The goal of a research proposal is to present and justify the need to study a research problem and to present the practical ways in which the proposed study should be conducted. The design elements and procedures for conducting the research are governed by standards within the predominant discipline in which the problem resides, so guidelines for research proposals are more exacting and less formal than a general project proposal. Research proposals contain extensive literature reviews. They must provide persuasive evidence that a need exists for the proposed study. In addition to providing a rationale, a proposal describes detailed methodology for conducting the research consistent with requirements of the professional or academic field and a statement on anticipated outcomes and/or benefits derived from the study’s completion.
How to Approach Writing a Research Proposal
- Develop your skills in thinking about and designing a comprehensive research study;
- Learn how to conduct a comprehensive review of the literature to ensure a research problem has not already been answered
- Improve your general research and writing skills;
- Practice identifying the logical steps that must be taken to accomplish one’s research goals;
- Critically review, examine, and consider the use of different methods for gathering and analyzing data related to the research problem; Nurture a sense of inquisitiveness within yourself and to help see yourself as an active participant in the process of doing research.
A proposal should contain all the key elements involved in designing a research study, with sufficient information that allows readers to assess the validity and usefulness of your proposed study. The only elements missing from a research proposal are the discussion and conclusion. Finally, an effective proposal is judged on the quality of your writing and, therefore, it is important that your writing is coherent, clear, and compelling.
Research Proposals must Address the Following Questions:
- What do you plan to accomplish? Be clear and precise in defining the research problem.
- Why do you want to do it? In addition to detailing your research design, you must conduct a thorough review of the literature and provide convincing evidence that it is a topic worthier to be studied.
- How are you going to do it? Be sure that what you propose is doable.
Common Mistakes to Avoid
- Failing to be concise; being “all over the map” without a clear sense of purpose.
- Failing to cite landmark works in your literature review.
- Failing to delimit the contextual boundaries of your research [e.g., time, place, people, etc.].
- Failing to develop a coherent and persuasive argument for the proposed research.
- Failing to stay focused on the research problem; going off on unrelated tangents.
- Failing to have a precise writing, or good grammar.
- Failing to provide enough detail on major issues
Structure and Writing Style
Beginning the Proposal Process
As with writing a regular academic paper, research proposals are generally organized the same way throughout most disciplines. Proposals vary between ten and twenty-five pages in length.
A good place to begin is to ask yourself a series of questions:
- What do I want to study?
- Why is the topic important?
- How is it significant within the subject area?
- What problems will it help to solve?
- How does it build upon [and hopefully go beyond] research already conducted on the topic?
- What exactly should I plan to do?
- Can I get it done in the time available?
In general, a compelling research proposal should document your knowledge of the topic and demonstrate your enthusiasm for conducting the study. Approach it with the intention of leaving your readers with words of high appreciation
In General your Proposal should include the following Sections or Components
Your introduction should be treated as the initial pitch of an idea or a thorough examination of the significance of a research problem. After reading the introduction, your readers should not only have an understanding of what you want to do, but they should also be able to gain a sense of your passion for the topic and be excited about the study’s possible outcomes.
Think about your introduction as a narrative written in one to three paragraphs that precisely answers the following four questions:
- What is the central research problem?
- What is the topic of study related to that problem?
- What methods should be used to analyze the research problem?
- Why is this important research, what is its significance and why should someone reading the proposal care about the outcomes of the proposed study?
2. Background and Significance
This section can be melded into your introduction or you can create a separate section to help with the organization and narrative flow of your proposal. This is where you explain the context of your proposal and describe in detail why it’s important. Approach writing this section with the thought that you can’t assume your readers will know as much about the research problem as you do. This section is not an essay going over everything you have learned about the topic; instead, you must choose what is relevant to help explain the goals of the study.
Following are the key points that should be addressed in this section:
- State the research problem and give a more detailed explanation about the purpose of the study. This is particularly important if the problem is complex or multifaceted in nature.
- Present the rationale of your proposed study and clearly indicate why it is worth doing.
- Describe the major issues or problems to be addressed by your research. Be sure to note how your proposed study builds on previous assumptions about the research problem.
- Explain how you plan to go about conducting your research. Clearly identify the key sources you intend to use and explain how they will contribute to your analysis of the topic.
- Set the boundaries of your proposed research in order to provide a clear focus.
If necessary, provide definitions of key concepts or terms.
3. Literature Review
Connected to the background and significance of your study is a section of your proposal devoted to a more deliberate review of prior studies related to the research problem under investigation. The purpose here is to place your project within the larger whole of what is currently being explored, while demonstrating that your work is original and innovative. Think about what questions other researchers have asked, what methods they have used, and what is your understanding of their findings. Do not be afraid to challenge the conclusions of prior research. Assess what you believe is missing and state how previous research has failed to adequately examine the issue that your study addresses.
Since a literature review is information dense, it is crucial that this section is intelligently structured to enable a reader to grasp the key arguments underpinning your study in relation to that of other researchers. A good strategy is to break the literature into “conceptual categories” [themes] rather than systematically describing groups of materials one at a time. Note that conceptual categories generally reveal themselves after you have read most of the pertinent literature on your topic so adding new categories is an on-going process of discovery as you read more studies. How do you know you’ve covered the key conceptual categories underlying the research literature? Generally, you can have confidence that all of the significant conceptual categories have been identified if you start to see repetition in the conclusions or recommendations that are being made.
To help frame your proposal’s literature review, here are the “five C’s” of writing a literature review:
- Cite, so as to keep the primary focus on the literature pertinent to your research problem.
- Compare the various arguments, theories, methodologies, and findings expressed in the literature: what do the authors agree on? Who applies similar approaches to analyzing the research problem?
- Contrast the various arguments, themes, methodologies, approaches, and controversies expressed in the literature: what are the major areas of disagreement, controversy, or debate?
- Critique the literature: Which arguments are more persuasive, and why? Which approaches, findings, methodologies seem most reliable, valid, or appropriate, and why? Pay attention to the verbs you use to describe what an author says/does [e.g., asserts, demonstrates, argues, etc.].
- Connect the literature to your own area of research and investigation: how does your own work draw upon, depart from or add a new perspective to what has been said in the literature?
4 .Research Design and Methods
This section must be well-written and logically organized because you are not actually doing the research, yet, your reader has to have confidence that it is worth pursuing. The reader will never have a study outcome from which to evaluate whether your methodological choices were the correct ones. Thus, the objective here is to convince the reader that your overall research design and methods of analysis will correctly address the problem and that the methods will provide the means to effectively interpret the potential results. Your design and methods should be unmistakably tied to the specific aims of your study.
Describe the overall research design by building upon and drawing examples from your review of the literature. Consider not only methods that other researchers have used but methods of data gathering that have not been used but perhaps could be. Be specific about the methodological approaches you plan to undertake to obtain information, the techniques you would use to analyze the data, and the tests of external validity to which you commit yourself.
5. Preliminary Suppositions and Implications
Just because you don’t have to actually conduct the study and analyze the results, it doesn’t mean you can skip writing about the analytical process and potential implications. The purpose of this section is to argue how and in what ways you believe your research will refine, revise, or extend existing knowledge in the subject area under investigation. Depending on the aims and objectives of your study, describe how the anticipated results will impact future research, theory or practice..
The conclusion reiterates the importance or significance of your proposal and provides a brief summary of the entire study. This section should be only one or two paragraphs long, emphasizing why the research problem is worth investigating, why your research study is unique, and how it should add into existing knowledge.
Someone reading this section should come away with an understanding of:
- The purpose of carrying out the study,
- The specific purpose of the study and the research questions it attempts to answer,
- The decision to why the research design and methods used were chosen over other options,
- The potential implications emerging from your proposed study of the research problem,
- A sense of how your study fits within the broader scholarship about the research problem.
As with any scholarly research paper or project, you must cite the sources you used in composing your proposal. In a standard research proposal, this section can take two forms, so consult with your supervisor about which one is preferred.
- References –It lists only the literature that you actually used or cited in your proposal.
- Bibliography –It lists everything you used or cited in your proposal, with additional citations to any key sources relevant to understanding the research problem
Research is important and/or timely • State and justify your objectives clearly (“because it is interesting” is not enough!) • Make sure you answer the questions: how will the research benefit the wider society or contribute to the research community?