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Research proposal guidelines.

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Students should discuss with their adviser and committee members the expected scope of the proposal significantly in advance of submitting it for review.

Proposal Summary

History and Background


Research Design and Methods (minimum 5-6 pages)

Preliminary Results

(as appropriate)

Grad Coach

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 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). 

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

What goes into a research proposal?

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:

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?

research proposal design definition chemistry

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 .

Webinar - How to write a research proposal for a dissertation or thesis

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:

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:

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.

The length of a proposal varies tremendously, depending on the university, the field of study, and the level of the degree.

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:

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 .

Final thoughts

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.

research proposal design definition chemistry

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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What (Exactly) Is A Dissertation Abstract?


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In view of the above, I welcome more coaching.

Zakia Ghafoor

Wonderful guidelines, thanks

Annie Malupande

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


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

Ahsanullah Mangal

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

Derek Jansen

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

Cheruiyot Moses Kipyegon

Cheruiyot Moses Kipyegon

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


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Roseline Soetan

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


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Research Proposal | Chemistry and Biochemistry | SIU

Southern Illinois University

SIU Quick Links

School of Chemical and Biochemical Sciences

College of Agriculture, Life and Physical Sciences

Requirements, research proposal, research proposal and preliminary oral examination.

The preparation and defense of an original research proposal serves as the second portion of the preliminary examination. For this portion, there exists a Proposal Evaluation Committee (PEC) to consist of the student's entire graduate committee except for the member from outside the school. The school chair, if serving on the graduate committee as an ex-officio member, will be a non-voting member of this PEC. Initial work on the proposal should be initiated when the student begins taking cumulative examinations, as the first draft of the written proposal (see below) must be submitted to the PEC before the end of the student's fifth semester. Failure to submit the draft by the end of the fifth semester will result in discontinuation of assistantship support until the requirement is fulfilled. The student chooses the topic for an original research proposal. The topic must be approved by the Proposal Evaluation Committee (PEC) at a meeting in which the student outlines the proposal idea. The topic may use the techniques of the student's research project, but must not be an extension of the project. The proposal must be original with the student. After obtaining approval of the topic, the student will prepare a written proposal in accord with the prescribed format. (See Appendix IV.) During preparation, the student may obtain advice and suggestions from any faculty member but the proposal itself must be original with the student. The student must complete preparation of the proposal and submit it to the PEC before January of his or her third calendar year. The committee is allowed one week for evaluation of the proposal. The evaluation will include at least one meeting of the PEC. The evaluation shall be by a numerical score from 1.0 (lowest) to 4.0 (highest). An average score of 3.0 shall be required to pass. The scores will be accompanied by a written review by each voting PEC member. If the score is less than 3.0, the proposal must be revised and resubmitted within 30 days. The re-evaluation will follow the same procedure as described above. Only one re-submission is allowed. A second failure will be reported in writing by the PEC to the School Chair and to the Director of Graduate Studies. The latter will request that the Graduate School terminate the student from our doctoral program. In most cases, the students will be eligible for a Master’s degree. When the score is less than 3.0, copies of the final approved proposal must be provided to all members of the student's graduate committee at least one week before the date of the preliminary oral examination. Within 30 days of receiving notification of a passing grade, the student shall schedule a preliminary oral examination (defense of the proposal). This oral defense shall consist of a formal open seminar at which the student will present the proposal for credit as Chemistry 595. After questions from the general audience, the student's graduate committee will conduct an oral examination of the student. The grade for Chemistry 595 is based on the oral presentation and is independent of the oral examination. Only one attempt is allowed to pass the preliminary oral examination (defense of the research proposal). However, if the committee cannot decide whether to pass or fail the student at the end of the scheduled examination time, they may vote to continue the examination at a later date. Only one such continuation is allowed. The decision of the committee to pass the student or to continue the examination must be made with a majority vote of the committee. The student, the School Chair, and the director of graduate studies will be notified by the Chair of the graduate committee in writing on the next working day after the examination whether the result was Pass, Fail, or Continue. If a continuation is required, it must be scheduled no earlier than 30 days and no later than 90 days after the original oral examination date. Students in the Ph. D. program must complete the proposal defense by the end of third year in residence. Failure to complete the proposal defense by the end of third year will result in discontinuation of assistantship support until the requirement is fulfilled. If the student has not completed the defense by the end of the third year, the student will have one semester in which to complete the proposal defense (without assistantship support). Failure to complete the proposal by the deadline will result in termination from the graduate program. 4/5  Effective 12/13/07

A research project is required of all graduate students. A student in the doctoral program must earn at least 32 credit hours in research and dissertation (Chemistry 598 and 600). A minimum of 24 hours must be dissertation credit (Chemistry 600). The results of the research must be presented in the form of a dissertation acceptable both to the student's committee and to the Graduate School.

How to Write a Research Proposal

Lindsay Kramer

Once you’re in college and really getting into  academic writing , you may not recognize all the kinds of assignments you’re asked to complete. You know what an essay is, and you know how to respond to readings—but when you hear your professor mention a research proposal or a literature review, your mind might do a double take. 

Don’t worry; we’ve got you. Boiled down to its core, a research proposal is simply a short piece of  writing that details exactly what you’ll be covering in a larger research project. You’ll likely be required to write one for your  thesis , and if you choose to continue in academia after earning your bachelor’s degree, you’ll be writing research proposals for your master’s thesis, your dissertation, and all other research you conduct. By then, you’ll be a research proposal pro. But for now, we’ll answer all your questions and help you confidently write your first one. 

Here’s a tip: Want to make sure your writing shines? Grammarly can check your spelling and save you from grammar and punctuation mistakes. It even proofreads your text, so your work is extra polished wherever you write.

Your writing, at its best Grammarly helps you communicate confidently Write with Grammarly

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:

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:

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:

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. 

Background significance

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. 

Literature review

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:

Beyond a comprehensive look at your research itself, you’ll also need to include:

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:

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. 

research proposal design definition chemistry

An research proposal examples on chemistry is a prosaic composition of a small volume and free composition, expressing individual impressions and thoughts on a specific occasion or issue and obviously not claiming a definitive or exhaustive interpretation of the subject.

Some signs of chemistry research proposal:

The goal of an research proposal in chemistry is to develop such skills as independent creative thinking and writing out your own thoughts.

Writing an research proposal is extremely useful, because it allows the author to learn to clearly and correctly formulate thoughts, structure information, use basic concepts, highlight causal relationships, illustrate experience with relevant examples, and substantiate his conclusions.

Examples List on Chemistry Research Proposal

Information regarding Organic Research Proposals

An original research proposal is required of Ph. D. candidates in organic chemistry. Recognition and development of original and meaningful research problems is an important aspect of the work of a Ph.D. scientist. This requirement is intended to help you develop your skills in selecting a research problem and writing a research proposal. The proposal will be your property and should represent the best independent research idea that you have had to date. For this reason, to be acceptable, your proposal must not be closely related to, or an obvious extension of, current work at Wisconsin.

When and How to Submit Proposals

You should submit a proposal in the Fall semester of your third year of graduate work. Third-year students cannot delay submission of their proposal until the Spring semester without the consent of their major professor. Discuss this with your major professor.

A one-page summary providing the context for the scientific problem and the specific aims of the research is due two Mondays before Thanksgiving. The organic faculty will evaluate these summaries for approval.  If a revised written proposal is required, this may be submitted after these deadlines.  When your specific aims (Summary) have been accepted, you must provide a complete written proposal, which is due the Monday of exam week.   You may prepare and submit your proposal in advance of the deadlines to allow time for revision or replacement .

Completion of the Research Proposal is required for advancement to candidacy (the other requirements are the Research Preliminary Exam and 6 semesters in residence). It is therefore important to submit a proposal as early as possible. This will maximize your chances of successfully completing the proposal in time to qualify for candidacy and pay lower fees at the earliest possible time.

After review by the faculty, your proposal will either be accepted, returned for revision, or rejected. If your proposal is acceptable, it will be approved for oral defense. If it is returned for revision, your major professor will provide a summary of critical comments to help you in preparing a satisfactory version. If it is rejected, you will have to develop a new proposal. If there is time, corrected or new proposals may be submitted for the current round of oral exams, or they may be submitted for a subsequent round.Students who do not pass this requirement in the fall semester will have a second opportunity in the spring semester.  Timelines for spring:  deadline for the summary of three Mondays prior to the last week of classes; final due date for the written proposal on the Monday of the last week of classes.

Proposal Revision

A proposal revision must be accompanied by the letter you received from your advisor outlining the issues you need to consider, and a covering letter describing the changes that you have made in the write up and how you addressed the comments you received. A good format is to copy the comments into your letter, and describe your revisions below each comment. For example:

--> Criticism : "The synthesis of compound 4 in the original proposal is likely to fail because the proposed aryl bromide 7 contains an ester group that is unlikely to survive formation of a Grignard reagent."

Response : In the revised proposal a new synthesis of 4 is presented that avoids the problem pointed out in the review of the original proposal. In the revised synthesis, the Grignard reagent is formed from an aryl bromide that contains a protected primary alcohol. After the Grignard reaction, the primary alcohol is deprotected, oxidized to the acid and esterified.

--------------- Criticism : "The key proposed experiments require that nucleic acid analogues such as 9 form duplexes with natural DNA strands. How can we be confident that such hetero-duplexes will form?"

Response : The revised proposal contains references to the work of Jones et al. (refs. 4-6), who have shown that nucleic acid analogues very similar to 9 do indeed form duplexes with complementary DNA strands.

The Oral Examination

Only approved proposals may be defended orally in the first weeks of January. The examining committee consists of several faculty members including your major professor as an observer. The oral exam is typically 45 minutes and you should plan to present the essential aspects of your proposal in about 15-20 minutes, with only minimal background and introductory material. An informal chalkboard presentation is strongly preferred, although complicated structures or apparati can be presented in hard copy handouts or molecular models.

Research proposals are graded on a Pass/Conditional Pass/Fail basis. Conditional Pass requires additional work, specified by the examining committee, which may involve a written report or a repeat the oral examination at a later date.

Evaluation of Proposals

All faculty members will receive a copy of your proposal for evaluation in four categories as listed below.

Criteria for Evaluation:

   1. Presentation: Is the proposal understandable, does it comply with the required format in explicitly stating the Specific Aims and Hypotheses, does it clearly describe the significance of the problem and the proposed solution, does it include pertinent references to the literature?

   2. Scientific Merit: Is the proposal worth doing, does it lead to new and nontrivial results, does it overlap excessively with work under way at Wisconsin?

   3. Practicality: Does the proposal constitute a research problem (desirable) or a research program (undesirable); would an advanced student or postdoctoral fellow be expected to make substantial progress in a reasonable amount of time?

   4. Technical Competence: Will it work? Are theoretical arguments sound, will the experiments lead to conclusive and observable results, has the student overlooked reasonable alternatives, will synthetic steps work, are the analogies appropriate?

Proposals Involving Asymmetric Synthesis

Proposals involving asymmetric synthesis often contain no testable hypothesis - either the reaction works or it doesn't. The entire proposal boils down to a question of estimating small energy differences between diastereomeric transition states. One can speculate about the geometries and energies of the transition states, but, fundamentally, there is no hypothesis to be tested.

Developing asymmetric reactions often involves an Edisonian approach of trial and error. The ultimate goal is extremely important, but the pathway to achieving that goal involves a series of successes and failures that can only be rationalized after the fact. Even though the results of the proposal would be publishable if the project was successful, the lack of a compelling scientific hypothesis makes the proposal a poor subject for an oral exam.

If you wish to submit a proposal involving asymmetric synthesis, you should first discuss the matter with your research advisor.

Format of the Proposal

Formulate your proposal using the following outline.

A. Specific Aims

Understand the difference between

B. Background and Significance

C. Experimental Design and Methods

In this section, you should outline the experimental design and procedures you will use to accomplish the Specific Aims of the project. The experimental approach should be outlined clearly and in sufficient detail that the plan can be evaluated by the reviewers (faculty members).

The Experimental Design and Methods section is an important part of the Research Plan. You have said in the Specific Aims what you propose to do; now you are telling the reviewers how you propose to do it. Explain why the particular approach that you describe was chosen to attack the problem that you plan to research. Convince the reviewers that you can do what you propose.

Try to convince the reviewer that you have not merely gone to the library but that you really understand and know how to carry out the research and are familiar with the techniques and their shortcomings.

D. Notes and References

Be thorough, relevant, and current.

Use JACS format followed by the title of the article.

Choose wisely what you will include. Your choice of citations tells the reviewer about your quality as a scientist - your ability to evaluate the work of others and to distinguish the important from the mundane.

Planning the Research Proposal

Before you begin to write your research proposal, you should be able to write down satisfactory answers to the following questions:

Writing the Research Proposal

Here are some questions the reviewers will be asking as they read your proposal:


Be Accurate

Be Clear: Use a logical sequence of presentation.

Be Consistent

Be Brief (Concise but Complete). In expository writing, the reader wants the maximum information in the minimum number of words. AVOID REDUNDANCY AND UNNECESSARY WORDS.

Think About Style and Tone

For further tips on writing research proposals and grant applications, see:

Checklist for Research Proposals

Rev: 8/2014

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How to Write a Research Proposal | Examples & Templates

Published on October 12, 2022 by Shona McCombes and Tegan George. Revised on January 3, 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.

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, 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.

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research proposal design definition chemistry

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Like your dissertation or thesis, the proposal will usually have a title page that includes:

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:

To guide your introduction , include information about:

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:

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:

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:

To determine your budget, think about:

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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research proposal design definition chemistry

Writing a Scientific Research Project Proposal

Table of Contents

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

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

What is a scientific research proposal?

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

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

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

Scientific Research Proposal Format

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

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

Common Mistakes in Writing a Scientific Research Project Proposal

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

Scientific Research Proposal Example

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

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

Language Editing Services

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

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Department of Chemistry

Chemistry REU Program

Proposed research projects.

(Note that not all research projects and groups are available each summer. The list found here is to give a general idea of the program’s offering.)

Polymer Based Vesicles for Therapeutics Dr. Douglas Adamson (Polymer Chemistry)


Mechanistic Inorganic Chemistry Dr. Alfredo Angeles-Boza (Inorganic Chemistry)

We use synthetic chemistry, both organic and inorganic, as a tool to design and build new molecules for targeted applications. We are particularly interested in the social dilemmas of climate change and antibiotic resistance. Interestingly, both problems can be thought as examples of tragedies of the commons.

Our current research efforts are centered in two key areas: 1) Development of novel catalysts for the activation of small molecules (CO 2 , O 2 , H 2 O). We synthesize new catalysts and study their activity with a focus on kinetics and reaction mechanisms. We are one of the few groups in the world that use of heavy atom isotope effects to study reaction mechanisms. 2) Design and synthesis of compounds with medicinal properties that take advantage of the important role of metal ions in biological systems. Our approach involves synthesizing novel molecules and characterizing them with an arsenal of physical, chemical and spectroscopic data. In recent years, we have focused on the synthesis of peptides and peptidomimetics. Angeles-Boza Group Website

research proposal design definition chemistry

Use of Persistent Radical Catalysts in Living Polymerization Reactions Dr. Alexandru Asandei (Polymer Chemistry)


Synthesis and Study of DNA Damages Dr. Ashis K. Basu (Bioorganic Chemistry)

We study chemicals and drugs that exert their biological effects through DNA damage. Some of the chemicals are environmental pollutants such as 1–nitropyrene. We also study ionizing radiation-induced DNA damages. The REU student will synthesize a specific DNA damage such as a DNA adduct of a nitroaromatic compound or induce an ionizing radiation damage into a designed oligo¬deoxy¬nucleotide. These DNA lesions can induce mutations which may represent the first step converting a normal cell into a cancer cell. Our goal is to correlate the type of mutation with three dimensional architectural effects induced in DNA. The modified DNA fragments will be used to study mutagenesis and DNA repair. The project will introduce the REU student to a variety of organic synthesis and nucleic acid chemistry tools, chromatography, and structural characterization (NMR, UV-Vis, MS), and introduce the student to molecular biology and recombinant DNA techniques. Basu Web Site

Synthesis of Pyrrole-Modified Porphyrins Dr. Christian Brueckner (Organic Chemistry)

Photodynamic therapy (PDT) employs the combination of a photosensitizer, such as a porphyrin, and light to destroy diseased cells. For PDT to be most effective, the light that activates the drug must penetrate deep into tissue. However, while tissue is only transparent for red and infrared light, porphyrins cannot be activated using red light. Thus, our group has set out a program to modify synthetic porphyrins in a way that they can become photosensitizers which can be activated with red light. Although porphyrins are ubiquitous naturally occurring macrocycles, the regio-selective modification of them can be difficult. Hence, synthetic compounds are needed.

We modify a class sof symmetric meso-aryl-substituted porphyrins by formally replacing one pyrrole by a different heterocycle. One reaction sequence involves the cleavage of the ß,ß’-bond (1 to 2), followed by ring-closure to, in this example, form morpholine-derived porphyrin 3. Oxazole-, imidazole, and pyrazole-based systems are also available along this route.

The REU student will do multi-step syntheses (1-4 steps), purification (column and preparative thin layer chromatography) and characterization (UV-vis, IR, fluorescence spectroscopy, NMR) of porphyrins and metalloporphyrins (NiII, ZnII, AgII). The student will learn many analytic and synthetic techniques employed in modern organic and coordination chemistry. Brueckner Group Web Site

Modeling the Mechanisms of Light Harvesting in a Photosynthetic Antenna Protein Dr. Jose Gascon (Physical and Computational Chemistry)

research proposal design definition chemistry

Gascon Group Web Site

Automated Continuous Flow Chemistries Dr. Kerry Gilmore (Organic Chemistry)

research proposal design definition chemistry

The use of technology in chemistry allows for significant improvements in how we can study and synthesize small molecules. Most notably, the use of continuous flow techniques allows us to perform operations in a safer – and far greener – manner. This technique can be used in a wide breadth of applications, ranging from photo- and electrochemistry for more sustainable production, mechanistic studies to better understand how and why reactions occur, and the synthesis of active pharmaceutical ingredients. Coupled with machine learning, our group uses these approaches to develop better ways of making molecules and accessing previously unexplored areas of chemical synthesis. Critically, these instruments and tools need to be more broadly available, such that the entire chemical community can benefit without having to buy or build things themselves. Akin to cloud computing, we are building a network of automated instruments to perform chemical reactions – this involves writing software, automation/robotics, building new platforms, analytics, and running chemical reactions. We are looking for REU students interested in any of these areas, and those with any experience in coding/robotics are especially welcome to apply. Gilmore group website

Hybrid Materials Dr. Jie (Jay) He (Polymer Chemistry and Physical Chemistry)

Amphiphilic molecules such as liquids, surfactants, and amphiphilic block copolymers can spontaneously form a wide range of nano- or microstructures such as spherical micelles, cylindrical or worm-like micelles, or bilayer vesicles in selective solvents. Analogues to the self-assembly behaviors of atoms or molecules, the self-assembly of colloidal building blocks,so-called “colloidal molecules”, into various supra-architectures or ordered ensembles provides new opportunities to engineering structures and devices with unique optical, magnetic, or electronic properties. Our group is interested in design and synthesis of colloidal molecules and the use of colloidal molecules as model systems to understand atomic or molecular interactions in self-assembly or crystallization. The REU student will be trained with various living polymerization techniques (ATRP and RAFT polymerization) and characterization tools (NMR, GPC and electronic microscopes). The student will be exposed to the synthesis and self-assembly of various nanomaterials.

He Group Web Site

Shape-Memory Polymers Dr. Rajeswari M. Kasi (Polymer Chemistry)

We seek to synthesize, characterize, and, thereby, achieve a fundamental understanding of new biocompatible stimuli-responsive polymers. Development of new synthetic methodologies, modification of existing synthetic routes, multidisciplinary approach to structure-property evaluation, and advanced characterization tools are the overriding factors to rational material design. Shape memory polymers are a class of responsive polymers that show a reversible temporary shape change with temperature. Upon temperature reduction the initial or permanent shape is achieved once again. We are interested in exploring the influence of architecture and states of matter on shape memory application. The triggering temperature used for these applications could be the glass transition, melting or liquid crystalline transition temperature leading to a multi-variable shape memory approach, Figure 1. Shape memory polymers and hybrid structures can be used in drug delivery, tissue engineering scaffolds, artificial muscles, and actuators.

The undergraduate student researcher will be mentored by a graduate student and the faculty member. The student will learn synthetic polymer chemistry methods and characterization techniques to investigate stimuli-responsive and shape memory properties. Kasi Group Web Site

Synthesis and characterization of photoswitchable inhibitors of potassium channels Dr. Michael Kienzler (Organic and Biological Chemistry)

research proposal design definition chemistry

Potassium channels are essential proteins for maintaining excitable cells’ membrane potential, perhaps best known for their role in neuron action potential firing.  New molecular tools are needed to interrogate the function of potassium channels with high spatiotemporal precision.  Our lab is interested in synthesizing small, photoswitchable molecules that can be used to control protein function, and in this project in particular, potassium channel blockers that can be turned “on” and “off” with different wavelengths of light.  To achieve this goal, our photoswitch of choice is azobenzene, which can isomerize between  cis   and   trans   forms by irradiating the molecule with different wavelengths of light in the Ultraviolet/visible range.

The REU student will synthesize a series of azobenzene-based photoswitchable inhibitors of potassium channels (2-5 steps), purifying (via column chromatography and HPLC) and characterizing (NMR, Mass Spec) their compounds as they go.  The photochemical properties of the final compounds will also be determined (UV/vis spectroscopy, NMR).

From the Kitchen to the Lab Dr. Nicholas Leadbeater (Inorganic Chemistry)

We all know that microwave ovens can be used for heating food fast. An exciting area of study in the synthetic chemistry community is the use of microwaves for making molecules rapidly, easily and cleanly. Using microwave heating, it is possible to enhance the rate of chemical reactions significantly and to do chemistry that was otherwise not possible. Unlike the microwave at home, we use state-of-the-art scientific microwave systems that allow precise control of reaction conditions. One limitation at the moment is the scale-up of reactions to make multi-gram or kilo quantities of compounds. However, we are about to receive a microwave apparatus that is designed to overcome this hurdle. As an REU student, you would play an important role in using this apparatus over the summer and would have your own mini-project focused around the use of microwave heating for scaling-up reactions. You will be mentored by a graduate student in the group. The reactions will be performed in water as a solvent rather than organic solvents thus making the chemistry more environmentally friendly. As well as being exciting, the project will introduce you to a range of modern synthetic chemistry techniques as well as analysis methods. Leadbeater Group Web Site

Supramolecular Assembly of Polypeptides into Nanomaterials Dr. Yao Lin (Polymer Chemistry)

Control of photo-generated charge-separated states in donor-bridge-acceptor molecules dr. tomoyasu mani (physical chemistry).

Research in the Mani Group focuses on photo- and radiation-induced fundamental chemical reactions in the condensed phase. We are particularly interested in controlling electronic excited states, charge and exciton transfer reactions, and spin dynamics in molecules and molecular assemblies. The fundamental understanding of these phenomena will help us improve and develop energy and biomedical technologies.

The REU student will work on the projects that examine the way(s) to control photo-generated charge-separated states. Students will have an opportunity to do either or both organic synthesis and optical (both steady-state and time-resolved) spectroscopy experiments.

Mani Group Web Site

Nanoscale Controlled Light Emitting Devices by Self-Assembly Techniques Dr. Fotios Papadimitrakopoulos (Polymer Chemistry)

Implantable biosensors could be a plausible way to continuously monitor blood glucose levels, provided they exhibit long-term stability and means to establish telemetry. However, their potential applications remain largely unexploited due to the negative tissue responses such as biofouling, inflammation, tissue fibrosis, and calcification generated by the implantation of such devices. Other problems such as electrical short, signal drifts and need for continuous calibration can lead to device malfunctioning and eventually failure. Also, one of the chief concerns is the possibility of sensor breakdown because of oxidative degradation of enzyme and other electrode coatings due to excess of hydrogen peroxide present in the immediate vicinity of the sensing electrode. This is a direct result of over-sampling of the glucose in the blood stream. Coating the device by a biocompatible, semipermeable membrane can rectify this situation. Apart from acting as a barrier to permeation of glucose, the membrane would protect the sensor from foreign molecules that cause fouling. Our group investigated the simplistic, yet versatile approach of layer-by-layer (LBL) self-assembly of assembly of Humic Acids (Has), a naturally occurring biopolymer and Fe3+ cations. Not only did these coatings provide the required degree of glucose permeability, but in vivo results indicated their biocompatibility with reduced tissue fibrosis upon implantation. Furthermore, the conformation and growth characteristics of the HAs/Fe3+ membrane could be tailored by carefully adjusting the pH of the aqueous medium. Apart from the HAs/Fe3+ bilayers, we self-assembled films of HAs/poly (diallyldimethylammonium chloride) (PDDA) and also films of poly (styrene sulfonate) (PSS)/PDDA onto the sensory device. Moreover the diffusion coefficients of glucose through these membrane systems were investigated in order to explain the individual sensor response as it pertains to the microstructure of these outer semipermeable membranes. The hysterisis behavior of these sensors was studied as a function of permeability of the outer membrane. It was concluded that the microstructure of these coatings govern the permeability of glucose and correspondingly, the sensitivity, longevity and hysterisis of the sensors. We plan to extend this outer membrane research to a more biocompatible polyelectrolytes like poly saccharides and proteins, which we aniticipate to finish within one summer.

The incoming REU student will be exposed to a variety of techniques including electrochemical sensor fabrication, electro-analytical techniques, ellipsometry, enzyme immobilization, electropolymerization of conducting polymers, layer by layer assembly, in vitro and in vivo testing of electrochemical sensors as well diffusional based theoretical modeling of electrochemical sensors. Papadim. Group Web Site

Synthesis as a Tool in Glycoscience Dr. Mark W. Peczuh (Organic Chemistry)

Carbohydrates are indispensable to biological processes such as metabolism, protein folding, and cell-cell interactions. Our group is interested in the design, synthesis, and characterization (conformation, binding) of ring expanded carbohydrates that can interact with natural proteins such as lectins and glycosidases. The preparation of novel ligands of these two broad groups of carbohydrate binding proteins may provide new tools for glycobiology or even future drug leads.

The REU student will synthesize septanose carbohydrate glycosides and glycoconjugates designed for their ability to bind natural lectins and glycosidases. The routes for their synthesis will rely on established procedures, or will be developed by the student. They will be multistep sequences (4-6 steps), where compound purification (chromatography, crystallization) and spectroscopic characterization (NMR, IR, CD, MS) are critical aspects of the research. Peczuh Group Web Site

Building Functional Nanodevices with Porous Nanocapsules Dr. Eugene Pinkhassik (Materials/Organic/Analytical/Nanoscience)

Our research group designs functional nanomaterials and devices with new and superior properties to address global challenges in energy-related technologies, sensing, and medical imaging and treatment. We have developed a directed assembly method for the synthesis of vesicle-templated nanocapsules. These nanocapsules offer a unique combination of properties enabled by robust shells with the single-nanometer thickness containing programmed uniform pores capable of fast and selective mass transfer. Vesicle-templated nanocapsules emerged as a versatile platform for creating functional devices, such as nanoreactors, nanosensors, and containers for drug delivery.

The REU student will learn an array of synthetic and analytical techniques ranging from the synthesis of polymer nanocapsules, using self-assembled structures to direct organic synthesis, characterizing nanoscale objects with light scattering and electron microscopy, and evaluating the performance of newly created nanodevices with spectroscopic and chromatographic methods. Having mastered the synthesis of nanocapsules, the REU student will use the capsules to build nanodevices aiming at one of the following applications: nanoreactors with encapsulated homogeneous or enzymatic catalysts, highly selective nanoprobes, containers for the delivery of drugs or imaging agents, or cell-mimicking devices capable of through-shell communication.

research proposal design definition chemistry

Pinkhassik Group Web site

Reliability and Engineering of Molecules and Materials Next-generation Electronics. Dr. Rebecca Quardokus (physical/materials/nanoscience)

The Quardokus group focuses on the reliability and engineering of molecules and new materials for next-generation electronics. Scanning tunneling microscopy (STM), with its ability to image individual atoms and molecules, is the primary tool used to investigate surface-confined molecular interactions and two-dimensional materials.  The systems of interest include self-assembled monolayers, two-dimensional polymers, surface-confined reactions, hierarchical designs, and surface-confined molecular rotors and switches. Quardokus Group Web Site

Enzyme-assembled Nanocapsules for Targeted Drug Delivery Dr. Jessica Rouge (Biological Chemistry)

We seek to design, synthesize and characterize nanomaterials that can target specific cell types for the delivery of therapeutic nucleic acids and small molecule drugs.

Nanomaterials have revolutionized the way drugs can be delivered thanks to their small size and enhanced chemical stability. However the ability to direct them to specific cellular targets and to control the release of their therapeutic cargo has been a major obstacle in the field. Our lab seeks to develop new materials that can direct the localization of a nanomaterial to specific cell receptors through the use of DNA aptamers. Aptamers are DNA and RNA sequences that strongly bind specific cellular locations or proteins. We are also interested in controlling the release of the nanomaterials contents through interactions with specific enzymes (esterases). We work to synthesize new substrates that can direct enzymes to the surface of nanomaterials in order to facilitate the enzyme-mediated assembly of chemically modified aptamers to particle surfaces along with the degradation of the nanomaterials itself.

An undergraduate researcher will be exposed to a highly interdisciplinary lab environment, being trained by both a graduate student and the faculty member. The students will learn both chemical and biochemical techniques such as nanoparticle synthesis, automated DNA synthesis, HPLC, PCR, RNA transcription and other enzymatic reactions. Rouge Group Web Site

Cancer Biomarker Detection by Immunoarrays Dr. James F. Rusling (Analytical, Physical Chemistry)


The student will develop analytical protocols for these analyses in serum samples, and attempt to improve sensitivity, detection limit and reproducibility compared to our existing arrays. The student will learn state-of-the-art biomedical sensor preparation technology utilizing nanoparticles and ink-jet biomolecule spotting. The student will also gain experience in electrochemical, AFM and spectroscopic analyses to monitor array fabrication, and the use amperometry for biomarker detection with the microfluidic arrays. Rusling Group Web Site

Catalysts, Ceramics, Batteries, and Adsorbents Dr. Steven L. Suib (Inorganic Chemistry)

Departments of chemistry, chemical engineering, and materials science and engineering, and institute of materials science..

Our NSF funded research program involves the preparation of aligned crystallites on solid surfaces that can be used as Catalysts, Ceramics, Batteries, and Adsorbents. Much of this research involves synthesis of novel metal oxide and sulfide materials that are densely packed but accessible to chemical reagents for distinct chemical and physical reactions.

Figure 1, Diagram of Oriented Fibers; Synthesis, Scanning Electron Micrograph and Coated Product.

Figure 1 above shows a diagram of one of the synthetic processes that is used to make such oriented crystallites. These nano-sized materials are shown to be well aligned in the scanning electron micrograph shown above. The photograph on the right in Figure 1 is that of an uncoated (cream color) cordierite monolith like that in an auto exhaust system in cars and the coated (dark brown) honeycomb support with aligned crystallites. A major advantage of the alignment is that more accessible sites are available for whatever the specific application might be.

For example, the materials in Figure 1 are being studied as auto exhaust catalysts and have shown excellent activity and stability in the oxidation of CO and the reduction of NO x . the same types of oriented materials can enhance the capacity of battery materials, and increase the amount of adsorption for example of extracting harmful sulfur and nitrogen species from a variety of fuels. Many of these materials act as ceramic systems that are stable at very high (> 500 o C) temperatures.

The type of research that would be done under an REU summer program would involve any aspect of synthesis, characterization, or applications of such oriented materials. Related goals of this research program involve use of green reagents, regeneration and sustainability of systems, and scale-up of materials and processes.


Chen, S. Y.; Song, W.; Lin, H. J.; Wang, S.; Biswas, S.; Mollahosseini, M.; Kuo, C. H.; Gao, P. X.; Suib, S. L.; Manganese Oxide Nano-Array Based Monolithic Catalysts: Tunable Morphology and High Efficiency for CO Oxidation, ACS Appl. Mat.  & Int ., 2016, 8 , 7834-7842.

Dutta, B.; Biswas, S.; Sharma, V.; Savage, N. O.; Alpay, S. P.; Suib, S. L., Mesoporous Manganese Oxide Catalyzed Aerobic Oxidative Coupling of Anilines to Aromatic Azo Compounds, Ang. Chem. Int. Ed ., 2016, 55 , 2171-2175.

Synthesis of molecules emitting chiral light Dr. Gaël Ung (Inorganic/organic)

research proposal design definition chemistry

Circularly polarized luminescence (CPL) is the preferential emission of light with a certain circular polarization. Upon non-polarized light absorption, a chiral molecule reaches a preferential excited state which radiatively decays by emitting circularly polarized photons. CPL has emerged as a next-generation light source since the added chiral optical information presents unique opportunities to enhance optical displays, bio-imaging, and security f eatures for banknotes and identification documents. The REU student will synthesize chiral and enantiopure ligands, and study their coordination to lanthanides. The complexes obtained should exhibit CPL. Our laboratory is equipped with two rare CPL spectrometers, including the only NIR-CPL in the Americas. The REU student will be trained in a large variety of synthetic techniques (bench top, Schlenk, glove box), as well as spectroscopic characterizations (NMR, UV-vis, IR, EPR, CPL).

Ung Group Web Site

Mass Spectrometry to Investigate Micro-Scale Preparation of Peptide Samples Dr. Xudong Yao (Analytical Chemistry and Biological Chemistry)

Mass spectrometry is used as a fast and sensitive tool to study peptides. Mass spectrometry analyzes charge-to-mass ratios of peptide ions in gas phase. A mass spectrum plots the intensities of ions against their charge-to-mass ratios. These ratios can be used to determine chemical structures of peptides, while the intensities give relative quantitation of the ions. Sample preparation of peptides is a key step for successful mass spectrometric analysis, and it is often done at a micro-scale. In REU summer projects, students will work on different sample manipulations of peptides such as chemical modification of peptide mixtures and use mass spectrometry to study the efficiency of various micro-scale procedures for peptide sample preparation. The REU project will specifically investigate analytical challenges in mass spectrometric analysis of phosphopeptides. Phosphopeptides are fragments of phosphoproteins that are important regulators for cellular signaling. Analysis of protein phosphorylation is important to understand and treat various human diseases and to manipulate the fate of stem cells for therapeutic and regenerative applications. The REU researcher will study ß-elimination and Michael addition reactions of phosphopeptides. Objectives of the project are to minimize side reactions and maximize the efficiency of the sample preparation workflow that will be examined by high performance liquid chromatography and tandem mass spectrometry. Yao Group Web Site

Synthesis and application of metal and semiconductor nanoparticles Dr. Jing Zhao (Analytical and Physical Chemistry)

research proposal design definition chemistry

University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Writing a Research Proposal

What is a research proposal.

A proposal is a request for support for sponsored research, instruction, or extension projects. Good proposals quickly and easily answer the following questions:

Certain questions will be emphasized over others depending on the nature of the proposed project and the agency to which you are submitting the proposal. Most agencies provide detailed instructions or guidelines concerning the preparation of proposals (and, in some cases, forms on which proposals are to be typed).

Department of Chemistry

Original Research Proposal – Inorganic

As part of the written requirement for the Ph.D. degree, students will propose, write, and defend an original research proposal in their third year of graduate studies.

Scope of the Proposal

The proposal should describe a research idea that directly addresses a gap in knowledge. The topic area of your proposal should be outside the scope of your Ph.D. and undergraduate research areas. Proposals that explore a field or topic far from your current research are encouraged. If you have any questions about the scope of your proposal, please contact your advisor or a divisional representative.

Proposal Timeline:

December: Proposal abstracts due, with the goal of returning faculty feedback before the December holiday break. Faculty will red, green, or yellow light abstracts with written comments to aid in improving or guiding the trajectory of topic for development into a full proposal. In cases of a red light, a new topic may be requested.

January: Full proposal due to the inorganic faculty

February: Scheduled oral presentation and defense.

Possible Outcomes:

Guidelines for Proposal Abstract

Students will submit a two page abstract that the faculty will evaluate for feasibility as a topic for a full proposal. The abstract should succinctly describe the gap in knowledge, outline the proposed research to fill the gap, and describe the impact of the proposed work. Graphical content is encouraged. Refrain from including technical details, these will be developed as part of the full proposal.

A number of questions often come up with regards to the goal and structure of the proposal abstract. Here are a few comments designed to help you find the right balance…

Guidelines for a Full Proposal

1. project summary.

1 page limit. This is a self-contained, third-person description of objectives, methods, significance. Reviewers will use the abstract as a tool to construct their review, so it needs to be carefully written with that in mind. You want them to know what the key elements of your project are and their significance in the context of current knowledge.

2. Project Description

The project description has a 10 page limit, single spaced, including figures.

2.1 Goals and Importance

2.1.1 State Goals and Objectives

What are the main scientific challenges? Emphasize what the new ideas are. Briefly describe the project’s major goals and their impact on the state of the art.

2.1.2 Establish Importance

2.1.3 Introduce the Proposed Work

Surprisingly, this section can kill a proposal. You need to be able to put your work in context. Often, a proposal will appear naive because the relevant literature is not cited. If it looks like you are planning to reinvent the wheel (and have no idea that wheels already exist), then no matter how good the research proposal itself is, your proposal won’t get funded. If you trash everyone else in your research field, saying their work is no good, you also will not get funded.

You can build your credentials in this section by summarizing other people’s work clearly and concisely and by stating how your work uses their ideas and how it differs from theirs.

2.2 Experimental Approach

Write to convince the best person in your field that your idea deserves funding. Simultaneously, you must convince someone who is very smart but has no background in your sub-area. The goal of your proposal is to persuade the reviewers that your ideas are so important that they will take money out of the taxpayers’ pockets and hand it to you.

This is the part that counts. WHAT will you do? Why is your strategy an appropriate one to pursue? What is the key idea that makes it possible for you to answer this question? HOW will you achieve your goals? What will you learn through this proposed work? Concisely and coherently, this section should complete the arguments developed earlier and present your initial pass on how to solve the problems posed. Avoid repetitions and digressions.

The question is: What will we know when you’re done that we don’t know now? The question is not: What will we have that we don’t have now? That is, rather than saying that you will develop a system that will do X, Y and Z, instead say why it is important to be able to do X, Y and Z; why X, Y and Z can’t be done now; how you are going to go about making X, Y and Z possible; and, what new knowledge or insights you will gain along the way.

2.3 Outcomes and Impact 2.3.1 Plan of work

Include a summary of milestones and expected dates of completion. You are not committed to following this plan – but you must present a FEASIBLE plan to convince the reviewers that you know how to go about getting research results.

2.3.2 List Expected Outcomes 2.3.3 Conclude the Proposed Work

3. References

Program directors often look in the bibliography for potential reviewers, and reviewers often look in the bibliography to see if their work is cited. If your bibliography has a lot of peripheral references, your proposal may be sent to reviewers whose work is not directly related to yours and who may not understand your proposal. On the other hand, if you do not cite the relevant literature, your proposal may be sent to reviewers who are not cited and who will criticize you for not knowing the literature. Most of the references in the bibliography will be cited in the Related Work section. The references do not count in the 10 page proposal limit.

Adapted from Write Like a Chemist, 2008 Oxford University Press


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What are the Sections of a Research Proposal?

research proposal design definition chemistry

Research proposals that are written by graduate students or academic researchers typically follow a similar format consisting of headings and sections that explain the purpose of the research, specify the scope and scale of the study, and argue for its importance in contributing to the scientific literature. Knowing how to write a research proposal checklist  is crucial to getting your dissertation or thesis project accepted.

Although the research proposal sections may vary depending on whether it is a grant,  doctoral dissertation , conference paper, or professional project, there are certainly some sections in common. This article will cover sections you will often see in research proposals, explain their purpose, and provide a sample research proposal template.

What are the sections of a research proposal?

Let’s take a look at each section of a research proposal:

What is the purpose of each research proposal section?

The research proposal sections and headings above resemble a fully edited and published academic journal article, which you probably can recognize if you are a new PhD or master’s graduate student who is just starting out reading peer-reviewed academic journal articles. 

However, the purpose of each heading in a research proposal is quite different from that of a final article. 

Purpose : To explain briefly, in a few words, what the research will be about.

What you should do:  Give your research proposal a concise and accurate title. Include the name of your faculty mentor (and his/her academic department).

Note : Title pages for research proposals are generally standardized or specified and provide or summarize basic administrative information‌, such as the university or research institution. Titles should be concise and brief enough to inform the reader of the purpose and nature of the research.

Related Article:  How to choose the best title for your research manuscript

Purpose:  To provide an overview of the study, which you will expand on in detail in later sections of the research proposal.

What you should do:  Provide a brief overview of your project. Include the goals of your research proposal and clearly specify the research questions you want to address. Explain the hypotheses you want to test.

Note : A good summary should emphasize the problems the applicant intends to solve, identify the solution to the problems, and specify the objectives and design‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌research. It should also describe the applicant’s qualifications and budget requirements.

Check out a webinar on how to write an effective research introduction

Overall purpose.

Purpose:  To state the overall goal of the work in a clear, concise manner.

What you should do : Summarize your problem for someone who is scientifically knowledgeable but potentially uninformed regarding your specific research topic.

Note : The aim or purpose of a research proposal should be results-oriented as opposed to process-oriented. For example, the result of a research study may be “To determine the enzyme involved in X” while the process is “to perform a protein electrophoresis study on mice expressing Y gene.” There should be at least three objectives per proposal. 

Background Literature Review

Purpose : To demonstrate the relationship between the goals of the proposed study and what has already been established in the relevant field of study.

What you should do : Selectively and critically analyze the literature. Explain other researchers’ work so that your professor or project manager has a clear understanding of how you will address past research and progress the literature.

Note : One of the most effective ways to support your research’s purpose and importance is to address gaps in the literature, controversies in your research field, and current trends in research. This will put into context how your dissertation or study will contribute to general scientific knowledge. Learn  how to write a literature review  before writing this section.

Research Question or Hypothesis

Purpose : To state precisely what the study will investigate or falsify.

What you should do : Clearly distinguish the dependent and independent variables and be certain the reader understands them. Make sure you use your terms consistently. Whenever possible, use the same nomenclature.

Note : A research question presents the relationship between two or more variables in the form of a question, whereas a hypothesis is a declarative statement of the relationship between two or more variables. Knowing  where to put the research question in a science paper  is also crucial to writing a strong Introduction section.

Definition of Terms

Purpose : To define the meanings of the key terms used in the research.

What you should do:  Align your term and nomenclature usage throughout your entire research proposal. Clearly define abbreviations and make sure they are understandable to scientists from other disciplines.

Note : Different scientific fields of study often use different terms for the same thing. Further, there are language consistency issues that should be considered. In organic chemistry, there are international standards for naming compounds, but common names are still regularly used, e.g., acetic acid versus ethanoic acid.

Research Methodology

Purpose:  To break down the steps of your research proposal.

What you should do:   Explain how you will achieve‌ ‌your research goals ‌specified‌ ‌earlier using terms that a general reader can understand. Explain your approach, design, and methods.

Note : Your research proposal should explain the broad scope of your research to other researchers‌ ‌in‌ ‌your‌ ‌field. This section represents the most important part of a research proposal and is therefore ‌the‌ ‌primary‌ ‌concern‌ ‌of‌ ‌reviewers. Knowing  how to explain research methodology for reproducibility  is important to explaining your methodology to dissertation or thesis advisors and committees. 

Problems and Limitations

Purpose:  To demonstrate awareness of any study limitations, potential problems, and barriers to answering the research question, and how to deal with them

What you should do:  Thoroughly head off any criticisms before they can torpedo your research proposal. Explain that any limitations or potential conflicts will only delay your research or alter/narrow its scope; they will not fundamentally degrade the importance of your research.

Note : Any research proposal or scientific study will have limitations in its scope and execution. Sometimes it may be a key procedure that is problematic or a material you cannot readily obtain. Discussing limitations is key to demonstrating you are an adept and experienced researcher worth approving.

Related Article:  How to present study limitations and alternatives

Required resources and budget.

Purpose:  To list what resources your research may require and what costs and timelines may affect your completion.

What you should do:  Think as a businessperson. Breakdown what resources are available at your institution or university as well as the required resources you still need. These can be materials, machinery, lab equipment, and computers. Resources can also be human: expertise to perform a procedure and other kinds of collaboration. 

Note : This section underscores why your funding institution or academic committee should fund your university, laboratory team, or yourself for this particular research. 

Ethical Considerations

Purpose:  To state how participants will be advised of

the overall nature and purpose of the study and how informed consent will

be obtained.

What you should do:  Consult with your academic institution, PhD advisor, and laboratory colleagues. Do not gloss over this part since it has legal consequences.

Note : Often, these types of legal disclaimers are well established and readily available in template format from your research institution or university. Just obtain the proper clearance and permission and have the legal authority at your institution check it over.

Read about how  conflicts of interest  should be disclosed in research proposals

Proposed timeline.

Purpose:  To give a projected timeline for planning, completing, verifying, and reporting your research.

What you should do:  Approach this part with a project management style. In an organized fashion, set out a specific timeline for how long each part of your research will take. Identify bottlenecks and specify them.

Note:  Savvy time management is something that comes with lots of research experience. Ask your professor or colleagues if you have questions about how long certain procedures will take.

Purpose:  To provide detailed bibliographic and reference citations.

What you should do:  Use an online citation machine ( APA citation machine , MLA citation machine , Chicago citation machine , Vancouver citation machine ) that can instantly organize your references in any format. Make sure you do this as you go, not saving it for the last when you have lost track.

Note:  The bibliographic format used varies according to the research discipline. Consistency is the main consideration; whichever style is chosen should be followed carefully throughout the entire paper. 

Related Article:  How many references to include in a research proposal?

Purpose : To include any extra materials or information.

What you should do:  Add letters of endorsement or collaboration and reprints of relevant articles if they are not available electronically. In addition to the above, you may want to include data tables, surveys, questionnaires, data collection procedures, clinical protocols, and informed consent documents.

Notes : Many writers tend to attach supporting documents to support their research proposal. But remember, more is not always better. Be sure to only include information that strengthens your case, not simply make it longer.

Note : Savvy time management is something that comes with lots of research experience. Ask your professor or colleagues if you have questions about how long certain procedures will take.

The Bottom Line

Whether your research is academic (PhD or master’s graduate student) or professional (competing for government or private funding), how you organize your research proposal sections is one of the first things evaluators will notice. Many academic reviewers will simply scan and check for key section headings. If any headings are missing or strangely written, they may instantly give the reviewer a bad impression of your proposal. 

One tip before submitting or even writing your research proposal is to search for the best journal to publish your research in and follow the guidelines in the Guide for Authors section, as well as read as many articles from that journal as possible to gain an understanding of the appropriate style and formatting.

Preparing Your Research Proposal for Publication

So make sure to use some of our resources, such as our  FREE APA citation generator  and  research proposal checklist , or contact us to ask about  professional proofreading services , including academic editing and manuscript editing for academic documents.

And check our guide on the  editing process  to learn more about how language editing for manuscripts can enhance your writing and increase your chances of publication.


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