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How to write a proposal for a research paper

A research proposal is a document in which the researcher clearly and concisely presents or proposes the subject matter of his or her future research.  Some important things your research proposal should capture include the research topic, objectives, research problem/questions, and research methodology.

The main purpose of a research proposal is to convince the selectors that you possess the necessary intellectual depth or aptitude to conduct the level of research you are proposing. Based on your area of interest, it can also help the selectors determine the most suitable supervisor for you. If you are seeking sponsorship, your research proposal is a very good way of making your case, if well constructed.

Here are some things to consider when writing a research proposal.

Write convincingly

To get approval for your research, and obtain sponsorship support for the project, you should be able to convince the board of selectors that your project is worthy of getting their approval. A research project that will contribute to the scientific community is the first step towards a successful application. A detailed plan needs to be formulated with a description of the intended theoretical framework and methodological approach, among others. This will not only show that the proposed research is feasible but also help to convince the selectors that you are worthy of being trusted with the research work. It will also indicate that you have adequate knowledge and experience to embark on the research.

While writing a research proposal, you should have a clear idea about your target audience and write accordingly. The research proposal is different from the research paper since it is just a proposal the verb tense used here is a bit different from that of the main research paper and also there is no data to be analyzed. Instead of talking about things that you did as part of your research in the past tense, you are instead describing research activities that you plan to undertake using a future verb tense.

You can only work with the estimated or projected results. It is important to structure the proposal properly and the first thing to be seen is the title of the project.

The title

Considerable thought must be given to the title as this is the first thing to be seen and is very crucial in making a good first impression. The title also gives an idea as to what the research is about. Thus, care must be taken to word it properly.


The introduction should be a broad view of the topic and written with relevant terminologies. Here, you can talk about the reasons you took up this particular project and why it is of interest to you, its significance to you, and the research community in general. The broad view taken at the beginning of the introduction narrows down to the research specifics. You can talk about the gaps you identified in the area that gave rise to your research.

Research problem

This is considered by many as the most difficult challenge when trying to conduct research. The problem has to be consequential enough to deserve investigation. It must also be a problem that can be solved through the scientific method of research. Though it may not always be easy, you should try and find a unique problem that has not been solved by previous research (or approach old studies from a new perspective).


A brief description of the study’s objectives in the light of the research problem. Usually presented in bullet points.

Research questions

It is very important to frame good research questions since they will help solve the problem. Clear and focused questions should be asked. Although like the title, the research questions can change during the later stages of the research, it is important to define them properly as that decides the direction of the research. Only relevant and researchable questions should be asked.

Mini literature review

This section speaks about what the existing body of work says about the topic you have chosen. For this purpose, review the key academic works in that area. It is not necessary to cover all the information that is available about this topic. Select only the details that are relevant to your work.

This area shows that you are familiar with the existing processes and theories and that you know what you are doing. It is only when you know what is available and what is missing that you can work to locate the missing puzzle. So you should be able to find the knowledge gap in the existing literature and try to subsequently fill it.


This is a tentative statement about the outcome based mainly on the research problems and literature review. You conjecture (hypothesize) what you think could be the answer to the research questions. This statement is not just made anyhow but has to be based on rational and logical thinking.

Research methodology

This section talks about the methodological plan and research design you have adopted for the research. You need to focus on things like what kind of experiments you want to conduct, sampling procedures, how you intend to collect the data, model specification, and your data analysis techniques. The type of data and the treatment of data is also discussed.

The methodology can be based on the previous research or you can build a new one based on methods used in your field. The design procedures you choose to carry out the research is crucial since it defines the direction of the research and is key to answering the research questions and thus solving the problem. Hence, a solid plan needs to be developed to impress the selectors, even if it is possible to make changes in the future. If you are not sure about some aspects of the design, consult an expert to help you reach a final decision.

Timeline and budget

This is the section where you provide a timeline and budget for the various phases of the research. The time and projected resources allocated for various segments of the research and the expected duration of the research process can easily be noticed by reading through the timeline. It is usually presented in a tabular format with columns and rows.

Ethical and legal considerations

The purpose of this section is to address how your research complies with formal ethical and legal guidelines and other related approvals in terms of how to engage human and animal participants or subjects.


Here, you describe the expected outcomes or results. The expected outcomes are stated in terms of the findings from the processed or measured data through the research methodology/design. The conclusions and the potential implications of the results are discussed.


In this section, a simple explanation of the technical terms and jargon is provided. This is to help the reader who might not be familiar with such terms to understand the proposal better


All the sources you used in the main body of the proposal are presented in alphabetical order here. A reference management software can be used for this purpose if you find it necessary. Ensure you adhere to the style guide used by your department.

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