Guide on how to write a research proposal

Guide on how to write a research proposal

A research proposal refers to a process of investigating a topic, ways to investigate the topic, and the importance of the topic. There are various formats used in a research proposal depending on the field of study, however, the most common format should consist of the following elements:

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  1. Cover
  2. Introduction/Research background
  3. Review of Literature
  4. Research methodology
  5. Bibliography list

The objective of the proposal should be the same, however, the sections of the research proposal are divided into several forms. The article on how to write a research proposal will walk you through a basic template and help in understanding what needs to be included in it.


  1. Main Purpose
  2. Title
  3. Introduction or Research background
  4. Review of Literature
  5. Research methodology
  6. Contribution and Implications towards knowledge
  7. Bibliography list
  8. Research timeline
  9. Budget
  10. Proofreading and rechecking

Main Purpose:
To get adequate funding for their projects, academic students need to know how to write a research proposal. Additionally, the research proposal plays a critical role in receiving approval for their thesis and dissertation plans.

Research proposals should aim at persuading funding bodies, educational professors, or institutions that your research project is valuable.


Aims of research proposals

Importance: You need to convince the audience that your work is important, interesting, and not copied.

Context: You need to show that you are aware of the chosen field, understand the current situation, and have a strong theoretical knowledge to put forward your ideas.

Approach: Choose an appropriate methodology that will make the reader feel that you have thoroughly worked and thought upon the data, procedures, and tools which are required to conduct the research proposal.

Feasibility: Choose a project which can be completed within the proposed timeframe of the institution, and you are also aware of how to write a research proposal.

What should be the length of a research proposal?

The length of a research project varies depending on the education level. For example, a master’s or bachelor’s degree proposal consists of a few pages, whereas in a Ph.D. research project is long and detailed.

A proposal is usually written before the actual research; however, it provides a brief idea of the actual dissertation or thesis.

Similar to the dissertation and thesis, the research proposal will also have a title page that consists of the proposed research title, name, your professor’s name, department, and institution you study. You also need to check with your department if any specific formatting is required for the proposal.

Contents page or abstract
In cases like Ph.D. research projects, the proposals are long and detailed, then an abstract or contents page is required for easy navigation of the readers, and one should know how to write a research proposal and present it.

The introduction of your research proposal is a brief background to your proposed research, and thus it should clearly explain why you are conducting the study and how to write a research proposal. It includes:

  1. Background of the topic
  2. State research context
  3. State the research problem and hypothesis or research question(s)

Some of the important questions to be considered in the introduction section are:

  1. Who is the target audience of the research?
  2. To what extent has the research problem been investigated by past scholars?
  3. What are the gaps in current literature?
  4. What new knowledge will your research add to the existing topic?
  5. What is the significance of the research?

If your proposal is lengthy, you can add sub-sections like problem statement, aims and objectives, background and context, and importance of the project.

Review of Literature

It is important to portray the awareness of the past research outcome of the topic. Through a thorough review of the literature and knowing how to write a research proposal, you can convince the reader that you have a strong foundation on the selected topic. It also means that you are not just repeating what past scholars have already concluded.

This part focuses on displaying how your research project will put up future discussions in this study area.

  1. Compare and contrast: What are the important methods, arguments, controversies, and theories?
  2. Be critical: What are the advantages and disadvantages of various approaches?
  3. Depict how the research fits the topic: The way you will challenge, synthesize, or build on top of past scholars’ work?

Research Methodology

After the review of literature, one should reiterate the objectives, taking the focus back to their research proposal. Here, in this section, you need to answer all the practical steps and overall approach of your topic questions and understand how to write a research proposal.

Methods used in research proposal

Research Type:
  1. What type of research one should do? Quantitative or qualitative?
  2. Which data source will you use to work? Original or primary/secondary sources?
  3. What type of design will you use? Correlational, experimental, or descriptive.
Population and Sample
  1. Which article/sample will you specifically study?
  2. What should be the way of selecting your source or subject?
  3. Place and time of your data collection.
Research Methods
  1. To collect data and analyze it, which tools and procedures will be used?
  2. Explain the reason why your method of answering the questions is better than previous writers.
  1. How much time is taken to get the data?
  2. Mention the way you have gained access to your sources or participants?
  3. Do you predict any obstacle, mention the way you will address it?

Try not to write the methods simply; instead, make an argument as to why the method is valid, appropriate, and is the most reliable source to answer the research questions.

Contribution and Implications towards knowledge

To end your research proposal on a high note, you can look for the potential conclusion of your work and highlight the areas where you look to contribute to the existing topic or knowledge. Few examples which might have implications on how to write a research proposal are:

  1. Improvements in process for a specific field or location
  2. Inform the objectives for policy
  3. Providing more strength to a model or theory
  4. Challenge the assumptions made by science or is popular
  5. Setting up a base for further research work.

Bibliography list

When learning how to write a research proposal, you should aim to have a clear reference list and clear citation from all the sources you have referred to in your project. The reference list must consist of full details of the used sources, including the author’s name, year of publication, source title, and source link. You can either create a citation manually or use citation generator software.

In some projects, you are also asked to make a bibliography list, which consists of all the sources you have used in your proposal and the ones that you did not cite in the content. It can also include other sources that you intend to read in relevance to the project topic. The major aim of a reference list or a bibliography while working on how to write a research proposal is to show that you have consulted a wide range of literature to support your study.

Research Schedule

In some guidelines on how to write a research proposal, you might also be asked to include a clear timeline that details each stage of the project, and they require time to complete a particular stage.

For Example:

Research phase Objectives Deadline
Research background and review of literature
  • Meet your professor for topic discussion
  • Implement an extensive review of past literature on the topic
  • Filter the research questions
  • A theoretical framework should be formed
14th February
Research methodology
  • Designing of questionnaire
  • Identifying relevant channels for choosing participants both online and offline
  • Finalize sample size, sampling methods, and method for data interpretation
27th March
Data Collection and organization
  • Choose participants and send the questionnaire to the selected participants
  • Conduct structured interviews with a chosen sample of participants
  • Write interview transcriptions and organize survey data.
20th April
Data Analysis
  • Analyze the survey data using an appropriate statistical tool
  • Analyze interviews transcripts using the thematic analysis method
  • Draft the findings and discussion chapter.
30th June
  • Write an initial draft of the complete thesis.
  • Discuss the draft with the supervisor and obtain feedback.
26th July
  • Revise the full thesis based on received feedback
  • Get approval from the supervisor on the final completed project
  • Proofread
  • Submit the completed thesis.
31st August


Budget is an integral part while learning how to write a research proposal, as it helps in receiving funding for the research. While planning the research, you will have to include a detailed section for the budget stating how each part of your research will cost.

While planning the budget, you need to make sure the type of cost that can be received from the funding body and include only important items in your plan. Each item in the plan include:

  1. Cost: State the exact finances you need.
  2. Justification: The importance of the cost in a research process.
  3. Source: Methods used for calculating the amount.

To finalize your budget, consider the following:

  • Transportation Costs: While learning about writing a research proposal, you need to calculate the cost of travelling to various places to collect data (Example: Interviews, surveys).
  • Materials: This includes the cost of installing and training to access any tools or technology required in research.
  • Assistant: This includes the cost of hiring a research assistant for the project or the cost of outsourcing a part of research such as interview transcription.
  • Duration: The time you will spend on completing the research.

Revisions and Proofreading

Redrafting, editing, and proofreading is an essential part of your research proposal that you should do before submitting your completed project. You can also ask for help for proofreading or feedback from your supervisor and receive tips on writing a research proposal.

FAQ’s on how to write a research proposal

What should be included in a research proposal?

A complete proposal should include a title page, abstract, research context, research question, research methods, the importance of research, and bibliography.

Why is the research question important?

The research question clarifies the research process and helps in stating the research problem that the study intends to answer.

How to answer a research question?

The action that is taken to answer your main research question(s) includes a clear methodology section justifying the research approach, research design, data collection process, data analysis method, and ethical consideration.

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