The Lab Report. University College Writing Centre. University of Toronto; Punch, Keith and Wayne McGowan. "Developing and Writing a Research Proposal." In From Postgraduate to Social Scientist: A Guide to Key Skills . Nigel Gilbert, ed. (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2006), 59-81; Wong, Paul T. P. How to Write a Research Proposal . International Network on Personal Meaning. Trinity Western University; Writing Academic Proposals: Conferences, Articles, and Books . The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University; Writing a Research Proposal . University Library. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

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How to write a research proposal

Advice and guidance on writing a proposal for a student research project.

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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. 

301 Recommends:

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.

Proposal format

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!

Introduction

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.

Literature Review 

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
  • Calendarpedia

Related information

Dissertation planning

Writing a literature review

Research methods

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Blog Education

How to Write a Research Proposal: A Step-by-Step

By Danesh Ramuthi , Nov 29, 2023

How to Write a Research Proposal

A research proposal is a structured outline for a planned study on a specific topic. It serves as a roadmap, guiding researchers through the process of converting their research idea into a feasible project. 

The aim of a research proposal is multifold: it articulates the research problem, establishes a theoretical framework, outlines the research methodology and highlights the potential significance of the study. Importantly, it’s a critical tool for scholars seeking grant funding or approval for their research projects.

Crafting a good research proposal requires not only understanding your research topic and methodological approaches but also the ability to present your ideas clearly and persuasively. Explore Venngage’s Proposal Maker and Research Proposals Templates to begin your journey in writing a compelling research proposal.

What to include in a research proposal?

In a research proposal, include a clear statement of your research question or problem, along with an explanation of its significance. This should be followed by a literature review that situates your proposed study within the context of existing research. 

Your proposal should also outline the research methodology, detailing how you plan to conduct your study, including data collection and analysis methods.

Additionally, include a theoretical framework that guides your research approach, a timeline or research schedule, and a budget if applicable. It’s important to also address the anticipated outcomes and potential implications of your study. A well-structured research proposal will clearly communicate your research objectives, methods and significance to the readers.

Light Blue Shape Semiotic Analysis Research Proposal

How to format a research proposal?

Formatting a research proposal involves adhering to a structured outline to ensure clarity and coherence. While specific requirements may vary, a standard research proposal typically includes the following elements:

  • Title Page: Must include the title of your research proposal, your name and affiliations. The title should be concise and descriptive of your proposed research.
  • Abstract: A brief summary of your proposal, usually not exceeding 250 words. It should highlight the research question, methodology and the potential impact of the study.
  • Introduction: Introduces your research question or problem, explains its significance, and states the objectives of your study.
  • Literature review: Here, you contextualize your research within existing scholarship, demonstrating your knowledge of the field and how your research will contribute to it.
  • Methodology: Outline your research methods, including how you will collect and analyze data. This section should be detailed enough to show the feasibility and thoughtfulness of your approach.
  • Timeline: Provide an estimated schedule for your research, breaking down the process into stages with a realistic timeline for each.
  • Budget (if applicable): If your research requires funding, include a detailed budget outlining expected cost.
  • References/Bibliography: List all sources referenced in your proposal in a consistent citation style.

Green And Orange Modern Research Proposal

How to write a research proposal in 11 steps?

Writing a research proposal in structured steps ensures a comprehensive and coherent presentation of your research project. Let’s look at the explanation for each of the steps here:  

Step 1: Title and Abstract Step 2: Introduction Step 3: Research objectives Step 4: Literature review Step 5: Methodology Step 6: Timeline Step 7: Resources Step 8: Ethical considerations Step 9: Expected outcomes and significance Step 10: References Step 11: Appendices

Step 1: title and abstract.

Select a concise, descriptive title and write an abstract summarizing your research question, objectives, methodology and expected outcomes​​. The abstract should include your research question, the objectives you aim to achieve, the methodology you plan to employ and the anticipated outcomes. 

Step 2: Introduction

In this section, introduce the topic of your research, emphasizing its significance and relevance to the field. Articulate the research problem or question in clear terms and provide background context, which should include an overview of previous research in the field.

Step 3: Research objectives

Here, you’ll need to outline specific, clear and achievable objectives that align with your research problem. These objectives should be well-defined, focused and measurable, serving as the guiding pillars for your study. They help in establishing what you intend to accomplish through your research and provide a clear direction for your investigation.

Step 4: Literature review

In this part, conduct a thorough review of existing literature related to your research topic. This involves a detailed summary of key findings and major contributions from previous research. Identify existing gaps in the literature and articulate how your research aims to fill these gaps. The literature review not only shows your grasp of the subject matter but also how your research will contribute new insights or perspectives to the field.

Step 5: Methodology

Describe the design of your research and the methodologies you will employ. This should include detailed information on data collection methods, instruments to be used and analysis techniques. Justify the appropriateness of these methods for your research​​.

Step 6: Timeline

Construct a detailed timeline that maps out the major milestones and activities of your research project. Break the entire research process into smaller, manageable tasks and assign realistic time frames to each. This timeline should cover everything from the initial research phase to the final submission, including periods for data collection, analysis and report writing. 

It helps in ensuring your project stays on track and demonstrates to reviewers that you have a well-thought-out plan for completing your research efficiently.

Step 7: Resources

Identify all the resources that will be required for your research, such as specific databases, laboratory equipment, software or funding. Provide details on how these resources will be accessed or acquired. 

If your research requires funding, explain how it will be utilized effectively to support various aspects of the project. 

Step 8: Ethical considerations

Address any ethical issues that may arise during your research. This is particularly important for research involving human subjects. Describe the measures you will take to ensure ethical standards are maintained, such as obtaining informed consent, ensuring participant privacy, and adhering to data protection regulations. 

Here, in this section you should reassure reviewers that you are committed to conducting your research responsibly and ethically.

Step 9: Expected outcomes and significance

Articulate the expected outcomes or results of your research. Explain the potential impact and significance of these outcomes, whether in advancing academic knowledge, influencing policy or addressing specific societal or practical issues. 

Step 10: References

Compile a comprehensive list of all the references cited in your proposal. Adhere to a consistent citation style (like APA or MLA) throughout your document. The reference section not only gives credit to the original authors of your sourced information but also strengthens the credibility of your proposal.

Step 11: Appendices

Include additional supporting materials that are pertinent to your research proposal. This can be survey questionnaires, interview guides, detailed data analysis plans or any supplementary information that supports the main text. 

Appendices provide further depth to your proposal, showcasing the thoroughness of your preparation.

Beige And Dark Green Minimalist Research Proposal

Research proposal FAQs

1. how long should a research proposal be.

The length of a research proposal can vary depending on the requirements of the academic institution, funding body or specific guidelines provided. Generally, research proposals range from 500 to 1500 words or about one to a few pages long. It’s important to provide enough detail to clearly convey your research idea, objectives and methodology, while being concise. Always check

2. Why is the research plan pivotal to a research project?

The research plan is pivotal to a research project because it acts as a blueprint, guiding every phase of the study. It outlines the objectives, methodology, timeline and expected outcomes, providing a structured approach and ensuring that the research is systematically conducted. 

A well-crafted plan helps in identifying potential challenges, allocating resources efficiently and maintaining focus on the research goals. It is also essential for communicating the project’s feasibility and importance to stakeholders, such as funding bodies or academic supervisors.

Simple Minimalist White Research Proposal

Mastering how to write a research proposal is an essential skill for any scholar, whether in social and behavioral sciences, academic writing or any field requiring scholarly research. From this article, you have learned key components, from the literature review to the research design, helping you develop a persuasive and well-structured proposal.

Remember, a good research proposal not only highlights your proposed research and methodology but also demonstrates its relevance and potential impact.

For additional support, consider utilizing Venngage’s Proposal Maker and Research Proposals Templates , valuable tools in crafting a compelling proposal that stands out.

Whether it’s for grant funding, a research paper or a dissertation proposal, these resources can assist in transforming your research idea into a successful submission.

How to write a research proposal

What is a research proposal.

A research proposal should present your idea or question and expected outcomes with clarity and definition – the what.

It should also make a case for why your question is significant and what value it will bring to your discipline – the why. 

What it shouldn't do is answer the question – that's what your research will do.

Why is it important?

Research proposals are significant because Another reason why it formally outlines your intended research. Which means you need to provide details on how you will go about your research, including:

  • your approach and methodology
  • timeline and feasibility
  • all other considerations needed to progress your research, such as resources.

Think of it as a tool that will help you clarify your idea and make conducting your research easier.

How long should it be?

Usually no more than 2000 words, but check the requirements of your degree, and your supervisor or research coordinator.

Presenting your idea clearly and concisely demonstrates that you can write this way – an attribute of a potential research candidate that is valued by assessors.

What should it include?

Project title.

Your title should clearly indicate what your proposed research is about.

Research supervisor

State the name, department and faculty or school of the academic who has agreed to supervise you. Rest assured, your research supervisor will work with you to refine your research proposal ahead of submission to ensure it meets the needs of your discipline.

Proposed mode of research

Describe your proposed mode of research. Which may be closely linked to your discipline, and is where you will describe the style or format of your research, e.g. data, field research, composition, written work, social performance and mixed media etc. 

This is not required for research in the sciences, but your research supervisor will be able to guide you on discipline-specific requirements.

Aims and objectives

What are you trying to achieve with your research? What is the purpose? This section should reference why you're applying for a research degree. Are you addressing a gap in the current research? Do you want to look at a theory more closely and test it out? Is there something you're trying to prove or disprove? To help you clarify this, think about the potential outcome of your research if you were successful – that is your aim. Make sure that this is a focused statement.

Your objectives will be your aim broken down – the steps to achieving the intended outcome. They are the smaller proof points that will underpin your research's purpose. Be logical in the order of how you present these so that each succeeds the previous, i.e. if you need to achieve 'a' before 'b' before 'c', then make sure you order your objectives a, b, c.

A concise summary of what your research is about. It outlines the key aspects of what you will investigate as well as the expected outcomes. It briefly covers the what, why and how of your research. 

A good way to evaluate if you have written a strong synopsis, is to get somebody to read it without reading the rest of your research proposal. Would they know what your research is about?

Now that you have your question clarified, it is time to explain the why. Here, you need to demonstrate an understanding of the current research climate in your area of interest.

Providing context around your research topic through a literature review will show the assessor that you understand current dialogue around your research, and what is published.

Demonstrate you have a strong understanding of the key topics, significant studies and notable researchers in your area of research and how these have contributed to the current landscape.

Expected research contribution

In this section, you should consider the following:

  • Why is your research question or hypothesis worth asking?
  • How is the current research lacking or falling short?
  • What impact will your research have on the discipline?
  • Will you be extending an area of knowledge, applying it to new contexts, solving a problem, testing a theory, or challenging an existing one?
  • Establish why your research is important by convincing your audience there is a gap.
  • What will be the outcome of your research contribution?
  • Demonstrate both your current level of knowledge and how the pursuit of your question or hypothesis will create a new understanding and generate new information.
  • Show how your research is innovative and original.

Draw links between your research and the faculty or school you are applying at, and explain why you have chosen your supervisor, and what research have they or their school done to reinforce and support your own work. Cite these reasons to demonstrate how your research will benefit and contribute to the current body of knowledge.

Proposed methodology

Provide an overview of the methodology and techniques you will use to conduct your research. Cover what materials and equipment you will use, what theoretical frameworks will you draw on, and how will you collect data.

Highlight why you have chosen this particular methodology, but also why others may not have been as suitable. You need to demonstrate that you have put thought into your approach and why it's the most appropriate way to carry out your research. 

It should also highlight potential limitations you anticipate, feasibility within time and other constraints, ethical considerations and how you will address these, as well as general resources.

A work plan is a critical component of your research proposal because it indicates the feasibility of completion within the timeframe and supports you in achieving your objectives throughout your degree.

Consider the milestones you aim to achieve at each stage of your research. A PhD or master's degree by research can take two to four years of full-time study to complete. It might be helpful to offer year one in detail and the following years in broader terms. Ultimately you have to show that your research is likely to be both original and finished – and that you understand the time involved.

Provide details of the resources you will need to carry out your research project. Consider equipment, fieldwork expenses, travel and a proposed budget, to indicate how realistic your research proposal is in terms of financial requirements and whether any adjustments are needed.

Bibliography

Provide a list of references that you've made throughout your research proposal. 

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  • Research Process

Writing a Scientific Research Project Proposal

  • 5 minute read
  • 87.9K views

Table of Contents

The importance of a well-written research proposal cannot be underestimated. Your research really is only as good as your proposal. A poorly written, or poorly conceived research proposal will doom even an otherwise worthy project. On the other hand, a well-written, high-quality proposal will increase your chances for success.

In this article, we’ll outline the basics of writing an effective scientific research proposal, including the differences between research proposals, grants and cover letters. We’ll also touch on common mistakes made when submitting research proposals, as well as a simple example or template that you can follow.

What is a scientific research proposal?

The main purpose of a scientific research proposal is to convince your audience that your project is worthwhile, and that you have the expertise and wherewithal to complete it. The elements of an effective research proposal mirror those of the research process itself, which we’ll outline below. Essentially, the research proposal should include enough information for the reader to determine if your proposed study is worth pursuing.

It is not an uncommon misunderstanding to think that a research proposal and a cover letter are the same things. However, they are different. The main difference between a research proposal vs cover letter content is distinct. Whereas the research proposal summarizes the proposal for future research, the cover letter connects you to the research, and how you are the right person to complete the proposed research.

There is also sometimes confusion around a research proposal vs grant application. Whereas a research proposal is a statement of intent, related to answering a research question, a grant application is a specific request for funding to complete the research proposed. Of course, there are elements of overlap between the two documents; it’s the purpose of the document that defines one or the other.

Scientific Research Proposal Format

Although there is no one way to write a scientific research proposal, there are specific guidelines. A lot depends on which journal you’re submitting your research proposal to, so you may need to follow their scientific research proposal template.

In general, however, there are fairly universal sections to every scientific research proposal. These include:

  • Title: Make sure the title of your proposal is descriptive and concise. Make it catch and informative at the same time, avoiding dry phrases like, “An investigation…” Your title should pique the interest of the reader.
  • Abstract: This is a brief (300-500 words) summary that includes the research question, your rationale for the study, and any applicable hypothesis. You should also include a brief description of your methodology, including procedures, samples, instruments, etc.
  • Introduction: The opening paragraph of your research proposal is, perhaps, the most important. Here you want to introduce the research problem in a creative way, and demonstrate your understanding of the need for the research. You want the reader to think that your proposed research is current, important and relevant.
  • Background: Include a brief history of the topic and link it to a contemporary context to show its relevance for today. Identify key researchers and institutions also looking at the problem
  • Literature Review: This is the section that may take the longest amount of time to assemble. Here you want to synthesize prior research, and place your proposed research into the larger picture of what’s been studied in the past. You want to show your reader that your work is original, and adds to the current knowledge.
  • Research Design and Methodology: This section should be very clearly and logically written and organized. You are letting your reader know that you know what you are going to do, and how. The reader should feel confident that you have the skills and knowledge needed to get the project done.
  • Preliminary Implications: Here you’ll be outlining how you anticipate your research will extend current knowledge in your field. You might also want to discuss how your findings will impact future research needs.
  • Conclusion: This section reinforces the significance and importance of your proposed research, and summarizes the entire proposal.
  • References/Citations: Of course, you need to include a full and accurate list of any and all sources you used to write your research proposal.

Common Mistakes in Writing a Scientific Research Project Proposal

Remember, the best research proposal can be rejected if it’s not well written or is ill-conceived. The most common mistakes made include:

  • Not providing the proper context for your research question or the problem
  • Failing to reference landmark/key studies
  • Losing focus of the research question or problem
  • Not accurately presenting contributions by other researchers and institutions
  • Incompletely developing a persuasive argument for the research that is being proposed
  • Misplaced attention on minor points and/or not enough detail on major issues
  • Sloppy, low-quality writing without effective logic and flow
  • Incorrect or lapses in references and citations, and/or references not in proper format
  • The proposal is too long – or too short

Scientific Research Proposal Example

There are countless examples that you can find for successful research proposals. In addition, you can also find examples of unsuccessful research proposals. Search for successful research proposals in your field, and even for your target journal, to get a good idea on what specifically your audience may be looking for.

While there’s no one example that will show you everything you need to know, looking at a few will give you a good idea of what you need to include in your own research proposal. Talk, also, to colleagues in your field, especially if you are a student or a new researcher. We can often learn from the mistakes of others. The more prepared and knowledgeable you are prior to writing your research proposal, the more likely you are to succeed.

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One of the top reasons scientific research proposals are rejected is due to poor logic and flow. Check out our Language Editing Services to ensure a great proposal , that’s clear and concise, and properly referenced. Check our video for more information, and get started today.

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  • What Is a Research Design | Types, Guide & Examples

What Is a Research Design | Types, Guide & Examples

Published on June 7, 2021 by Shona McCombes . Revised on November 20, 2023 by Pritha Bhandari.

A research design is a strategy for answering your   research question  using empirical data. Creating a research design means making decisions about:

  • Your overall research objectives and approach
  • Whether you’ll rely on primary research or secondary research
  • Your sampling methods or criteria for selecting subjects
  • Your data collection methods
  • The procedures you’ll follow to collect data
  • Your data analysis methods

A well-planned research design helps ensure that your methods match your research objectives and that you use the right kind of analysis for your data.

Table of contents

Step 1: consider your aims and approach, step 2: choose a type of research design, step 3: identify your population and sampling method, step 4: choose your data collection methods, step 5: plan your data collection procedures, step 6: decide on your data analysis strategies, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about research design.

  • Introduction

Before you can start designing your research, you should already have a clear idea of the research question you want to investigate.

There are many different ways you could go about answering this question. Your research design choices should be driven by your aims and priorities—start by thinking carefully about what you want to achieve.

The first choice you need to make is whether you’ll take a qualitative or quantitative approach.

Qualitative research designs tend to be more flexible and inductive , allowing you to adjust your approach based on what you find throughout the research process.

Quantitative research designs tend to be more fixed and deductive , with variables and hypotheses clearly defined in advance of data collection.

It’s also possible to use a mixed-methods design that integrates aspects of both approaches. By combining qualitative and quantitative insights, you can gain a more complete picture of the problem you’re studying and strengthen the credibility of your conclusions.

Practical and ethical considerations when designing research

As well as scientific considerations, you need to think practically when designing your research. If your research involves people or animals, you also need to consider research ethics .

  • How much time do you have to collect data and write up the research?
  • Will you be able to gain access to the data you need (e.g., by travelling to a specific location or contacting specific people)?
  • Do you have the necessary research skills (e.g., statistical analysis or interview techniques)?
  • Will you need ethical approval ?

At each stage of the research design process, make sure that your choices are practically feasible.

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Within both qualitative and quantitative approaches, there are several types of research design to choose from. Each type provides a framework for the overall shape of your research.

Types of quantitative research designs

Quantitative designs can be split into four main types.

  • Experimental and   quasi-experimental designs allow you to test cause-and-effect relationships
  • Descriptive and correlational designs allow you to measure variables and describe relationships between them.

With descriptive and correlational designs, you can get a clear picture of characteristics, trends and relationships as they exist in the real world. However, you can’t draw conclusions about cause and effect (because correlation doesn’t imply causation ).

Experiments are the strongest way to test cause-and-effect relationships without the risk of other variables influencing the results. However, their controlled conditions may not always reflect how things work in the real world. They’re often also more difficult and expensive to implement.

Types of qualitative research designs

Qualitative designs are less strictly defined. This approach is about gaining a rich, detailed understanding of a specific context or phenomenon, and you can often be more creative and flexible in designing your research.

The table below shows some common types of qualitative design. They often have similar approaches in terms of data collection, but focus on different aspects when analyzing the data.

Your research design should clearly define who or what your research will focus on, and how you’ll go about choosing your participants or subjects.

In research, a population is the entire group that you want to draw conclusions about, while a sample is the smaller group of individuals you’ll actually collect data from.

Defining the population

A population can be made up of anything you want to study—plants, animals, organizations, texts, countries, etc. In the social sciences, it most often refers to a group of people.

For example, will you focus on people from a specific demographic, region or background? Are you interested in people with a certain job or medical condition, or users of a particular product?

The more precisely you define your population, the easier it will be to gather a representative sample.

  • Sampling methods

Even with a narrowly defined population, it’s rarely possible to collect data from every individual. Instead, you’ll collect data from a sample.

To select a sample, there are two main approaches: probability sampling and non-probability sampling . The sampling method you use affects how confidently you can generalize your results to the population as a whole.

Probability sampling is the most statistically valid option, but it’s often difficult to achieve unless you’re dealing with a very small and accessible population.

For practical reasons, many studies use non-probability sampling, but it’s important to be aware of the limitations and carefully consider potential biases. You should always make an effort to gather a sample that’s as representative as possible of the population.

Case selection in qualitative research

In some types of qualitative designs, sampling may not be relevant.

For example, in an ethnography or a case study , your aim is to deeply understand a specific context, not to generalize to a population. Instead of sampling, you may simply aim to collect as much data as possible about the context you are studying.

In these types of design, you still have to carefully consider your choice of case or community. You should have a clear rationale for why this particular case is suitable for answering your research question .

For example, you might choose a case study that reveals an unusual or neglected aspect of your research problem, or you might choose several very similar or very different cases in order to compare them.

Data collection methods are ways of directly measuring variables and gathering information. They allow you to gain first-hand knowledge and original insights into your research problem.

You can choose just one data collection method, or use several methods in the same study.

Survey methods

Surveys allow you to collect data about opinions, behaviors, experiences, and characteristics by asking people directly. There are two main survey methods to choose from: questionnaires and interviews .

Observation methods

Observational studies allow you to collect data unobtrusively, observing characteristics, behaviors or social interactions without relying on self-reporting.

Observations may be conducted in real time, taking notes as you observe, or you might make audiovisual recordings for later analysis. They can be qualitative or quantitative.

Other methods of data collection

There are many other ways you might collect data depending on your field and topic.

If you’re not sure which methods will work best for your research design, try reading some papers in your field to see what kinds of data collection methods they used.

Secondary data

If you don’t have the time or resources to collect data from the population you’re interested in, you can also choose to use secondary data that other researchers already collected—for example, datasets from government surveys or previous studies on your topic.

With this raw data, you can do your own analysis to answer new research questions that weren’t addressed by the original study.

Using secondary data can expand the scope of your research, as you may be able to access much larger and more varied samples than you could collect yourself.

However, it also means you don’t have any control over which variables to measure or how to measure them, so the conclusions you can draw may be limited.

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As well as deciding on your methods, you need to plan exactly how you’ll use these methods to collect data that’s consistent, accurate, and unbiased.

Planning systematic procedures is especially important in quantitative research, where you need to precisely define your variables and ensure your measurements are high in reliability and validity.

Operationalization

Some variables, like height or age, are easily measured. But often you’ll be dealing with more abstract concepts, like satisfaction, anxiety, or competence. Operationalization means turning these fuzzy ideas into measurable indicators.

If you’re using observations , which events or actions will you count?

If you’re using surveys , which questions will you ask and what range of responses will be offered?

You may also choose to use or adapt existing materials designed to measure the concept you’re interested in—for example, questionnaires or inventories whose reliability and validity has already been established.

Reliability and validity

Reliability means your results can be consistently reproduced, while validity means that you’re actually measuring the concept you’re interested in.

For valid and reliable results, your measurement materials should be thoroughly researched and carefully designed. Plan your procedures to make sure you carry out the same steps in the same way for each participant.

If you’re developing a new questionnaire or other instrument to measure a specific concept, running a pilot study allows you to check its validity and reliability in advance.

Sampling procedures

As well as choosing an appropriate sampling method , you need a concrete plan for how you’ll actually contact and recruit your selected sample.

That means making decisions about things like:

  • How many participants do you need for an adequate sample size?
  • What inclusion and exclusion criteria will you use to identify eligible participants?
  • How will you contact your sample—by mail, online, by phone, or in person?

If you’re using a probability sampling method , it’s important that everyone who is randomly selected actually participates in the study. How will you ensure a high response rate?

If you’re using a non-probability method , how will you avoid research bias and ensure a representative sample?

Data management

It’s also important to create a data management plan for organizing and storing your data.

Will you need to transcribe interviews or perform data entry for observations? You should anonymize and safeguard any sensitive data, and make sure it’s backed up regularly.

Keeping your data well-organized will save time when it comes to analyzing it. It can also help other researchers validate and add to your findings (high replicability ).

On its own, raw data can’t answer your research question. The last step of designing your research is planning how you’ll analyze the data.

Quantitative data analysis

In quantitative research, you’ll most likely use some form of statistical analysis . With statistics, you can summarize your sample data, make estimates, and test hypotheses.

Using descriptive statistics , you can summarize your sample data in terms of:

  • The distribution of the data (e.g., the frequency of each score on a test)
  • The central tendency of the data (e.g., the mean to describe the average score)
  • The variability of the data (e.g., the standard deviation to describe how spread out the scores are)

The specific calculations you can do depend on the level of measurement of your variables.

Using inferential statistics , you can:

  • Make estimates about the population based on your sample data.
  • Test hypotheses about a relationship between variables.

Regression and correlation tests look for associations between two or more variables, while comparison tests (such as t tests and ANOVAs ) look for differences in the outcomes of different groups.

Your choice of statistical test depends on various aspects of your research design, including the types of variables you’re dealing with and the distribution of your data.

Qualitative data analysis

In qualitative research, your data will usually be very dense with information and ideas. Instead of summing it up in numbers, you’ll need to comb through the data in detail, interpret its meanings, identify patterns, and extract the parts that are most relevant to your research question.

Two of the most common approaches to doing this are thematic analysis and discourse analysis .

There are many other ways of analyzing qualitative data depending on the aims of your research. To get a sense of potential approaches, try reading some qualitative research papers in your field.

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.

  • Simple random sampling
  • Stratified sampling
  • Cluster sampling
  • Likert scales
  • Reproducibility

 Statistics

  • Null hypothesis
  • Statistical power
  • Probability distribution
  • Effect size
  • Poisson distribution

Research bias

  • Optimism bias
  • Cognitive bias
  • Implicit bias
  • Hawthorne effect
  • Anchoring bias
  • Explicit bias

A research design is a strategy for answering your   research question . It defines your overall approach and determines how you will collect and analyze data.

A well-planned research design helps ensure that your methods match your research aims, that you collect high-quality data, and that you use the right kind of analysis to answer your questions, utilizing credible sources . This allows you to draw valid , trustworthy conclusions.

Quantitative research designs can be divided into two main categories:

  • Correlational and descriptive designs are used to investigate characteristics, averages, trends, and associations between variables.
  • Experimental and quasi-experimental designs are used to test causal relationships .

Qualitative research designs tend to be more flexible. Common types of qualitative design include case study , ethnography , and grounded theory designs.

The priorities of a research design can vary depending on the field, but you usually have to specify:

  • Your research questions and/or hypotheses
  • Your overall approach (e.g., qualitative or quantitative )
  • The type of design you’re using (e.g., a survey , experiment , or case study )
  • Your data collection methods (e.g., questionnaires , observations)
  • Your data collection procedures (e.g., operationalization , timing and data management)
  • Your data analysis methods (e.g., statistical tests  or thematic analysis )

A sample is a subset of individuals from a larger population . Sampling means selecting the group that you will actually collect data from in your research. For example, if you are researching the opinions of students in your university, you could survey a sample of 100 students.

In statistics, sampling allows you to test a hypothesis about the characteristics of a population.

Operationalization means turning abstract conceptual ideas into measurable observations.

For example, the concept of social anxiety isn’t directly observable, but it can be operationally defined in terms of self-rating scores, behavioral avoidance of crowded places, or physical anxiety symptoms in social situations.

Before collecting data , it’s important to consider how you will operationalize the variables that you want to measure.

A research project is an academic, scientific, or professional undertaking to answer a research question . Research projects can take many forms, such as qualitative or quantitative , descriptive , longitudinal , experimental , or correlational . What kind of research approach you choose will depend on your topic.

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Chapter 14: The Research Proposal

14.3 Components of a Research Proposal

Krathwohl (2005) suggests and describes a variety of components to include in a research proposal. The following sections – Introductions, Background and significance, Literature Review; Research design and methods, Preliminary suppositions and implications; and Conclusion present these components in a suggested template for you to follow in the preparation of your research proposal.

Introduction

The introduction sets the tone for what follows in your research proposal – treat it as the initial pitch of your idea. After reading the introduction your reader should:

  • understand what it is you want to do;
  • have a sense of your passion for the topic; and
  • be excited about the study’s possible outcomes.

As you begin writing your research proposal, it is helpful to think of the introduction as a narrative of what it is you want to do, written in one to three paragraphs. Within those one to three paragraphs, it is important to briefly answer the following questions:

  • What is the central research problem?
  • How is the topic of your research proposal related to the problem?
  • What methods will you utilize to analyze the research problem?
  • Why is it important to undertake this research? What is the significance of your proposed research? Why are the outcomes of your proposed research important? Whom are they important?

Note : You may be asked by your instructor to include an abstract with your research proposal. In such cases, an abstract should provide an overview of what it is you plan to study, your main research question, a brief explanation of your methods to answer the research question, and your expected findings. All of this information must be carefully crafted in 150 to 250 words. A word of advice is to save the writing of your abstract until the very end of your research proposal preparation. If you are asked to provide an abstract, you should include 5 to 7 key words that are of most relevance to your study. List these in order of relevance.

Background and significance

The purpose of this section is to explain the context of your proposal and to describe, in detail, why it is important to undertake this research. Assume that the person or people who will read your research proposal know nothing or very little about the research problem. While you do not need to include all knowledge you have learned about your topic in this section, it is important to ensure that you include the most relevant material that will help to explain the goals of your research.

While there are no hard and fast rules, you should attempt to address some or all of the following key points:

  • State the research problem and provide a more thorough explanation about the purpose of the study than what you stated in the introduction.
  • Present the rationale for the proposed research study. Clearly indicate why this research is worth doing. Answer the “so what?” question.
  • Describe the major issues or problems to be addressed by your research. Do not forget to explain how and in what ways your proposed research builds upon previous related research.
  • Explain how you plan to go about conducting your research.
  • Clearly identify the key or most relevant sources of research you intend to use and explain how they will contribute to your analysis of the topic.
  • Set the boundaries of your proposed research, in order to provide a clear focus. Where appropriate, state not only what you will study, but what will be excluded from your study.
  • Provide clear definitions of key concepts and terms. Since key concepts and terms often have numerous definitions, make sure you state which definition you will be utilizing in your research.

Literature review

This key component of the research proposal is the most time-consuming aspect in the preparation of your research proposal. As described in Chapter 5 , the literature review provides the background to your study and demonstrates the significance of the proposed research. Specifically, it is a review and synthesis of prior research that is related to the problem you are setting forth to investigate. Essentially, your goal in the literature review is to place your research study within the larger whole of what has been studied in the past, while demonstrating to your reader that your work is original, innovative, and adds to the larger whole.

As the literature review is information dense, it is essential that this section be intelligently structured to enable your reader to grasp the key arguments underpinning your study. However, this can be easier to state and harder to do, simply due to the fact there is usually a plethora of related research to sift through. Consequently, a good strategy for writing the literature review is to break the literature into conceptual categories or themes, rather than attempting to describe various groups of literature you reviewed. Chapter 5   describes a variety of methods to help you organize the themes.

Here are some suggestions on how to approach the writing of your literature review:

  • Think about what questions other researchers have asked, what methods they used, what they found, and what they recommended based upon their findings.
  • Do not be afraid to challenge previous related research findings and/or conclusions.
  • Assess what you believe to be missing from previous research and explain how your research fills in this gap and/or extends previous research.

It is important to note that a significant challenge related to undertaking a literature review is knowing when to stop. As such, it is important to know when you have uncovered the key conceptual categories underlying your research topic. Generally, when you start to see repetition in the conclusions or recommendations, you can have confidence that you have covered all of the significant conceptual categories in your literature review. However, it is also important to acknowledge that researchers often find themselves returning to the literature as they collect and analyze their data. For example, an unexpected finding may develop as you collect and/or analyze the data; in this case, it is important to take the time to step back and review the literature again, to ensure that no other researchers have found a similar finding. This may include looking to research outside your field.

This situation occurred with one of this textbook’s authors’ research related to community resilience. During the interviews, the researchers heard many participants discuss individual resilience factors and how they believed these individual factors helped make the community more resilient, overall. Sheppard and Williams (2016) had not discovered these individual factors in their original literature review on community and environmental resilience. However, when they returned to the literature to search for individual resilience factors, they discovered a small body of literature in the child and youth psychology field. Consequently, Sheppard and Williams had to go back and add a new section to their literature review on individual resilience factors. Interestingly, their research appeared to be the first research to link individual resilience factors with community resilience factors.

Research design and methods

The objective of this section of the research proposal is to convince the reader that your overall research design and methods of analysis will enable you to solve the research problem you have identified and also enable you to accurately and effectively interpret the results of your research. Consequently, it is critical that the research design and methods section is well-written, clear, and logically organized. This demonstrates to your reader that you know what you are going to do and how you are going to do it. Overall, you want to leave your reader feeling confident that you have what it takes to get this research study completed in a timely fashion.

Essentially, this section of the research proposal should be clearly tied to the specific objectives of your study; however, it is also important to draw upon and include examples from the literature review that relate to your design and intended methods. In other words, you must clearly demonstrate how your study utilizes and builds upon past studies, as it relates to the research design and intended methods. For example, what methods have been used by other researchers in similar studies?

While it is important to consider the methods that other researchers have employed, it is equally, if not more, important to consider what methods have not been but could be employed. Remember, the methods section is not simply a list of tasks to be undertaken. It is also an argument as to why and how the tasks you have outlined will help you investigate the research problem and answer your research question(s).

Tips for writing the research design and methods section:

Specify the methodological approaches you intend to employ to obtain information and the techniques you will use to analyze the data.

Specify the research operations you will undertake and the way you will interpret the results of those operations in relation to the research problem.

Go beyond stating what you hope to achieve through the methods you have chosen. State how you will actually implement the methods (i.e., coding interview text, running regression analysis, etc.).

Anticipate and acknowledge any potential barriers you may encounter when undertaking your research, and describe how you will address these barriers.

Explain where you believe you will find challenges related to data collection, including access to participants and information.

Preliminary suppositions and implications

The purpose of this section is to argue how you anticipate that your research will refine, revise, or extend existing knowledge in the area of your study. Depending upon the aims and objectives of your study, you should also discuss how your anticipated findings may impact future research. For example, is it possible that your research may lead to a new policy, theoretical understanding, or method for analyzing data? How might your study influence future studies? What might your study mean for future practitioners working in the field? Who or what might benefit from your study? How might your study contribute to social, economic or environmental issues? While it is important to think about and discuss possibilities such as these, it is equally important to be realistic in stating your anticipated findings. In other words, you do not want to delve into idle speculation. Rather, the purpose here is to reflect upon gaps in the current body of literature and to describe how you anticipate your research will begin to fill in some or all of those gaps.

The conclusion reiterates the importance and significance of your research proposal, and provides a brief summary of the entire proposed study. Essentially, this section should only be one or two paragraphs in length. Here is a potential outline for your conclusion:

Discuss why the study should be done. Specifically discuss how you expect your study will advance existing knowledge and how your study is unique.

Explain the specific purpose of the study and the research questions that the study will answer.

Explain why the research design and methods chosen for this study are appropriate, and why other designs and methods were not chosen.

State the potential implications you expect to emerge from your proposed study,

Provide a sense of how your study fits within the broader scholarship currently in existence, related to the research problem.

Citations and references

As with any scholarly research paper, you must cite the sources you used in composing your research proposal. In a research proposal, this can take two forms: a reference list or a bibliography. A reference list lists the literature you referenced in the body of your research proposal. All references in the reference list must appear in the body of the research proposal. Remember, it is not acceptable to say “as cited in …” As a researcher you must always go to the original source and check it for yourself. Many errors are made in referencing, even by top researchers, and so it is important not to perpetuate an error made by someone else. While this can be time consuming, it is the proper way to undertake a literature review.

In contrast, a bibliography , is a list of everything you used or cited in your research proposal, with additional citations to any key sources relevant to understanding the research problem. In other words, sources cited in your bibliography may not necessarily appear in the body of your research proposal. Make sure you check with your instructor to see which of the two you are expected to produce.

Overall, your list of citations should be a testament to the fact that you have done a sufficient level of preliminary research to ensure that your project will complement, but not duplicate, previous research efforts. For social sciences, the reference list or bibliography should be prepared in American Psychological Association (APA) referencing format. Usually, the reference list (or bibliography) is not included in the word count of the research proposal. Again, make sure you check with your instructor to confirm.

Research Methods for the Social Sciences: An Introduction by Valerie Sheppard is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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Pfeiffer Library

Writing a Research Proposal

Parts of a research proposal, prosana model, introduction, research question, methodology.

  • Structure of a Research Proposal
  • Common Proposal Writing Mistakes
  • Proposal Writing Resources

A research proposal's purpose is to capture the evaluator's attention, demonstrate the study's potential benefits, and prove that it is a logical and consistent approach (Van Ekelenburg, 2010).  To ensure that your research proposal contains these elements, there are several aspects to include in your proposal (Al-Riyami, 2008):

  • Objective(s)
  • Variables (independent and dependent)
  • Research Question and/or hypothesis

Details about what to include in each element are included in the boxes below.  Depending on the topic of your study, some parts may not apply to your proposal.  You can also watch the video below for a brief overview about writing a successful research proposal.

Van Ekelenburg (2010) uses the PROSANA Model to guide researchers in developing rationale and justification for their research projects.  It is an acronym that connects the problem, solution, and benefits of a particular research project.  It is an easy way to remember the critical parts of a research proposal and how they relate to one another.  It includes the following letters (Van Ekelenburg, 2010):

  • Problem: Describing the main problem that the researcher is trying to solve.
  • Root causes: Describing what is causing the problem.  Why is the topic an issue?
  • fOcus: Narrowing down one of the underlying causes on which the researcher will focus for their research project.
  • Solutions: Listing potential solutions or approaches to fix to the problem.  There could be more than one.
  • Approach: Selecting the solution that the researcher will want to focus on.
  • Novelty: Describing how the solution will address or solve the problem.
  • Arguments: Explaining how the proposed solution will benefit the problem.

Research proposal titles should be concise and to the point, but informative.  The title of your proposal may be different from the title of your final research project, but that is completely normal!  Your findings may help you come up with a title that is more fitting for the final project.  Characteristics of good proposal titles are (Al-Riyami, 2008):

  • Catchy: It catches the reader's attention by peaking their interest.
  • Positive: It spins your project in a positive way towards the reader.
  • Transparent: It identifies the independent and dependent variables.

It is also common for proposal titles to be very similar to your research question, hypothesis, or thesis statement (Locke et al., 2007).

An abstract is a brief summary (about 300 words) of the study you are proposing.  It includes the following elements (Al-Riyami, 2008):

  • Your primary research question(s).
  • Hypothesis or main argument.
  • Method you will use to complete the study.  This may include the design, sample population, or measuring instruments that you plan to use.

Our guide on writing summaries may help you with this step.

  • Writing a Summary by Luann Edwards Last Updated May 22, 2023 678 views this year

The purpose of the introduction is to give readers background information about your topic.  it gives the readers a basic understanding of your topic so that they can further understand the significance of your proposal.  A good introduction will explain (Al-Riyami, 2008):

  • How it relates to other research done on the topic
  • Why your research is significant to the field
  • The relevance of your study

Your research objectives are the desired outcomes that you will achieve from the research project.  Depending on your research design, these may be generic or very specific.  You may also have more than one objective (Al-Riyami, 2008).

  • General objectives are what the research project will accomplish
  • Specific objectives relate to the research questions that the researcher aims to answer through the study.

Be careful not to have too many objectives in your proposal, as having too many can make your project lose focus.  Plus, it may not be possible to achieve several objectives in one study.

This section describes the different types of variables that you plan to have in your study and how you will measure them.  According to Al-Riyami (2008), there are four types of research variables:

  • Independent:  The person, object, or idea that is manipulated by the researcher.
  • Dependent:  The person, object, or idea whose changes are dependent upon the independent variable.  Typically, it is the item that the researcher is measuring for the study.
  • Confounding/Intervening:  Factors that may influence the effect of the independent variable on the dependent variable.  These include physical and mental barriers.  Not every study will have intervening variables, but they should be studied if applicable.
  • Background:   Factors that are relevant to the study's data and how it can be generalized.  Examples include demographic information such as age, sex, and ethnicity.

Your research proposal should describe each of your variables and how they relate to one another.  Depending on your study, you may not have all four types of variables present.  However, there will always be an independent and dependent variable.

A research question is the main piece of your research project because it explains what your study will discover to the reader.  It is the question that fuels the study, so it is important for it to be precise and unique.  You do not want it to be too broad, and it should identify a relationship between two variables (an independent and a dependent) (Al-Riyami, 2008).  There are six types of research questions (Academic Writer, n.d.):

  • Example: "Do people get nervous before speaking in front of an audience?"
  • Example: "What are the study habits of college freshmen at Tiffin University?"
  • Example: "What primary traits create a successful romantic relationship?"
  • Example: "Is there a relationship between a child's performance in school and their parents' socioeconomic status?"
  • Example: "Are high school seniors more motivated than high school freshmen?"
  • Example: "Do news media outlets impact a person's political opinions?"

For more information on the different types of research questions, you can view the "Research Questions and Hypotheses" tutorial on Academic Writer, located below.  If you are unfamiliar with Academic Writer, we also have a tutorial on using the database located below.

TU Access Only

Compose papers in pre-formatted APA templates. Manage references in forms that help craft APA citations. Learn the rules of APA style through tutorials and practice quizzes.

Academic Writer will continue to use the 6th edition guidelines until August 2020. A preview of the 7th edition is available in the footer of the resource's site. Previously known as APA Style Central.

  • Academic Writer Tutorial by Pfeiffer Library Last Updated May 22, 2023 9961 views this year

If you know enough about your research topic that you believe a particular outcome may occur as a result of the study, you can include a hypothesis (thesis statement) in your proposal.  A hypothesis is a prediction that you believe will be the outcome of your study.  It explains what you think the relationship will be between the independent and dependent variable (Al-Riyami, 2008).  It is ok if the hypothesis in your proposal turns out to be incorrect, because it is only a prediction!  If you are writing a proposal in the humanities, you may be writing a thesis statement instead of a hypothesis.  A thesis presents the main argument of your research project and leads to corresponding evidence to support your argument.

Hypotheses vs. Theories

Hypotheses are different from theories in that theories represent general principles and sets of rules that explain different phenomena.  They typically represent large areas of study because they are applicable to anything in a particular field.  Hypotheses focus on specific areas within a field and are educated guesses, meaning that they have the potential to be proven wrong (Academic Writer, n.d.).  Because of this, hypotheses can also be formed from theories.

For more information on writing effective thesis statements, you can view our guide on writing thesis statements below.

  • Writing Effective Thesis Statements by Luann Edwards Last Updated May 23, 2023 172 views this year

In a research proposal, you must thoroughly explain how you will conduct your study.  This includes things such as (Al-Riyami, 2008):

  • Research design:  What research approach will your study take?  Will it be quantitative or qualitative?
  • Research subjects/participants:  Who will be participating in your study?  Does your study require human participants?  How will you determine who to study?
  • Sample size:  How many participants will your study require?  If you are not using human participants, how much of the sample will you be studying?
  • Timeline:  A proposed list of the general tasks and events that you plan to complete the study.  This will include a time frame for each task/event and the order in which they will be completed.
  • Interventions:  If you plan on using anything on human participants for the study, you must include information it here.  This is especially important if you plan on using any substances on human subjects.
  • Ethical issues:  Are there any potential ethical issues surrounding this study?
  • Potential limitations:  Are there any limitations that could skew the data and findings from your study?
  • Appendixes:  If you need to present any consent forms, interview questions, surveys, questionnaires, or other items that will be used in your study, you should include samples of each item with an appendix to reference them.  If you are using a copyrighted document, you may need written permission from the original creator to use it in your study.  A copy of the written permission should be included in your proposal.
  • Setting:  Where will you be conducting the study?
  • Study instruments:  What measuring tools or computer software will you be using to collect data?  How will you collect the data?
  • How you will analyze the data:  What strategies or tools will you use to analyze the data you collect?
  • Quality control:  Will you have precautions in place to ensure that the study is conducted consistently and that outside factors will not skew the data?
  • Budget:  What type of funding will you need for your study?  This will include the funds needed to afford measuring tools, software, etc.
  • How you will share the study's findings:  What will you plan to do with the findings?
  • Significance of the study: How will your study expand on existing knowledge of the subject area?

For more information on research methodologies, you can view our guide on research methods and methodologies below.

  • Research Methodologies by Pfeiffer Library Last Updated Aug 2, 2022 9275 views this year
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Internal Research Proposal Draft

NASA Logo

Research Opportunities in Space and Earth Science (ROSES)-2024 Released

NASA's Science Mission Directorate (SMD) announces the release of its annual omnibus solicitation for basic and applied research, Research Opportunities in Space and Earth Science (ROSES) 2024 as NNH24ZDA001N on or about February 14, 2024, at  https://solicitation.nasaprs.com/ROSES2024

ROSES is an omnibus solicitation, with many individual program elements, each with its own due dates and topics. Table 2 and Table 3 of this NRA, which will be posted at https://solicitation.nasaprs.com/ROSES2024table2 and https://solicitation.nasaprs.com/ROSES2024table3 , respectively, provide proposal due dates and hypertext links to descriptions of the solicited program elements in the Appendices of this NRA. Together, these program elements cover the wide range of basic and applied supporting research and technology in space and Earth sciences supported by SMD.

ROSES NRA may result in grants, cooperative agreements, and inter- or intra-agency transfers, depending on the nature of the work proposed, the proposing organization, and/or program requirements. At the time of release of ROSES, we anticipate that all awards to non-governmental organizations will be federal assistance awards, and most program elements of ROSES specify grants. Unless specifically permitted by a particular program element, ROSES will not result in contracts because it would not be appropriate for the nature of the work solicited.

Except for China (see Section III.c of the ROSES Summary of Solicitation and the ROSES PRC FAQ ), organizations of every type, domestic and foreign, Government and private, for profit and not-for-profit, may submit proposals without restriction on teaming arrangements. Research involving non-U.S. organizations must be no exchange of funds, see https://science.nasa.gov/researchers/sara/faqs#14

Awards range from under $100K per year for focused, limited efforts (e.g., data analysis) to more than $1M per year for extensive activities (e.g., development of hardware for science experiments and/or flight). Periods of performance are typically three years, but some programs may allow up to five years and others specify shorter periods.

The funds available and the anticipated number of awards are given in each program element and range from less than one to several million dollars, which allows for selection from a few to as many as several dozen proposals.

Electronic submission of proposals is required by the respective due dates for each program element and must be submitted by an authorized official of the proposing organization. Electronic proposals may be submitted via the NASA proposal data system NSPIRES or via Grants.gov.

Every organization that intends to submit a proposal in response to ROSES-2024 must be registered with NSPIRES; organizations that intend to submit proposals via Grants.gov must be registered with Grants.gov, in addition to being registered with NSPIRES. Such registration must identify the authorized organizational representative(s) (AOR) who will submit the electronic proposal. All proposal team members must be registered in NSPIRES regardless of the submission system, so we may perform automatic organizational conflict of interest checking of reviewers. Potential proposers and proposing organizations are urged to access the system(s) well in advance of the proposal due date(s) of interest to familiarize themselves with its structure and to enter the requested information.

Notices of intent to propose and Step-1 Proposals will be due starting in March 27, 2024, and Full (Step-2) Proposals will be due no earlier than May 14, 2024, see Table 2 and Table 3 .

Potential proposers are strongly encouraged to read Section I(d) of the ROSES Summary of Solicitation and ROSES-24 FAQ#1 that list significant changes prior ROSES.

To learn of the addition of new program elements and all amendments to this NRA, proposers may:

  • Subscribe to the SMD mailing lists (by logging in at http://nspires.nasaprs.com/ and checking the appropriate boxes under "Account Management" and "Email Subscriptions");
  • Get automatic updates of due dates using the ROSES-2024 due date Google calendar. Instructions will be available shortly after release at https://science.nasa.gov/researchers/sara/library-and-useful-links (link from the words due date calendar);
  • and checking this ROSES-2024 Blog at https://science.nasa.gov/researchers/solicitations/roses-2024/

Frequently asked questions about ROSES-2024 will be posted at http://science.nasa.gov/researchers/sara/faqs/ shortly after release.

Questions concerning the individual program elements in ROSES should be directed to the point(s) of contact in the Summary Table of Key Information at the end of the program element and at http://science.nasa.gov/researchers/sara/program-officers-list/ .

Subject matter experts are encouraged to sign up to be a volunteer reviewer at https://science.nasa.gov/researchers/volunteer-review-panels

Questions concerning general ROSES-2024 policies and procedures may be directed to Max Bernstein, Lead for Research, Science Mission Directorate, at [email protected] .

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Read our research on: Immigration & Migration | Podcasts | Election 2024

Regions & Countries

How americans view the situation at the u.s.-mexico border, its causes and consequences, 80% say the u.s. government is doing a bad job handling the migrant influx.

is research proposal study

Pew Research Center conducted this study to understand the public’s views about the large number of migrants seeking to enter the U.S. at the border with Mexico. For this analysis, we surveyed 5,140 adults from Jan. 16-21, 2024. Everyone who took part in this survey is a member of the Center’s American Trends Panel (ATP), an online survey panel that is recruited through national, random sampling of residential addresses. This way nearly all U.S. adults have a chance of selection. The survey is weighted to be representative of the U.S. adult population by gender, race, ethnicity, partisan affiliation, education and other categories. Read more about the ATP’s methodology .

Here are the questions used for the report and its methodology .

The growing number of migrants seeking entry into the United States at its border with Mexico has strained government resources, divided Congress and emerged as a contentious issue in the 2024 presidential campaign .

Chart shows Why do Americans think there is an influx of migrants to the United States?

Americans overwhelmingly fault the government for how it has handled the migrant situation. Beyond that, however, there are deep differences – over why the migrants are coming to the U.S., proposals for addressing the situation, and even whether it should be described as a “crisis.”

Factors behind the migrant influx

Economic factors – either poor conditions in migrants’ home countries or better economic opportunities in the United States – are widely viewed as major reasons for the migrant influx.

About seven-in-ten Americans (71%), including majorities in both parties, cite better economic opportunities in the U.S. as a major reason.

There are wider partisan differences over other factors.

About two-thirds of Americans (65%) say violence in migrants’ home countries is a major reason for why a large number of immigrants have come to the border.

Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents are 30 percentage points more likely than Republicans and Republican leaners to cite this as a major reason (79% vs. 49%).

By contrast, 76% of Republicans say the belief that U.S. immigration policies will make it easy to stay in the country once they arrive is a major factor. About half as many Democrats (39%) say the same.

For more on Americans’ views of these and other reasons, visit Chapter 2.

How serious is the situation at the border?

A sizable majority of Americans (78%) say the large number of migrants seeking to enter this country at the U.S.-Mexico border is eithera crisis (45%) or a major problem (32%), according to the Pew Research Center survey, conducted Jan. 16-21, 2024, among 5,140 adults.

Related: Migrant encounters at the U.S.-Mexico border hit a record high at the end of 2023 .

Chart shows Border situation viewed as a ‘crisis’ by most Republicans; Democrats are more likely to call it a ‘problem’

  • Republicans are much more likely than Democrats to describe the situation as a “crisis”: 70% of Republicans say this, compared with just 22% of Democrats.
  • Democrats mostly view the situation as a major problem (44%) or minor problem (26%) for the U.S. Very few Democrats (7%) say it is not a problem.

In an open-ended question , respondents voice their concerns about the migrant influx. They point to numerous issues, including worries about how the migrants are cared for and general problems with the immigration system.

Yet two concerns come up most frequently:

  • 22% point to the economic burdens associated with the migrant influx, including the strains migrants place on social services and other government resources.
  • 22% also cite security concerns. Many of these responses focus on crime (10%), terrorism (10%) and drugs (3%).

When asked specifically about the impact of the migrant influx on crime in the United States, a majority of Americans (57%) say the large number of migrants seeking to enter the country leads to more crime. Fewer (39%) say this does not have much of an impact on crime in this country.

Republicans (85%) overwhelmingly say the migrant surge leads to increased crime in the U.S. A far smaller share of Democrats (31%) say the same; 63% of Democrats instead say it does not have much of an impact.

Government widely criticized for its handling of migrant influx

For the past several years, the federal government has gotten low ratings for its handling of the situation at the U.S.-Mexico border. (Note: The wording of this question has been modified modestly to reflect circumstances at the time).

Chart shows Only about a quarter of Democrats and even fewer Republicans say the government has done a good job dealing with large number of migrants at the border

However, the current ratings are extraordinarily low.

Just 18% say the U.S. government is doing a good job dealing with the large number of migrants at the border, while 80% say it is doing a bad job, including 45% who say it is doing a very bad job.

  • Republicans’ views are overwhelmingly negative (89% say it’s doing a bad job), as they have been since Joe Biden became president.
  • 73% of Democrats also give the government negative ratings, the highest share recorded during Biden’s presidency.

For more on Americans’ evaluations of the situation, visit Chapter 1 .

Which policies could improve the border situation?

There is no single policy proposal, among the nine included on the survey, that majorities of both Republicans and Democrats say would improve the situation at the U.S.-Mexico border. There are areas of relative agreement, however.

A 60% majority of Americans say that increasing the number of immigration judges and staff in order to make decisions on asylum more quickly would make the situation better. Only 11% say it would make things worse, while 14% think it would not make much difference.

Nearly as many (56%) say creating more opportunities for people to legally immigrate to the U.S. would make the situation better.

Chart shows Most Democrats and nearly half of Republicans say boosting resources for quicker decisions on asylum cases would improve situation at Mexico border

Majorities of Democrats say each of these proposals would make the border situation better.

Republicans are less positive than are Democrats; still, about 40% or more of Republicans say each would improve the situation, while far fewer say they would make things worse.

Opinions on other proposals are more polarized. For example, a 56% majority of Democrats say that adding resources to provide safe and sanitary conditions for migrants arriving in the U.S. would be a positive step forward.

Republicans not only are far less likely than Democrats to view this proposal positively, but far more say it would make the situation worse (43%) than better (17%).

Chart shows Wide partisan gaps in views of expanding border wall, providing ‘safe and sanitary conditions’ for migrants

Building or expanding a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border was among the most divisive policies of Donald Trump’s presidency. In 2019, 82% of Republicans favored expanding the border wall , compared with just 6% of Democrats.

Today, 72% of Republicans say substantially expanding the wall along the U.S. border with Mexico would make the situation better. Just 15% of Democrats concur, with most saying either it would not make much of a difference (47%) or it would make things worse (24%).

For more on Americans’ reactions to policy proposals, visit Chapter 3 .

Facts are more important than ever

In times of uncertainty, good decisions demand good data. Please support our research with a financial contribution.

Report Materials

Table of contents, fast facts on how greeks see migrants as greece-turkey border crisis deepens, americans’ immigration policy priorities: divisions between – and within – the two parties, from the archives: in ’60s, americans gave thumbs-up to immigration law that changed the nation, around the world, more say immigrants are a strength than a burden, latinos have become less likely to say there are too many immigrants in u.s., most popular.

About Pew Research Center Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping the world. It conducts public opinion polling, demographic research, media content analysis and other empirical social science research. Pew Research Center does not take policy positions. It is a subsidiary of The Pew Charitable Trusts .

EU AI Act: first regulation on artificial intelligence

The use of artificial intelligence in the EU will be regulated by the AI Act, the world’s first comprehensive AI law. Find out how it will protect you.

A man faces a computer generated figure with programming language in the background

As part of its digital strategy , the EU wants to regulate artificial intelligence (AI) to ensure better conditions for the development and use of this innovative technology. AI can create many benefits , such as better healthcare; safer and cleaner transport; more efficient manufacturing; and cheaper and more sustainable energy.

In April 2021, the European Commission proposed the first EU regulatory framework for AI. It says that AI systems that can be used in different applications are analysed and classified according to the risk they pose to users. The different risk levels will mean more or less regulation. Once approved, these will be the world’s first rules on AI.

Learn more about what artificial intelligence is and how it is used

What Parliament wants in AI legislation

Parliament’s priority is to make sure that AI systems used in the EU are safe, transparent, traceable, non-discriminatory and environmentally friendly. AI systems should be overseen by people, rather than by automation, to prevent harmful outcomes.

Parliament also wants to establish a technology-neutral, uniform definition for AI that could be applied to future AI systems.

Learn more about Parliament’s work on AI and its vision for AI’s future

AI Act: different rules for different risk levels

The new rules establish obligations for providers and users depending on the level of risk from artificial intelligence. While many AI systems pose minimal risk, they need to be assessed.

Unacceptable risk

Unacceptable risk AI systems are systems considered a threat to people and will be banned. They include:

  • Cognitive behavioural manipulation of people or specific vulnerable groups: for example voice-activated toys that encourage dangerous behaviour in children
  • Social scoring: classifying people based on behaviour, socio-economic status or personal characteristics
  • Biometric identification and categorisation of people
  • Real-time and remote biometric identification systems, such as facial recognition

Some exceptions may be allowed for law enforcement purposes. “Real-time” remote biometric identification systems will be allowed in a limited number of serious cases, while “post” remote biometric identification systems, where identification occurs after a significant delay, will be allowed to prosecute serious crimes and only after court approval.

AI systems that negatively affect safety or fundamental rights will be considered high risk and will be divided into two categories:

1) AI systems that are used in products falling under the EU’s product safety legislation . This includes toys, aviation, cars, medical devices and lifts.

2) AI systems falling into specific areas that will have to be registered in an EU database:

  • Management and operation of critical infrastructure
  • Education and vocational training
  • Employment, worker management and access to self-employment
  • Access to and enjoyment of essential private services and public services and benefits
  • Law enforcement
  • Migration, asylum and border control management
  • Assistance in legal interpretation and application of the law.

All high-risk AI systems will be assessed before being put on the market and also throughout their lifecycle.

General purpose and generative AI

Generative AI, like ChatGPT, would have to comply with transparency requirements:

  • Disclosing that the content was generated by AI
  • Designing the model to prevent it from generating illegal content
  • Publishing summaries of copyrighted data used for training

High-impact general-purpose AI models that might pose systemic risk, such as the more advanced AI model GPT-4, would have to undergo thorough evaluations and any serious incidents would have to be reported to the European Commission.

Limited risk

Limited risk AI systems should comply with minimal transparency requirements that would allow users to make informed decisions. After interacting with the applications, the user can then decide whether they want to continue using it. Users should be made aware when they are interacting with AI. This includes AI systems that generate or manipulate image, audio or video content, for example deepfakes.

On December 9 2023, Parliament reached a provisional agreement with the Council on the AI act . The agreed text will now have to be formally adopted by both Parliament and Council to become EU law. Before all MEPs have their say on the agreement, Parliament’s internal market and civil liberties committees will vote on it.

More on the EU’s digital measures

  • Cryptocurrency dangers and the benefits of EU legislation
  • Fighting cybercrime: new EU cybersecurity laws explained
  • Boosting data sharing in the EU: what are the benefits?
  • EU Digital Markets Act and Digital Services Act
  • Five ways the European Parliament wants to protect online gamers
  • Artificial Intelligence Act

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A Columbia Surgeon’s Study Was Pulled. He Kept Publishing Flawed Data.

The quiet withdrawal of a 2021 cancer study by Dr. Sam Yoon highlights scientific publishers’ lack of transparency around data problems.

Supported by

Benjamin Mueller

By Benjamin Mueller

Benjamin Mueller covers medical science and has reported on several research scandals.

  • Feb. 15, 2024

The stomach cancer study was shot through with suspicious data. Identical constellations of cells were said to depict separate experiments on wholly different biological lineages. Photos of tumor-stricken mice, used to show that a drug reduced cancer growth, had been featured in two previous papers describing other treatments.

Problems with the study were severe enough that its publisher, after finding that the paper violated ethics guidelines, formally withdrew it within a few months of its publication in 2021. The study was then wiped from the internet, leaving behind a barren web page that said nothing about the reasons for its removal.

As it turned out, the flawed study was part of a pattern. Since 2008, two of its authors — Dr. Sam S. Yoon, chief of a cancer surgery division at Columbia University’s medical center, and a more junior cancer biologist — have collaborated with a rotating cast of researchers on a combined 26 articles that a British scientific sleuth has publicly flagged for containing suspect data. A medical journal retracted one of them this month after inquiries from The New York Times.

A person walks across a covered walkway connecting two buildings over a road with parked cars. A large, blue sign on the walkway says "Columbia University Irving Medical Center."

Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, where Dr. Yoon worked when much of the research was done, is now investigating the studies. Columbia’s medical center declined to comment on specific allegations, saying only that it reviews “any concerns about scientific integrity brought to our attention.”

Dr. Yoon, who has said his research could lead to better cancer treatments , did not answer repeated questions. Attempts to speak to the other researcher, Changhwan Yoon, an associate research scientist at Columbia, were also unsuccessful.

The allegations were aired in recent months in online comments on a science forum and in a blog post by Sholto David, an independent molecular biologist. He has ferreted out problems in a raft of high-profile cancer research , including dozens of papers at a Harvard cancer center that were subsequently referred for retractions or corrections.

From his flat in Wales , Dr. David pores over published images of cells, tumors and mice in his spare time and then reports slip-ups, trying to close the gap between people’s regard for academic research and the sometimes shoddier realities of the profession.

When evaluating scientific images, it is difficult to distinguish sloppy copy-and-paste errors from deliberate doctoring of data. Two other imaging experts who reviewed the allegations at the request of The Times said some of the discrepancies identified by Dr. David bore signs of manipulation, like flipped, rotated or seemingly digitally altered images.

Armed with A.I.-powered detection tools, scientists and bloggers have recently exposed a growing body of such questionable research, like the faulty papers at Harvard’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and studies by Stanford’s president that led to his resignation last year.

But those high-profile cases were merely the tip of the iceberg, experts said. A deeper pool of unreliable research has gone unaddressed for years, shielded in part by powerful scientific publishers driven to put out huge volumes of studies while avoiding the reputational damage of retracting them publicly.

The quiet removal of the 2021 stomach cancer study from Dr. Yoon’s lab, a copy of which was reviewed by The Times, illustrates how that system of scientific publishing has helped enable faulty research, experts said. In some cases, critical medical fields have remained seeded with erroneous studies.

“The journals do the bare minimum,” said Elisabeth Bik, a microbiologist and image expert who described Dr. Yoon’s papers as showing a worrisome pattern of copied or doctored data. “There’s no oversight.”

Memorial Sloan Kettering, where portions of the stomach cancer research were done, said no one — not the journal nor the researchers — had ever told administrators that the paper was withdrawn or why it had been. The study said it was supported in part by federal funding given to the cancer center.

Dr. Yoon, a stomach cancer specialist and a proponent of robotic surgery, kept climbing the academic ranks, bringing his junior researcher along with him. In September 2021, around the time the study was published, he joined Columbia, which celebrated his prolific research output in a news release . His work was financed in part by half a million dollars in federal research money that year, adding to a career haul of nearly $5 million in federal funds.

The decision by the stomach cancer study’s publisher, Elsevier, not to post an explanation for the paper’s removal made it less likely that the episode would draw public attention or affect the duo’s work. That very study continued to be cited in papers by other scientists .

And as recently as last year, Dr. Yoon’s lab published more studies containing identical images that were said to depict separate experiments, according to Dr. David’s analyses.

The researchers’ suspicious publications stretch back 16 years. Over time, relatively minor image copies in papers by Dr. Yoon gave way to more serious discrepancies in studies he collaborated on with Changhwan Yoon, Dr. David said. The pair, who are not related, began publishing articles together around 2013.

But neither their employers nor their publishers seemed to start investigating their work until this past fall, when Dr. David published his initial findings on For Better Science, a blog, and notified Memorial Sloan Kettering, Columbia and the journals. Memorial Sloan Kettering said it began its investigation then.

None of those flagged studies was retracted until last week. Three days after The Times asked publishers about the allegations, the journal Oncotarget retracted a 2016 study on combating certain pernicious cancers. In a retraction notice , the journal said the authors’ explanations for copied images “were deemed unacceptable.”

The belated action was symptomatic of what experts described as a broken system for policing scientific research.

A proliferation of medical journals, they said, has helped fuel demand for ever more research articles. But those same journals, many of them operated by multibillion-dollar publishing companies, often respond slowly or do nothing at all once one of those articles is shown to contain copied data. Journals retract papers at a fraction of the rate at which they publish ones with problems.

Springer Nature, which published nine of the articles that Dr. David said contained discrepancies across five journals, said it was investigating concerns. So did the American Association for Cancer Research, which published 10 articles under question from Dr. Yoon’s lab across four journals.

It is difficult to know who is responsible for errors in articles. Eleven of the scientists’ co-authors, including researchers at Harvard, Duke and Georgetown, did not answer emailed inquiries.

The articles under question examined why certain stomach and soft-tissue cancers withstood treatment, and how that resistance could be overcome.

The two independent image specialists said the volume of copied data, along with signs that some images had been rotated or similarly manipulated, suggested considerable sloppiness or worse.

“There are examples in this set that raise pretty serious red flags for the possibility of misconduct,” said Dr. Matthew Schrag, a Vanderbilt University neurologist who commented as part of his outside work on research integrity.

One set of 10 articles identified by Dr. David showed repeated reuse of identical or overlapping black-and-white images of cancer cells supposedly under different experimental conditions, he said.

“There’s no reason to have done that unless you weren’t doing the work,” Dr. David said.

One of those papers , published in 2012, was formally tagged with corrections. Unlike later studies, which were largely overseen by Dr. Yoon in New York, this paper was written by South Korea-based scientists, including Changhwan Yoon, who then worked in Seoul.

An immunologist in Norway randomly selected the paper as part of a screening of copied data in cancer journals. That led the paper’s publisher, the medical journal Oncogene, to add corrections in 2016.

But the journal did not catch all of the duplicated data , Dr. David said. And, he said, images from the study later turned up in identical form in another paper that remains uncorrected.

Copied cancer data kept recurring, Dr. David said. A picture of a small red tumor from a 2017 study reappeared in papers in 2020 and 2021 under different descriptions, he said. A ruler included in the pictures for scale wound up in two different positions.

The 2020 study included another tumor image that Dr. David said appeared to be a mirror image of one previously published by Dr. Yoon’s lab. And the 2021 study featured a color version of a tumor that had appeared in an earlier paper atop a different section of ruler, Dr. David said.

“This is another example where this looks intentionally done,” Dr. Bik said.

The researchers were faced with more serious action when the publisher Elsevier withdrew the stomach cancer study that had been published online in 2021. “The editors determined that the article violated journal publishing ethics guidelines,” Elsevier said.

Roland Herzog, the editor of Molecular Therapy, the journal where the article appeared, said that “image duplications were noticed” as part of a process of screening for discrepancies that the journal has since continued to beef up.

Because the problems were detected before the study was ever published in the print journal, Elsevier’s policy dictated that the article be taken down and no explanation posted online.

But that decision appeared to conflict with industry guidelines from the Committee on Publication Ethics . Posting articles online “usually constitutes publication,” those guidelines state. And when publishers pull such articles, the guidelines say, they should keep the work online for the sake of transparency and post “a clear notice of retraction.”

Dr. Herzog said he personally hoped that such an explanation could still be posted for the stomach cancer study. The journal editors and Elsevier, he said, are examining possible options.

The editors notified Dr. Yoon and Changhwan Yoon of the article’s removal, but neither scientist alerted Memorial Sloan Kettering, the hospital said. Columbia did not say whether it had been told.

Experts said the handling of the article was symptomatic of a tendency on the part of scientific publishers to obscure reports of lapses .

“This is typical, sweeping-things-under-the-rug kind of nonsense,” said Dr. Ivan Oransky, co-founder of Retraction Watch, which keeps a database of 47,000-plus retracted papers. “This is not good for the scientific record, to put it mildly.”

Susan C. Beachy contributed research.

Benjamin Mueller reports on health and medicine. He was previously a U.K. correspondent in London and a police reporter in New York. More about Benjamin Mueller

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  1. How to Write a Research Proposal

    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: Title page Introduction Literature review Research design Reference list

  2. What Is A Research Proposal? Examples + Template

    Simply put, a research proposal is a structured, formal document that explains what you plan to research (your research topic), why it's worth researching (your justification), and how you plan to investigate it (your methodology).

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    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.

  6. How to Write a Research Proposal

    Revised on 13 June 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: Title page Introduction Literature review Research design Reference list

  7. How to prepare a Research Proposal

    Most students and beginning researchers do not fully understand what a research proposal means, nor do they understand its importance. 1 A research proposal is a detailed description of a proposed study designed to investigate a given problem. 2

  8. 11.2 Steps in Developing a Research Proposal

    Learning Objectives Identify the steps in developing a research proposal. Choose a topic and formulate a research question and working thesis. Develop a research proposal. Writing a good research paper takes time, thought, and effort. Although this assignment is challenging, it is manageable.

  9. Writing a Research Proposal

    The goal of a research proposal is to present and justify the need to study a research problem and to present the practical ways in which the proposed study should be conducted.

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    Proposal format. 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.

  11. A Beginner's Guide to Starting the Research Process

    The proposal outlines the context, relevance, purpose, and plan of your research. As well as outlining the background, problem statement, and research questions, the proposal should also include a literature review that shows how your project will fit into existing work on the topic. The research design section describes your approach and ...

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    A research proposal is a structured outline for a planned study on a specific topic. It serves as a roadmap, guiding researchers through the process of converting their research idea into a feasible project.

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    Research Proposal Format Example 1 Research Proposal Format Example Following is a general outline of the material that should be included in your project proposal. I. Title Page II. Introduction and Literature Review (Chapters 2 and 3) A. Identification of specific problem area (e.g., what is it, why it is important).

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    A research proposal should present your idea or question and expected outcomes with clarity and definition - the what. It should also make a case for why your question is significant and what value it will bring to your discipline - the why. What it shouldn't do is answer the question - that's what your research will do.

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    Table of Contents How To Write a Research Proposal Writing a Research proposal involves several steps to ensure a well-structured and comprehensive document. Here is an explanation of each step: 1. Title and Abstract Choose a concise and descriptive title that reflects the essence of your research.

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    Research Proposal Writing Revisions and Proofreading Skills Required for a Research Proposal Common Mistakes to Avoid in Proposal Writing Some Good Examples of Research Proposals I. Starting the Proposal Process A. Preliminary Considerations

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    Research proposal is a document that outlines a proposed research project. It is typically written by researchers, scholars, or students who intend to conduct research to address a specific research question or problem. Types of Research Proposal

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    87.4K views Table of Contents What is a scientific research proposal? Scientific Research Proposal Format Common Mistakes in Writing a Scientific Research Project Proposal Scientific Research Proposal Example The importance of a well-written research proposal cannot be underestimated. Your research really is only as good as your proposal.

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    Step 1: Consider your aims and approach Step 2: Choose a type of research design Step 3: Identify your population and sampling method Step 4: Choose your data collection methods Step 5: Plan your data collection procedures Step 6: Decide on your data analysis strategies Other interesting articles Frequently asked questions about research design

  21. What Is a Research Proposal? (Plus How To Write One)

    A research proposal is a highly structured document that describes your study's topic and explains how you plan to investigate a specific inquiry. It typically provides an in-depth analysis of the theories that support your hypothesis, which is a projected answer to this inquiry.

  22. 14.3 Components of a Research Proposal

    Literature review. This key component of the research proposal is the most time-consuming aspect in the preparation of your research proposal. As described in Chapter 5, the literature review provides the background to your study and demonstrates the significance of the proposed research.Specifically, it is a review and synthesis of prior research that is related to the problem you are setting ...

  23. Parts of a Research Proposal

    Abstract Introduction Objective (s) Variables (independent and dependent) Research Question and/or hypothesis Methodology Details about what to include in each element are included in the boxes below. Depending on the topic of your study, some parts may not apply to your proposal.

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    Memorandum To: Kathy Anders, ENGL 210 Instructor From: Emily Nguyen, ENGL 210 Student Subject: Internal Research Proposal Date: October 16, 2023 The purpose of this proposal is to develop a plan to improve participation in volunteering opportunities in the Pre-medical Biology Studies organization. This will involve researching volunteering opportunities and humanitarian experiences that the ...

  25. Research Opportunities in Space and Earth Science (ROSES)-2024 Released

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    As part of its digital strategy, the EU wants to regulate artificial intelligence (AI) to ensure better conditions for the development and use of this innovative technology. AI can create many benefits, such as better healthcare; safer and cleaner transport; more efficient manufacturing; and cheaper and more sustainable energy.. In April 2021, the European Commission proposed the first EU ...

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