How to Write a Research Proposal

How to Write a Research Proposal

Almost all academics, PhD and master degree students have to write a research proposal as part of a grad school application, or they might need to submit one before they start writing their thesis or dissertation. This article provide broad guidelines for writing a scientifically appropriate research proposal.

What is a Research Proposal?

A research proposal is a concise and coherent piece of academic writing that details exactly what you will be covering in your proposed research project. Regardless of your research area and the methodology you choose, all research proposals must address the following questions: what you will investigate, why the research is important, and how you are going to do it.

Generally, a research proposal should contain all the key elements involved in the research process and include sufficient information for the readers to evaluate the proposed study.

The goal of a research proposal

The main goal of the research proposal is to convince others (e.g. academic department) that you have a worthwhile research project and that you have the competence and the work-plan to complete it. Also, the proposal helps the university or the department to match your research interest with an appropriate supervisor.

Research Proposal Structure

Although you write it before you begin the research, the proposal’s structure usually looks like a shorter version of a thesis or dissertation (without the results and discussion sections). Your research proposal usually include the following:

  • Introduction

  • Research questions and/or objectives

  • Literature review

  • Research methods

  • Significance of the study

  • Ethical considerations

  • Bibliography and citations

If your proposal is very long, you might also have to include an abstract section and a table of contents to help the reader navigate the manuscript.

1. Introduction

In your proposal introduction section, you should give the reader a general knowledge of what the research is about tell the reader why your research is important. You also have to lay out the background of your research and show the relationship of your work and the wider field - you can include the most important scientific articles and briefly explain their objectives, summarize their results, and how they are related to your research.

At the end of the introduction, you should provide the reader with the your research objectives and research questions that your research work is going to answer.

2. Literature Review

In your literature review, you should show all sources of scientific evidence pertaining to the topic in interest. A strong literature review convinces the reader that your project has a solid foundation in existing knowledge or theory. This allow you to demonstrate a familiarity with the relevant field as well as the ability to communicate clearly and concisely. The literature review also gives you a chance to do the following:

  • Show your familiarity with the topic and its scholarly context

  • Develop a theoretical framework and methodology for your research

  • Position your work in relation to other researches and theories

  • Show how your research addresses a gap or contributes to a debate

  • Evaluate the current state of research and demonstrate your knowledge of the scholarly debates around your topic.

3. Research Methods

In this section you should explain how you are going to conduct your research. You should outline your research design, methods, key resources (e.g. law reports, journal articles). The methodology chapter should address the following:

  • The type of research you will do

  • How you will collect the data

  • How you will analyze the data

  • Tools and materials you will use in the research

  • Your rationale for choosing these methods

  • Discussing any ethical or philosophical considerations

4. Significance of the Study

This is the section where you explain why your research is scientifically significant and demonstrate the originality of your intended research by explaining how your research builds on and adds to the current knowledge in the field or by setting out reasons why it is timely to research your proposed topic.

This is also the section where you clearly define the existing problems your research will address. By doing this, you’re explaining why your work is necessary because there is a real problem you will address.

5. Ethical considerations

Ethical considerations are a set of principles that should be followed while doing your research design and practices on human. Ethical considerations includes the protection of the participants' rights, informed consent obtained from participants, voluntary participation, no physical or psychological harm, confidentiality and anonymity of the participants. The proposal should provide adequate information on each of these aspects.

6. Bibliography and Citation

While writing your proposal, you need to refer (cite) the original sources within your text, and these sources also should be properly referenced in the Bibliography (References) section. This procedure is necessary to enable readers to identify and locate the materials to which you have referred.

The citation and referencing process is governed by a strict rules (known as systems or styles). There are many different systems for the citation of references. The most common systems are Harvard, APA, Chicago, Vancouver, etc. Particular referencing systems are preferred by particular academic disciplines. If you’re not sure which system to use, refer to the university guidelines or ask your supervisor.


  • Holtom, D., & Fisher, E. (1999). Enjoy writing your science thesis or dissertation! London: Imperial College Press.

  • Sudheesh, K., Duggappa, D. R., & Nethra, S. (2016). How to write a research proposal? Indian Journal of Anaesthesia, 60(9), 631.

  • Western Australian Centre for Health Promotion Research (2010). Ethical considerations.