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- How to Write a Research Proposal | Examples & Templates
How to Write a Research Proposal | Examples & Templates
Published on October 12, 2022 by Shona McCombes and Tegan George. Revised on January 3, 2023.
A research proposal describes what you will investigate, why it’s important, and how you will conduct your research.
The format of a research proposal varies between fields, but most proposals will contain at least these elements:
- Research design
While the sections may vary, the overall objective is always the same. A research proposal serves as a blueprint and guide for your research plan, helping you get organized and feel confident in the path forward you choose to take.
Table of contents
Research proposal purpose, research proposal examples, research design and methods, contribution to knowledge, research schedule, frequently asked questions about research proposals.
Academics often have to write research proposals to get funding for their projects. As a student, you might have to write a research proposal as part of a grad school application , or prior to starting your thesis or dissertation .
In addition to helping you figure out what your research can look like, a proposal can also serve to demonstrate why your project is worth pursuing to a funder, educational institution, or supervisor.
Research proposal length
The length of a research proposal can vary quite a bit. A bachelor’s or master’s thesis proposal can be just a few pages, while proposals for PhD dissertations or research funding are usually much longer and more detailed. Your supervisor can help you determine the best length for your work.
One trick to get started is to think of your proposal’s structure as a shorter version of your thesis or dissertation , only without the results , conclusion and discussion sections.
Download our research proposal template
Writing a research proposal can be quite challenging, but a good starting point could be to look at some examples. We’ve included a few for you below.
- Example research proposal #1: “A Conceptual Framework for Scheduling Constraint Management”
- Example research proposal #2: “Making Healthy Connections: Mentoring, Monitoring and Measurement”
- Example research proposal #3: “Medical Students as Mediators of Change in Tobacco Use”
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Like your dissertation or thesis, the proposal will usually have a title page that includes:
- The proposed title of your project
- Your supervisor’s name
- Your institution and department
The first part of your proposal is the initial pitch for your project. Make sure it succinctly explains what you want to do and why.
Your introduction should:
- Introduce your topic
- Give necessary background and context
- Outline your problem statement and research questions
To guide your introduction , include information about:
- Who could have an interest in the topic (e.g., scientists, policymakers)
- How much is already known about the topic
- What is missing from this current knowledge
- What new insights your research will contribute
- Why you believe this research is worth doing
As you get started, it’s important to demonstrate that you’re familiar with the most important research on your topic. A strong literature review shows your reader that your project has a solid foundation in existing knowledge or theory. It also shows that you’re not simply repeating what other people have already done or said, but rather using existing research as a jumping-off point for your own.
In this section, share exactly how your project will contribute to ongoing conversations in the field by:
- Comparing and contrasting the main theories, methods, and debates
- Examining the strengths and weaknesses of different approaches
- Explaining how will you build on, challenge, or synthesize prior scholarship
Following the literature review, restate your main objectives . This brings the focus back to your own project. Next, your research design or methodology section will describe your overall approach, and the practical steps you will take to answer your research questions.
To finish your proposal on a strong note, explore the potential implications of your research for your field. Emphasize again what you aim to contribute and why it matters.
For example, your results might have implications for:
- Improving best practices
- Informing policymaking decisions
- Strengthening a theory or model
- Challenging popular or scientific beliefs
- Creating a basis for future research
Last but not least, your research proposal must include correct citations for every source you have used, compiled in a reference list . To create citations quickly and easily, you can use our free APA citation generator .
Some institutions or funders require a detailed timeline of the project, asking you to forecast what you will do at each stage and how long it may take. While not always required, be sure to check the requirements of your project.
Here’s an example schedule to help you get started. You can also download a template at the button below.
Download our research schedule template
If you are applying for research funding, chances are you will have to include a detailed budget. This shows your estimates of how much each part of your project will cost.
Make sure to check what type of costs the funding body will agree to cover. For each item, include:
- Cost : exactly how much money do you need?
- Justification : why is this cost necessary to complete the research?
- Source : how did you calculate the amount?
To determine your budget, think about:
- Travel costs : do you need to go somewhere to collect your data? How will you get there, and how much time will you need? What will you do there (e.g., interviews, archival research)?
- Materials : do you need access to any tools or technologies?
- Help : do you need to hire any research assistants for the project? What will they do, and how much will you pay them?
Once you’ve decided on your research objectives , you need to explain them in your paper, at the end of your problem statement .
Keep your research objectives clear and concise, and use appropriate verbs to accurately convey the work that you will carry out for each one.
I will compare …
A research aim is a broad statement indicating the general purpose of your research project. It should appear in your introduction at the end of your problem statement , before your research objectives.
Research objectives are more specific than your research aim. They indicate the specific ways you’ll address the overarching aim.
A PhD, which is short for philosophiae doctor (doctor of philosophy in Latin), is the highest university degree that can be obtained. In a PhD, students spend 3–5 years writing a dissertation , which aims to make a significant, original contribution to current knowledge.
A PhD is intended to prepare students for a career as a researcher, whether that be in academia, the public sector, or the private sector.
A master’s is a 1- or 2-year graduate degree that can prepare you for a variety of careers.
All master’s involve graduate-level coursework. Some are research-intensive and intend to prepare students for further study in a PhD; these usually require their students to write a master’s thesis . Others focus on professional training for a specific career.
Critical thinking refers to the ability to evaluate information and to be aware of biases or assumptions, including your own.
Like information literacy , it involves evaluating arguments, identifying and solving problems in an objective and systematic way, and clearly communicating your ideas.
The best way to remember the difference between a research plan and a research proposal is that they have fundamentally different audiences. A research plan helps you, the researcher, organize your thoughts. On the other hand, a dissertation proposal or research proposal aims to convince others (e.g., a supervisor, a funding body, or a dissertation committee) that your research topic is relevant and worthy of being conducted.
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- Indian J Anaesth
- v.60(9); 2016 Sep
How to write a research proposal?
Department of Anaesthesiology, Bangalore Medical College and Research Institute, Bengaluru, Karnataka, India
Devika Rani Duggappa
Writing the proposal of a research work in the present era is a challenging task due to the constantly evolving trends in the qualitative research design and the need to incorporate medical advances into the methodology. The proposal is a detailed plan or ‘blueprint’ for the intended study, and once it is completed, the research project should flow smoothly. Even today, many of the proposals at post-graduate evaluation committees and application proposals for funding are substandard. A search was conducted with keywords such as research proposal, writing proposal and qualitative using search engines, namely, PubMed and Google Scholar, and an attempt has been made to provide broad guidelines for writing a scientifically appropriate research proposal.
A clean, well-thought-out proposal forms the backbone for the research itself and hence becomes the most important step in the process of conduct of research.[ 1 ] The objective of preparing a research proposal would be to obtain approvals from various committees including ethics committee [details under ‘Research methodology II’ section [ Table 1 ] in this issue of IJA) and to request for grants. However, there are very few universally accepted guidelines for preparation of a good quality research proposal. A search was performed with keywords such as research proposal, funding, qualitative and writing proposals using search engines, namely, PubMed, Google Scholar and Scopus.
Five ‘C’s while writing a literature review
BASIC REQUIREMENTS OF A RESEARCH PROPOSAL
A proposal needs to show how your work fits into what is already known about the topic and what new paradigm will it add to the literature, while specifying the question that the research will answer, establishing its significance, and the implications of the answer.[ 2 ] The proposal must be capable of convincing the evaluation committee about the credibility, achievability, practicality and reproducibility (repeatability) of the research design.[ 3 ] Four categories of audience with different expectations may be present in the evaluation committees, namely academic colleagues, policy-makers, practitioners and lay audiences who evaluate the research proposal. Tips for preparation of a good research proposal include; ‘be practical, be persuasive, make broader links, aim for crystal clarity and plan before you write’. A researcher must be balanced, with a realistic understanding of what can be achieved. Being persuasive implies that researcher must be able to convince other researchers, research funding agencies, educational institutions and supervisors that the research is worth getting approval. The aim of the researcher should be clearly stated in simple language that describes the research in a way that non-specialists can comprehend, without use of jargons. The proposal must not only demonstrate that it is based on an intelligent understanding of the existing literature but also show that the writer has thought about the time needed to conduct each stage of the research.[ 4 , 5 ]
CONTENTS OF A RESEARCH PROPOSAL
The contents or formats of a research proposal vary depending on the requirements of evaluation committee and are generally provided by the evaluation committee or the institution.
In general, a cover page should contain the (i) title of the proposal, (ii) name and affiliation of the researcher (principal investigator) and co-investigators, (iii) institutional affiliation (degree of the investigator and the name of institution where the study will be performed), details of contact such as phone numbers, E-mail id's and lines for signatures of investigators.
The main contents of the proposal may be presented under the following headings: (i) introduction, (ii) review of literature, (iii) aims and objectives, (iv) research design and methods, (v) ethical considerations, (vi) budget, (vii) appendices and (viii) citations.[ 4 ]
It is also sometimes termed as ‘need for study’ or ‘abstract’. Introduction is an initial pitch of an idea; it sets the scene and puts the research in context.[ 6 ] The introduction should be designed to create interest in the reader about the topic and proposal. It should convey to the reader, what you want to do, what necessitates the study and your passion for the topic.[ 7 ] Some questions that can be used to assess the significance of the study are: (i) Who has an interest in the domain of inquiry? (ii) What do we already know about the topic? (iii) What has not been answered adequately in previous research and practice? (iv) How will this research add to knowledge, practice and policy in this area? Some of the evaluation committees, expect the last two questions, elaborated under a separate heading of ‘background and significance’.[ 8 ] Introduction should also contain the hypothesis behind the research design. If hypothesis cannot be constructed, the line of inquiry to be used in the research must be indicated.
Review of literature
It refers to all sources of scientific evidence pertaining to the topic in interest. In the present era of digitalisation and easy accessibility, there is an enormous amount of relevant data available, making it a challenge for the researcher to include all of it in his/her review.[ 9 ] It is crucial to structure this section intelligently so that the reader can grasp the argument related to your study in relation to that of other researchers, while still demonstrating to your readers that your work is original and innovative. It is preferable to summarise each article in a paragraph, highlighting the details pertinent to the topic of interest. The progression of review can move from the more general to the more focused studies, or a historical progression can be used to develop the story, without making it exhaustive.[ 1 ] Literature should include supporting data, disagreements and controversies. Five ‘C's may be kept in mind while writing a literature review[ 10 ] [ Table 1 ].
Aims and objectives
The research purpose (or goal or aim) gives a broad indication of what the researcher wishes to achieve in the research. The hypothesis to be tested can be the aim of the study. The objectives related to parameters or tools used to achieve the aim are generally categorised as primary and secondary objectives.
Research design and method
The objective here is to convince the reader that the overall research design and methods of analysis will correctly address the research problem and to impress upon the reader that the methodology/sources chosen are appropriate for the specific topic. It should be unmistakably tied to the specific aims of your study.
In this section, the methods and sources used to conduct the research must be discussed, including specific references to sites, databases, key texts or authors that will be indispensable to the project. There should be specific mention about the methodological approaches to be undertaken to gather information, about the techniques to be used to analyse it and about the tests of external validity to which researcher is committed.[ 10 , 11 ]
The components of this section include the following:[ 4 ]
Population and sample
Population refers to all the elements (individuals, objects or substances) that meet certain criteria for inclusion in a given universe,[ 12 ] and sample refers to subset of population which meets the inclusion criteria for enrolment into the study. The inclusion and exclusion criteria should be clearly defined. The details pertaining to sample size are discussed in the article “Sample size calculation: Basic priniciples” published in this issue of IJA.
The researcher is expected to give a detailed account of the methodology adopted for collection of data, which include the time frame required for the research. The methodology should be tested for its validity and ensure that, in pursuit of achieving the results, the participant's life is not jeopardised. The author should anticipate and acknowledge any potential barrier and pitfall in carrying out the research design and explain plans to address them, thereby avoiding lacunae due to incomplete data collection. If the researcher is planning to acquire data through interviews or questionnaires, copy of the questions used for the same should be attached as an annexure with the proposal.
Rigor (soundness of the research)
This addresses the strength of the research with respect to its neutrality, consistency and applicability. Rigor must be reflected throughout the proposal.
It refers to the robustness of a research method against bias. The author should convey the measures taken to avoid bias, viz. blinding and randomisation, in an elaborate way, thus ensuring that the result obtained from the adopted method is purely as chance and not influenced by other confounding variables.
Consistency considers whether the findings will be consistent if the inquiry was replicated with the same participants and in a similar context. This can be achieved by adopting standard and universally accepted methods and scales.
Applicability refers to the degree to which the findings can be applied to different contexts and groups.[ 13 ]
This section deals with the reduction and reconstruction of data and its analysis including sample size calculation. The researcher is expected to explain the steps adopted for coding and sorting the data obtained. Various tests to be used to analyse the data for its robustness, significance should be clearly stated. Author should also mention the names of statistician and suitable software which will be used in due course of data analysis and their contribution to data analysis and sample calculation.[ 9 ]
Medical research introduces special moral and ethical problems that are not usually encountered by other researchers during data collection, and hence, the researcher should take special care in ensuring that ethical standards are met. Ethical considerations refer to the protection of the participants' rights (right to self-determination, right to privacy, right to autonomy and confidentiality, right to fair treatment and right to protection from discomfort and harm), obtaining informed consent and the institutional review process (ethical approval). The researcher needs to provide adequate information on each of these aspects.
Informed consent needs to be obtained from the participants (details discussed in further chapters), as well as the research site and the relevant authorities.
When the researcher prepares a research budget, he/she should predict and cost all aspects of the research and then add an additional allowance for unpredictable disasters, delays and rising costs. All items in the budget should be justified.
Appendices are documents that support the proposal and application. The appendices will be specific for each proposal but documents that are usually required include informed consent form, supporting documents, questionnaires, measurement tools and patient information of the study in layman's language.
As with any scholarly research paper, you must cite the sources you used in composing your proposal. Although the words ‘references and bibliography’ are different, they are used interchangeably. It refers to all references cited in the research proposal.
Successful, qualitative research proposals should communicate the researcher's knowledge of the field and method and convey the emergent nature of the qualitative design. The proposal should follow a discernible logic from the introduction to presentation of the appendices.
Financial support and sponsorship
Conflicts of interest.
There are no conflicts of interest.
Research Paper Guide
Writing Research Proposal
Last updated on: Feb 8, 2023
Writing a Research Proposal - Outline, Format, and Examples
By: Nathan D.
12 min read
Reviewed By: Rylee W.
Published on: May 21, 2019
Worried that you will not be able to write a good research proposal? It is a common dilemma, and no student could escape it. A research proposal is a document that outlines the scope, objectives, methods, and timeline of your proposed project.
It needs to be approved before you can submit the final research paper or apply for funding. It is an essential part of research paper writing and one cannot move forward with his research without it.
In this post, we have explained the different steps involved in writing a great research proposal. This will help you in formulating your proposal and increasing the chances of acceptance.
Read on to know more about it.
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What is a Research Proposal?
As per the research proposal definition, it is a concise summary of your research paper. It introduces the general idea of your research by highlighting the questions and issues you are going to address in your paper.
For writing a good and ‘acceptance worthy’ proposal, demonstrating the uniqueness and worthiness of your research paper is important.
Below is a detailed definition that will help you understand it better.
‘A research proposal is a document that is written to present and justify your interest and need for researching a particular topic.’
Similarly, a good proposal must highlight the benefits and outcomes of the proposed study, supported by persuasive evidence.
How to Create a Research Proposal Outline?
Sometimes students don’t realize how important a research paper proposal is and end up putting all the information together without following the basic outline or thinking this through.
To summarize its importance, if you want a successful research project, you need to write a great proposal for it. Without a good proposal, you will not be able to communicate the essence of your research properly. This may lead to the rejection of your proposal.
Before starting with the outline, you need to understand the basic components. A clear outline is important when it comes to presenting the literature review and writing the entire paper.
Here is a basic format you can follow while writing your proposal.
- Literature Review
- Research Methodology
It might seem like a dreadful task and especially for the students who are new to this. It requires good writing as well as research skills.
Here is a sample template to further explain the outline.
Research Proposal Template
RESEARCH PROPOSAL TEMPLATE
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How to Start a Research Proposal?
Many students think that starting a research proposal is the same as creating an outline. No, it is not and knowing how to start with your research proposal on the right track is like getting done with half of it.
Below are the important steps to start a research proposal.
- Begin working on it as soon as possible.
- Conduct thorough and in-depth research.
- Instead of forming the title first, find the main theme or problem that you would like to discuss in your research.
- Collect and save the research information with proper and complete citation and reference information.
- Divide the collected details into the sections of the proposal and stick to them.
Writing a research proposal is tricky, but when you start it beforehand then you will have enough time to understand your main topic’s different aspects.
Procrastinating and leaving it for the last few days before submission will only land you in trouble.
How to Write a Research Proposal
Now you have the basic outline you can follow. Let’s discuss how to write it by following the format mentioned above.
1. Choose the Title Carefully
Your proposal title should be concise and clear to indicate your research question. Your readers should know what to expect in the paper after reading the title. Avoid writing titles in a general perspective or phrases like “An investigation of …” or “A review of …” etc. Make it concise and well defined.
2. Add a Concise Abstract
‘How to write an abstract for a research proposal?’
The abstract is a short summary that is around 100-250 words. The abstract should include the research question, hypothesis of your research (if there is any), the research methodology, and findings.
If the proposal is detailed, it will require a section of the contents after the abstract. For it, knowing how to write an abstract will be helpful and can save you from making any blunders.
3. Add a Strong Introduction
You need to start with a strong introduction. The introduction is written to provide a background or context related to your research problem. It is important to frame the research question while writing the proposal.
Your entire proposal will revolve around your research question, and this includes the proposal’s introduction also. If the research question is not specific and has a very general literature review, then your proposal might seem insignificant. A specific research question will make your research focused on.
Start the introduction with a general statement related to the problem area you are focusing on and justify your study.
The introduction usually covers the following elements.
- What is the purpose of your research or study?
- Mention the background information and significance before you introduce your research question.
- Introduce your research question in a way that its significance is highlighted by setting the stage for it.
- Briefly mention the issues that you are going to discuss and highlight in your study.
- Make sure that you identify the independent and dependent variables in the title of your study.
- If there is a hypothesis or a theory related to your research, state it in the introduction.
Have a very clear and concise idea about your research, and make sure that you do not deviate from the main research question. A clear idea will help you craft a perfect thesis. Here is how you can create a crisp and interesting thesis introduction along with a basic guideline.
4. Clarify the Research Objectives
Your research objectives will explain what the writer is trying to achieve. Moreover, these aims and objectives must be achievable. It means that it must be framed according to the:
- Available time
- Other important resources.
However, it is beneficial to read all the developments in the field and find research gaps before deciding your objective. It will help you come up with suitable aims for your projects.
5. Add Relevant Literature Review
A separate section dedicated to the literature review will allow you to conduct extensive background research and support your research question with credible sources and research.
The following are the basic purposes of the literature review.
- To give reference to the researchers whose study has been a part of your research.
- To help you construct a precise and clear research question.
- To critically evaluate previous literature information related to your research.
- To understand research issues relevant to the topic of your research.
- To convince the reader that your research is an important contribution to the relevant niche.
A literature review is an important component. Learning how to write a literature review will help you compose an engaging and impressive literature review easily.
Keep your literature review organized by adding a subheading to maintain a smooth flow in the content. Try not to bore your readers and your instructor or the committee. Write it in an engaging manner.
6. Mention Significance of the Research
The significance of your research will identify the importance of your work. It should be mainly stated in the introductory paragraph.
You must highlight how your research is beneficial for the respective field of study. Similarly, you can also state its contribution to the field in both the broader and narrow sense.
7. Explain the Research Methodology
‘How to write a methods section of a research proposal?’
This section explains how you are going to conduct your research. Explain why the specific method is suitable for your research and how it will help you attain your research goals. Your research methodology will give you an organized plan for the research.
Mention sufficient information regarding your research methodology for readers to understand how you are conducting your research. It must contain enough information regarding the study for another researcher to implement it.
Choose the type of research methodology that is suitable for your research. Quantitative research is suitable for projects involving collecting and analyzing statistical data like that in social sciences, medicine, and psychology. Qualitative type is used in a theoretical type of research like that in literature.
Some research involves both; if your research topic also involves analyzing both the statistical data and theory, then make sure that you use them appropriately.
For a qualitative approach, the method section of your proposal needs to be more detailed and elaborate compared to the one in the quantitative approach. How you will collect your data and analyze it according to the qualitative approach should be described with great care.
When you choose a quantitative approach for your research, the method section should contain answers to the following elements.
- Design – Is it a laboratory experiment or a survey?
- What is the sample size and the subject of your study?
- What is the procedure of your study, and how will you carry out the activities involved in it?
- Describe your questionnaire or the instruments you will be using in the experiment.
Have detailed knowledge of all the research methodologies to justify your approach towards the research problem.
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8. Present the Hypothesis or the Expected Research Results
In the research proposal, this section will contain the results of the research, but since this is a research proposal, you do not have the results yet. This is why you will add the expected research results here. These results are those that you aim to obtain from the research.
Sometimes the researcher gets the same kind of results, but sometimes, the results could differ from the expected ones.
9. Mention the Ethical Considerations
It is an essential part of your outline. Researchers need to consider ethical values while conducting research work. Furthermore, you also have to be very careful in the data collection process and need to respect the rights of the participants.
They should not harm them in any way, and full consent should be obtained from them prior to the study.
Lastly, the writer’s moral duty is to promise complete confidentiality to feel comfortable while sharing information.
10. Discuss the Research Limitations
The research limitations indicate the flaws and shortcomings of your research. These may include:
- Unavailability of resources
- Small sample size
- Wrong methodology
Listing the limitations shows your honesty and complete understanding of the topic.
11. Add Proper References and Citation
Don’t forget the references section. You don’t want to get blamed for plagiarism. Always give references to the authors and the literature you have studied for your research.
There are two ways to cite your sources.
- Reference – List the literature that you have used in your proposal.
- Bibliography – List everything that you have studied, cited, or not while doing your study or while writing.
Follow a specific format for the citation section as instructed by your supervisor. It can be written in APA, MLA, Chicago, or Harvard style. Both references and bibliography are included in it.
12. Edit and Proofread
Many students prefer not to proofread the proposal after completion, which is a grave mistake. If you proofread the paper on your own, you may fail to identify the mistakes. Use online tools or have a helping hand from your friend to give it a good read.
In the end, edit the document as per the needs.
Why Do Research Proposals Get Rejected?
An analysis of 500 rejected proposals allowed us to identify the common blunders made in them. These blunders caused the rejection of otherwise promising research. Therefore, to maximize the chances of acceptance, you must avoid these mistakes.
Here are some of those mistakes.
- The proposal stated a flawed hypothesis.
- The professor doubts the research will not bring new or useful results.
- The plan mentioned in the proposal lacks details and is unrealistic.
- It lacks coherence.
- The results obtained, or the hypothesis from the chosen method will be inaccurate.
- The review of the literature is not done correctly.
- Sufficient time was not devoted to writing the proposal.
- The proposal is copied or has been used by many other students in the past.
These are the common ways that result in rejection.
If you desire to make it shine, stick to your instructor’s guidelines and stay away from committing these mistakes. They will kill the purpose and effort you have put into your proposal and tarnish your reputation also.
Research Proposal Examples
Looking for some helpful and detailed research proposal examples to get you started? Examples are great for a quick understanding of how something works or is written, in our case.
Here are some complete research paper proposal samples to help you write your own.
RESEARCH PROPOSAL SAMPLE
RESEARCH PROPOSAL EXAMPLE - APA
HOW TO WRITE A RESEARCH GRANT PROPOSAL
NSF RESEARCH PROPOSAL SAMPLE
MARKET RESEARCH PROPOSAL SAMPLE
PH.D. RESEARCH PROPOSAL SAMPLE
Research Proposal Topics
You can take ideas for your topic from books, journals, previously done research, and dissertations.
Here are a few topics you can choose from.
- How has technology evolved the English language over the last ten years?
- What are the effects of individualism on British literature?
- How has Feminism helped women get their rights over the last decade?
- What caused the fall of the Roman empire, and what are its effects?
- What factors caused World War II?
- What are the effects of World War II on diplomacy?
- Can cultural differences affect social interactions?
- How have violent video games affected brain development among children?
- How does alcohol affect aggression among a few people?
- How effective is the death penalty?
If you want to know more about finding a topic for your research paper and research paper topic examples, here is a list of interesting research paper topics .
Research proposals can be critical because they require great attention. If you are inexperienced, you are likely to suffer. In a worst-case scenario, your proposal may get rejected.
Your dedicated professional and experienced essay writer at 5StarEssays.com is always here to help you. Being a professional write an essay service, we know how to craft a compelling research proposal and help you get it accepted.
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Frequently Asked Questions
What makes a strong research proposal.
Your proposal must explain 'why' your research is important in addition to explaining the methods that you will use. You should also position yourself within your field of study and give an overview of why this specific topic could be significant.
How many pages a research proposal should be?
Research proposals typically range between three and five pages in length. Research proposal formats vary across disciplines.
You should follow the format that is standard within your field, with special attention to what your faculty mentor prefers.
What tense should a research proposal be written in?
In a research proposal, use future tense for actions to be undertaken in the study. For example: "A survey method will be employed", and "a close-ended questionnaire will be used."
How long is a research proposal?
When writing a research proposal, it is best, to begin with, what you want to know more about. There is no set length for these proposals so they can be anywhere from 2,500 words up or down depending on the topic and scope of your study.
Does a research proposal have chapters?
Like a research paper, the introduction and conclusion of your proposal should be brief. In every chapter you include in your proposal, begin with an informative intro paragraph that captures what will follow in each section.
Similarly, for chapters near their end, conclusions summarize points discussed throughout the sections but also highlight what is most important about them overall.
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Nathan completed his Ph.D. in journalism and has been writing articles for well-respected publications for many years now. His work is carefully researched and insightful, showing a true passion for the written word. Nathan's clients appreciate his expertise, deep understanding of the process, and ability to communicate difficult concepts clearly.
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Examples of research proposals
How to write your research proposal, with examples of good proposals.
Your research proposal is a key part of your application. It tells us about the question you want to answer through your research. It is a chance for you to show your knowledge of the subject area and tell us about the methods you want to use.
We use your research proposal to match you with a supervisor or team of supervisors.
In your proposal, please tell us if you have an interest in the work of a specific academic at York St John. You can get in touch with this academic to discuss your proposal. You can also speak to one of our Research Leads. There is a list of our Research Leads on the Apply page.
When you write your proposal you need to:
- Highlight how it is original or significant
- Explain how it will develop or challenge current knowledge of your subject
- Identify the importance of your research
- Show why you are the right person to do this research
- Research Proposal Example 1 (DOC, 49kB)
- Research Proposal Example 2 (DOC, 0.9MB)
- Research Proposal Example 3 (DOC, 55.5kB)
- Research Proposal Example 4 (DOC, 49.5kB)
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How to write your research proposal
A key part of your application is your research proposal. Whether you are applying for a self-funded or studentship you should follow the guidance below.
If you are looking specifically for advice on writing your PhD by published work research proposal, read our guide .
You are encouraged to contact us to discuss the availability of supervision in your area of research before you make a formal application, by visiting our areas of research .
What is your research proposal used for and why is it important?
- It is used to establish whether there is expertise to support your proposed area of research
- It forms part of the assessment of your application
- The research proposal you submit as part of your application is just the starting point, as your ideas evolve your proposed research is likely to change
How long should my research proposal be?
It should be 2,000–3,500 words (4-7 pages) long.
What should be included in my research proposal?
Your proposal should include the following:
- Your title should give a clear indication of your proposed research approach or key question
2. BACKGROUND AND RATIONALE
You should include:
- the background and issues of your proposed research
- identify your discipline
- a short literature review
- a summary of key debates and developments in the field
3. RESEARCH QUESTION(S)
You should formulate these clearly, giving an explanation as to what problems and issues are to be explored and why they are worth exploring
4. RESEARCH METHODOLOGY
You should provide an outline of:
- the theoretical resources to be drawn on
- the research approach (theoretical framework)
- the research methods appropriate for the proposed research
- a discussion of advantages as well as limits of particular approaches and methods
5. PLAN OF WORK & TIME SCHEDULE
You should include an outline of the various stages and corresponding time lines for developing and implementing the research, including writing up your thesis.
For full-time study your research should be completed within three years, with writing up completed in the fourth year of registration.
For part-time study your research should be completed within six years, with writing up completed by the eighth year.
- a list of references to key articles and texts discussed within your research proposal
- a selection of sources appropriate to the proposed research
Fees and funding.
How much will it cost to study a research degree?
Find out if you can apply for a Research Degree at the University of Westminster.
Research degree by distance learning
Find out about Research Degree distance learning options at the University of Westminster.
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Organizing Academic Research Papers: Purpose of Guide
Purpose of guide.
- Design Flaws to Avoid
- Glossary of Research Terms
- Narrowing a Topic Idea
- Broadening a Topic Idea
- Extending the Timeliness of a Topic Idea
- Academic Writing Style
- Choosing a Title
- Making an Outline
- Paragraph Development
- Executive Summary
- Background Information
- The Research Problem/Question
- Theoretical Framework
- Citation Tracking
- Content Alert Services
- Evaluating Sources
- Primary Sources
- Secondary Sources
- Tertiary Sources
- What Is Scholarly vs. Popular?
- Qualitative Methods
- Quantitative Methods
- Using Non-Textual Elements
- Limitations of the Study
- Common Grammar Mistakes
- Avoiding Plagiarism
- Footnotes or Endnotes?
- Further Readings
- Annotated Bibliography
- Dealing with Nervousness
- Using Visual Aids
- Grading Someone Else's Paper
- How to Manage Group Projects
- Multiple Book Review Essay
- Reviewing Collected Essays
- About Informed Consent
- Writing Field Notes
- Writing a Policy Memo
- Writing a Research Proposal
This guide is intended to help you organize and write a quality academic research paper. Also included are recommendations regarding how to manage specific course assignments. Note that, if you have specific questions about how to write a research paper, you should always seek advice from your professor before you begin. Specific requirements stated by your professor will always supersede instructions provided in these general guidelines.
Thanks to Dr. Robert V. Labaree of the Von KleinSmid Center Library for International and Public Affairs, University of Southern California Libraries , for sharing the content of this guide.
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How to Write a Research Proposal
Once you’re in college and really getting into academic writing , you may not recognize all the kinds of assignments you’re asked to complete. You know what an essay is, and you know how to respond to readings—but when you hear your professor mention a research proposal or a literature review, your mind might do a double take.
Don’t worry; we’ve got you. Boiled down to its core, a research proposal is simply a short piece of writing that details exactly what you’ll be covering in a larger research project. You’ll likely be required to write one for your thesis , and if you choose to continue in academia after earning your bachelor’s degree, you’ll be writing research proposals for your master’s thesis, your dissertation, and all other research you conduct. By then, you’ll be a research proposal pro. But for now, we’ll answer all your questions and help you confidently write your first one.
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.
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What is the goal of a research proposal?
In a research proposal, the goal is to present the author’s plan for the research they intend to conduct. In some cases, part of this goal is to secure funding for said research. In others, it’s to have the research approved by the author’s supervisor or department so they can move forward with it. In some cases, a research proposal is a required part of a graduate school application. In every one of these circumstances, research proposals follow the same structure.
In a research proposal, the author demonstrates how and why their research is relevant to their field. They demonstrate that the work is necessary to the following:
- Filling a gap in the existing body of research on their subject
- Underscoring existing research on their subject, and/or
- Adding new, original knowledge to the academic community’s existing understanding of their subject
A research proposal also demonstrates that the author is capable of conducting this research and contributing to the current state of their field in a meaningful way. To do this, your research proposal needs to discuss your academic background and credentials as well as demonstrate that your proposed ideas have academic merit.
But demonstrating your research’s validity and your personal capability to carry it out isn’t enough to get your research proposal approved. Your research proposal also has to cover these things:
- The research methodology you plan to use
- The tools and procedures you will use to collect, analyze, and interpret the data you collect
- An explanation of how your research fits the budget and other constraints that come with conducting it through your institution, department, or academic program
If you’ve already read our post on literature reviews , you may be thinking that a research proposal sounds pretty similar. They’re more than just similar, though—a literature review is part of a research proposal. It’s the section that covers which sources you’re using, how you’re using them, and why they’re relevant. Think of a literature review as a mini-research proposal that fits into your larger, main proposal.
How long should a research proposal be?
Generally, research proposals for bachelor’s and master’s theses are a few pages long. Research proposals for meatier projects, like Ph.D. dissertations and funding requests, are often longer and far more detailed. A research proposal’s goal is to clearly outline exactly what your research will entail and accomplish, so including the proposal’s word count or page count isn’t nearly as important as it is to ensure that all the necessary elements and content are present.
Research proposal structure
A research proposal follows a fairly straightforward structure. In order to achieve the goals described in the previous section, nearly all research proposals include the following sections:
Your introduction achieves a few goals:
- Introduces your topic
- States your problem statement and the questions your research aims to answer
- Provides context for your research
In a research proposal, an introduction can be a few paragraphs long. It should be concise, but don’t feel like you need to cram all of your information into one paragraph.
In some cases, you need to include an abstract and/or a table of contents in your research proposal. These are included just before the introduction.
This is where you explain why your research is necessary and how it relates to established research in your field. Your work might complement existing research, strengthen it, or even challenge it—no matter how your work will “play with” other researchers’ work, you need to express it in detail in your research proposal.
This is also the section where you clearly define the existing problems your research will address. By doing this, you’re explaining why your work is necessary—in other words, this is where you answer the reader’s “so what?”
In your background significance section, you’ll also outline how you’ll conduct your research. If necessary, note which related questions and issues you won’t be covering in your research.
In your literature review , you introduce all the sources you plan to use in your research. This includes landmark studies and their data, books, and scholarly articles. A literature review isn’t merely a list of sources (that’s what your bibliography is for); a literature review delves into the collection of sources you chose and explains how you’re using them in your research.
Research design, methods, and schedule
Following your research review, you’ll discuss your research plans. In this section, make sure you cover these aspects:
- The type of research you will do. Are you conducting qualitative or quantitative research? Are you collecting original data or working with data collected by other researchers?
- Whether you’re doing experimental, correlational, or descriptive research
- The data you’re working with. For example, if you’re conducting research in the social sciences, you’ll need to describe the population you’re studying. You’ll also need to cover how you’ll select your subjects and how you’ll collect data from them.
- The tools you’ll use to collect data. Will you be running experiments? Conducting surveys? Observing phenomena? Note all data collection methods here along with why they’re effective methods for your specific research.
Beyond a comprehensive look at your research itself, you’ll also need to include:
- Your research timeline
- Your research budget
- Any potential obstacles you foresee and your plan for handling them
Suppositions and implications
Although you can’t know your research’s results until you’ve actually done the work, you should be going into the project with a clear idea of how your work will contribute to your field. This section is perhaps the most critical to your research proposal’s argument because it expresses exactly why your research is necessary.
In this section, make sure you cover the following:
- Any ways your work can challenge existing theories and assumptions in your field
- How your work will create the foundation for future research
- The practical value your findings will provide to practitioners, educators, and other academics in your field
- The problems your work can potentially help to fix
- Policies that could be impacted by your findings
- How your findings can be implemented in academia or other settings and how this will improve or otherwise transform these settings
In other words, this section isn’t about stating the specific results you expect. Rather, it’s where you state how your findings will be valuable.
This is where you wrap it all up. Your conclusion section, just like your conclusion paragraph for an essay , briefly summarizes your research proposal and reinforces your research’s stated purpose.
Yes, you need to write a bibliography in addition to your literature review. Unlike your literature review, where you explained the relevance of the sources you chose and in some cases, challenged them, your bibliography simply lists your sources and their authors.
The way you write a citation depends on the style guide you’re using. The three most common style guides for academics are MLA , APA , and Chicago , and each has its own particular rules and requirements. Keep in mind that each formatting style has specific guidelines for citing just about any kind of source, including photos , websites , speeches , and YouTube videos .
Sometimes, a full bibliography is not needed. When this is the case, you can include a references list, which is simply a scaled-down list of all the sources you cited in your work. If you’re not sure which to write, ask your supervisor.
Here’s a tip: Grammarly’s Citation Generator ensures your essays have flawless citations and no plagiarism. Try it for citing journal articles in MLA , APA , and Chicago styles.
How to write a research proposal
Research proposals, like all other kinds of academic writing, are written in a formal, objective tone. Keep in mind that being concise is a key component of academic writing; formal does not mean flowery.
Adhere to the structure outlined above. Your reader knows how a research proposal is supposed to read and expects it to fit this template. It’s crucial that you present your research proposal in a clear, logical way. Every question the reader has while reading your proposal should be answered by the final section.
Editing and proofreading a research proposal
When you’re writing a research proposal, follow the same six-step writing process you follow with every other kind of writing you do.
After you’ve got a first draft written, take some time to let it “cool off” before you start proofreading . By doing this, you’re making it easier for yourself to catch mistakes and gaps in your writing.
Common mistakes to avoid when writing a research proposal
When you’re writing a research proposal, avoid these common pitfalls:
Being too wordy
As we said earlier, formal does not mean flowery. In fact, you should aim to keep your writing as brief and to-the-point as possible. The more economically you can express your purpose and goal, the better.
Failing to cite relevant sources
When you’re conducting research, you’re adding to the existing body of knowledge on the subject you’re covering. Your research proposal should reference one or more of the landmark research pieces in your field and connect your work to these works in some way. This doesn’t just communicate your work’s relevance—it also demonstrates your familiarity with the field.
Focusing too much on minor issues
There are probably a lot of great reasons why your research is necessary. These reasons don’t all need to be in your research proposal. In fact, including too many questions and issues in your research proposal can detract from your central purpose, weakening the proposal. Save the minor issues for your research paper itself and cover only the major, key issues you aim to tackle in your proposal.
Failing to make a strong argument for your research
This is perhaps the easiest way to undermine your proposal because it’s far more subjective than the others. A research proposal is, in essence, a piece of persuasive writing . That means that although you’re presenting your proposal in an objective, academic way, the goal is to get the reader to say “yes” to your work.
This is true in every case, whether your reader is your supervisor, your department head, a graduate school admissions board, a private or government-backed funding provider, or the editor at a journal in which you’d like to publish your work.
Polish your writing into a stellar proposal
When you’re asking for approval to conduct research—especially when there’s funding involved—you need to be nothing less than 100 percent confident in your proposal. If your research proposal has spelling or grammatical mistakes, an inconsistent or inappropriate tone, or even just awkward phrasing, those will undermine your credibility.
Make sure your research proposal shines by using Grammarly to catch all of those issues. Even if you think you caught all of them while you were editing, it’s critical to double-check your work. Your research deserves the best proposal possible, and Grammarly can help you make that happen.
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