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Q: How do I write the methods section of a research proposal?
Asked on 08 May, 2019
The methods section of a research proposal contains details about how you will conduct your research. It includes your study design - the methodology and methods that you plan to use - as well as your work plan - the activities that you plan to undertake to complete your project.
The methods section of a research proposal must contain all the necessary information that will facilitate another researcher to replicate your research. The purpose of writing this section is to convince the funding agency that the methods you plan to use are sound and this is the most suitable approach to address the problem you have chosen.
You must also demonstrate your understanding of alternative methods to show that you have made a sound and well-calculated judgment. The methods section of your research proposal should answer the following questions:
- What is your study design and why did you choose it?
- Is the study qualitative or quantitative?
- What are the methods you will use to collect data?
- Who will be the participants of your study?
- What procedures/activities will the study involve?
- How long will the experiments/study take to get completed?
You might find this course helpful: How to write the perfect methods section
- How to write a statement of problem for your research proposal
- Top tips for researchers on how to avoid grant proposal rejection
- 15 Key tips for writing a winning grant proposal
- 10 Tips to write an effective research grant proposal
Answered by Editage Insights on 15 May, 2019
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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 January 3, 2023.
A research proposal describes what you will investigate, why it’s important, and how you will conduct your research.
The format of a research proposal varies between fields, but most proposals will contain at least these elements:
- Research design
While the sections may vary, the overall objective is always the same. A research proposal serves as a blueprint and guide for your research plan, helping you get organized and feel confident in the path forward you choose to take.
Table of contents
Research proposal purpose, research proposal examples, research design and methods, contribution to knowledge, research schedule, 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
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: “Making Healthy Connections: Mentoring, Monitoring and Measurement”
- Example research proposal #3: “Medical Students as Mediators of Change in Tobacco Use”
Prevent plagiarism. Run a free check.
Like your dissertation or thesis, the proposal will usually have a title page that includes:
- The proposed title of your project
- Your supervisor’s name
- Your institution and department
The first part of your proposal is the initial pitch for your project. Make sure it succinctly explains what you want to do and why.
Your introduction should:
- Introduce your topic
- Give necessary background and context
- Outline your problem statement and research questions
To guide your introduction , include information about:
- Who could have an interest in the topic (e.g., scientists, policymakers)
- How much is already known about the topic
- What is missing from this current knowledge
- What new insights your research will contribute
- Why you believe this research is worth doing
As you get started, it’s important to demonstrate that you’re familiar with the most important research on your topic. A strong literature review shows your reader that your project has a solid foundation in existing knowledge or theory. It also shows that you’re not simply repeating what other people have already done or said, but rather using existing research as a jumping-off point for your own.
In this section, share exactly how your project will contribute to ongoing conversations in the field by:
- Comparing and contrasting the main theories, methods, and debates
- Examining the strengths and weaknesses of different approaches
- Explaining how will you build on, challenge, or synthesize prior scholarship
Following the literature review, restate your main objectives . This brings the focus back to your own project. Next, your research design or methodology section will describe your overall approach, and the practical steps you will take to answer your research questions.
To finish your proposal on a strong note, explore the potential implications of your research for your field. Emphasize again what you aim to contribute and why it matters.
For example, your results might have implications for:
- Improving best practices
- Informing policymaking decisions
- Strengthening a theory or model
- Challenging popular or scientific beliefs
- Creating a basis for future research
Last but not least, your research proposal must include correct citations for every source you have used, compiled in a reference list . To create citations quickly and easily, you can use our free APA citation generator .
Some institutions or funders require a detailed timeline of the project, asking you to forecast what you will do at each stage and how long it may take. While not always required, be sure to check the requirements of your project.
Here’s an example schedule to help you get started. You can also download a template at the button below.
Download our research schedule template
If you are applying for research funding, chances are you will have to include a detailed budget. This shows your estimates of how much each part of your project will cost.
Make sure to check what type of costs the funding body will agree to cover. For each item, include:
- Cost : exactly how much money do you need?
- Justification : why is this cost necessary to complete the research?
- Source : how did you calculate the amount?
To determine your budget, think about:
- Travel costs : do you need to go somewhere to collect your data? How will you get there, and how much time will you need? What will you do there (e.g., interviews, archival research)?
- Materials : do you need access to any tools or technologies?
- Help : do you need to hire any research assistants for the project? What will they do, and how much will you pay them?
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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- Indian J Anaesth
- v.60(9); 2016 Sep
How to write a research proposal?
Department of Anaesthesiology, Bangalore Medical College and Research Institute, Bengaluru, Karnataka, India
Devika Rani Duggappa
Writing the proposal of a research work in the present era is a challenging task due to the constantly evolving trends in the qualitative research design and the need to incorporate medical advances into the methodology. The proposal is a detailed plan or ‘blueprint’ for the intended study, and once it is completed, the research project should flow smoothly. Even today, many of the proposals at post-graduate evaluation committees and application proposals for funding are substandard. A search was conducted with keywords such as research proposal, writing proposal and qualitative using search engines, namely, PubMed and Google Scholar, and an attempt has been made to provide broad guidelines for writing a scientifically appropriate research proposal.
A clean, well-thought-out proposal forms the backbone for the research itself and hence becomes the most important step in the process of conduct of research.[ 1 ] The objective of preparing a research proposal would be to obtain approvals from various committees including ethics committee [details under ‘Research methodology II’ section [ Table 1 ] in this issue of IJA) and to request for grants. However, there are very few universally accepted guidelines for preparation of a good quality research proposal. A search was performed with keywords such as research proposal, funding, qualitative and writing proposals using search engines, namely, PubMed, Google Scholar and Scopus.
Five ‘C’s while writing a literature review
BASIC REQUIREMENTS OF A RESEARCH PROPOSAL
A proposal needs to show how your work fits into what is already known about the topic and what new paradigm will it add to the literature, while specifying the question that the research will answer, establishing its significance, and the implications of the answer.[ 2 ] The proposal must be capable of convincing the evaluation committee about the credibility, achievability, practicality and reproducibility (repeatability) of the research design.[ 3 ] Four categories of audience with different expectations may be present in the evaluation committees, namely academic colleagues, policy-makers, practitioners and lay audiences who evaluate the research proposal. Tips for preparation of a good research proposal include; ‘be practical, be persuasive, make broader links, aim for crystal clarity and plan before you write’. A researcher must be balanced, with a realistic understanding of what can be achieved. Being persuasive implies that researcher must be able to convince other researchers, research funding agencies, educational institutions and supervisors that the research is worth getting approval. The aim of the researcher should be clearly stated in simple language that describes the research in a way that non-specialists can comprehend, without use of jargons. The proposal must not only demonstrate that it is based on an intelligent understanding of the existing literature but also show that the writer has thought about the time needed to conduct each stage of the research.[ 4 , 5 ]
CONTENTS OF A RESEARCH PROPOSAL
The contents or formats of a research proposal vary depending on the requirements of evaluation committee and are generally provided by the evaluation committee or the institution.
In general, a cover page should contain the (i) title of the proposal, (ii) name and affiliation of the researcher (principal investigator) and co-investigators, (iii) institutional affiliation (degree of the investigator and the name of institution where the study will be performed), details of contact such as phone numbers, E-mail id's and lines for signatures of investigators.
The main contents of the proposal may be presented under the following headings: (i) introduction, (ii) review of literature, (iii) aims and objectives, (iv) research design and methods, (v) ethical considerations, (vi) budget, (vii) appendices and (viii) citations.[ 4 ]
It is also sometimes termed as ‘need for study’ or ‘abstract’. Introduction is an initial pitch of an idea; it sets the scene and puts the research in context.[ 6 ] The introduction should be designed to create interest in the reader about the topic and proposal. It should convey to the reader, what you want to do, what necessitates the study and your passion for the topic.[ 7 ] Some questions that can be used to assess the significance of the study are: (i) Who has an interest in the domain of inquiry? (ii) What do we already know about the topic? (iii) What has not been answered adequately in previous research and practice? (iv) How will this research add to knowledge, practice and policy in this area? Some of the evaluation committees, expect the last two questions, elaborated under a separate heading of ‘background and significance’.[ 8 ] Introduction should also contain the hypothesis behind the research design. If hypothesis cannot be constructed, the line of inquiry to be used in the research must be indicated.
Review of literature
It refers to all sources of scientific evidence pertaining to the topic in interest. In the present era of digitalisation and easy accessibility, there is an enormous amount of relevant data available, making it a challenge for the researcher to include all of it in his/her review.[ 9 ] It is crucial to structure this section intelligently so that the reader can grasp the argument related to your study in relation to that of other researchers, while still demonstrating to your readers that your work is original and innovative. It is preferable to summarise each article in a paragraph, highlighting the details pertinent to the topic of interest. The progression of review can move from the more general to the more focused studies, or a historical progression can be used to develop the story, without making it exhaustive.[ 1 ] Literature should include supporting data, disagreements and controversies. Five ‘C's may be kept in mind while writing a literature review[ 10 ] [ Table 1 ].
Aims and objectives
The research purpose (or goal or aim) gives a broad indication of what the researcher wishes to achieve in the research. The hypothesis to be tested can be the aim of the study. The objectives related to parameters or tools used to achieve the aim are generally categorised as primary and secondary objectives.
Research design and method
The objective here is to convince the reader that the overall research design and methods of analysis will correctly address the research problem and to impress upon the reader that the methodology/sources chosen are appropriate for the specific topic. It should be unmistakably tied to the specific aims of your study.
In this section, the methods and sources used to conduct the research must be discussed, including specific references to sites, databases, key texts or authors that will be indispensable to the project. There should be specific mention about the methodological approaches to be undertaken to gather information, about the techniques to be used to analyse it and about the tests of external validity to which researcher is committed.[ 10 , 11 ]
The components of this section include the following:[ 4 ]
Population and sample
Population refers to all the elements (individuals, objects or substances) that meet certain criteria for inclusion in a given universe,[ 12 ] and sample refers to subset of population which meets the inclusion criteria for enrolment into the study. The inclusion and exclusion criteria should be clearly defined. The details pertaining to sample size are discussed in the article “Sample size calculation: Basic priniciples” published in this issue of IJA.
The researcher is expected to give a detailed account of the methodology adopted for collection of data, which include the time frame required for the research. The methodology should be tested for its validity and ensure that, in pursuit of achieving the results, the participant's life is not jeopardised. The author should anticipate and acknowledge any potential barrier and pitfall in carrying out the research design and explain plans to address them, thereby avoiding lacunae due to incomplete data collection. If the researcher is planning to acquire data through interviews or questionnaires, copy of the questions used for the same should be attached as an annexure with the proposal.
Rigor (soundness of the research)
This addresses the strength of the research with respect to its neutrality, consistency and applicability. Rigor must be reflected throughout the proposal.
It refers to the robustness of a research method against bias. The author should convey the measures taken to avoid bias, viz. blinding and randomisation, in an elaborate way, thus ensuring that the result obtained from the adopted method is purely as chance and not influenced by other confounding variables.
Consistency considers whether the findings will be consistent if the inquiry was replicated with the same participants and in a similar context. This can be achieved by adopting standard and universally accepted methods and scales.
Applicability refers to the degree to which the findings can be applied to different contexts and groups.[ 13 ]
This section deals with the reduction and reconstruction of data and its analysis including sample size calculation. The researcher is expected to explain the steps adopted for coding and sorting the data obtained. Various tests to be used to analyse the data for its robustness, significance should be clearly stated. Author should also mention the names of statistician and suitable software which will be used in due course of data analysis and their contribution to data analysis and sample calculation.[ 9 ]
Medical research introduces special moral and ethical problems that are not usually encountered by other researchers during data collection, and hence, the researcher should take special care in ensuring that ethical standards are met. Ethical considerations refer to the protection of the participants' rights (right to self-determination, right to privacy, right to autonomy and confidentiality, right to fair treatment and right to protection from discomfort and harm), obtaining informed consent and the institutional review process (ethical approval). The researcher needs to provide adequate information on each of these aspects.
Informed consent needs to be obtained from the participants (details discussed in further chapters), as well as the research site and the relevant authorities.
When the researcher prepares a research budget, he/she should predict and cost all aspects of the research and then add an additional allowance for unpredictable disasters, delays and rising costs. All items in the budget should be justified.
Appendices are documents that support the proposal and application. The appendices will be specific for each proposal but documents that are usually required include informed consent form, supporting documents, questionnaires, measurement tools and patient information of the study in layman's language.
As with any scholarly research paper, you must cite the sources you used in composing your proposal. Although the words ‘references and bibliography’ are different, they are used interchangeably. It refers to all references cited in the research proposal.
Successful, qualitative research proposals should communicate the researcher's knowledge of the field and method and convey the emergent nature of the qualitative design. The proposal should follow a discernible logic from the introduction to presentation of the appendices.
Financial support and sponsorship
Conflicts of interest.
There are no conflicts of interest.
What (Exactly) Is A Research Proposal?
A simple explainer with examples + free template.
By: Derek Jansen (MBA) | Expert Reviewed By: Dr Eunice Rautenbach | June 2020
If you’re nearing the end of your degree program and your dissertation or thesis is on the horizon, or you’re planning to apply for a PhD program, chances are you’re going to need to craft a convincing research proposal . If you’re on this page, you’re probably unsure exactly what the research proposal is all about. Well, you’ve come to the right place.
Overview: Research Proposal Basics
- What a dissertation or thesis research proposal is
- What things a research proposal needs to cover
- How long a research proposal needs to be
- How to structure and write up a proposal
What is a research proposal?
A research proposal is a simply a structured, formal document that explains what you plan to research (i.e. your research topic), why it’s worth researching (i.e. your justification), and how you plan to investigate it (i.e. your practical approach).
The purpose of the research proposal (it’s job, so to speak) is to convince your research supervisor, committee or university that your research is suitable (for the requirements of the degree program) and manageable (given the time and resource constraints you will face).
The most important word here is “ convince ” – in other words, your research proposal needs to sell your research idea (to whoever is going to approve it). If it doesn’t convince them (of its suitability and manageability), you’ll need to revise and resubmit . This will cost you valuable time, which will either delay the start of your research or eat into its time allowance (which is bad news).
What goes into a research proposal?
As we mentioned earlier, a good dissertation or thesis proposal needs to cover the “what”, the “why” and the “how” of the research. Let’s look at each of these in a little more detail:
Your proposal needs to clearly articulate your research topic. This needs to be specific and unambiguous . Your research topic should make it clear exactly what you plan to research and in what context. Here’s an example:
Topic: An investigation into the factors which impact female Generation Y consumer’s likelihood to promote a specific makeup brand to their peers: a British context
As you can see, this topic is extremely clear. From this one line we can see exactly:
- What’s being investigated – factors that make people promote a brand of makeup
- Who it involves – female Gen-Y consumers
- In what context – the United Kingdom
So, make sure that your research proposal provides a detailed explanation of your research topic. It should go without saying, but don’t start writing your proposal until you have a crystal-clear topic in mind, or you’ll end up waffling away a few thousand words.
Need a helping hand?
As we touched on earlier, it’s not good enough to simply propose a research topic – you need to justify why your topic is original . In other words, what makes it unique ? What gap in the current literature does it fill? If it’s simply a rehash of the existing research, it’s probably not going to get approval – it needs to be fresh.
But, originality alone is not enough. Once you’ve ticked that box, you also need to justify why your proposed topic is important . In other words, what value will it add to the world if you manage to find answers to your research questions ?
For example, let’s look at the sample research topic we mentioned earlier (factors impacting brand advocacy). In this case, if the research could uncover relevant factors, these findings would be very useful to marketers in the cosmetics industry, and would, therefore, have commercial value . That is a clear justification for the research.
So, when you’re crafting your research proposal, remember that it’s not enough for a topic to simply be unique. It needs to be useful and value-creating – and you need to convey that value in your proposal. If you’re struggling to find a research topic that makes the cut, watch our video covering how to find a research topic .
It’s all good and well to have a great topic that’s original and important, but you’re not going to convince anyone to approve it without discussing the practicalities – in other words:
- How will you undertake your research?
- Is your research design appropriate for your topic?
- Is your plan manageable given your constraints (time, money, expertise)?
While it’s generally not expected that you’ll have a fully fleshed out research strategy at the proposal stage, you will need to provide a high-level view of your research methodology and some key design decisions. Here are some important questions you’ll need to address in your proposal:
- Will you take a qualitative or quantitative approach ?
- Will your design be cross-sectional or longitudinal ?
- How will you collect your data ( interviews , surveys , etc)?
- How will you analyse your data (e.g. statistical analysis, qualitative data analysis , etc)?
So, make sure you give some thought to the practicalities of your research and have at least a basic understanding of research methodologies before you start writing up your proposal. The video below provides a good introduction to methodology.
How long is a research proposal?
This varies tremendously, depending on the university, the field of study (e.g., social sciences vs natural sciences), and the level of the degree (e.g. undergraduate, Masters or PhD) – so it’s always best to check with your university what their specific requirements are before you start planning your proposal.
As a rough guide, a formal research proposal at Masters-level often ranges between 2000-3000 words , while a PhD-level proposal can be far more detailed, ranging from 5000-8000 words . In some cases, a rough outline of the topic is all that’s needed, while in other cases, universities expect a very detailed proposal that essentially forms the first three chapters of the dissertation or thesis.
The takeaway – be sure to check with your institution before you start writing.
How is a research proposal structured?
While the exact structure and format required for a dissertation or thesis research proposal differs from university to university, there are five “ essential ingredients ” that typically make up the structure of a research proposal:
- A descriptive title or title page
- A rich introduction and background to the proposed research
- A discussion of the scope/delimitations of the research
- An initial literature review covering the key research in the area
- A discussion of the proposed research design (methodology)
For a detailed explanation of each of these, and step by step guidance covering how to write a research proposal, have a look at this video post . You might also consider using our free research proposal template here .
As you write up your research proposal, remember the all-important core purpose: to convince . Your research proposal needs to sell your research idea in terms of suitability and viability. So, focus on crafting a convincing narrative and you’ll have won half the battle.
Psst… there’s more (for free)
This post is part of our research writing mini-course, which covers everything you need to get started with your dissertation, thesis or research project.
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You’re most welcome. We don’t have any research proposals that we can share (the students own the intellectual property), but you might find our research proposal template useful: https://gradcoach.com/research-proposal-template/
Cheruiyot Moses Kipyegon
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How to write your research proposal
A key part of your application is your research proposal. Whether you are applying for a self-funded or studentship you should follow the guidance below.
If you are looking specifically for advice on writing your PhD by published work research proposal, read our guide .
You are encouraged to contact us to discuss the availability of supervision in your area of research before you make a formal application, by visiting our areas of research .
What is your research proposal used for and why is it important?
- It is used to establish whether there is expertise to support your proposed area of research
- It forms part of the assessment of your application
- The research proposal you submit as part of your application is just the starting point, as your ideas evolve your proposed research is likely to change
How long should my research proposal be?
It should be 2,000–3,500 words (4-7 pages) long.
What should be included in my research proposal?
Your proposal should include the following:
- Your title should give a clear indication of your proposed research approach or key question
2. BACKGROUND AND RATIONALE
You should include:
- the background and issues of your proposed research
- identify your discipline
- a short literature review
- a summary of key debates and developments in the field
3. RESEARCH QUESTION(S)
You should formulate these clearly, giving an explanation as to what problems and issues are to be explored and why they are worth exploring
4. RESEARCH METHODOLOGY
You should provide an outline of:
- the theoretical resources to be drawn on
- the research approach (theoretical framework)
- the research methods appropriate for the proposed research
- a discussion of advantages as well as limits of particular approaches and methods
5. PLAN OF WORK & TIME SCHEDULE
You should include an outline of the various stages and corresponding time lines for developing and implementing the research, including writing up your thesis.
For full-time study your research should be completed within three years, with writing up completed in the fourth year of registration.
For part-time study your research should be completed within six years, with writing up completed by the eighth year.
- a list of references to key articles and texts discussed within your research proposal
- a selection of sources appropriate to the proposed research
Fees and funding.
How much will it cost to study a research degree?
Find out if you can apply for a Research Degree at the University of Westminster.
Research degree by distance learning
Find out about Research Degree distance learning options at the University of Westminster.
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LYNN SANTELMANN Assistant Professor, Applied Linguistics Portland State University [email protected] Outline for Research Project Proposal (adapted from Course Materials for Psycholinguistics) When writing, please use section headings to indicate where the information can be found. Subheadings need not be used, though in long sections they may facilitate organization. 1. Introduction Explain the issue you are examining and why it is significant. Describe the general area to be studied Explain why this area is important to the general area under study (e.g., psychology of language, second language acquisition, teaching methods )
Summarize what is already known about the field. Include a summary of the basic background information on the topic gleaned from your literature review (you can include information from the book and class, but the bulk should be outside sources) Discuss several critical studies that have already been done in this area(cite according to APA style). Point out why these background studies are insufficient. In other words, what question(s) do they leave unresolved that you would like to study? Choose (at least) one of these questions you might like to pursue yourself. (Make sure you do not choose too many questions)
- List the specific question(s) that you are exploring.
- Explain how these research questions are related to the larger issues raised in the introduction.
- Describe what specific claim, hypothesis, and/or model of psycholinguistics you will evaluate with these questions.
- Explain what it will show about the psychology of language if your hypothesis is confirmed.
- Explain what it will suggest about the psychology of language if your hypothesis is disconfirmed.
Describe the general methodology you choose for your study, in order to test your hypothesis(es). Explain why this method is the best for your purposes. Participants: Who would you test and why? Describe the sample you would test and explain why you have chosen this sample. Include age, and language background and socio-economic information, if relevant to the design. Are there any participants you would exclude? Why, why not?
Describe what kinds of manipulations/variations you would make or test for in order to test your hypothesis(es). Describe the factors you would vary if you were presenting a person with stimulus sentences. Explain how varying these factors would allow you to confirm or disconfirm your hypotheses. Explain what significant differences you would need to find to confirm or disconfirm your hypothesis(es). In particular, how could your hypothesis(es) be disconfirmed by your data? Controls: What kinds of factors would you need to control for in your study? Describe what types of effects would be likely to occur which would make your results appear to confirm, or to disconfirm your hypothesis(es). Describe how you can by your design rule out or control for apparent effects.
How are you going to present the stimuli? What is the participant in the experiment going to do?
How will you analyze the results? What kind of results would confirm your hypothesis? What kind of results would disconfirm your hypothesis
How to Write a Research Proposal
Once you’re in college and really getting into academic writing , you may not recognize all the kinds of assignments you’re asked to complete. You know what an essay is, and you know how to respond to readings—but when you hear your professor mention a research proposal or a literature review, your mind might do a double take.
Don’t worry; we’ve got you. Boiled down to its core, a research proposal is simply a short piece of writing that details exactly what you’ll be covering in a larger research project. You’ll likely be required to write one for your thesis , and if you choose to continue in academia after earning your bachelor’s degree, you’ll be writing research proposals for your master’s thesis, your dissertation, and all other research you conduct. By then, you’ll be a research proposal pro. But for now, we’ll answer all your questions and help you confidently write your first one.
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What is the goal of a research proposal?
In a research proposal, the goal is to present the author’s plan for the research they intend to conduct. In some cases, part of this goal is to secure funding for said research. In others, it’s to have the research approved by the author’s supervisor or department so they can move forward with it. In some cases, a research proposal is a required part of a graduate school application. In every one of these circumstances, research proposals follow the same structure.
In a research proposal, the author demonstrates how and why their research is relevant to their field. They demonstrate that the work is necessary to the following:
- Filling a gap in the existing body of research on their subject
- Underscoring existing research on their subject, and/or
- Adding new, original knowledge to the academic community’s existing understanding of their subject
A research proposal also demonstrates that the author is capable of conducting this research and contributing to the current state of their field in a meaningful way. To do this, your research proposal needs to discuss your academic background and credentials as well as demonstrate that your proposed ideas have academic merit.
But demonstrating your research’s validity and your personal capability to carry it out isn’t enough to get your research proposal approved. Your research proposal also has to cover these things:
- The research methodology you plan to use
- The tools and procedures you will use to collect, analyze, and interpret the data you collect
- An explanation of how your research fits the budget and other constraints that come with conducting it through your institution, department, or academic program
If you’ve already read our post on literature reviews , you may be thinking that a research proposal sounds pretty similar. They’re more than just similar, though—a literature review is part of a research proposal. It’s the section that covers which sources you’re using, how you’re using them, and why they’re relevant. Think of a literature review as a mini-research proposal that fits into your larger, main proposal.
How long should a research proposal be?
Generally, research proposals for bachelor’s and master’s theses are a few pages long. Research proposals for meatier projects, like Ph.D. dissertations and funding requests, are often longer and far more detailed. A research proposal’s goal is to clearly outline exactly what your research will entail and accomplish, so including the proposal’s word count or page count isn’t nearly as important as it is to ensure that all the necessary elements and content are present.
Research proposal structure
A research proposal follows a fairly straightforward structure. In order to achieve the goals described in the previous section, nearly all research proposals include the following sections:
Your introduction achieves a few goals:
- Introduces your topic
- States your problem statement and the questions your research aims to answer
- Provides context for your research
In a research proposal, an introduction can be a few paragraphs long. It should be concise, but don’t feel like you need to cram all of your information into one paragraph.
In some cases, you need to include an abstract and/or a table of contents in your research proposal. These are included just before the introduction.
This is where you explain why your research is necessary and how it relates to established research in your field. Your work might complement existing research, strengthen it, or even challenge it—no matter how your work will “play with” other researchers’ work, you need to express it in detail in your research proposal.
This is also the section where you clearly define the existing problems your research will address. By doing this, you’re explaining why your work is necessary—in other words, this is where you answer the reader’s “so what?”
In your background significance section, you’ll also outline how you’ll conduct your research. If necessary, note which related questions and issues you won’t be covering in your research.
In your literature review , you introduce all the sources you plan to use in your research. This includes landmark studies and their data, books, and scholarly articles. A literature review isn’t merely a list of sources (that’s what your bibliography is for); a literature review delves into the collection of sources you chose and explains how you’re using them in your research.
Research design, methods, and schedule
Following your research review, you’ll discuss your research plans. In this section, make sure you cover these aspects:
- The type of research you will do. Are you conducting qualitative or quantitative research? Are you collecting original data or working with data collected by other researchers?
- Whether you’re doing experimental, correlational, or descriptive research
- The data you’re working with. For example, if you’re conducting research in the social sciences, you’ll need to describe the population you’re studying. You’ll also need to cover how you’ll select your subjects and how you’ll collect data from them.
- The tools you’ll use to collect data. Will you be running experiments? Conducting surveys? Observing phenomena? Note all data collection methods here along with why they’re effective methods for your specific research.
Beyond a comprehensive look at your research itself, you’ll also need to include:
- Your research timeline
- Your research budget
- Any potential obstacles you foresee and your plan for handling them
Suppositions and implications
Although you can’t know your research’s results until you’ve actually done the work, you should be going into the project with a clear idea of how your work will contribute to your field. This section is perhaps the most critical to your research proposal’s argument because it expresses exactly why your research is necessary.
In this section, make sure you cover the following:
- Any ways your work can challenge existing theories and assumptions in your field
- How your work will create the foundation for future research
- The practical value your findings will provide to practitioners, educators, and other academics in your field
- The problems your work can potentially help to fix
- Policies that could be impacted by your findings
- How your findings can be implemented in academia or other settings and how this will improve or otherwise transform these settings
In other words, this section isn’t about stating the specific results you expect. Rather, it’s where you state how your findings will be valuable.
This is where you wrap it all up. Your conclusion section, just like your conclusion paragraph for an essay , briefly summarizes your research proposal and reinforces your research’s stated purpose.
Yes, you need to write a bibliography in addition to your literature review. Unlike your literature review, where you explained the relevance of the sources you chose and in some cases, challenged them, your bibliography simply lists your sources and their authors.
The way you write a citation depends on the style guide you’re using. The three most common style guides for academics are MLA , APA , and Chicago , and each has its own particular rules and requirements. Keep in mind that each formatting style has specific guidelines for citing just about any kind of source, including photos , websites , speeches , and YouTube videos .
Sometimes, a full bibliography is not needed. When this is the case, you can include a references list, which is simply a scaled-down list of all the sources you cited in your work. If you’re not sure which to write, ask your supervisor.
Here’s a tip: Grammarly’s Citation Generator ensures your essays have flawless citations and no plagiarism. Try it for citing journal articles in MLA , APA , and Chicago styles.
How to write a research proposal
Research proposals, like all other kinds of academic writing, are written in a formal, objective tone. Keep in mind that being concise is a key component of academic writing; formal does not mean flowery.
Adhere to the structure outlined above. Your reader knows how a research proposal is supposed to read and expects it to fit this template. It’s crucial that you present your research proposal in a clear, logical way. Every question the reader has while reading your proposal should be answered by the final section.
Editing and proofreading a research proposal
When you’re writing a research proposal, follow the same six-step writing process you follow with every other kind of writing you do.
After you’ve got a first draft written, take some time to let it “cool off” before you start proofreading . By doing this, you’re making it easier for yourself to catch mistakes and gaps in your writing.
Common mistakes to avoid when writing a research proposal
When you’re writing a research proposal, avoid these common pitfalls:
Being too wordy
As we said earlier, formal does not mean flowery. In fact, you should aim to keep your writing as brief and to-the-point as possible. The more economically you can express your purpose and goal, the better.
Failing to cite relevant sources
When you’re conducting research, you’re adding to the existing body of knowledge on the subject you’re covering. Your research proposal should reference one or more of the landmark research pieces in your field and connect your work to these works in some way. This doesn’t just communicate your work’s relevance—it also demonstrates your familiarity with the field.
Focusing too much on minor issues
There are probably a lot of great reasons why your research is necessary. These reasons don’t all need to be in your research proposal. In fact, including too many questions and issues in your research proposal can detract from your central purpose, weakening the proposal. Save the minor issues for your research paper itself and cover only the major, key issues you aim to tackle in your proposal.
Failing to make a strong argument for your research
This is perhaps the easiest way to undermine your proposal because it’s far more subjective than the others. A research proposal is, in essence, a piece of persuasive writing . That means that although you’re presenting your proposal in an objective, academic way, the goal is to get the reader to say “yes” to your work.
This is true in every case, whether your reader is your supervisor, your department head, a graduate school admissions board, a private or government-backed funding provider, or the editor at a journal in which you’d like to publish your work.
Polish your writing into a stellar proposal
When you’re asking for approval to conduct research—especially when there’s funding involved—you need to be nothing less than 100 percent confident in your proposal. If your research proposal has spelling or grammatical mistakes, an inconsistent or inappropriate tone, or even just awkward phrasing, those will undermine your credibility.
Make sure your research proposal shines by using Grammarly to catch all of those issues. Even if you think you caught all of them while you were editing, it’s critical to double-check your work. Your research deserves the best proposal possible, and Grammarly can help you make that happen.
Want to create or adapt OER like this? Learn how BCcampus supports open education and how you can access Pressbooks . Learn more about how Pressbooks supports open publishing practices. -->
Chapter 14: The Research Proposal
14.3 Components of a Research Proposal
Krathwohl (2005) suggests and describes a variety of components to include in a research proposal. The following sections – Introductions, Background and significance, Literature Review; Research design and methods, Preliminary suppositions and implications; and Conclusion present these components in a suggested template for you to follow in the preparation of your research proposal.
The introduction sets the tone for what follows in your research proposal – treat it as the initial pitch of your idea. After reading the introduction your reader should:
- understand what it is you want to do;
- have a sense of your passion for the topic; and
- be excited about the study’s possible outcomes.
As you begin writing your research proposal, it is helpful to think of the introduction as a narrative of what it is you want to do, written in one to three paragraphs. Within those one to three paragraphs, it is important to briefly answer the following questions:
- What is the central research problem?
- How is the topic of your research proposal related to the problem?
- What methods will you utilize to analyze the research problem?
- Why is it important to undertake this research? What is the significance of your proposed research? Why are the outcomes of your proposed research important? Whom are they important?
Note : You may be asked by your instructor to include an abstract with your research proposal. In such cases, an abstract should provide an overview of what it is you plan to study, your main research question, a brief explanation of your methods to answer the research question, and your expected findings. All of this information must be carefully crafted in 150 to 250 words. A word of advice is to save the writing of your abstract until the very end of your research proposal preparation. If you are asked to provide an abstract, you should include 5 to 7 key words that are of most relevance to your study. List these in order of relevance.
Background and significance
The purpose of this section is to explain the context of your proposal and to describe, in detail, why it is important to undertake this research. Assume that the person or people who will read your research proposal know nothing or very little about the research problem. While you do not need to include all knowledge you have learned about your topic in this section, it is important to ensure that you include the most relevant material that will help to explain the goals of your research.
While there are no hard and fast rules, you should attempt to address some or all of the following key points:
- State the research problem and provide a more thorough explanation about the purpose of the study than what you stated in the introduction.
- Present the rationale for the proposed research study. Clearly indicate why this research is worth doing. Answer the “so what?” question.
- Describe the major issues or problems to be addressed by your research. Do not forget to explain how and in what ways your proposed research builds upon previous related research.
- Explain how you plan to go about conducting your research.
- Clearly identify the key or most relevant sources of research you intend to use and explain how they will contribute to your analysis of the topic.
- Set the boundaries of your proposed research, in order to provide a clear focus. Where appropriate, state not only what you will study, but what will be excluded from your study.
- Provide clear definitions of key concepts and terms. Since key concepts and terms often have numerous definitions, make sure you state which definition you will be utilizing in your research.
This key component of the research proposal is the most time-consuming aspect in the preparation of your research proposal. As described in Chapter 5 , the literature review provides the background to your study and demonstrates the significance of the proposed research. Specifically, it is a review and synthesis of prior research that is related to the problem you are setting forth to investigate. Essentially, your goal in the literature review is to place your research study within the larger whole of what has been studied in the past, while demonstrating to your reader that your work is original, innovative, and adds to the larger whole.
As the literature review is information dense, it is essential that this section be intelligently structured to enable your reader to grasp the key arguments underpinning your study. However, this can be easier to state and harder to do, simply due to the fact there is usually a plethora of related research to sift through. Consequently, a good strategy for writing the literature review is to break the literature into conceptual categories or themes, rather than attempting to describe various groups of literature you reviewed. Chapter 5 describes a variety of methods to help you organize the themes.
Here are some suggestions on how to approach the writing of your literature review:
- Think about what questions other researchers have asked, what methods they used, what they found, and what they recommended based upon their findings.
- Do not be afraid to challenge previous related research findings and/or conclusions.
- Assess what you believe to be missing from previous research and explain how your research fills in this gap and/or extends previous research.
It is important to note that a significant challenge related to undertaking a literature review is knowing when to stop. As such, it is important to know when you have uncovered the key conceptual categories underlying your research topic. Generally, when you start to see repetition in the conclusions or recommendations, you can have confidence that you have covered all of the significant conceptual categories in your literature review. However, it is also important to acknowledge that researchers often find themselves returning to the literature as they collect and analyze their data. For example, an unexpected finding may develop as you collect and/or analyze the data; in this case, it is important to take the time to step back and review the literature again, to ensure that no other researchers have found a similar finding. This may include looking to research outside your field.
This situation occurred with one of this textbook’s authors’ research related to community resilience. During the interviews, the researchers heard many participants discuss individual resilience factors and how they believed these individual factors helped make the community more resilient, overall. Sheppard and Williams (2016) had not discovered these individual factors in their original literature review on community and environmental resilience. However, when they returned to the literature to search for individual resilience factors, they discovered a small body of literature in the child and youth psychology field. Consequently, Sheppard and Williams had to go back and add a new section to their literature review on individual resilience factors. Interestingly, their research appeared to be the first research to link individual resilience factors with community resilience factors.
Research design and methods
The objective of this section of the research proposal is to convince the reader that your overall research design and methods of analysis will enable you to solve the research problem you have identified and also enable you to accurately and effectively interpret the results of your research. Consequently, it is critical that the research design and methods section is well-written, clear, and logically organized. This demonstrates to your reader that you know what you are going to do and how you are going to do it. Overall, you want to leave your reader feeling confident that you have what it takes to get this research study completed in a timely fashion.
Essentially, this section of the research proposal should be clearly tied to the specific objectives of your study; however, it is also important to draw upon and include examples from the literature review that relate to your design and intended methods. In other words, you must clearly demonstrate how your study utilizes and builds upon past studies, as it relates to the research design and intended methods. For example, what methods have been used by other researchers in similar studies?
While it is important to consider the methods that other researchers have employed, it is equally, if not more, important to consider what methods have not been but could be employed. Remember, the methods section is not simply a list of tasks to be undertaken. It is also an argument as to why and how the tasks you have outlined will help you investigate the research problem and answer your research question(s).
Tips for writing the research design and methods section:
Specify the methodological approaches you intend to employ to obtain information and the techniques you will use to analyze the data.
Specify the research operations you will undertake and the way you will interpret the results of those operations in relation to the research problem.
Go beyond stating what you hope to achieve through the methods you have chosen. State how you will actually implement the methods (i.e., coding interview text, running regression analysis, etc.).
Anticipate and acknowledge any potential barriers you may encounter when undertaking your research, and describe how you will address these barriers.
Explain where you believe you will find challenges related to data collection, including access to participants and information.
Preliminary suppositions and implications
The purpose of this section is to argue how you anticipate that your research will refine, revise, or extend existing knowledge in the area of your study. Depending upon the aims and objectives of your study, you should also discuss how your anticipated findings may impact future research. For example, is it possible that your research may lead to a new policy, theoretical understanding, or method for analyzing data? How might your study influence future studies? What might your study mean for future practitioners working in the field? Who or what might benefit from your study? How might your study contribute to social, economic or environmental issues? While it is important to think about and discuss possibilities such as these, it is equally important to be realistic in stating your anticipated findings. In other words, you do not want to delve into idle speculation. Rather, the purpose here is to reflect upon gaps in the current body of literature and to describe how you anticipate your research will begin to fill in some or all of those gaps.
The conclusion reiterates the importance and significance of your research proposal, and provides a brief summary of the entire proposed study. Essentially, this section should only be one or two paragraphs in length. Here is a potential outline for your conclusion:
Discuss why the study should be done. Specifically discuss how you expect your study will advance existing knowledge and how your study is unique.
Explain the specific purpose of the study and the research questions that the study will answer.
Explain why the research design and methods chosen for this study are appropriate, and why other designs and methods were not chosen.
State the potential implications you expect to emerge from your proposed study,
Provide a sense of how your study fits within the broader scholarship currently in existence, related to the research problem.
Citations and references
As with any scholarly research paper, you must cite the sources you used in composing your research proposal. In a research proposal, this can take two forms: a reference list or a bibliography. A reference list lists the literature you referenced in the body of your research proposal. All references in the reference list must appear in the body of the research proposal. Remember, it is not acceptable to say “as cited in …” As a researcher you must always go to the original source and check it for yourself. Many errors are made in referencing, even by top researchers, and so it is important not to perpetuate an error made by someone else. While this can be time consuming, it is the proper way to undertake a literature review.
In contrast, a bibliography , is a list of everything you used or cited in your research proposal, with additional citations to any key sources relevant to understanding the research problem. In other words, sources cited in your bibliography may not necessarily appear in the body of your research proposal. Make sure you check with your instructor to see which of the two you are expected to produce.
Overall, your list of citations should be a testament to the fact that you have done a sufficient level of preliminary research to ensure that your project will complement, but not duplicate, previous research efforts. For social sciences, the reference list or bibliography should be prepared in American Psychological Association (APA) referencing format. Usually, the reference list (or bibliography) is not included in the word count of the research proposal. Again, make sure you check with your instructor to confirm.
Research Methods for the Social Sciences: An Introduction by Valerie Sheppard is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.
The methods section of a research proposal contains details about how you will conduct your research. It includes your study design - the
Approach, Make a case for your methodology. Demonstrate that you have carefully thought about the data, tools, and procedures necessary to
CONTENTS OF A RESEARCH PROPOSAL · Introduction · Review of literature · Aims and objectives · Research design and method · Ethical considerations · Budget · Appendices.
objectives, research methodology, research activities, and a time schedule in about 3-5 pages. A sample proposal ... Provide a brief and meaningful title to.
A research proposal is a simply a structured, formal document that explains what you plan to research (i.e. your research topic), why it's worth researching (
What do you plan to achieve? Be straightforward and concise in describing the research problem and what topic you are proposing to study. Why do
What should be included in my research proposal? · 1. TITLE. Your title should give a clear indication of your proposed research approach or key question · 2.
Outline for Research Project Proposal · 1. Introduction · 2. Background/Review of the Literature · 3. Rationale · 4. Method and Design · 5. Significance and
Boiled down to its core, a research proposal is simply a short piece of writing that details ... The research methodology you plan to use
Introduction · Background and significance · Literature review · Research design and methods · Preliminary suppositions and implications · Conclusion · Citations and