Writing a Research Proposal - Outline, Format, and Examples
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.
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 (PDF)
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
- 2. Add a Concise Abstract
- 3. Add a Strong Introduction
Your proposal title should be concise and clear to indicate your research question. The title is the first thing that your reader is going to read. A catchy yet informative title will attract readers.
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.
‘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.
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.
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.
As per your instructor’s requirements, you can incorporate the literature review in the introduction or create a separate section for the 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. However, there are some common mistakes that students make while reviewing the literature.
- Lack of organization and coherence.
- No proper structure.
- Lack of focus on the topic.
- Not citing the papers and researchers properly.
- Not including the recent studies relevant to the topic.
- Trivial citation
Keep your literature review organized by adding a subheading to maintain a smooth flow in the content. Reading a literature review might seem boring to a few people. Try not to bore your readers and your instructor or the committee. Write it in an engaging manner.
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.
‘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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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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.