Research Paper Guides

Introduction to Writing a Research Proposal: Structure, Format & Examples

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A research paper proposal is a document that outlines the research project that a student or researcher intends to undertake. It is usually submitted to a supervisor or committee for approval before the actual study begins.

Whether you are a student completing an assignment or a researcher seeking grants, approval, or funding, knowing how to write a research proposal is an essential skill. This article discusses the basics of formulating effctive proposals and provides examples for reference.

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What Is a Research Proposal: Definition

So, what is a research proposal paper? A research proposal is a thoughtful explanation of what your project will focus on and how you will conduct the involved activities. A proposal makes you consider what your study will entail, how you will gather data and analyze it, and why your topic is significant. Through writing a proposal, you can clarify your research objectives, identify potential obstacles, and ensure that your research paper is well-planned and feasible.

Ultimately, a well-written research proposal serves as a roadmap for your research project and helps to convince others of the value of your study.

Research Proposal Basics

What Is the Purpose of a Research Proposal?

The primary purpose of a research proposal is to convince your audience that your project aligns with the course requirements, and is feasible within the constraints of resources and time. 

Essentially, research proposals serve as persuasive pitches to specific individuals. If these individuals are not convinced, you may need to develop an alternative plan and resubmit, resulting in additional costs in terms of time and resources. This could lead to delays in carrying out your actual study or, worse still, exceeding the allocated time frame.

Here is why it’s important to write a research proposal:

  • Significance Shows an audience that this is an insightful research paper needed to solve a real-world problem.
  • Background Indicates that you have looked extensively at other works in your field and know the issue you will be studying.
  • Approach Describes the suitability of your selected methodology. This shows that you have carefully considered the required data for addressing your issue and how you will collect, treat, and interpret it.
  • Practicability Shows your investigation is worth undertaking and can be achieved within the set period.

How Long Should a Research Proposal Be?

Proposals are normally between 500 and 1500 words, even though some institutions usually specify the required limit. It is rare for a comprehensive research paper proposal to exceed this span since most of them take up a maximum of three pages long, excluding citations.

Nonetheless, larger works such as a Ph.D. dissertation may require more details and, thus, a thesis proposal can be more extended. Note that some disciplinary differences also affect an exact research proposal length. Thus, be sure to check your instructions.

Research Proposal Outline & Template Example

Developing a research topic proposal outline is a crucial step in planning and organizing a research project. It helps to identify the main components of the work, their coverage, and how they fit into the argument. 

A well-structured research paper outline gives direction for your study, ensuring that all the necessary elements are included and in a logical order.

A research paper proposal outline also gives you a good idea of the extent to which you can conceptualize and articulate your points. Keep in mind that you do not need to offer extensive details at this phase. Leave that for the next stage.

Here is an example of a research proposal outline. Use it as a research proposal template to fill in your details as you write your work.

  • Topic
  • Brief introduction
    • Overview
    • Hypothesis/question
    • Definition of major concepts
  • Background/Study rationale
    • Significance and contribution
    • Implications
  • Methodological approach
    • Strategy, methods, and design
  • Conclusion
  • Literature cited

Research Proposal Structure

Although the structure of a research proposal can vary depending on factors such as discipline, institution, and instructions, there are standard requirements that must be followed. Specific sections must be included in a particular order to ensure a logical flow of the proposal. 

The primary parts of a research proposal include:

  • Title page Your working title goes here. It highlights a project’s content and direction. Ensure it's narrow, concise, descriptive, catchy, and informative. Also include your name, field of study, date of publication, and institution.
  • Introduction In an introduction to a research proposal, you explain what you are investigating and why. Be creative and relevant because this is your opening subsection, which makes it very important. Also, remember to tell your readers about the organization of your work.
  • Background and significance Scientific research proposals must highlight what is already known about your topic from the literature. This is like a brief history of your theme concerning current trends and helps you establish a foundation for what you will explore.
  • Literature review Writing a proposal also requires that you engage in a critical examination of prior articles related to your subject area to identify gaps in knowledge or unresolved issues.
  • Design and methodology Your study proposal should also include a description of how you will collect data and test your hypothesis/question. Additionally, identify the design you will use, the procedures to be followed, and the adopted analysis techniques.
  • Implications Offer a general discussion regarding how your work will extend existing knowledge or benefit the field.
  • Conclusions Reinforce the importance of your proposed work and summarize the entire project.
  • References You must also offer an accurate list of all sources used in your proposal paper. Use a specific layout based on your instructions.
Research Proposal Structure

Remember to use these headings to demonstrate where one can find specific information.

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Things to Consider Before Writing a Research Proposal

When writing a topic proposal, it is essential to answer the questions "what," "why," and "how" regarding your research. The project must clearly outline the chosen research topic and its context. 

Mere suggestion of a topic is not sufficient; you must also explain why it is unique and relevant. In other words, your proposal should address an original issue. Additionally, it is crucial to identify the gaps in existing knowledge that your research aims to fill and explain the potential significance and usefulness of your proposed topic.

Elaborate on the practical aspects of your research topic. This involves describing the methods you will use to conduct your study, outlining the chosen research design, and identifying the resources available to you. Provide a transparent overview of your methodology and the design decisions relevant to your research.

How to Write a Research Proposal

Now that you are familiar with the nature of this work, able to develop an outline, and comprehend the structure, you can begin drafting your proposal. This can be a daunting task if you have no idea how to write a good research proposal. 

Nevertheless, it becomes more manageable when you break it down into specific stages. In the following sections, you will find step-by-step instructions on preparing a proposal paper. By completing all phases explained below, you will gain a better understanding of how to write a proposal for a research paper or any other study.

1. Design a Research Proposal Title Page

The research proposal title page expresses your topic’s main message. The purpose of a cover page is to convey a statement of your subject concisely and identify who is responsible for the work. It is the first section of your paper, and it must be relevant, short, and precise. 

In general, include your title, name, and affiliation of the principal investigator and assistants, your institutional affiliation and submission date.

Look at this example of the title page for a research proposal formatted in APA style.

APA Research Proposal Title Page

Read more: How to Create an APA Format Title Page

2. Write a Research Proposal Introduction

Your research proposal introduction is the initial pitch of your project. Therefore, use it to establish the scene and place your study in context. Design this part to attract readers’ interest regarding your theme and project by making them want to continue reading until the end.  Here is how to write an introduction for a research proposal.

Start by presenting to your audience your intention, why the investigation should be conducted, your passion for the subject area, and trends related to your problem. Finally, identify your research question and hypothesis statement. If you do not have one, indicate the line of inquiry you will use in your investigation.

Research proposal introduction example

Recent transformations in the IT curriculum focus more on first-year science courses. Researchers have done much work to assist in determining factors that predict success during this period. Nonetheless, most studies cannot validate their results because they lack an evaluation tool. The existing tools in this field are flawed, which makes them insufficient for assessing first-year IT courses.

This research proposes to develop an evaluation instrument that can be administered to first-year IT students. Its validity and reliability will be considered. Developing this tool will allow the IT department to advance curriculum innovations for IT courses.

3. Provide a Context

This is part of your research proposal where you describe the context of your work and its significance. For this section, assume that your audience has insufficient time but wants to understand the essence of your issue and the whole investigation. You should focus on eliciting interest in your project, not providing extensive descriptions.

Therefore, as you write a proposal for a paper, provide the necessary background by explaining your topic’s importance and why it is essential to grasp the major elements of your research. 

Highlight the historical basis from the literature that resulted in your theme and problem under investigation, and elaborate on your purpose. Also, explain your rationale and why it is meaningful to explore the problem. Identify your main ideas to be examined using statements or questions and stress how the analysis develops on existing views about your subject. Remember to establish the boundaries of your proposed inquiry, as this offers a clear focus.

Example of research proposal background

Existing first-year IT curricula lack instructions regarding ways of implementing its guidelines and suggestions. This leaves departments to create individual approaches to course materials and develop curriculum tasks. However, when a new syllabus device is conceived, it is important to determine its effectiveness. Researchers examining new curriculum inventions use methods that consider exam scores, resignation percentages, course grades, or lab scores (Decker, 2012). However, these measures have been proven invalid and unreliable. Therefore, there is a need for a tool that can be used to evaluate how students comprehend the core IT material. This thesis aims to develop a validated and reliable evaluation tool to assess IT learners’ knowledge. Such a tool is unavailable currently because existing ones are designed for final-year students. Creating this tool will promote further experimentation as institutions develop this course.

4. Prepare a Literature Review

The literature review section is typically the lengthiest and most comprehensive part of your research proposal. It is closely linked to the background section and primarily aims to synthesize previous research relevant to your topic, situating your proposed study within a broader body of existing investigations. This highlights the originality of your project and its contribution to expanding existing knowledge.

Given the abundance of information typically included in this section, it is important to structure it logically when writing your research proposal. This allows readers to easily comprehend the connections between your work and existing studies in the field.

To ensure a coherent flow in your research proposal writing, it is recommended to use subheadings based on major themes.

Keep in mind that accessing sources online has become increasingly convenient with current technological trends. However, it is crucial to select peer-reviewed and dependable papers mainly from major databases or your school library.

While you can present the sources in a unique way, the following steps outline how to write a literature review for your research proposal:

  1. Provide context and explain its significance to your research topic.
  2. Identify major themes or concepts for the review.
  3. Summarize and synthesize existing literature for each theme, highlighting key findings, gaps, and inconsistencies.
  4. Critically evaluate the literature's strengths, limitations, and relevance to your study.
  5. Highlight key insights and explain how they inform your research question or hypothesis in the conclusion.

Example of how to discuss sources in a research proposal

Previous studies have described in detail how to teach introductory IT courses using diverse approaches (Owens et al., 2013, Evans, 2018). Other researchers highlight the importance of changing how students are taught IT due to learners being exposed to technology today (Soloway, 2012). They state that graphics and event-based approaches should be used to motivate IT students. These are among the numerous discussions in the literature. However, these studies lack empirical evidence to support the real effect of their approaches on introductory IT learning. This highlights a need for an accurate evaluation tool for IT courses during the first year of study.

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5. Describe Your Research Design and Methods

The objective of the design section of a research proposal is to persuade your audience that the overall analysis approach will address the issue under investigation correctly. You also must convince readers that your methodological selections are relevant to the specific subject matter. Remember that this part should be connected to your objectives and aims.

After identifying the relevant independent and dependent variables and defining their relationship, the next step is to select and present your study design. Common study models in scientific research proposals include observational and experimental design.

To select an appropriate study design, it is important to consider various criteria and carefully evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of your preferred approach. Additionally, potential confounding variables associated with your decision should be taken into account. 

Here is an example of how to write a proposal paper for this segment.

Research design proposal example

The proposed study is based on a quantitative strategy with a focus on experimental design. The research will be conducted in phases starting with the process of producing an evaluation tool followed by its analysis, and lastly, testing to confirm its various parameters. These stages aim to ensure the generation of a reliable and valid product. Since human participants are involved at some stages, particularly during the testing part, seeking approval from the Institutional Review Board before commencing the inquiry is necessary.

Research Proposal Methods Section

The methods section of a research proposal outlines the techniques to be used for data collection, analyses, and tests to ensure the validity. To begin, develop a plan for executing your work and explain how you will interpret your results in accordance with the project's objectives. In this section, discuss the sources and practices that will be used to conduct the study.

Identify key authors, manuscripts, databases, or locations that will be critical to the project. The aim is to establish and justify the methodology that will be used to achieve the research goals. Your choices will depend on the variables to be measured and how they are interrelated. 

Popular techniques include conducting surveys and questionnaires. Remember to cite any literature used to clarify your choices. To gain more insight into how to write a methodology for a research proposal, consider the following example:

Methods section of research proposal example

For this study, a web-based survey will be developed. The participants include educators who are involved in advancing the IT curriculum. An invitation shall be sent to them asking for their voluntary involvement in evaluating the relevance of the instrument, as this aids in determining its validity. The survey contains two sets of questions. The first group focuses on gaining data about the types of units first-year IT students study and the involvement of educators in these courses. The next category acts as a follow-up of the first questions’ contents. Participants will offer their views about selected topics from the course.

6. Emphasize Your Contribution to the Field

It is also a good idea to spell out how you expect your research project proposal will extend, revise, or improve existing knowledge in your field. In other words, discuss the implications of your project to readers. While predicting outcomes with certainty is challenging, aim to be clear about their scope and nature, as well as the individuals who will benefit from the research.

Ensure that the contribution of your research project is directly related to your exploration aims. The impact of your study can be at the theoretical or practical level, or both. For instance, it could result in the development of a new data analysis technique or a deeper theoretical understanding. You should consider how your investigation will contribute to addressing issues in your field and what it will mean for others in your focus area. It is essential to explain these possibilities in your scientific proposal. 

Nonetheless, you should be realistic when identifying your expected conclusions. Don’t promise things that cannot be achieved. Rather, reflect carefully on existing gaps and demonstrate the way your work will address some or all of the problems. 

The sample below shows how to write a research proposal contribution section.

Implications in research topic proposal example

This work aims to identify the relationship between the techniques for teaching IT. The findings will help teachers and researchers understand the basic skills required for first-year IT students regardless of the instruction approach. Besides, the development of a valid and reliable evaluation tool will enable course tutors to benchmark for units focusing on the effectiveness of various styles of IT instruction. Teachers can use the instrument to examine whether a specific teaching method enhances IT student performance. This will, in turn, allow them to know which tactics are good and which ones are inadequate. The poor techniques can then be reassessed and enhanced.

7. Conclude Your Research Proposal

In the conclusion section, reiterate the importance of your research proposal and provide a brief summary of your entire work. This section should be concise and to-the-point. 

Begin by discussing the reasons why your research is necessary. In other words, how is it unique, and how will it advance current views in the field?

In the research proposal conclusion, it is vital to:

  1. State the purpose of the experiment and the questions to be answered.
  2. Explain the suitability of the chosen design and methods.
  3. Describe how the research fits into the broader field and anticipate the outcomes.
  4. Encourage feedback and engagement from the audience.
  5. Summarize the proposal's key points and emphasize its significance in advancing knowledge in the field.

Here is how to do a research proposal conclusion:

Conclusion of a research paper proposal example

My proposed study is important and original because it will enhance the teaching of first-year IT courses in higher education institutions. The investigation particularly seeks to demonstrate the importance of using valid and reliable tools when developing a curriculum. Existing instruments are not supported by scientific evidence, differ in which factors they consider, and are mostly meant for final-year students. Thus, there is a need to create one to help tutors design appropriate instruction techniques for first-year students. The development of the tool will also enable educators and institutions to improve inadequate techniques.

8. Make a Research Proposal Reference List

As with other scholarly tasks, writing a paper proposal also requires citing any sources used. A list of references contains all the literature quoted in your project’s body. Ensure that everything here also appears within your work’s content. As you write your research proposal, referring to original texts only is advisable as this helps you identify or avoid any errors. 

Generally, mentioning citations demonstrates that you did an adequate level of initial investigation to ensure that your study will enhance past efforts. Remember to prepare this section based on the format specified in your task instructions. 

Usually, this part is excluded from the word count of research projects proposals.

Example of a research proposal references

Research proposal reference list example

9. Include a Budget

If you intend to conduct a simple study, you may not be required to include this section. Nevertheless, if you are seeking funding for your project, then it is essential to offer a detailed budget in your proposal showing the cost of each main segment. Start by predicting and determining the total of all aspects of your work and add extra allowances for unforeseen events, price increases, and delays.

The major elements in your application will include equipment, personnel, supplies and materials, publication and printing, lease of facilities, travel, overhead, and extras. Remember to present how much money you need to complete the whole project, justify why those funds are necessary, and describe how you arrived at your final amount. Also, state your financial plan on a yearly basis and ensure to confirm the types of expenses your agency covers. This helps in focusing on relevant components only as you write a study proposal.

10. Proofread and Edit a Research Proposal Draft

Proofreading your proposal before delivering it is also vital, just like in other types of writing tasks. You can ask colleagues, friends, or even your supervisor to read your work and offer suggestions and feedback. This process acts as an error check system to help you improve your piece. 

Remember that the intention of writing your research proposal is to ensure that it is not rejected because of simple mistakes that can be corrected easily. Even if you are an experienced scholar, you can make sentence, structural, grammatical, or stylistic errors when writing a proposal for a research paper. Therefore, editing boosts your approval chances by identifying faults and enhancing your compliance with the required academic format.

Research Proposal Format

Most institutions or agencies usually offer information on how to format a research proposal. Some may provide complete templates in a specific layout with instructions about section contents. The styles vary and include APA, Chicago, MLA, or Harvard.

The format primarily depends on the subject. For instance, APA style paper is more common for social and natural science works. MLA paper format is often preferred for projects in humanities.

Therefore, be sure that you read all the instructions about your task to understand a paper proposal format. If this is not stated explicitly, you may need to seek more information from any relevant department, agency, or supervisor. Don’t select any design unless a specific guideline permits you to do so.

Research Proposal Examples

There are countless examples of research proposals that you can find in your field or for your target publisher. Read them to get a good idea of what you should include in yours or which aspects readers want. Even though scientific research proposal examples will not show you all relevant things, considering several of them is helpful as you sharpen your writing skills for this type of work. Look at the following research paper proposal samples:

Research proposal example 1

Analysis of an Industry Sector
Business and Management
Paper type:
Research Paper
8.31 MB

Proposal paper example 2

Research Proposal to Investigate the Need to Change Regulations for Home Schools
Paper type:
Research Paper
2.87 MB

Research proposal sample 3

Research Proposal on Terrorism
Terrorism and Emergency Management
Paper type:
Research Paper
4.91 MB

Research Proposal Writing Tips

To avoid having to revise your research proposal paper, it is essential to ensure that it is written in the correct format. Here are additional tips on how to write a great research proposal:

  • Avoid overly tentative or hesitant language such as “it appears that…” etc. Rather, be confident with your statements such as “I argue that…”.
  • Use subheadings and bullet lists to break up large sections of your proposal.
  • Expect potential limitations of your project and address them directly to enhance it.
  • Ensure readers can skim your paper easily by highlighting all major sections and restating key arguments. This guides them through your manuscript.
  • Look for samples of other proposals in your study field and examine how they prepare their documents.

Research Proposal Checklist

Before submitting your paper, ensure that you have included all the relevant elements and offered enough details. Look at the following checklist on how to write a research proposal to make sure that you have complied with all requirements:

  • I have demonstrated the logical basis and feasibility of my work.
  • I included a clear question or hypothesis and provided its proper context.
  • I have justified my research topic proposal using the literature.
  • My project informs readers how I will explore an issue.
  • I have argued effectively in my research proposal why the study should be funded or approved.
  • My work is well-written and in compliance with the guidelines and style of a successful academic essay.
  • I have cited all the sources.

Bottom Line on How to Write a Research Proposal

The proposal phase is a critical aspect of the research process as it enables you to conduct thorough background research and planning before beginning your actual work. This article has provided a comprehensive overview of the basics and steps on how to write research proposals. 

By reviewing all the sections in this guide, you should be able to explain what a research proposal is. Additionally, to reinforce your understanding of key concepts, free research proposal samples have been provided. It is highly recommended to review these examples and practice writing to solidify your comprehension of the material. 

The next stage is crafting your study. Check this useful resource to see how to write a research paper.

Still Unsure of Where to Start With Your Proposal?

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FAQ About Research Proposals

1. What makes a good research proposal?

A good research proposal should demonstrate that you are conversant with the relevant literature in your field and describe what you will do. An effective paper:

  • Mentions specific aims.
  • Is inventive and original.
  • Has preliminary data.
  • Explains your approach.
  • Identifies your work’s importance concerning the specific problem.
  • Describes its contribution to the wider literature and field of study.

3. What tense should I use when writing a research proposal?

Your research proposal comprises three central parts. They include an introduction, a literature review, and a methodology, respectively. Each one of them has several subheadings. However, write your first section in the present tense, the second one using the past tense, and apply the future tense in your last segment.

2. How to start a research proposal?

Begin a research proposal by selecting a topic before formulating a question or hypothesis or a working thesis. This part of the writing process is very important because it will assist you in developing a solid basis for your project. Thus, set aside sufficient time for this section.

4. How to write a research paper proposal?

Write a research paper proposal in an unbiased and formal tone, just like you do for other types of academic essays. It is also important to be precise by complying with the general framework of these kinds of papers. In particular, a proposal for a research paper should contain at least a title page, introduction, literature review, design and methods, and reference list. Your reader is aware of these elements and expects you to include them. Remember to present your work logically and clearly.

Article posted on:Mar 13, 2023
Article updated on:May 27, 2024


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