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If you’re a high school, college, or graduate student, you know that research papers are pretty much inevitable facts of life. So why not embrace the process and give it your best effort?

Sometimes the most difficult part is getting started. The research proposal is a common starting point for a research paper. Consider your proposal the hinge that decides whether you actually get to conduct your research, so pay careful attention to how you prepare it. 

Purpose of a Research Proposal

The research proposal is often a basic requirement for obtaining a grant or funding for an investigative project. If you are a student, the research proposal is the process by which you get your instructor’s approval of the topic for your thesis or dissertation. 

The main goal of the research proposal is to convince the parties involved—which might be a funding body, an academic supervisor, or an educational institution—that the project you’re proposing will be worth your time and their time, and possibly their money. 

It typically has the following goals: 

  • To describe what you will be investigating
  • To convince the readers that the project is relevant, original, and important 
  • To explain why you are qualified do this research
  • To define how you will conduct your research 

How to Write a Research Proposal

Writing a research proposal does not have to be difficult, especially if you’re familiar with the key sections. Although different fields of study may require different formats, the following elements should be in place across all fields: 

1. Cover Page

The first page you need to write is the cover page. In the cover page or title page of your research proposal, you should include the following information: 

  • Your working title: This is just the proposed title, so you don’t need to worry too much about it at this stage; it can still change as you continue with the project. 
  • Your name: State your full name on the cover. 
  • Your supervisor’s name: Include the name of your professor or supervisor.
  • The institution and department: This would refer to the school and college department, or the department in an organization to whom you are submitting the proposal.

Important: if you are submitting your research proposal to a funding body, find out if they have their own requirements for formatting. 

2. Introduction

This first part of your research proposal serves as your pitch, so pay particular attention to being clear and succinct about what you intend to do and why. In this section, you need to do the following: 

  • introduce your chosen research question
  • give the context and background of your study
  • outline the research question and problem statement  

Think about the following questions to help guide you in writing this section: 

  • What demographic will be interested in this research question? For example, does it appeal to a scientific audience or government officials? Will businessmen be interested in your findings? 
  • What information is already known about the issue? 
  • What do I need to address that has not been addressed before? 
  • What new findings will your research add to the current database? 
  • Why is it important to look into these things? 

3. Abstract and Table of Contents

Normally, the introduction is enough to explain what your research will be about. But if your proposal is unusually lengthy, consider adding a section that contains an abstract, and a table of contents to help readers locate the different parts of your proposal. 

Write the abstract as a summary of the research you intend to conduct. 

4. Literature Review

This is an important part of any research, where you cite all the relevant research that’s already been done on your chosen topic. 

In this section, highlight all relevant findings and research gaps you intend to fill. 

Writing the literature review well means you must be able to show the reader that you have formed a solid foundation of existing theory of knowledge on the subject, and convince them that what you plan to do is not just a repetition, but rather an important addition to the existing body of knowledge.  

5. Research Design and Methodology 

In this section, elaborate on the research methodology you will be using. Be as detailed as possible, as this will play into whether the funding bodies will find your proposed research project plausible and worthwhile. 

Some things to consider in research design are: 

  • Are you doing a quantitative or qualitative research? 
  • Will you be working with primary or secondary sources? Will you be collecting original data? 
  • Will your research design mainly be experimental, descriptive, or correlational? 

Also discuss the sources you intend to use: 

  • Who do you intend to study? For example, will you be getting survey answers from a certain demographic, or will be using existing archives of data? 
  • What process will you use to select your sources? For example, are you conducting a survey, or doing case studies? If you are conducting a survey, how will you find your samples?
  • In what location and in what time frame will you be collecting your data? 

In this section, also explain the research methods you will use: 

  • What procedures and tools will you use to collect your data and analyze them? 
  • Why would these be the best options for finding answers to your research questions? 

6. Implications 

This section is important for finishing your proposal with a bang: explain the possible implications of your findings to the existing body of knowledge. For example, write explicitly whether your results may: 

  • Improve the current processes in a given field
  • Help inform policy objectives
  • Strengthen a model or theory
  • Challenge popular assumptions 
  • Create a foundation for further research 

7. Reference List 

As is the case with all academic papers, be diligent in keeping a record of all your references. Make sure you learn how to reference your sources. Whether you choose the APA Style or the Chicago Style, be sure to stay consistent when citing your sources.

8. Research Schedule 

Some research proposals include a detailed timeline of every phase of the project. Check the requirements of your funding body or academic program to know if you need to add this in.

The schedule will show how you intend to use your time in working on the project. Indicate how long each stage will take. 

Formatting Your Research Proposal

To help you understand what your finished product should look like, this video explains how to format your research proposal and explains where to include each important section:

How Long Is a Research Proposal? 

The length of a research proposal can vary greatly: most bachelor’s degree or master’s degree proposals for a thesis can be a few pages long, but proposals for a doctorate dissertation or requesting for funding tend to be much longer and more detailed. 

You might look at the proposal as a summary of your thesis or dissertation, minus the discussion and results sections. However, because you write the research proposal first, this requires an intensive look into your proposed topic in order to provide the essential details it needs. 

Writing a Research Proposal 

Knowing how to write the different parts of the research proposal can help ensure that your project will get approved.

And you never know what important discoveries your research will bring to the world!

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