Barbara P
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Writing a Research Proposal - Definition, Steps, & Examples

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Published on: Apr 19, 2023

Last updated on: Jun 6, 2023

Research Proposal

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Students submit their research proposals before they write their thesis. It is a formal document and it is the cornerstone of theses and dissertations.

This blog explains what a research proposal is, the steps to write a research proposal successfully, and has useful examples and tips also.

Because it is important for a student’s research project, many students are worried that they may not be able to write their proposal properly. For such students, we have presented and explained the steps involved in writing a good research proposal.

These steps are presented in an easy-to-understand way and they will help you write your proposal quickly and properly.

Read the blog to have complete information.

Research Proposal Definition

‘What is a research proposal?’

A research proposal is a formal research project that is written and submitted before working on a thesis or dissertation. A student’s research is based on the acceptance of this proposal.

The goal of a research proposal is to introduce the research topic and justify the need for the proposed research. The procedure to conduct the research and the research elements are according to the field of study.

This document has an extensive research literature review that backs the writer’s claims. It proves the need for a specific study and provides a proper rationale for it.

Besides, it also describes the research methodology that would be as per the subject. For example, an economics student will use qualitative research methodology to conduct the research.

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Purpose for Writing a Research Proposal

Your teacher may assign the research proposal for several reasons. Here are some of them;

  • To develop your skills in thinking and developing a complete and detailed research study.
  • To help you learn how to conduct a relevant and proper literature review. This will help in identifying the gaps in research and supporting the need for your research.
  • To help you improve your writing and research skills.
  • To make sure that you identify the steps to achieve your research goals.
  • Practice your review skills by critically reviewing and examining the data collection and analysis methods.
  • Support and nurture inquisitiveness in the student and help you participate actively in the research process.

A research proposal must include all the elements that are involved in designing and conducting complete research. It should have enough information to allow the readers to assess the usefulness of the study.

The only sections that are not added are the research findings and their analysis. A proposal must be well-written, clear, and engaging.

Here is a research proposal example and a research proposal template;

Research Proposal Example

Research Proposal Outline

An outline is an important part of a research proposal. The outline for a research paper includes the following sections;

a. Introduction

An introduction is the first chapter of a research proposal. And undoubtedly the most important one. The introduction should answer the following questions;

      • What is the main research problem?
      • What is the specific research topic?
      • What is the research methodology?
      • What is the significance of the research?

The chapter must also inform about the expected research outcomes.

b. Background and Significance of the Research

It is the second chapter and here, the student explains the content of the research and explains its importance.

When writing this section, do not assume that your readers would know about the topic as much as you do.

Add relevant background information. Address the following things when explaining the significance of the research;

      • State the research problem and provide a detailed explanation of the purpose of the research problem. Add more details here than what you have added in the introduction chapter, especially if you are dealing with a complex problem.
      • Present the reasons for doing the respective research. Answer the ‘so what?’ question clearly.
      • State and explain the main issues that you aim to discuss and solve through your research. You can present these issues in the form of questions.
      • Explain the research methodology of your research. Identify the tools and sources that you will use for the research and explain how they are helpful.
      • Discuss the limitations of your research.
      • Add the definitions of key terminology.

c. Literature Review

The literature review is an elaborate section. Here, the writer reviews previous studies and explains how they are relevant to their own research.

He also highlights the gaps in those studies and explains how his research will fill those gaps. When writing your literature review, consider the following five C’s of writing it;

      • Cite - Cite all the studies and research world that you have discussed.
      • Compare - Compare the arguments, theories, and results given by those studies and discuss the several controversies and issues raised by the researchers.
      • Contrast - Draw contrasts between the arguments, themes, and approaches given in the literature.
      • Critique - Critique the literature. Which arguments are more logical? What theories and methodologies are relevant? Discuss all this and explain the validity of your research.
      • Connect - Connect the researched literature with your research. How is your research relevant to the added literature? How does it add a new perspective to the existing research?

d. Research Methodology and Design

Describe the entire research design and methodology of the research. Draw upon the examples and benefits of those research methods by referring to the literature discussed in the previous section.

When discussing the methodology, add the following things to it;

      • Identify and explain the research process that you will use to obtain the desired results. Do not just discuss the methods by explaining how you will do it.
      • Do not add the methods as a list of tasks. Discuss the method and each task individually and explain why this particular task is important for the research.
      • Acknowledge and inform the readers about any possible limitations and barriers in obtaining the desired results. No method is 100% and when writing this part, discuss the possible hurdles and challenges.

e. Preliminary Assumptions

State the results that you hope to obtain from the research. Here, explain the results that you want and hope to acquire from your research.

When assuming the results, answer the following questions;

      • How will the obtained results challenge the research’s theoretical framework and preliminary assumptions?
      • How would the results make way for new studies?
      • What are the implications of these findings for practitioners who work in natural settings?
      • Will the results affect the existing programs, methods, and studies?
      • How will the results contribute to solving any social, economical, or political problem?
      • Will the obtained results affect the policy-related decisions?
      • How would your research benefit different groups and organizations?
      • What change or improvement would occur as a result of your research?
      • What practical applications or game-changing insights might emerge as a result of the study's implementation?

f. Conclusion

The conclusion restates the importance and significance of your research topic. It also provides a brief summary of the entire study.

Here are the elements that a conclusion must have;

      • Why should the study be conducted?
      • What is the purpose of the study and the research question it is addressing?
      • Why were the specific research designs and methodologies used?
      • What are the potential results of your research?
      • How does your research fit within the broader aspect?

g. Citations

The citations are added at the end of the proposal. Like any academic project, a research proposal must also have a complete list of references and a bibliography at the end.

    • References - The list of works that are cited in the proposal.
    • Bibliography - The list of works that are used and cited in the proposal.

Steps to Write a Research Proposal

Here are the steps to write a research proposal;

1. Brainstorming

For doing your initial research, you need to conduct some brainstorming. You can do it with friends, relatives or alone. Brainstorming is one of the most important steps in proposal writing because you need to come up with ideas for academic papers.

2. Research

After brainstorming, you need to do the actual research. Collect the data and make some observations about what you have found out.

Once you are done with your initial investigation and observation, proceed with collecting and organizing all the necessary and relevant information on a particular topic.

3. Writing

Now that you know everything there is to know about your topic, it's time to write the proposal. Write the intro and make sure that it is attention-grabbing.

The body of your paper should consist of all your brainstorming notes, research information, and observations, while the conclusion paragraph should summarize everything you have written in your essay.

4. Proofreading

The final step in writing a research proposal is to proofread your essay. Make sure all the sentences make sense, you've written what you set out to write and there are no grammatical or spelling errors.

If possible, let someone else read through your proposal to see if they can find any mistakes you might have missed.

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Research Proposal Topic Ideas

Here are some good research proposal topics;

  • The effects of changing sea levels on coastal communities.
  • The impact of mass tourism in developing countries and the effect on cultural identity and economy.
  • A comparative study between Henry David Thoreau's Walden and Émile Zola's Le Reve shows the commonalities and differences between their ideas about nature, society, and nurture.
  • The value of pop culture in representing the changes in American society over the past century.
  • Analysis of how different forms of media (print, film, music) portray war and its participants.
  • How British Romantic poets valued nature differently from each other based on their political ideologies.
  • The historical origins of the relationship between poverty and crime.
  • Child labor and its effect on education and society in 19th century Great Britain and America.
  • Evaluating the value of advertisements in promoting consumerism in modern societies, past and present.
  • A comparison between the political rhetoric in speeches by Barack Obama and John F Kennedy.
  • How Sigmund Freud's theories on sex influenced scientific thinking about sexuality during the 20th century.
  • The history of using fear to control public opinion, with an emphasis on how it was used in America in the 1950s and the 2000s.
  • An inquiry into how the use of music as propaganda has altered its artistic and emotional impact over time.
  • The effects of the Black Death on art, literature, and society in Renaissance Europe.
  • How European colonialism influenced Western concepts of beauty and racial difference by glorifying white women in literature and art while portraying all others as 'exotic' or inferior.

You can customize the topics as per your requirement and use them to compose an impressive research proposal.

Common Research Proposal Mistakes

Here are some common research proposal mistakes to avoid;

  • Not following the format given by the organization you're applying for.
  • Writing an unprofessional abstract which does not grab the attention of your target audience.
  • Forgetting to include your hypothesis or research question, or using the wrong words like aim, problem, objective, and not making it clear whether you're testing a hypothesis or conducting an experiment.
  • Not knowing your target audience and how to appeal to them through your proposal.
  • Using the passive voice in a research question/hypothesis/research proposal or introduction instead of an active voice makes it sound weak.
  • Using overly complicated language because you think only smart people will read your proposal which can be associated with arrogance or low self-esteem, avoid this by breaking down the text into smaller paragraphs and using simple words where possible (avoid big words like utilization; utilize means use).
  • Not including any ethical guidelines.
  • Not including keywords (which are search terms) in the research proposal/abstract, if it's for a conference they may be included in the program so check this beforehand.
  • No references are cited in your research proposal or paper which is not plagiarism but shows carelessness and lack of interest in the topic.
  • Including too much irrelevant information in the proposal, which makes it look like you are trying to fit ideas into your proposal rather than the other way round, avoid this by organizing your ideas into subheadings or bullet points keeping only relevant information in each section, and not writing essays within an essay.

Avoiding these mistakes is important to craft an engaging and good research proposal.

Tips to Write a Good Research Proposal

Writing a good research proposal for a successful research project. Here are some tips to write a good research proposal;

  • Choose a worthy and engaging research topic.
  • Develop an in-depth research question.
  • Formulate a hypothesis; this should be the central argument for your study, so choose wisely and with care.
  • Frame your research question within the context of existing literature
  • Review all source materials before beginning to write.
  • Don't leave any gaps in the bibliography of your research proposal.
  • Create an outline of the paper and stick to it.
  • Learn how to construct a sentence correctly and not use fragments or run-ons, and learn how comma usage can change meaning in sentences and vary depending on context and intended emphasis.
  • If you're writing at the college level, never write in the first person.
  • Proofread your work over and over again, using both human critique and computer-assisted spell checkers to catch errors.
  • Avoid writing long sentences with multiple clauses; these are difficult to understand for many readers (and remember that some of them may not be native English speakers).
  • Be aware of the language you are using, and try to use appropriate vocabulary.
  • Keep the structure of your sentences simple.
  • Use subheadings to improve clarity where appropriate.
  • Your writing style should be engaging, but not too informal or conversational, which is more suited for a term paper at the university level or lower or just presentation slides in conferences.
  • Don't be afraid to ask questions or consult other sources if you're unsure about how to phrase something or why a certain practice is done in academic writing.

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Barbara P


Barbara P, Literature, Marketing

Barbara's qualifications include a Ph.D. in public health from an Ivy League university and extensive experience working practically in the medical field. With her research experience on various health issues, she is skilled in writing papers that offer new perspectives on healthcare topics. Many of her works have been published across multiple renowned publications.

Barbara's qualifications include a Ph.D. in public health from an Ivy League university and extensive experience working practically in the medical field. With her research experience on various health issues, she is skilled in writing papers that offer new perspectives on healthcare topics. Many of her works have been published across multiple renowned publications.

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