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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 June 13, 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, other interesting articles, 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
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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: “Medical Students as Mediators of Change in Tobacco Use”
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?
If you want to know more about the research process , methodology , research bias , or statistics , make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples.
- Sampling methods
- Simple random sampling
- Stratified sampling
- Cluster sampling
- Likert scales
- Null hypothesis
- Statistical power
- Probability distribution
- Effect size
- Poisson distribution
- Optimism bias
- Cognitive bias
- Implicit bias
- Hawthorne effect
- Anchoring bias
- Explicit bias
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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12+ Research Work Plan Templates in PDF | MS Word
A work plan is an overview of a series of objectives and procedures by which a team and/or entity can achieve those goals and provide the reader with a clearer picture of the project’s context. No matter if it is used in professional or academic life, work plans serve the purpose of helping you stay focused when working on a certain project. You disintegrate a process into tiny, manageable tasks by work schedules , and define the tasks you want to achieve.
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Step 1: Think About the Objectives
Step 2: introduction and background, step 3: list the resources, step 4: anticipate and define limitations, step 5: assign roles, step 6: write the strategy, determine goals and objectives, organize teams and leadership, establish project timelines, set project budget, quality assurance and control, more in plan templates.
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How to write a research proposal?
On this page, we give you a handy step-by-step plan and a good structure for your research proposal.
What is a research proposal?
A research proposal, thesis plan, project proposal or plan of approach? You have to write a thesis for your study. First stop? Drafting a research proposal! In your research proposal, you describe the main theme of your thesis. The research proposal forces you to think carefully about what you will research and how you will do it before you begin your research (graduation research). What is the reason for this research? What is the intended end result and what conditions are set by your HBO program (and the company)?
Why do you write a research proposal?
You write a research proposal before you start your graduation process. Firstly, because it is required by your program. Your supervisor wants to see what your plans are and can then adjust where necessary. But it is also important for you to write a good thesis proposal. Your thesis proposal will be the basis and main theme of your graduation.
Research proposal example
You can view an example of a research proposal through your program or online. You can find it online through the HBO knowledge base.
Research proposal – step-by-step plan
Writing a research proposal can be difficult. Where do you start? Use the simple step-by-step plan from Topscriptie! Each step is explained in the following paragraphs. Further on, you will also find a complete and concrete structure for your research proposal. If you still find it difficult, that’s normal. But with the right tips ( and 1-on-1 support from Topscriptie ) you can handle this task very well!
Step 1. Explore the task
Explore the task and start with a preliminary research! How to get to a good preliminary research? Collect some basic information about the client and the problem that needs to be solved. If you want to write a plan of action, you have to know what you’re talking about! A good start is a conversation with the client, where you establish what kind of company you are dealing with. What is the problem? When and where does it occur within the organization? What are the developments in the organization and the environment that play a role in this problem? Dare to ask questions and make clear agreements. What is the final product you are working towards? What conditions does the client set for this?
Step 2. Check all conditions
Now you know what the client expects from you. But what does your HBO education require from you? Usually, there are some rules at a university of applied sciences regarding the desired structure of a plan of action. How should your plan of action be structured? What parts may not be missing? Find out! You can find out what requirements your education imposes on your plan of action and your thesis/professional product in the graduation regulation of the university of applied sciences you attend.
And… what are actually the conditions that must be met so that you can successfully complete your research? What support in terms of material and time do you need and from whom, in order to complete the research successfully?
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Step 3. Set the structure
Many university students find it difficult to bring structure to their work plan or have it rejected. No need! Topscriptie is happy to help with your work plan. The foundation is a good layout. A work plan is often made up of a number of fixed components. Again, discuss with your client what their expectations are and check the requirements of your specific university program!
Structure of your research proposal: the basics
Below is an example of what a thesis plan structure might look like:
- Table of contents
- Problem investigation
- Literature review
Step 4. Write the content
On the title page you can mention the following:
- Title of your work plan (possibly a subtitle);
- Name of the client (usually the name of the company and the contact details of your business supervisor);
- Degree and educational institution;
- Contact details of your thesis supervisor(s) from the educational institution (usually you mention the initials and surname);
- Date and place (use the date when you submit your work plan);
After the cover, the summary and the table of contents, you start with the actual content of your work plan. You begin with an introduction, in which you introduce the subject and the client of your research to the reader and arouse their interest. You go deeper into the organization or subject, such as the size of the organization, the activities and customers, the current situation and developments within the company and the external environment.
You always start with a situation analysis. In this you describe the client (organization) for which you will conduct the research. When describing the organization, you can for example go into:
A good guide when writing the content of your work plan is to focus on relevant information that makes the problem clear. Many university students make the mistake of going into too much detail about minor details. Don’t do it!
Problem analysis: research question & sub-questions
In problem analysis, you explain the reason for your research. You need to formulate this problem into one clear research question and any possible sub-questions. These main and sub-questions must be measurable and answerable. Use neutral (objective) words when formulating your problem statement. A useful tool for outlining the problem statement is the 5W’s: what, why, where, who, when :
An example of a main question:
What measures must be taken to increase the data quality of all ABC files within the portfolios that can be sold within department X of Organization Y to achieve a data quality of 95%?
Problem exploration: formulate the final result
What will your research yield? What will you deliver in the end? This could be, for example, an advice, or a strategic marketing plan. What requirements must the result meet from the client? It is important to clearly indicate what the final product will be of your research and thesis/professional product. This also includes the delimitation of your research: what belongs to the problem and what does not? This way, the university (and the company) knows exactly what you will be researching and avoids ambiguity or conflicts.
Sometimes it can help to use the fishbone diagram (the Ishikawa diagram) for problem analysis. This makes it easy to analyze a problem.
Problem exploration: SMART goals
No one benefits from vague goals that have no support within the organization and do not lead to a concrete final result. Give your goals a SMART formulation!
The goal of your research is to collect factual, empirical information and to acquire knowledge and insight (into the problem, the causes of the problem, and possible solutions) that you need to solve the problem.
Finally, summarize your research goal in one sentence, e.g.: “Gain insight into… (what you want to know) …, in order to… (what you want to improve).
What has already been researched and known about your topic? What theories, views, models, and discussions have already been published about the problem you are researching? You provide an (initial) explanation of the theory and use various high-quality sources. A theoretical framework supports your research. What do you treat and what not? A useful tool is to select the core concepts from your problem analysis, objective, research question and sub-questions. You can examine and delimit these concepts in your theoretical framework. Also indicate what your research adds to the existing knowledge about this topic.
There are many different research methods. In what way will you perform your research? Do you choose qualitative or quantitative research, or a mix of these types? What technique will you use? Do you choose interviews, surveys, observations or another technique? In this chapter, you not only indicate which research methods you choose, but also hów you will do it, why you choose it, how you ensure good reliability and validity and who your research population is. The choice of your research methods must logically match your problem statement and objectives.
And further… sources, planning, and annexes
You finish your research proposal with a bibliography (often in APA style), where you list your sources. Then you can show the planning of your research, indicating who will do what and when. This way you and your supervisor can monitor the progress of your research and adjust it if necessary. A plan is an important tool to create an overview for yourself and mentally prepare yourself for what is to come.
After the planning, you can include any annexes in your research proposal. Ensure a logical structure in your story and consider your language use. Have your research proposal checked by a linguist from Topscriptie!
Would you like to get some help with your thesis proposal? Please contact us.
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Thesis, major paper, and major project proposals
- Introductory section
- Literature review
- Other potential elements
- Proposal references
- Ask for help
If you're unsure if your research proposal requires a schedule or work plan, please consult your project handbook and/or speak with your instructor, advisor, or supervisor.
The information about schedules or work plans in proposals was gathered from RRU thesis and major project handbooks, current in 2020, from programs in the Faculty of Social and Applied Sciences, the Faculty of Management, and the College of Interdisciplinary Studies. If the details here differ from the information provided in the handbook for your project, please follow the handbook's directions.
Image credit: Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay
- In RRU's Anxiety About Academic Writing guide, this resource is open to everyone.
How Do I Plan the Various Stages of My Research Project?
- In SAGE Research Methods: Planning and Practicalities, look for How Do I Plan the Various Stages of My Research Project? drop down option. Access via this link requires a RRU username and password.
Learning Skills: Time Management
- In RRU's Learning Skills guide, this resource is open to everyone.
What Do I Need to Know About Time and Timetabling?
- In SAGE Research Methods: Planning and Practicalities, look for the What Do I Need to Know About Time and Timetabling? drop down option. Access via this link requires a RRU username and password.
Image credit: Image by Mohamed Assan from Pixabay
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- Last Updated: May 9, 2023 9:40 AM
- URL: https://libguides.royalroads.ca/proposals