how to write a research proposal

How to Write a Research Proposal in 12 Easy Steps

by Umair Ahmad Khan

There comes a time in the life of almost every student, when he/she has to write a research proposal. A good research proposal is stepping stone for every student in road of research, and also serves as a proof that you are indeed faithful and motivated to pursue the research topic in question. However, for most first time researchers, they don’t know how to write a research proposal.

Some colleges and universities offer course in research methodologies, but not all. So, with that in mind, here is a step-by-step easy guide on how to write a research proposal, the right way.

What is a Research Proposal?

A research proposal is an academic writing, that is intended to propose a research project. It generally includes sponsorship requests for that research too. Research proposals are evaluated on the basis of cost of research, potential impact and the soundness of proposed plan for carrying out the research.

The importance of writing a good research proposal can never be overstated. Therefore, learning how to write a research proposal is of paramount importance for any researcher.

Professors, academic institutions and organizations only accept the research proposals that conveys all the aforementioned variables and also the extent of zeal of the researcher. All of this is represented by the quality of the research proposal.

If your proposal is compelling, you may be able to get sponsorship. If not, your research will not be supported by the institution, no matter how much you are devoted to it.

Portions of a Research Proposal

A typical research proposal has five portions or parts. These are:

  • TITLE PAGE: The cover page that shows the title, author and institution where you are proposing to research.
  • INTRODUCTION: This is the basic introduction with some general level information without any specifics and details about the research.
  • LITERATURE REVIEW: This portion is intended to link your research to the existing knowledge about the topic. Surely, your research sits on back of previous studies and those are to be mentioned here.
  • METHODOLOGY/ THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK: How you are planning to carry out the research? That answer is to be answered in this portion.
  • BIBLIOGRAPHY/REFERENCES: Also sometimes called as “works-cited”. This is the portion where you list all of the works and researches previously done, that you have based your research on.

So, now we know, what are the portions of a research proposal. The steps to write a compelling research proposals are connected to these parts and each part has its own methodology.

Steps for Writing

Basic steps for writing a research proposal are given below in the infographic. (Details are below the infographic)

how to write a research paper

Section 1: Title Page

Purpose of a title page is show your name, title of the research project and also your primary institution. Make sure you apply following tips:

  • Select a formatting style. Each sponsoring organization has a formatting style. However, usually it is APA.
  • Title should be centered in middle of the page horizontally and distance 1/3 from the top of the page.
  • First line should be the institution name, then research project title and then stating that it is research proposal.
  • Below this, write your name under heading of “Submitted By” and then date of submission.

Sample title page is below:

how to write a research proposal

Section 2: Introduction

As mentioned above, it contains the general level information about the research project, you want to take. For this:

  • Provide a statement about the question or a problem that you are trying to find answer to or solve, by carrying out the research. One of most common problem in research proposals is that, the researcher takes too long in stating the purpose of the research. So, make sure, you write the purpose within first two paragraphs of the “introduction”.
  • Try to relate your intended study to other researches that have been carried out in your topic. Highlight any deficiency in those studies to emphasize that your research can improve the overall knowledge about the topic.

Section 3: Literature Review

Literature Review portion is intended to connected your study to the previous work done on the topic. This section can be a part of “Introduction” section. Consult your mentor whether to write it separate or within Introduction. For this:

  • Make it sure to indicate that your work is going to based on some well-established theory, and you are trying to address the gaps in previous knowledge, or adding something to it by carrying out the same work by new methodologies.
  • For an ideal research proposal, atleast five other previous studies are needed to be mentioned.
  • Your proposal also needs to make it clear that how your research is building upon previous studies, as well as exploring a path that is new.
  • Mention all other studies, wherever you mention them in the literature review. Usually, it is done by citing the author name and year of publication in a bracket. For Example: “According to another study (Ahmed and Abdullah, 2003)”. Sometimes it is cited by just mentioning the number of mentioned research in bibliography section of your research proposal. For Example “According to another study [1]”.

Always make sure to mention all other sources and previous studies, you are basing your research on.

Section 4: Methodology

This is the section where you propose your plan for the research. How are you going to carry out the research? That question is to be answered here. For this:

  • Describe a full description of your research plan.
  • Mention all the procedures that you plan to implement in your research.
  • Methodology should be realistic and detailed.
  • Provide diagrams and illustrations if possible, as per your discipline.
  • Describe your source for data if possible and applicable, like surveys, interviews etc.
  • Explain limitations of your research in terms of applicability and reliability.

Section 5: Bibliography/References

In this portion, you list all the works, researches, studies, statistical data source etc, which you have mentioned in your research proposal in any of the previous four sections.

  • This generally done by listing all the works by alphabetical order by the last name of author. Your mentor should tell you what style to choose. If not, try to replicate the style used in research papers you read for preparation of research.
  • Use builtin bibliography features in your word processor if you are writing on a computer(which you obviously will be). MS Office and Libre Office both have its own bibliography features.

Here is a great article where you can learn how to write Bibliography.

Some Common Tips to Follow

  • Make sure sentences are not too long.
  • Make sure paragraphs are not too long. Shorter paragraphs are easier to read.
  • Writing should be concise, to the point, and without unnecessary words.
  • Adopt the bibliography and citation style, used by major journals of your discipline.

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So, now you know how to write a research proposal. Comment below if you want to add anything.


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