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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 for a

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 for a

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?


Myrna Pereira

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

I would be interested in getting some coaching.


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

Christopher Makuvaza

Thank you for the video. It really assisted me and my niece. I am a PhD candidate and she is an undergraduate student. It is at times, very difficult to guide a family member but with this video, my job is done.

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:

Cheruiyot Moses Kipyegon

Cheruiyot Moses Kipyegon

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


thank you very much your lesson is very interested may God be with you


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

Synthia Atieno

Very useful. I am grateful.

belina nambeya

this is a very a good guidance on research proposal, for sure i have learnt something

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

You’re welcome 🙂


Thank you, this was so helpful.

Amitash Degan

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

Glaudia Njuguna

Thank you, great insights

Thank you, great insights, thank you so much, feeling edified


Wow thank you, great insights, thanks a lot

Roseline Soetan

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


Have learnt a lot just at the right time. Thank you so much.

laramato ikayo

thank you very much ,because have learn a lot things concerning research proposal and be blessed u for your time that you providing to help us

Cheruiyot M Kipyegon

Hi. For my MSc medical education research, please evaluate this topic for me: Training Needs Assessment of Faculty in Medical Training Institutions in Kericho and Bomet Counties


I have really learnt a lot based on research proposal and it’s formulation

Arega Berlie

Thank you. I learn much from the proposal since it is applied


Your effort is much appreciated – you have good articulation.

You have good articulation.

Douglas Eliaba

I do applaud your simplified method of explaining the subject matter, which indeed has broaden my understanding of the subject matter. Definitely this would enable me writing a sellable research proposal.


This really helping


Great! I liked your tutoring on how to find a research topic and how to write a research proposal. Precise and concise. Thank you very much. Will certainly share this with my students. Research made simple indeed.

Alice Kuyayama

Thank you very much. I an now assist my students effectively.

Thank you very much. I can now assist my students effectively.

Abdurahman Bayoh

I need any research proposal


Thank you for these videos. I will need chapter by chapter assistance in writing my MSc dissertation


Very helpfull

faith wugah

the videos are very good and straight forward


thanks so much for this wonderful presentations, i really enjoyed it to the fullest wish to learn more from you

Bernie E. Balmeo

Thank you very much. I learned a lot from your lecture.

Ishmael kwame Appiah

I really enjoy the in-depth knowledge on research proposal you have given. me. You have indeed broaden my understanding and skills. Thank you

David Mweemba

interesting session this has equipped me with knowledge as i head for exams in an hour’s time, am sure i get A++

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How to write a research proposal?

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

Devika Rani Duggappa

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


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

Five ‘C’s while writing a literature review

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


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

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

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


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

Review of literature

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

Aims and objectives

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

Research design and method

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

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

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

Population and sample

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

Data collection

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

Rigor (soundness of the research)

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

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


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


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

Data analysis

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

Ethical considerations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Conflicts of interest.

There are no conflicts of interest.

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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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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: Definition, Purpose, & Writing Steps

Few students fully get the meaning and the importance of a research proposal. If you have a good research proposal, it means that you are going to carry out adequate research. A low-quality research proposal may be the reason your research will never start.

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The main purpose of a research proposal is to convince the reader of your project’s value . You will have to prove that you have a plan for your work and that your project will be successful. Your reader has to be sure that it is not another useless piece of writing, but a profound research work that will be extremely important for science.

The main purpose of a research proposal is to convince the reader of your project's value.

Want to learn more about the reasons why it is important to have a research plan? Continue reading this article by experts!

🔗 References

🔤 research proposal: definition.

A research proposal is a document that proposes a particular research project, usually in academia or sciences, intending to get funding from an institution. A typical research proposal addresses a range of points:

Research proposals are usually required when one plans to write a thesis, dissertation, or research paper. The format is similar to that of a research paper, with an introduction, a literature review, a methods section, and a conclusion.

❗ Research Proposal: Purpose & Importance

The primary goal of any research proposal is to convince a sponsoring institution that a particular research project is worthwhile. The document usually aims to cover the aspects below.

👣 Making a Research Plan in 10 Steps

Thanks a lot dear!! Many information gained

Custom Writing

Glad you liked it! Thank you for your feedback!

Thanks it’s so much easier and helpful who are work first time in research proposal like me It’s interesting but I can’t decided what topic I researching for my collage project or which topic is better 🙂 so I need a guide line or instructions for choosing a good topic

thank you for our explanation about research proposal but i want to know the aims or purpose of research proposal

This is informative and inspiring paper for me👏👏

Thanks for the feedback! Much appreciated.

very good concept on research proposal. thank you

Thank you for your feedback!

useful data

A very important concept. Thanks

hi…may you please offer free definitions and relevance of a research proposal.

You are welcome to use our blog articles to find out whatever information you need.

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Whether you are a student whose goal is to complete course requirements or a researcher looking for funding, knowing how to write a research proposal is an important skill. If you have had experience writing a project proposal, you might think that they are the same. However, they are not. The standards for research proposals are much stricter and they have varying guidelines for writing styles and formatting. In fact, those guidelines can change with every discipline or department.

A basic requirement when seeking approval for any type of research project and for applying for study grants or ethics committee approval (Kivunja, 2016), a well-organized written research proposal generally has two purposes. First, it shows and justifies the need to investigate a research problem and, second, it presents a set of workable strategies for conducting the proposed research (Miner & Miner, 2005).

This article aims to describe the common steps taken to prepare a written proposal as attractively as possible to achieve approval and/or funding. It also seeks to discuss key aspects that must be considered to help ensure that you can convert your proposed study into well-conducted actual research work.

How to Write a Research Proposal Table of Contents

I. Starting the Proposal Process

A. preliminary considerations.

Many students and novice researchers, unfortunately, do not completely comprehend what a research proposal means, nor do they recognize its value. At any rate, it is safe to say that a research project is only as good as its proposal. A poorly-prepared proposal adversely affects the research project although by some means it managed to get approved. Conversely, a well-written proposal not only helps ensure research success but also enhances your potential as a researcher among your evaluators.

Any type of research proposal follows the style, structure, and other writing conventions set by the relevant field of discipline. A research proposal’s content typically varies in length, from 3 to 35 pages, with references (and appendices, if necessary). But like any academic activity, start the proposal writing process by first carefully reading the instructions. Make sure to clarify anything that needs clarification and only proceed once everything is clear.

A word of caution, though. Maintain considerable control on how you conduct your research—a light, reconnaissance reading will do. People tend to fall into the over research trap, which wastes valuable time to write. Once the proposal has been approved, the researcher gains the right time to conduct deep research.

B. Key Questions to Be Asked

At this stage, it is good to ask these preparatory questions to help you steer your research in the right direction:

Generally, a compelling research proposal is one that effectively captures your knowledge about the topic and shows your deep interest to conduct the research. Handle it with the purpose of making your readers engaged about the study and what the outcomes will be.

In case you’re still unsure about your topic or in the process of exploring possibilities, it is good to consider how funding agencies across the world are allocating their budgets for research grants. For instance, in the field of market research, the top topics that won the most study grants in 2018 were market measurement (21%), media audience/research (12%), usage and attitude studies (12%), and CRM systems (8%) (ESOMAR, 2019). If you are considering marketing as a major , these are good references. Also, you can search for cutting-edge or controversial debate topics in your field. This way, you will also touch on the current interests of other researchers in your field.

Source: Global Market Research 2019

II. Research Proposal Writing

A. introduction.

A research proposal is commonly written by scholars seeking grant funding for a research project when enrolling for a research-based postgraduate degree. Graduate and post-graduate students also embark on a university dissertation to obtain a degree or get that Ph.D. Although it is just a course assignment, a student must treat the introduction as the decisive initial pitch for a research inquiry or in-depth investigation of the significance of an issue for study.

After reading the introduction, your readers should be able to clearly understand what you want to do. Likewise, they should be able to appreciate your enthusiasm for the topic and to be engaged in the potential results of the study (Jackowski & Leggett, 2015).

Consider your introduction as a two-four paragraph narrative that concisely responds to the following questions:

Take note that most academic institutions and funding agencies do not require an abstract or synopsis before the introduction. However, it is best to check your institution’s guidelines.

B. Background and Significance

This part is for explaining the context of a research proposal and for clearly describing its importance. While some writers integrate this part in the introduction, a number of scholars prefer to write it separately to allow for a smooth flow of a proposal’s narrative.

A good way to approach this section is by assuming that your readers are busy but want to know the gist of your research problem and the entire study (Kivunja, 2016). Remember that this is not an extensive essay that covers everything about your proposed study, but rather a concise text that is enough to elicit interest in your research.

With these in mind and although there is no definitive rule for framing a proposed study’s significance, you should endeavor to address the following key considerations:

C. Review of Prior Studies and Literature

Your study background and significance is directly related to this section, which primarily offers a more deliberate review and synthesis of existing studies pertinent to your proposed research problem. This part aims to properly situate your proposed study within the bigger scheme of things of what is being investigated, while, at the same time, showing the innovation and originality of your proposed work (Abdulai & Owusu-Ansah, 2014).

Because a literature review often involves heavy information, it is important that this section is smartly structured to allow a reader to comprehend the major contentions that underlie your proposed research vis-a-vis those of other scholars. An effective way to do this is to separate the literature into major themes or conceptual strategies. This is a better approach instead of chronologically or methodically describing sets of studies one by one.

As there are many efficient ways in framing your review of existing related studies, many scholars are following the use of the “five Cs” in writing a literature review (Sudheesh et al., 2016):

D. Aims and Research Questions

Once you’ve determined a good angle for your study, it is time to compose your research objectives. Ask yourself: What do you want your readers to know when they read your proposal? Give considerable time in properly framing your objectives and try to write them in a single sentence, if possible. Familiarize yourself with what is a research question if you are having difficulties in this area.

A research objective will help you stay focused and prevent you from drifting off on tangents (Krathwohl & Smith, 2005). Regardless of the specific topic or problem or method you choose, all study proposals must deal with the following questions:

For some institutions, this section can be included as part of the Introduction, usually placed as the last paragraph of that section.

E. Research Design & Methods

This part should be written properly and organized logically since you are not yet conducting the actual research. However, it must build confidence among your readers that it is something worth pursuing.

The underlying purpose here is to convince the reader that your research design and suggested analytical strategies will properly address the problem/s of the study. It also aims to assure the reader that the selected methods offer the means to efficiently interpret the likely study outcomes. Simply put, your research design and methods should be directly connected to the particular objectives of your research (Lyman & Keyes, 2019).

An effective way to frame your study design is by drawing good examples from your literature review. Emulate the good approaches used by other researchers. Be particular about the methodological techniques you intend to use to gather data, the strategies you will utilize to analyze your data, and the external validity measures you will employ.

Make sure to cover the following when describing the methods you will utilize:

Remember, there is no such thing as a perfect method for any type of research endeavor. However, if you rigorously follow the best practices employed by those who conducted relevant studies and provide the corresponding rationales why you selected them, then you can readily address any critique that might come your way.

F. Implications and Contribution to Knowledge

This section is where you contend how you think your proposed study will enhance, change, or expand current knowledge in the research topic that will be investigated. By drawing from your research objectives, explain how the expected outcomes will affect future studies, practice, theory, policymaking, procedures, etc. Discussing study implications typically have either methodological, theoretical, or substantive significance (Abdulai & Owusu-Ansah, 2014).

You can use these guide questions when framing the potential ramifications of your proposed research:

The purpose of this section is to reflect upon gaps or understudied topics of the existing literature and explain how your proposed research contributes to a new understanding of the research problem should the study be conducted as proposed.

G. Compliance with Ethical Principles

There is nothing fundamentally best or worst when it comes to the scientific writing style. It is just a standardized approach for presenting information that is tailored to facilitate communication. Different scholarly disciplines have diverse publication styles. So this section depends on the protocols set by the target institution or agency.

Nonetheless, it should be noted that fundamental ethical principles guide all scholarly research and writing. If you are observing APA conventions, ethical guidelines are meant to accomplish three objectives, namely, “to protect intellectual property rights, to protect the rights and welfare of research participants, and to ensure the accuracy of scientific knowledge” (APA, 2014, pp. 11).

Every social and behavioral sciences writer (and other scholars who adhere to these principles) advocates these objectives and observes the long-standing standards that their professional groups follow (APA, 2014).

Another major ethical APA principle promotes the need to ensure the accuracy of scientific knowledge. The underlying principle behind the (universal) scientific method comprises observation, which can be verified and repeated by other scholars. Accordingly, scholars are expected to not engage in research writing that involves falsifying or fabricating data. Moreover, researchers should not modify study outcomes just to uphold a hypothesis or to remove problematic data in order to present a more credible report (APA, 2014).

Some universities do not require a detailed budgetary allocation for proposed studies that only involve archival research and simple academic research, although some still do. However, if you are applying for research funding, you will likely be instructed to also include a detailed budget that shows how much every major part of the project will cost.

Be sure to verify what type of costs the funding agency or institution will agree to cover, and only include relevant items in your budget. For every item, include:

Conducting a research project is not the same as buying ingredients when cooking meals. So how do you make a budget when most entries do not have a price tag? To prepare a correct budget, think about:

I. Timetable

The research schedule is another aspect where one should be realistic and to the point. The study turnaround time shows that your proposed study can be finished within the allowed period of completion, e.g., the student’s candidature or the university’s academic calendar.

The timeline must comprise a series of objectives that should be met to complete all the aspects of your academic research requirements (thesis, dissertation, or other degree requisites), from preliminary research to the final editing. Every step must include an expected completion date.

It should likewise contain a statement of the progress that one has made so far. Other relevant research-related activities should also be included, such as paper presentations (if applicable). Finally, it must be noted that the timeline is not a fixed document—a researcher must update it regularly, when necessary.

J. Conclusion

One of the best ways to conclude your research proposal is by presenting a few of your anticipated outcomes. Upon reaching this final stage, you must disclose the conclusions and arguments that you expect to reach. Your reader will know that these are anticipated results based on how much you’ve researched so far and that these expectations will likely change once the complete study has been made.

It is important, nonetheless, that you give your reader a sense of what conclusions may be drawn. This will allow your reader to further assess the significance and validity of your project. It will also indicate to your reader that you have thought ahead and considered the potential outcomes and implications of your research. Writing a r esearch proposal example should allow you to determine if you are communicating all essential information in your conclusion.

K. Appendices

Some funding agencies and academic institutions require proponents of research proposals to include an Appendix section. This contains supplemental material that is not a core element of a proposal’s main narrative but is considered valuable in enhancing the views and arguments raised in the proposal. It may include forms and data like tables, informed consent, clinical/research protocols, data collection instruments, etc.

This supplementary section is also the best part to include one’s latest curriculum vitae if required. You can include all relevant academic and professional experience to present your case as a qualified individual to conduct your proposed research. It will help significantly to present pertinent research works you’ve completed, especially if you have published research reports, articles, etc.

It should be noted that many students and budding researchers who went through the rigors of research actually found the experience so worthwhile that they made it a long-term career. In fact, research as a professional job is one of the better-paying jobs worldwide. According to Glassdoor (2020), the average base pay for professional researchers in the U.S. is $54,411 per year. Among OECD-member countries, Denmark tops the list with an average of 15.65 people employed as professional researchers or scientists for every 1,000 employees in 2018.


III. Revisions and Proofreading

As with any other piece of academic writing, it is essential to redraft, edit, and proofread your research proposal before you submit it (van Ekelenburg, 2010). If you have the opportunity, ask a friend, colleague, or supervisor for feedback and writing suggestions before handing it over to the evaluators.

The peer-review process, whether for professional or student research, was designed not to reject submissions but actually as a quality control system to help researchers improve on their craft (RPS, 2016). Proposal revision can entail careful rewriting, which, in itself, can be a fruitful experience that can be used for the long term.

In academic publishing, proposal rejection is a reality, even for the most seasoned scholarly writers. In fact, the success rate of reapplied proposals is considerably higher compared to the first submissions. For instance, at the European Research Council, new applicants have a success rate of 9-10%. Repeat applications tend to have better success rates, from 14-15% (ERC, 2019).

To really boost your chances of getting an approval, you might want to consider seeking the help of professional proofreading services to remove grammatical errors, examine your proposal’s structure, and enhance your adherence to the required academic style.

research proposal design definition for a

IV. Skills Required for a Research Proposal

It follows that the skills necessary to write research are similar to the set of skills needed to prepare a research proposal (Gilbert, 2006). Here, these necessary skills are grouped into three categories for better understanding:

It is essential to remember these skills as you work on your research proposal. This is because your readers will be looking for evidence of these important researcher’s skills in how you write. With the success rate for many research grants below 20% (e.g., NIH, Wellcome, NHMRC, etc.), these skills will be key in helping you achieve funding approval.

Research Proposal Success Rates for Selected Funding Organizations

Sources: US NIH (2017), Wellcome (2018), MHMRC (2019)

V. Common Mistakes to Avoid in Proposal Writing

With rejection rates reaching as high as 97% at prestigious journals, it is only prudent to ensure that you are not making any of these customary mistakes when submitting your research proposal:

Submitting lengthy proposals . When writing research proposals, be to the point. Your submitted document must be focused and concise. Don’t diverge into irrelevant tangents without a clear sense of purpose.

Covering too much research ground . It is common for students to fail in delimiting the contextual boundaries of their studies, be it the topic, time, place, etc. As with any research paper, the proposed research must clearly inform the reader how the study will investigate the problem. Look for some research paper thesis examples so you would know how to clearly communicate the scope of your inquiry.

Not citing major works in a literature review . While it is advised to keep everything in the proposal at a minimum—a few milestone research studies must already be included. Proposals should be grounded in landmark studies that provide the groundwork for appreciating the growth and scope of the issue.

Too much focus on minor issues, yet very few details on major issues . A proposal must focus only a few key study questions to clearly argue why it should be conducted. Mentioning minor issues is acceptable but they should not overpower the major ones, which should control the overall narrative.

Inability to frame a persuasive and coherent argument for the proposed study . This is another common yet crucial mistake of students and grant-seekers. In essence, the research proposal must be able to effectively argue why a study should be approved or funded.

Poor grammar or careless writing . While a research proposal only represents a small part of a complete study, it is expected to be well-written and observes the writing style and guidelines of good academic writing.

Source: APA (2018)

VI. Some Good Examples of Research Proposals

Here are some good research proposal samples made for various disciplines and levels of study that you can emulate or derive valuable ideas from:

Postgraduate Research

Undergraduate Research

Although this article had covered as much ground as possible, the truth is that there is no universal style in writing search proposals. In the same manner, there is actually no definitive standard or secret formula behind a winning proposal. This is because every academic or funding institution has its own guidelines and protocols that every candidate or funding application must adhere to.

Nonetheless, integrating the specific instructions and guidelines of your institution with the key considerations and best practices discussed in this article will help ensure the approval of your proposal. Always remember to keep a healthy balance between substance and brevity when writing a research proposal. Share enough ideas just to open the door for your readers’ interest, and then give your “all” once you are given the go-signal to proceed with the proposed study.

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PhD: Been There, Done That...

Definition : a research proposal is a document written by a researcher that provides a detailed description of his proposed activities. It is an outline of the entire research process that gives a reader a summary of the information discussed in a project.

Types of research proposals Research proposals can serve a wide range of purposes. Just a couple of examples:

+ PhD application proposal – if you apply for a PhD, you usually have to outline what you are up to and what your research would be about.

+ PhD research proposal – once you are accepted to a doctoral program, you have to make a detailed plan of your proposed research activities, at least for the first year, if not for the entire length of your scholarship.

+ Science project proposal – In most scientific fields, a projects can be started only if there is a proper project proposal which all participants agreed upon.

+ Project funding proposals and grant proposals – Projects need funding, because the resources (including the people working in them) cost money. Funding doesn’t come easy, let alone without a properly written proposal.

+ Dissertation proposal – once you get to the point of writing a dissertation (also called “thesis” in some countries), you will already have written a couple of research proposals, so it won’t be the problem to write one more, even though it might be for a much bigger research project than all previous ones. This is probably true if you do a PhD by coursework.

If you do a “PhD by research” (meaning little coursework), the dissertation proposal is most probably originating from the research proposal you initially had to submit along with your application (unless you changed direction completely over the years). In that case, you most probably have your supervisor guiding your progress in some way, and this article is not for you in the first place.

As for PhD applicants starting out fresh: Each research project is different, and every university may have its own set of rules and requirements, hence there is no single “best” research proposal format or research proposal example that would work the same way for everyone. However, you can always recognize similarities and patterns among successful research proposals.

Check out our research proposal writing section for a couple of research proposal writing tips.

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Organizing Your Social Sciences Research Paper: Purpose of Guide

Purpose of guide.

This guide is intended to help students organize and write a quality research paper for classes taught in the social and behavioral sciences. Also included are recommendations concerning how to successfully manage and complete specific course assignments. Note that, if you have any questions about a writing assignment, you should always seek advice from your professor before you begin. Requirements set forth by your professor will always supersede instructions provided in these general guidelines.

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