Pfeiffer Library

Writing a Research Proposal

  • Parts of a Research Proposal

Structure of a Research Proposal

Writing style.

  • Common Proposal Writing Mistakes
  • Proposal Writing Resources

Your research proposal should flow similarly to a research paper.  This is the general order of how content should be structured in a research proposal (McCombes, 2019):

  • Cover Page: Contains your project title, your name, your supervisor's name, program/department, institution or affiliation, and date.
  • Table of Contents: Outlines the contents of your entire proposal with respective page numbers.
  • Introduction: Contains background and context, a problem statement, research questions, and the rationale behind the study.
  • Literature review: Contains key concepts and theories that serve as the framework for your study as well as any gaps in research.
  • Research design and methods: Contains research objectives, method, and potential limitations
  • Implications: Explains how the study can be applied to the existing field of knowledge on the topic.
  • Reference list: A list of references used to write the proposal.
  • Research schedule: A timeline of research phases and how they will achieve the objective and meet deadlines.

In compliance with APA style, you can use these sections as headings for your document as well.  Using section headings makes information more organized for the reader and allows them to follow the author's thoughts more clearly.

Besides the contents of your proposal, you also need to pay attention to your writing style.  It is going to be different from other papers or documents you may have had to write in the past.  According to Academic Writer (n.d.), the following are some of the main elements of writing style.  These are important to making your proposal sound respectful and professional.

Instead of using common language, which is the type of language we use in normal conversations, you want to use the "language of research" or the "language of science."  This means that if a term has two meanings, you should only use the term for the meaning that is the most relevant to your research.  For example, if a chemist uses the word "element" in a proposal, they use it only in the context of its scientific definition.  This prevents the reader from getting confused throughout the document.  Avoid creating new terms in your proposal and be sure to clearly define unfamiliar words at the beginning of the proposal  (Locke et al., 2007).  Lastly, you also want to avoid using first person in your proposal ("I will...") as it does not demonstrate professionalism in writing.

The tone of your writing should be professional and serious.  In other words, use "academic voice" in your proposal writing.  Academic voice is meant to convey your thoughts and distinguish them from other authors (Robbins, 2016).  It is comprised of three elements ("What are the three elements," n.d.):

  • Making declarative statements
  • Avoiding casual language
  • Demonstrating authority

These elements make your academic writing unique from other writers and present your thoughts in a professional manner.

You want to ensure that your writing is precise so that readers have a clear understanding of your project.  Proposals should exclude excessive jargon (technical terms), slang, and abbreviations.  They should also make logical comparisons between ideas to prevent readers from getting confused or lost ("Academic Writer," n.d.).  Here are some general tips for ensuring clarity in your writing:

  • Using a term consistently throughout your paper (it refers to the same meaning throughout the document).
  • Do not use excessive jargon or technical terms, and make sure you define any new terms.
  • Draw comparisons between concepts to avoid ambiguity.  This requires using proper word choice and sentence structure.


  • Do not overuse passive voice
  • Describe things precisely and "to the point."
  • Assign one argument or idea per paragraph.
  • Locate areas in your document to break up text into different paragraphs.
  • Use a variety of sentence lengths.
  • Be mindful of how you use punctuation marks.  This includes commas, dashes, and hyphens.
  • Use transitional words (and, or, therefore, etc.)  to maintain flow.
  • Avoid using creative writing techniques, such as similes, metaphors, figurative language, and poetic devices.
  • Do not use contractions in your proposal (can't, don't, etc.).
  • Use words that reflect your involvement in research in your field.
  • When writing about people, use respectful language.
  • Use appropriate verb tenses to reflect series of events and timelines in your proposal.

For more in-depth content on writing style in academic writing, you can view quick guides and tutorials about scholarly writing on Academic Writer.  If you are new to using Academic Writer, we also have a database tutorial for new users.  The links to the database and tutorial are 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.

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  • How to Write a Research Proposal | Examples & Templates

How to Write a Research Proposal | Examples & Templates

Published on October 12, 2022 by Shona McCombes and Tegan George. Revised on November 21, 2023.

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:


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 organized and feel confident in the path forward you choose to take.

Table of contents

Research proposal purpose, research proposal examples, research design and methods, contribution to knowledge, research schedule, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about research proposals.

Academics often have to write research proposals to get funding for their projects. As a student, you might have to write a research proposal as part of a grad school application , or prior to starting your thesis or dissertation .

In addition to helping you figure out what your research can look like, a proposal can also serve to demonstrate why your project is worth pursuing to a funder, educational institution, or supervisor.

Research proposal length

The length of a research proposal can vary quite a bit. A bachelor’s or master’s thesis proposal can be just a few pages, while proposals for PhD dissertations or research funding are usually much longer and more detailed. Your supervisor can help you determine the best length for your work.

One trick to get started is to think of your proposal’s structure as a shorter version of your thesis or dissertation , only without the results , conclusion and discussion sections.

Download our research proposal template

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structure of a well written research proposal

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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

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structure of a well written research proposal

As you get started, it’s important to demonstrate that you’re familiar with the most important research on your topic. A strong literature review  shows your reader that your project has a solid foundation in existing knowledge or theory. It also shows that you’re not simply repeating what other people have already done or said, but rather using existing research as a jumping-off point for your own.

In this section, share exactly how your project will contribute to ongoing conversations in the field by:

  • Comparing and contrasting the main theories, methods, and debates
  • Examining the strengths and weaknesses of different approaches
  • Explaining how will you build on, challenge, or synthesize prior scholarship

Following the literature review, restate your main  objectives . This brings the focus back to your own project. Next, your research design or methodology section will describe your overall approach, and the practical steps you will take to answer your research questions.

To finish your proposal on a strong note, explore the potential implications of your research for your field. Emphasize again what you aim to contribute and why it matters.

For example, your results might have implications for:

  • Improving best practices
  • Informing policymaking decisions
  • Strengthening a theory or model
  • Challenging popular or scientific beliefs
  • Creating a basis for future research

Last but not least, your research proposal must include correct citations for every source you have used, compiled in a reference list . To create citations quickly and easily, you can use our free APA citation generator .

Some institutions or funders require a detailed timeline of the project, asking you to forecast what you will do at each stage and how long it may take. While not always required, be sure to check the requirements of your project.

Here’s an example schedule to help you get started. You can also download a template at the button below.

Download our research schedule template

If you are applying for research funding, chances are you will have to include a detailed budget. This shows your estimates of how much each part of your project will cost.

Make sure to check what type of costs the funding body will agree to cover. For each item, include:

  • Cost : exactly how much money do you need?
  • Justification : why is this cost necessary to complete the research?
  • Source : how did you calculate the amount?

To determine your budget, think about:

  • Travel costs : do you need to go somewhere to collect your data? How will you get there, and how much time will you need? What will you do there (e.g., interviews, archival research)?
  • Materials : do you need access to any tools or technologies?
  • Help : do you need to hire any research assistants for the project? What will they do, and how much will you pay them?

If you want to know more about the research process , methodology , research bias , or statistics , make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples.


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


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

Research bias

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

Once you’ve decided on your research objectives , you need to explain them in your paper, at the end of your problem statement .

Keep your research objectives clear and concise, and use appropriate verbs to accurately convey the work that you will carry out for each one.

I will compare …

A research aim is a broad statement indicating the general purpose of your research project. It should appear in your introduction at the end of your problem statement , before your research objectives.

Research objectives are more specific than your research aim. They indicate the specific ways you’ll address the overarching aim.

A PhD, which is short for philosophiae doctor (doctor of philosophy in Latin), is the highest university degree that can be obtained. In a PhD, students spend 3–5 years writing a dissertation , which aims to make a significant, original contribution to current knowledge.

A PhD is intended to prepare students for a career as a researcher, whether that be in academia, the public sector, or the private sector.

A master’s is a 1- or 2-year graduate degree that can prepare you for a variety of careers.

All master’s involve graduate-level coursework. Some are research-intensive and intend to prepare students for further study in a PhD; these usually require their students to write a master’s thesis . Others focus on professional training for a specific career.

Critical thinking refers to the ability to evaluate information and to be aware of biases or assumptions, including your own.

Like information literacy , it involves evaluating arguments, identifying and solving problems in an objective and systematic way, and clearly communicating your ideas.

The best way to remember the difference between a research plan and a research proposal is that they have fundamentally different audiences. A research plan helps you, the researcher, organize your thoughts. On the other hand, a dissertation proposal or research proposal aims to convince others (e.g., a supervisor, a funding body, or a dissertation committee) that your research topic is relevant and worthy of being conducted.

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McCombes, S. & George, T. (2023, November 21). How to Write a Research Proposal | Examples & Templates. Scribbr. Retrieved December 4, 2023, from

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  • You are currently on: Structuring your research proposal

Structuring your research proposal

What you need to include in your doctorate research proposal.

Your proposal cannot exceed 10,000 words so please follow the instructions carefully. All proposals have to cover the same core material: description of a problem or issue, a review of relevant literature, identification of research questions or hypotheses, description of appropriate methods to address those concerns.

Different disciplines have different styles in how they structure this material. This page provides two different templates and more be added as they are developed or needed. Please check with your supervisors as to the template they want you to use. Template 1 : For students working in sociological, philosophical, and critical theory perspectives.  

Template 2 : For students working in psychological and scientific perspectives.  

Research proposal structure

1. a summary or abstract.

One or two paragraphs that summarise what you will do in the research project and how you will do it.

2. Problem, question or hypothesis

The key details, approaches or framings the research project will focus on. If hypotheses are appropriate they should be stated along with a rationale. If a hypothesis isn’t appropriate, the research problems or questions should be clearly stated and examined.

3. Importance of the research topic

Your thesis must make an original contribution to knowledge. Thus, you must show how your proposed research is important enough to justify your efforts (and the efforts of anyone else involved in your research). You should should also include a statement about how the solution to the problem, or the answer to the question, can influence educational theory or practice.

4. Significant prior research

This should comprehensively demonstrate that you are aware of the major relevant sources of information in your chosen area. Most research projects arise out of considerable prior research, which should be summarised. You also need to show the relationship between your question or problem and this prior research.

5. Research methodology

The methodology section is one of the most important sections of your proposal. It demonstrates your understanding of the steps and skills necessary to undertake your intended research. It should be as explicit as possible, detailing how you will collect, analyse and present your data or research.

Examples of methodologies include:

  • Quantitative or qualitative research
  • Experimental methods in psychological research
  • A specialised approach to analysing concepts in philosophical research

Your choice of methodology should be justified by your research questions. For example if you are examining the relationship between two or more phenomena, a correlational methodology would be appropriate. Alternatively, a case study methodology would be appropriate for researching complex phenomena in their natural setting.

Be sure to describe your intended data collection and analysis techniques with as much detail as possible. They might change as you conduct your research, but you must still demonstrate that you have given a lot of thought into the practicalities of your research at this early stage. You should also note any major questions yet to be decided upon.

If you are gathering a sample of people or documents, you should outline your procedures for choosing this sample.

If you intend on giving interviews or handing out questionnaires, you should provide examples of the types of questions you will ask.

If you intend on using experimental situations to collect data, you should describe as many of its elements as possible. This could include:

  • Your chosen subject types (age, school level, quantity)
  • Types of materials to be used
  • What will be measured (achievement, attitudes, beliefs, etc)
  • Data collection methods (self-reporting, observation, clinical diagnosis)

6. Ethical considerations

All university research is expected to conform to acceptable ethical standards and proposals. Research involving human participants must also be approved before the research commences by the University of Auckland Human Subjects Ethics Committee.

Ethical concerns can arise in how research is conducted and the ways these research findings may later be used. You must take into account any areas of responsibility towards your research subjects at the planning stage, and provide strategies for addressing them in the methodology.

Examples of areas of responsibility could include:

  • The securing of informed consent
  • Confidentiality
  • Preservation of anonymity
  • Avoidance of deception or adverse effects

A research proposal involving Māori and minority groups/communities should demonstrate that the researcher has had adequate background preparation for working in that area. It should also outline the extent to which members of that group/community will be involved or consulted in the overall supervision of the project and the dissemination of the research findings.

To read the University’s ethics guidelines and submit an application, visit the Human Participants Ethics Committee page .

7. Analysis of information

How you intend to analyse your gathered information is a vital part of the assessment of your research proposal. You should clearly describe how you can answer your research questions based on the information you have gathered. In other words, "How will you figure out what it all means?"

Be explicit. For example, if you plan to collect evidence by a questionnaire and subsequent statistical analysis, you should describe the likely method of analysis and possible outcomes.

In another example, if you plan to use a case study approach, describe how you plan to identify the key themes and patterns in your data and the procedures you will use to check the validity of your analysis.

Sample analysis description

"The analysis of variance procedure will be used to determine whether the total score on the questionnaire is greater for experienced teachers, as expected than, for teachers in training.

“If, however, teachers in training are found to have a higher score this would mean that…"  

8. Limitations and key assumptions

This section should contain a paragraph or two that defines the limits of your research. It’s common for students to try to do too much. This section is useful in defining how much you will undertake and the key assumptions that you will follow in building your arguments, models, or experiments.

Again be specific. Make statements such as, "This argument assumes that…", and "This research will not…".

9. References or bibliography

This final section details the major readings cited in your proposal, or the literature that contextualises your proposed research.

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  • v.60(9); 2016 Sep

How to write a research proposal?

Department of Anaesthesiology, Bangalore Medical College and Research Institute, Bengaluru, Karnataka, India

Devika Rani Duggappa

Writing the proposal of a research work in the present era is a challenging task due to the constantly evolving trends in the qualitative research design and the need to incorporate medical advances into the methodology. The proposal is a detailed plan or ‘blueprint’ for the intended study, and once it is completed, the research project should flow smoothly. Even today, many of the proposals at post-graduate evaluation committees and application proposals for funding are substandard. A search was conducted with keywords such as research proposal, writing proposal and qualitative using search engines, namely, PubMed and Google Scholar, and an attempt has been made to provide broad guidelines for writing a scientifically appropriate research proposal.


A clean, well-thought-out proposal forms the backbone for the research itself and hence becomes the most important step in the process of conduct of research.[ 1 ] The objective of preparing a research proposal would be to obtain approvals from various committees including ethics committee [details under ‘Research methodology II’ section [ Table 1 ] in this issue of IJA) and to request for grants. However, there are very few universally accepted guidelines for preparation of a good quality research proposal. A search was performed with keywords such as research proposal, funding, qualitative and writing proposals using search engines, namely, PubMed, Google Scholar and Scopus.

Five ‘C’s while writing a literature review

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A proposal needs to show how your work fits into what is already known about the topic and what new paradigm will it add to the literature, while specifying the question that the research will answer, establishing its significance, and the implications of the answer.[ 2 ] The proposal must be capable of convincing the evaluation committee about the credibility, achievability, practicality and reproducibility (repeatability) of the research design.[ 3 ] Four categories of audience with different expectations may be present in the evaluation committees, namely academic colleagues, policy-makers, practitioners and lay audiences who evaluate the research proposal. Tips for preparation of a good research proposal include; ‘be practical, be persuasive, make broader links, aim for crystal clarity and plan before you write’. A researcher must be balanced, with a realistic understanding of what can be achieved. Being persuasive implies that researcher must be able to convince other researchers, research funding agencies, educational institutions and supervisors that the research is worth getting approval. The aim of the researcher should be clearly stated in simple language that describes the research in a way that non-specialists can comprehend, without use of jargons. The proposal must not only demonstrate that it is based on an intelligent understanding of the existing literature but also show that the writer has thought about the time needed to conduct each stage of the research.[ 4 , 5 ]


The contents or formats of a research proposal vary depending on the requirements of evaluation committee and are generally provided by the evaluation committee or the institution.

In general, a cover page should contain the (i) title of the proposal, (ii) name and affiliation of the researcher (principal investigator) and co-investigators, (iii) institutional affiliation (degree of the investigator and the name of institution where the study will be performed), details of contact such as phone numbers, E-mail id's and lines for signatures of investigators.

The main contents of the proposal may be presented under the following headings: (i) introduction, (ii) review of literature, (iii) aims and objectives, (iv) research design and methods, (v) ethical considerations, (vi) budget, (vii) appendices and (viii) citations.[ 4 ]


It is also sometimes termed as ‘need for study’ or ‘abstract’. Introduction is an initial pitch of an idea; it sets the scene and puts the research in context.[ 6 ] The introduction should be designed to create interest in the reader about the topic and proposal. It should convey to the reader, what you want to do, what necessitates the study and your passion for the topic.[ 7 ] Some questions that can be used to assess the significance of the study are: (i) Who has an interest in the domain of inquiry? (ii) What do we already know about the topic? (iii) What has not been answered adequately in previous research and practice? (iv) How will this research add to knowledge, practice and policy in this area? Some of the evaluation committees, expect the last two questions, elaborated under a separate heading of ‘background and significance’.[ 8 ] Introduction should also contain the hypothesis behind the research design. If hypothesis cannot be constructed, the line of inquiry to be used in the research must be indicated.

Review of literature

It refers to all sources of scientific evidence pertaining to the topic in interest. In the present era of digitalisation and easy accessibility, there is an enormous amount of relevant data available, making it a challenge for the researcher to include all of it in his/her review.[ 9 ] It is crucial to structure this section intelligently so that the reader can grasp the argument related to your study in relation to that of other researchers, while still demonstrating to your readers that your work is original and innovative. It is preferable to summarise each article in a paragraph, highlighting the details pertinent to the topic of interest. The progression of review can move from the more general to the more focused studies, or a historical progression can be used to develop the story, without making it exhaustive.[ 1 ] Literature should include supporting data, disagreements and controversies. Five ‘C's may be kept in mind while writing a literature review[ 10 ] [ Table 1 ].

Aims and objectives

The research purpose (or goal or aim) gives a broad indication of what the researcher wishes to achieve in the research. The hypothesis to be tested can be the aim of the study. The objectives related to parameters or tools used to achieve the aim are generally categorised as primary and secondary objectives.

Research design and method

The objective here is to convince the reader that the overall research design and methods of analysis will correctly address the research problem and to impress upon the reader that the methodology/sources chosen are appropriate for the specific topic. It should be unmistakably tied to the specific aims of your study.

In this section, the methods and sources used to conduct the research must be discussed, including specific references to sites, databases, key texts or authors that will be indispensable to the project. There should be specific mention about the methodological approaches to be undertaken to gather information, about the techniques to be used to analyse it and about the tests of external validity to which researcher is committed.[ 10 , 11 ]

The components of this section include the following:[ 4 ]

Population and sample

Population refers to all the elements (individuals, objects or substances) that meet certain criteria for inclusion in a given universe,[ 12 ] and sample refers to subset of population which meets the inclusion criteria for enrolment into the study. The inclusion and exclusion criteria should be clearly defined. The details pertaining to sample size are discussed in the article “Sample size calculation: Basic priniciples” published in this issue of IJA.

Data collection

The researcher is expected to give a detailed account of the methodology adopted for collection of data, which include the time frame required for the research. The methodology should be tested for its validity and ensure that, in pursuit of achieving the results, the participant's life is not jeopardised. The author should anticipate and acknowledge any potential barrier and pitfall in carrying out the research design and explain plans to address them, thereby avoiding lacunae due to incomplete data collection. If the researcher is planning to acquire data through interviews or questionnaires, copy of the questions used for the same should be attached as an annexure with the proposal.

Rigor (soundness of the research)

This addresses the strength of the research with respect to its neutrality, consistency and applicability. Rigor must be reflected throughout the proposal.

It refers to the robustness of a research method against bias. The author should convey the measures taken to avoid bias, viz. blinding and randomisation, in an elaborate way, thus ensuring that the result obtained from the adopted method is purely as chance and not influenced by other confounding variables.


Consistency considers whether the findings will be consistent if the inquiry was replicated with the same participants and in a similar context. This can be achieved by adopting standard and universally accepted methods and scales.


Applicability refers to the degree to which the findings can be applied to different contexts and groups.[ 13 ]

Data analysis

This section deals with the reduction and reconstruction of data and its analysis including sample size calculation. The researcher is expected to explain the steps adopted for coding and sorting the data obtained. Various tests to be used to analyse the data for its robustness, significance should be clearly stated. Author should also mention the names of statistician and suitable software which will be used in due course of data analysis and their contribution to data analysis and sample calculation.[ 9 ]

Ethical considerations

Medical research introduces special moral and ethical problems that are not usually encountered by other researchers during data collection, and hence, the researcher should take special care in ensuring that ethical standards are met. Ethical considerations refer to the protection of the participants' rights (right to self-determination, right to privacy, right to autonomy and confidentiality, right to fair treatment and right to protection from discomfort and harm), obtaining informed consent and the institutional review process (ethical approval). The researcher needs to provide adequate information on each of these aspects.

Informed consent needs to be obtained from the participants (details discussed in further chapters), as well as the research site and the relevant authorities.

When the researcher prepares a research budget, he/she should predict and cost all aspects of the research and then add an additional allowance for unpredictable disasters, delays and rising costs. All items in the budget should be justified.

Appendices are documents that support the proposal and application. The appendices will be specific for each proposal but documents that are usually required include informed consent form, supporting documents, questionnaires, measurement tools and patient information of the study in layman's language.

As with any scholarly research paper, you must cite the sources you used in composing your proposal. Although the words ‘references and bibliography’ are different, they are used interchangeably. It refers to all references cited in the research proposal.

Successful, qualitative research proposals should communicate the researcher's knowledge of the field and method and convey the emergent nature of the qualitative design. The proposal should follow a discernible logic from the introduction to presentation of the appendices.

Financial support and sponsorship

Conflicts of interest.

There are no conflicts of interest.

  • Academic Skills
  • Research techniques

Writing a research proposal

A guide to writing an effective proposal that effectively outlines the research you will undertake at a higher level of study.

What's it for?

A research proposal explains the nature and extent of your planned or future research. It is written for an academic reader e.g. for your supervisor or an academic with a similar disciplinary background. By thinking through your entire research project from beginning to end, it may also highlight core issues with the feasibility of the project.

W hat's in it ?

There are some disciplinary differences regarding exactly what is included in the proposal. For example, disciplines such as Psychology may include a prominent hypothesis statement, others in the Social Sciences including Education, may expect a set of research questions that the study will answer. However, all research proposals should cover the four basic elements below.

  • The research topic addresses a significant problem and, therefore, advances the state of knowledge in that field.
  • Identification of an appropriate methodology and underlying theory to address the problem, including data collection methods and equipment (if required).
  • Details of how the collected data will be analysed in such a way that useful conclusions can be drawn.
  • An organised plan for any proposed work, including a timeframe.

Possible macro-structures

The structure of your research proposal will vary depending on the requirements of your discipline. Nevertheless, certain structural elements will be expected by your reader and these may be presented in the following order. Check with the Research Coordinator in your area for specific requirements.

Identifies the title of the project, your full name, the institution, department, and supervisor details. The title should be brief and descriptive and may use a colon (:) to separate the topic from the focus (i.e. Stormwater Harvesting: Managing the hazards of surface water pollution by run-off ).

Lists the sections of the Research Proposal (headings and indented sub-headings) and corresponding page numbers.

Outlines the essence of the research project. It describes the purpose and motivation for the study, the problem, the data collection methodology and analysis, significant results and implications of the research.

Provides background information for the research (i.e. the problem being addressed) and is typically structured from general information to narrow or focused ideas with your research question/s or hypotheses at the narrow end.

The Introduction should be about 10% of your proposal.

Imagine you are writing for a general reader rather than an expert audience. The Introduction includes a brief review of relevant literature or knowledge in the field, so that you are able to present a gap in existing knowledge and, therefore, the significance and originality of your research.

Finally, articulate the scope of your research (or what you will not be doing) to limit your task. Your research question/s should encapsulate the primary question/s you aim to solve.

Synthesises the literature in your field. Some disciplines will expect to see this in the Introduction but others will want it placed in this ‘stand-alone’ section (especially in more Humanities-based fields). Again, it could be structured from broad to narrow, so literature on the more general aspects of your topic could come first, narrowing down to published work on your particular area of interest. You might end this section by including a short summary of the main themes you have identified from the literature.

Includes a description and rationale for the methods of data collection and analysis, and the materials you will use in your research. Use subheadings if possible ( i.e. Data Collection, Data Analysis, Ethical Considerations etc.) and write with a future aspect, ( i.e. The research will initially examine water treatment processes in... )

Details any results that you may already have resulting from previous Honours or Masters’ research work, or perhaps from a pilot study. It is important to relate these results to the critical framework of your intended new research project.

Lists the stages of the research project in timeline, spreadsheet or tabular format, and the deadlines for completion of these stages or tasks. You should include any anticipated challenges to completion.

Outlines the proposed chapters of the thesis and the content of each chapter in several lines or a paragraph, including a Table of Contents.

Relates the expected outcomes of your research to the aims expressed in the Introduction so that the need for the study and the contribution to knowledge is clear.

Provides all the resources cited in your resource proposal using a referencing format favoured by your faculty or discipline. Do not list resources that are not directly referred to in your Proposal.

Writing the Research Proposal

How much should i write.

A research proposal is usually quite a bit longer than other written academic genres. In the Humanities, it could be around 10,000 words or even longer (excluding the Reference List); whereas those from more Science-oriented disciplines may be shorter.

What should I begin with?

Similar to other academic genres, writing the research proposal is a process. If you are proposing a ‘recycled’ topic that builds on previous assignments already written on the same topic, you might spend some time re-reading these. However, if you are starting a ‘fresh’ project you might consider two key questions:

  • What am I really interested in finding out about my research topic?
  • How am I going to do this in practice? Brainstorm responses to these questions under a strict time limit – say 30 minutes.

Then leave this ‘free-writing’ for at least 24 hours before reviewing it for a possible more polished second draft.

How should I approach the literature?

Reviewing the academic literature on your topic is one of the most critical stages of your research proposal. This section goes beyond a simple summary of everything written on a subject. Instead, it is a critical synthesis of materials that illuminates selected academic literature on your topic. Your coverage of the literature should reflect the argument or perspective that you have set out in your research question/s.

Try the following techniques for dealing with the literature:

  • Develop a theme or series of themes from your broad reading, referencing the work of relevant authors who support your position or who provide counter-arguments against your point/s.
  • Limit excessive quoting. Too many direct quotations will dilute your authority over the topic.
  • Avoid beginning paragraphs with “Jones argues …”; “Smith states …” This approach risks losing a sense of your writer’s authority to the work of others. Instead, provide an overview of the paragraph in a topic sentence written in your own writer’s voice.

Adapted from Rudestam and Newton (2015) as cited in Paltridge and Starfield (2020). Thesis and dissertation writing in a second language: A handbook for students and their advisers. Routledge.

Tips for writing

  • Avoid language that is overly hesitant or tentative (i.e. ‘It seems that…’, ‘It is hoped that …’). Instead, use confident language when you feel able to (i.e. ‘It is clear that…’, ‘I assert that …’).
  • Break up large blocks of text into smaller sections using sub-headings and bullet-points.
  • Anticipate possible problems with, or limitations of, your research. Address these issues directly for your own benefit as well as to improve the entire proposal.
  • Make your proposal is easy for readers to skim read. Never assume your readers will read your work in a ‘logical’ order. Use sub-headings and restate key ideas to guide the reader through your writing.
  • Find copies of other Research Proposals in your field and study the way they:
  • devise titles.
  • structure their proposal.
  • use discipline-specific language.
  • Take a note of anything else you notice. You might ask your potential supervisor/s for models of previously submitted proposals or search for relevant examples online (look for examples from reputable .edu or .org. web addresses)

Remember, your research proposal should demonstrate:

  • the feasibility and logical foundations of your project
  • a well-focussed research question, set of research objectives, or hypothesis
  • the width and depth of the academic literature on your topic
  • understanding of current issues or debates on your topic
  • justification of your project through the literature
  • a match between the methodology and / or methods and your research question/s

Adapted from Cadman (2002) as cited in Paltridge, B. and Starfield, S. (2020). Thesis and dissertation writing in a second language: A handbook for students and their advisers. Routledge.

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Introduction to Writing a Research Proposal: Structure, Format & Examples

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A research paper proposal is a document that outlines the research project that a student or researcher intends to undertake. It is usually submitted to a supervisor or committee for approval before the actual study begins.

Whether you are a student completing an assignment or a researcher seeking grants, approval, or funding, knowing how to write a research proposal is an essential skill. This article discusses the basics of formulating effctive proposals and provides examples for reference. If you're struggling with your proposal, don't hesitate to seek assistance from a reliable paper writing service . Our professional writers are highly experienced in various academic fields and can provide you with top-quality, custom-written papers that meet your requirements.

What Is a Research Proposal: Definition

So, what is a research proposal paper? A research proposal is a thoughtful explanation of what your project will focus on and how you will conduct the involved activities. A proposal makes you consider what your study will entail, how you will gather data and analyze it, and why your topic is significant. Through writing a proposal, you can clarify your research objectives, identify potential obstacles, and ensure that your research paper is well-planned and feasible. Ultimately, a well-written research proposal serves as a roadmap for your research project and helps to convince others of the value of your study.

Research Proposal Basics

What Is the Purpose of a Research Proposal?

The primary purpose of a research proposal is to convince your audience that your project aligns with the course requirements, and is feasible within the constraints of resources and time.  Essentially, research proposals serve as persuasive pitches to specific individuals. If these individuals are not convinced, you may need to develop an alternative plan and resubmit, resulting in additional costs in terms of time and resources. This could lead to delays in carrying out your actual study or, worse still, exceeding the allocated time frame. Here is why it’s important to write a research proposal:

  • Significance Shows an audience that this is an insightful research paper needed to solve a real-world problem.
  • Background Indicates that you have looked extensively at other works in your field and know the issue you will be studying.
  • Approach Describes the suitability of your selected methodology. This shows that you have carefully considered the required data for addressing your issue and how you will collect, treat, and interpret it.
  • Practicability Shows your investigation is worth undertaking and can be achieved within the set period.

How Long Should a Research Proposal Be?

Proposals are normally between 500 and 1500 words, even though some institutions usually specify the required limit. It is rare for a comprehensive research paper proposal to exceed this span since most of them take up a maximum of three pages long, excluding citations. Nonetheless, larger works such as a Ph.D. dissertation may require more details and, thus, a thesis proposal can be more extended. Note that some disciplinary differences also affect an exact research proposal length. Thus, be sure to check your instructions.

Research Proposal Outline & Template Example

Developing a research topic proposal outline is a crucial step in planning and organizing a research project. It helps to identify the main components of the work, their coverage, and how they fit into the argument.  A well-structured research paper outline gives direction for your study, ensuring that all the necessary elements are included and in a logical order. A research paper proposal outline also gives you a good idea of the extent to which you can conceptualize and articulate your points. Keep in mind that you do not need to offer extensive details at this phase. Leave that for the next stage. Here is an example of a research proposal outline. Use it as a research proposal template to fill in your details as you write your work.

  • Hypothesis/question
  • Definition of major concepts
  • Significance and contribution
  • Implications
  • Strategy, methods, and design
  • Literature cited

Research Proposal Structure

Although the structure of a research proposal can vary depending on factors such as discipline, institution, and instructions, there are standard requirements that must be followed. Specific sections must be included in a particular order to ensure a logical flow of the proposal.  The primary parts of a research proposal include:

  • Title page Your working title goes here. It highlights a project’s content and direction. Ensure it's narrow, concise, descriptive, catchy, and informative. Also include your name, field of study, date of publication, and institution.
  • Introduction In an introduction to a research proposal, you explain what you are investigating and why. Be creative and relevant because this is your opening subsection, which makes it very important. Also, remember to tell your readers about the organization of your work.
  • Background and significance Scientific research proposals must highlight what is already known about your topic from the literature. This is like a brief history of your theme concerning current trends and helps you establish a foundation for what you will explore.
  • Literature review Writing a proposal also requires that you engage in a critical examination of prior articles related to your subject area to identify gaps in knowledge or unresolved issues.
  • Design and methodology Your study proposal should also include a description of how you will collect data and test your hypothesis/question. Additionally, identify the design you will use, the procedures to be followed, and the adopted analysis techniques.
  • Implications Offer a general discussion regarding how your work will extend existing knowledge or benefit the field.
  • Conclusions Reinforce the importance of your proposed work and summarize the entire project.
  • References You must also offer an accurate list of all sources used in your proposal paper. Use a specific layout based on your instructions.

Research Proposal Structure

Remember to use these headings to demonstrate where one can find specific information. Need help writing papers for college ? Don’t wait any longer! Ask our professional for assistance.

Things to Consider Before Writing a Research Proposal

When writing a topic proposal, it is essential to answer the questions "what," "why," and "how" regarding your research. The project must clearly outline the chosen research topic and its context.  Mere suggestion of a topic is not sufficient; you must also explain why it is unique and relevant. In other words, your proposal should address an original issue. Additionally, it is crucial to identify the gaps in existing knowledge that your research aims to fill and explain the potential significance and usefulness of your proposed topic. Elaborate on the practical aspects of your research topic. This involves describing the methods you will use to conduct your study, outlining the chosen research design , and identifying the resources available to you. Provide a transparent overview of your methodology and the design decisions relevant to your research.

How to Write a Research Proposal

Now that you are familiar with the nature of this work, able to develop an outline, and comprehend the structure, you can begin drafting your proposal. This can be a daunting task if you have no idea how to write a good research proposal.  Nevertheless, it becomes more manageable when you break it down into specific stages. In the following sections, you will find step-by-step instructions on preparing a proposal paper. By completing all phases explained below, you will gain a better understanding of how to write a proposal for a research paper or any other study.

1. Design a Research Proposal Title Page

The research proposal title page expresses your topic’s main message. The purpose of a cover page is to convey a statement of your subject concisely and identify who is responsible for the work. It is the first section of your paper, and it must be relevant, short, and precise.  In general, include your title, name, and affiliation of the principal investigator and assistants, your institutional affiliation and submission date. Look at this example of the title page for a research proposal formatted in APA style.

APA Research Proposal Title Page

Read more: How to Create an APA Format Title Page

2. Write a Research Proposal Introduction

Your research proposal introduction is the initial pitch of your project. Therefore, use it to establish the scene and place your study in context. Design this part to attract readers’ interest regarding your theme and project by making them want to continue reading until the end.  Here is how to write an introduction for a research proposal. Start by presenting to your audience your intention, why the investigation should be conducted, your passion for the subject area, and trends related to your problem. Finally, identify your research question and hypothesis statement . If you do not have one, indicate the line of inquiry you will use in your investigation. Research proposal introduction example

Recent transformations in the IT curriculum focus more on first-year science courses. Researchers have done much work to assist in determining factors that predict success during this period. Nonetheless, most studies cannot validate their results because they lack an evaluation tool. The existing tools in this field are flawed, which makes them insufficient for assessing first-year IT courses. This research proposes to develop an evaluation instrument that can be administered to first-year IT students. Its validity and reliability will be considered. Developing this tool will allow the IT department to advance curriculum innovations for IT courses.
Read more: How to Start a Research Paper

3. Provide a Context

This is part of your research proposal where you describe the context of your work and its significance. For this section, assume that your audience has insufficient time but wants to understand the essence of your issue and the whole investigation. You should focus on eliciting interest in your project, not providing extensive descriptions. Therefore, as you write a proposal for a paper, provide the necessary background by explaining your topic’s importance and why it is essential to grasp the major elements of your research.  Highlight the historical basis from the literature that resulted in your theme and problem under investigation, and elaborate on your purpose. Also, explain your rationale and why it is meaningful to explore the problem. Identify your main ideas to be examined using statements or questions and stress how the analysis develops on existing views about your subject. Remember to establish the boundaries of your proposed inquiry, as this offers a clear focus. Example of research proposal background

Existing first-year IT curricula lack instructions regarding ways of implementing its guidelines and suggestions. This leaves departments to create individual approaches to course materials and develop curriculum tasks. However, when a new syllabus device is conceived, it is important to determine its effectiveness. Researchers examining new curriculum inventions use methods that consider exam scores, resignation percentages, course grades, or lab scores (Decker, 2012). However, these measures have been proven invalid and unreliable. Therefore, there is a need for a tool that can be used to evaluate how students comprehend the core IT material. This thesis aims to develop a validated and reliable evaluation tool to assess IT learners’ knowledge. Such a tool is unavailable currently because existing ones are designed for final-year students. Creating this tool will promote further experimentation as institutions develop this course.

4. Prepare a Literature Review

The literature review section is typically the lengthiest and most comprehensive part of your research proposal. It is closely linked to the background section and primarily aims to synthesize previous research relevant to your topic, situating your proposed study within a broader body of existing investigations. This highlights the originality of your project and its contribution to expanding existing knowledge. Given the abundance of information typically included in this section, it is important to structure it logically when writing your research proposal. This allows readers to easily comprehend the connections between your work and existing studies in the field. To ensure a coherent flow in your research proposal writing, it is recommended to use subheadings based on major themes. Keep in mind that accessing sources online has become increasingly convenient with current technological trends. However, it is crucial to select peer-reviewed and dependable papers mainly from major databases or your school library. While you can present the sources in a unique way, the following steps outline how to write a literature review for your research proposal:

  • Provide context and explain its significance to your research topic.
  • Identify major themes or concepts for the review.
  • Summarize and synthesize existing literature for each theme, highlighting key findings, gaps, and inconsistencies.
  • Critically evaluate the literature's strengths, limitations, and relevance to your study.
  • Highlight key insights and explain how they inform your research question or hypothesis in the conclusion.

Example of how to discuss sources in a research proposal

Previous studies have described in detail how to teach introductory IT courses using diverse approaches (Owens et al., 2013, Evans, 2018). Other researchers highlight the importance of changing how students are taught IT due to learners being exposed to technology today (Soloway, 2012). They state that graphics and event-based approaches should be used to motivate IT students. These are among the numerous discussions in the literature. However, these studies lack empirical evidence to support the real effect of their approaches on introductory IT learning. This highlights a need for an accurate evaluation tool for IT courses during the first year of study.

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5. Describe Your Research Design and Methods

The objective of the design section of a research proposal is to persuade your audience that the overall analysis approach will address the issue under investigation correctly. You also must convince readers that your methodological selections are relevant to the specific subject matter. Remember that this part should be connected to your objectives and aims. After identifying the relevant independent and dependent variables and defining their relationship, the next step is to select and present your study design. Common study models in scientific research proposals include observational and experimental design . To select an appropriate study design, it is important to consider various criteria and carefully evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of your preferred approach. Additionally, potential confounding variables associated with your decision should be taken into account.  Here is an example of how to write a proposal paper for this segment. Research design proposal example

The proposed study is based on a quantitative strategy with a focus on experimental design. The research will be conducted in phases starting with the process of producing an evaluation tool followed by its analysis, and lastly, testing to confirm its various parameters. These stages aim to ensure the generation of a reliable and valid product. Since human participants are involved at some stages, particularly during the testing part, seeking approval from the Institutional Review Board before commencing the inquiry is necessary.

Research Proposal Methods Section

The methods section of a research proposal outlines the techniques to be used for data collection, analyses, and tests to ensure the validity . To begin, develop a plan for executing your work and explain how you will interpret your results in accordance with the project's objectives. In this section, discuss the sources and practices that will be used to conduct the study. Identify key authors, manuscripts, databases, or locations that will be critical to the project. The aim is to establish and justify the methodology that will be used to achieve the research goals. Your choices will depend on the variables to be measured and how they are interrelated.  Popular techniques include conducting surveys and questionnaires. Remember to cite any literature used to clarify your choices. To gain more insight into how to write a methodology for a research proposal, consider the following example: Methods section of research proposal example

For this study, a web-based survey will be developed. The participants include educators who are involved in advancing the IT curriculum. An invitation shall be sent to them asking for their voluntary involvement in evaluating the relevance of the instrument, as this aids in determining its validity. The survey contains two sets of questions. The first group focuses on gaining data about the types of units first-year IT students study and the involvement of educators in these courses. The next category acts as a follow-up of the first questions’ contents. Participants will offer their views about selected topics from the course.

6. Emphasize Your Contribution to the Field

It is also a good idea to spell out how you expect your research project proposal will extend, revise, or improve existing knowledge in your field. In other words, discuss the implications of your project to readers. While predicting outcomes with certainty is challenging, aim to be clear about their scope and nature, as well as the individuals who will benefit from the research. Ensure that the contribution of your research project is directly related to your exploration aims. The impact of your study can be at the theoretical or practical level, or both. For instance, it could result in the development of a new data analysis technique or a deeper theoretical understanding. You should consider how your investigation will contribute to addressing issues in your field and what it will mean for others in your focus area. It is essential to explain these possibilities in your scientific proposal.  Nonetheless, you should be realistic when identifying your expected conclusions. Don’t promise things that cannot be achieved. Rather, reflect carefully on existing gaps and demonstrate the way your work will address some or all of the problems.  The sample below shows how to write a research proposal contribution section. Implications in research topic proposal example

This work aims to identify the relationship between the techniques for teaching IT. The findings will help teachers and researchers understand the basic skills required for first-year IT students regardless of the instruction approach. Besides, the development of a valid and reliable evaluation tool will enable course tutors to benchmark for units focusing on the effectiveness of various styles of IT instruction. Teachers can use the instrument to examine whether a specific teaching method enhances IT student performance. This will, in turn, allow them to know which tactics are good and which ones are inadequate. The poor techniques can then be reassessed and enhanced.

7. Conclude Your Research Proposal

In the conclusion section, reiterate the importance of your research proposal and provide a brief summary of your entire work. This section should be concise and to-the-point.  Begin by discussing the reasons why your research is necessary. In other words, how is it unique, and how will it advance current views in the field? In the research proposal conclusion, it is vital to:

  • State the purpose of the experiment and the questions to be answered.
  • Explain the suitability of the chosen design and methods.
  • Describe how the research fits into the broader field and anticipate the outcomes.
  • Encourage feedback and engagement from the audience.
  • Summarize the proposal's key points and emphasize its significance in advancing knowledge in the field.

Here is how to do a research proposal conclusion: Conclusion of a research paper proposal example

My proposed study is important and original because it will enhance the teaching of first-year IT courses in higher education institutions. The investigation particularly seeks to demonstrate the importance of using valid and reliable tools when developing a curriculum. Existing instruments are not supported by scientific evidence, differ in which factors they consider, and are mostly meant for final-year students. Thus, there is a need to create one to help tutors design appropriate instruction techniques for first-year students. The development of the tool will also enable educators and institutions to improve inadequate techniques.
View more: How to Write  Conclusion in Research Paper

8. Make a Research Proposal Reference List

As with other scholarly tasks, writing a paper proposal also requires citing any sources used. A list of references contains all the literature quoted in your project’s body. Ensure that everything here also appears within your work’s content. As you write your research proposal, referring to original texts only is advisable as this helps you identify or avoid any errors.  Generally, mentioning citations demonstrates that you did an adequate level of initial investigation to ensure that your study will enhance past efforts. Remember to prepare this section based on the format specified in your task instructions.  Usually, this part is excluded from the word count of research projects proposals. Example of a research proposal references

Research proposal reference list example

9. Include a Budget

If you intend to conduct a simple study, you may not be required to include this section. Nevertheless, if you are seeking funding for your project, then it is essential to offer a detailed budget in your proposal showing the cost of each main segment. Start by predicting and determining the total of all aspects of your work and add extra allowances for unforeseen events, price increases, and delays. The major elements in your application will include equipment, personnel, supplies and materials, publication and printing, lease of facilities, travel, overhead, and extras. Remember to present how much money you need to complete the whole project, justify why those funds are necessary, and describe how you arrived at your final amount. Also, state your financial plan on a yearly basis and ensure to confirm the types of expenses your agency covers. This helps in focusing on relevant components only as you write a study proposal.

10. Proofread and Edit a Research Proposal Draft

Proofreading your proposal before delivering it is also vital, just like in other types of writing tasks. You can ask colleagues, friends, or even your supervisor to read your work and offer suggestions and feedback. This process acts as an error check system to help you improve your piece.  Remember that the intention of writing your research proposal is to ensure that it is not rejected because of simple mistakes that can be corrected easily. Even if you are an experienced scholar, you can make sentence, structural, grammatical, or stylistic errors when writing a proposal for a research paper. Therefore, editing boosts your approval chances by identifying faults and enhancing your compliance with the required academic format.

Research Proposal Format

Most institutions or agencies usually offer information on how to format a research proposal. Some may provide complete templates in a specific layout with instructions about section contents. The styles vary and include APA, Chicago, MLA, or Harvard. The format primarily depends on the subject. For instance, APA style paper is more common for social and natural science works. MLA paper format is often preferred for projects in humanities. Therefore, be sure that you read all the instructions about your task to understand a paper proposal format. If this is not stated explicitly, you may need to seek more information from any relevant department, agency, or supervisor. Don’t select any design unless a specific guideline permits you to do so.

Research Proposal Examples

There are countless examples of research proposals that you can find in your field or for your target publisher. Read them to get a good idea of what you should include in yours or which aspects readers want. Even though scientific research proposal examples will not show you all relevant things, considering several of them is helpful as you sharpen your writing skills for this type of work. Look at the following research paper proposal samples: Research proposal example 1


Proposal paper example 2

Research proposal sample 3

Research Proposal Writing Tips

To avoid having to revise your research proposal paper, it is essential to ensure that it is written in the correct format. Here are additional tips on how to write a great research proposal:

  • Avoid overly tentative or hesitant language such as “it appears that…” etc. Rather, be confident with your statements such as “I argue that…”.
  • Use subheadings and bullet lists to break up large sections of your proposal.
  • Expect potential limitations of your project and address them directly to enhance it.
  • Ensure readers can skim your paper easily by highlighting all major sections and restating key arguments. This guides them through your manuscript.
  • Look for samples of other proposals in your study field and examine how they prepare their documents.

Research Proposal Checklist

Before submitting your paper, ensure that you have included all the relevant elements and offered enough details. Look at the following checklist on how to write a research proposal to make sure that you have complied with all requirements:

  • checkbox I have demonstrated the logical basis and feasibility of my work.
  • checkbox I included a clear question or hypothesis and provided its proper context.
  • checkbox I have justified my research topic proposal using the literature.
  • checkbox My project informs readers how I will explore an issue.
  • checkbox I have argued effectively in my research proposal why the study should be funded or approved.
  • checkbox My work is well-written and in compliance with the guidelines and style of a successful academic essay.
  • checkbox I have cited all the sources.

Bottom Line on How to Write a Research Proposal

The proposal phase is a critical aspect of the research process as it enables you to conduct thorough background research and planning before beginning your actual work. This article has provided a comprehensive overview of the basics and steps on how to write research proposals.  By reviewing all the sections in this guide, you should be able to explain what a research proposal is. Additionally, to reinforce your understanding of key concepts, free research proposal samples have been provided. It is highly recommended to review these examples and practice writing to solidify your comprehension of the material.  The next stage is crafting your study. Check this useful resource to see how to write a research paper .


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FAQ About Research Proposals

1. what makes a good research proposal.

A good research proposal should demonstrate that you are conversant with the relevant literature in your field and describe what you will do. An effective paper:

  • Mentions specific aims.
  • Is inventive and original.
  • Has preliminary data.
  • Explains your approach.
  • Identifies your work’s importance concerning the specific problem.
  • Describes its contribution to the wider literature and field of study.

3. What tense should I use when writing a research proposal?

Your research proposal comprises three central parts. They include an introduction, a literature review, and a methodology, respectively. Each one of them has several subheadings. However, write your first section in the present tense, the second one using the past tense, and apply the future tense in your last segment.

2. How to start a research proposal?

Begin a research proposal by selecting a topic before formulating a question or hypothesis or a working thesis. This part of the writing process is very important because it will assist you in developing a solid basis for your project. Thus, set aside sufficient time for this section.

4. How to write a research paper proposal?

Write a research paper proposal in an unbiased and formal tone, just like you do for other types of academic essays. It is also important to be precise by complying with the general framework of these kinds of papers. In particular, a proposal for a research paper should contain at least a title page, introduction, literature review, design and methods, and reference list. Your reader is aware of these elements and expects you to include them. Remember to present your work logically and clearly.


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  • How to Write a Research Proposal

How to Write a Research Proposal - Structure and Guidelines

To obtain any higher degree of education, you will be required to write a research paper as a part of your final project. A research proposal is written before you write your research paper. It is a description of your research topic and the details of your paper. There is a particular format for writing a research proposal. To learn more about what a research proposal is, go through this article.

Table of Contents

What is the purpose of a research proposal, abstract and table of contents, introduction, aims and objectives, background significance, literature review, research design and methodology, research questions, suppositions and implications, bibliography, tips to write a research proposal, frequently asked questions on writing a research proposal.

The purpose of writing a research proposal is to present the plan for the research. It can also be written as a proposal for the research project’s funding. First, a research proposal is sent to the guide or mentor for approval. Only after their approval can you proceed with the research.

No matter what your reasons are for drafting a research proposal, the format remains the same. The researcher portrays how and why the research topic is relevant to the field. They explain the research gap and the ways to fill up the research gap. A research proposal also proves that the author can conduct the research and make a significant contribution to the field’s current status. To do this, your research proposal must detail your academic history and credentials and also establish the academic worth of your proposed ideas.

Listed below are the important things to be covered in a research proposal.

  • The research methodology
  • The research tools and procedures to be used by the researcher to collect and analyse the data
  • Explanation of how the research can fit the budget and other restrictions imposed by the institution, department, or academic program

Structure of a Research Proposal

A research proposal must include the following.

An abstract and table of contents are added at the beginning of the research proposal, just before the introduction. An abstract talks about the research in brief. It can also include keywords used in the proposal towards the end.

Like in any other academic writing, the introduction of a research proposal introduces your research idea. It covers the research problem and the questions it raises. The introduction provides the context for your research. It must be precise and must cover all the relevant information. Be careful not to make it look like all the information is crammed into one paragraph.

This is an important section of a research proposal. This is where you explain your objectives for conducting the research and what you intend to achieve through it. This will help the reader understand your point of view more clearly. Mention the objectives in bullet points.

This is the section where you explain why the research is essential and how it is related to the field. You have to also explain the research problems and why you have to work on them here.

The literature review plays a vital role in a research proposal. In this section, you will explain information related to the study from books, articles and other sources. The main objective here is to establish the research gap.

After the literature review, the important thing to discuss in the research proposal is the research methodology and the design of your research. In this section, you will mention about,

  • The type of research to be conducted – qualitative or quantitative. You will have to mention if the data is collected originally by you or if you are analysing other researchers’ works.
  • You will also have to explain if you are conducting an experimental, correlational, or descriptive type of research.
  • Discuss the data you are working with. If you are conducting social science research, for example, you will have to describe the demographic you are looking at. You must also explain how you will choose your subjects and collect data from them.
  • Also, explain the tools to be used while conducting the research. It can be surveys, interviews, videos, etc.

After looking at your research and the type of research, you can also add information regarding the budget, time frame, and obstacles.

Research questions direct you to stick to the research and not deviate from it at any point. It can be two to four or five questions that you seek to find answers to with your research.

Although you will not know the findings of your research until you’ve completed it, you should have a clear sense of how your work will benefit your field before you begin. This section of your research proposal is likely the most important because it expresses why your research is vital. You can explain the below-given points in this section.

  • How your research will create the foundation for future research.
  • How it can be challenging to the already existing theories.
  • How it adds practical value to the practitioners, researchers, teachers, etc.
  • The problems that you may have to work on and fix.
  • Policies that can be impacted by your findings.
  • How your findings can be implemented in academics, and how they can transform the system.

Primarily this section talks about the value that your research can add. Rather than talking about the exact result or exact answer, you can discuss the expected outcomes.

The conclusion contains the overall summary of the proposal. Make sure you do not end it abruptly.

A bibliography plays a crucial role in a research paper as well as a research proposal. It is the list of sources you have referred to and cited to avoid plagiarism and copyright issues. At times, the full list of the bibliography is not needed. In such a case, we can just add the reference list. You can seek help from your guide or supervisor for the correct format.

  • Include all the information regarding the final research paper to make it understandable to the supervisor, guide, etc.
  • Citations play a major role. Cite every source you have referred to and used.
  • Follow one format of writing, e.g. MLA format, APA format, etc. Consult with your guide and find out which format you have to follow to write your research proposal.
  • Establish a strong argument for your research proposal because your objective is to make your reader say “Yes” to your proposal.
  • Proofread and edit it to avoid any possible errors.

What are the essential components of a research proposal?

The essential components of a research proposal are the introduction, literature review, research questions, aims and objectives, and the research methodology.

Why is a research proposal written?

A research proposal is written to seek approval from the research guide, to get financial support, or to prepare a representation of your research plan and strategies.

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How to write a successful research proposal

As the competition for PhD places is incredibly fierce, your research proposal can have a strong bearing on the success of your application - so discover how to make the best impression

What is a research proposal?

Research proposals are used to persuade potential supervisors and funders that your work is worthy of their support. These documents setting out your proposed research that will result in a Doctoral thesis are typically between 1,500 and 3,000 words in length.

Your PhD research proposal must passionately articulate what you want to research and why, convey your understanding of existing literature, and clearly define at least one research question that could lead to new or original knowledge and how you propose to answer it.

Professor Leigh Wilson, director of the graduate school at the University of Westminster, explains that while the research proposal is about work that hasn't been done yet, what prospective supervisors and funders are focusing on just as strongly is evidence of what you've done - how well you know existing literature in the area, including very recent publications and debates, and how clearly you've seen what's missing from this and so what your research can do that's new. Giving a strong sense of this background or frame for the proposed work is crucial.

'Although it's tempting to make large claims and propose research that sweeps across time and space, narrower, more focused research is much more convincing,' she adds. 'To be thorough and rigorous in the way that academic work needs to be, even something as long as a PhD thesis can only cover a fairly narrow topic. Depth not breadth is called for.'

The structure of your research proposal is therefore important to achieving this goal, yet it should still retain sufficient flexibility to comfortably accommodate any changes you need to make as your PhD progresses.

Layout and formats vary, so it's advisable to consult your potential PhD supervisor before you begin. Here's what to bear in mind when writing a research proposal.

Your provisional title should be around ten words in length, and clearly and accurately indicate your area of study and/or proposed approach. It should be catchy, informative and interesting.

The title page should also include personal information, such as your name, academic title, date of birth, nationality and contact details.

Aims and objectives

This is a short summary of your project. Your aims should be two or three broad statements that emphasise what you ultimately want to achieve, complemented by several focused, feasible and measurable objectives - the steps that you'll take to answer each of your research questions. This involves clearly and briefly outlining:

  • how your research addresses a gap in, or builds upon, existing knowledge
  • how your research links to the department that you're applying to
  • the academic, cultural, political and/or social significance of your research questions.

Literature review

This section of your PhD proposal discusses the most important theories, models and texts that surround and influence your research questions, conveying your understanding and awareness of the key issues and debates.

It should focus on the theoretical and practical knowledge gaps that your work aims to address, as this ultimately justifies and provides the motivation for your project.


Here, you're expected to outline how you'll answer each of your research questions. A strong, well-written methodology is crucial, but especially so if your project involves extensive collection and significant analysis of primary data.

In disciplines such as humanities the research proposal methodology identifies the data collection and analytical techniques available to you, before justifying the ones you'll use in greater detail. You'll also define the population that you're intending to examine.

You should also show that you're aware of the limitations of your research, qualifying the parameters that you plan to introduce. Remember, it's more impressive to do a fantastic job of exploring a narrower topic than a decent job of exploring a wider one.

Concluding or following on from your methodology, your timetable should identify how long you'll need to complete each step - perhaps using bi-weekly or monthly timeslots. This helps the reader to evaluate the feasibility of your project and shows that you've considered how you'll go about putting the PhD proposal into practice.


Finally, you'll provide a list of the most significant texts, plus any attachments such as your academic CV . Demonstrate your skills in critical reflection by selecting only those resources that are most appropriate.

Final checks

Before submitting this document along with your PhD application, you'll need to ensure that you've adhered to the research proposal format. This means that:

  • every page is numbered
  • it's professional, interesting and informative
  • the research proposal has been proofread by both an experienced academic (to confirm that it conforms to academic standards) and a layman (to correct any grammatical or spelling errors)
  • it has a contents page
  • you've used a clear and easy-to-read structure, with appropriate headings.

Research proposal examples

To get a better idea of how your PhD proposal may look, some universities have provided examples of research proposals for specific subjects:

  • The Open University - Social Policy and Criminology
  • University of Sheffield - Sociological Studies
  • University of Sussex
  • University of York - Politics

Find out more

  • Explore PhD studentships .
  • For tips on writing a thesis, see 7 steps to writing a dissertation .
  • Read more about PhD study .

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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!


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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