Blog Post

Proposal Writing
  • November 11, 2022

    Definition of Research Proposal

    A research proposal aims to present and justify a research idea and to present the practical ways in which the research should be conducted. The forms and procedures for such research are defined by the field of study, so guidelines for research proposals are generally more exacting and less formal than a project proposal. Research proposals contain extensive literature reviews and must provide persuasive evidence that there is a need for the research study being proposed (Krathwohl, 2005).

    In addition to providing a rationale for the proposed research, a proposal describes a detailed methodology for conducting the research consistent with the requirements of the professional or academic field and a statement on anticipated outcomes and/or benefits derived from the study.

    The importance of writing a research proposal:

    1. Skills are being developed when thinking about and designing a comprehensive research study;
    2. Writing a research proposal help learn how to conduct a comprehensive review of the literature to ensure a research problem has not already been answered (or finding out that the problem has been answered ineffectively) and, in so doing, become familiar with scholarship related to the topic;
    • It improves general research and writing skills;
    1. It is a practice which helps in identifying what logical steps must be taken to accomplish the research goals;
    2. It helps to nurture a sense of inquisitiveness and being active in the process of doing scholarly research.

    A proposal should contain all the key elements involved in designing a complete research study, with sufficient information that allows readers to assess the validity and usefulness of the proposed study. The only elements missing from a research proposal are the results of the study and the analysis of those results. Finally, an effective proposal is judged on the quality of the writing. It is, therefore, important that writing is coherent, clear, and compelling.

    Regardless of the research problem under investigation and the chosen methodology, all research proposals must address the following questions:

    1. What to accomplish? This is the clarity in defining the research problem.
    2. Why conduct research? In addition to detailing the research design, a thorough review of the literature must be conducted and convincing evidence must be provided on the topic.
    • How to conduct research? Ensure that the proposed research is doable.

    Here are the mistakes that are usually committed:

    1. Failure to be concise; being “all over the map” without a clear sense of purpose;
    2. Failure to cite works that are very germane in the literature review;
    • Failure to delimit the contextual boundaries of the research (such as context, place, time, people, etc.);
    1. Failure to develop a coherent and persuasive argument for the proposed research;
    2. Failure to stay focused on the research question; going off on unrelated tangents;
    3. Imprecise writing;
    4. Poor grammar; and
    5. Too much detail on minor issues, but not enough detail on major issues.

    The Proposal Writing Process

    Research proposals are generally organized the same way as traditional research papers throughout the social sciences. Most proposals are usually between ten (10) and fifteen (15) pages in length. However, before the commencement of the proposal writing, the following information below should be studied, as they are specific requirements for organizing and writing the proposal.

    The researcher should be able to answer these questions:

    1. What do I want to study, and why?
    2. Is it in line with my area of specialization?
    • What problems will it help solve?
    1. How does it build upon or go beyond research already conducted on the subject matter?
    2. What exactly should I plan to do?
    3. Can I get it done in the time available?

    In the end, the research proposal should reflect enthusiasm for conducting the study. It should be conducted by convincing the readers of the exciting idea.

    In general, the proposal should include the following sections:

    Research Proposal Writing: Introduction

    In the real world of higher education, a research proposal is most often written by scholars seeking grant funding for a research project or it is the first step in getting approval to write a dissertation. The introduction is the initial pitch of an idea. After reading the introduction, the readers should not only understand what the research is set to achieve, but they should also be able to sense the writers’ passion for the topic and be excited about its possible outcomes.

    Think about the introduction as a narrative written in one to three paragraphs that succinctly answers the following four questions:

    1. What is the key research problem?
    2. How is the topic of study related to that problem?
    • What methods should be used to analyze the research problem?
    1. Why is the topic important to research and why should someone reading the proposal care about the outcomes of the study? Bottom of Form

    Research Proposal Writing: Background and Significance

    This section can be fused into the introduction or a separate section can be created to help with the organization and flow of the research proposal. This is where the context of the research, outline and importance can be explained. Writing this section should be approached with the thought that the readers cannot be assumed to know as much about the research problem as the researcher does. This section is not an essay on the research problem; instead, the relevant things should be explained in line with the objectives of the study.

    To this end, while there are no hard and fast rules, some of the following should be addressed:

    1. State the research problem and give a more detailed explanation about the purpose of the study than what was stated in the introduction;
    2. Present the rationale of the proposed study and indicate why it is worth doing. Answer the “So what question”;
    • Describe the major issues or problems to be addressed by the researchIdentifyfy the key sources to use and explain how they will contribute to the analysis of the research;
    1. Set the boundaries of the proposed research to provide a clear focus; and
    2. Provide definitions of key concepts or terms, if necessary.

    Research Proposal Writing: Literature Review

    A literature review should be properly connected to the background and significance of the study. It is a more deliberate review and synthesis of prior studies related to the research problem under investigation. The purpose here is to place the research within the larger whole of what is currently being explored while demonstrating to the readers that the research is original and innovative. It is pertinent to think about what questions other researchers have asked, what methods they have used, and what is the understanding of their findings. There is a need to examine what seems to be missing, and state how previous research has failed to examine the issue that this present study addresses.

    Since a literature review is information dense, this section must be intelligently structured to enable a reader to grasp the key arguments underpinning the study about that of other researchers. A good strategy is to break the literature into “conceptual review, theoretical review, empirical review and conceptual framework” [themes] rather than systematically describing materials one at a time.

    The following will be useful in framing the literature review in a research proposal:

    1. Keep the primary focus on the literature pertinent to the research problem.
    2. Compare the various arguments, theories, methodologies, and findings expressed in the literature: what do the authors agree on? Who applies similar approaches to analyzing the research problem?
    • Contrast the various arguments, themes, methodologies, approaches and controversies expressed in the literature: what are the major areas of disagreement, controversy, or debate?
    1. Critique the existing literature. Which arguments are more persuasive, and why? Which approaches, findings, and methodologies seem most reliable, valid, or appropriate, and why? Pay attention to the verbs used to describe what an author says/does [e.g., asserts, demonstrates, etc.].
    2. Connect the literature to an area of research and investigation: how does the present research draw upon, depart from, or synthesize what has been said in the literature?

    Research Proposal Writing: Research Method and Design

    The section on research method entails research design and must be properly written and logically organized because the research is not being carried out. As a consequence, the reader will never have a study outcome from which to evaluate whether the methodological choices were the correct ones. The objective here is to ensure that the reader is convinced that the overall research design and analysis methods will correctly address the research problem. The research methods and design should be absolutely and unmistakably tied to the specific aim and objectives of the study (Krathwohl, 2005).

    Describe the overall research design by building upon and drawing examples from the review of the literature. Be specific about the methodological approaches proposed to elicit information, the techniques that will be used to analyze it, and tests of external validity such as the trustworthiness of the research.

    When describing the methods to use in the proposal, there is a need to consider the following:

    1. Specify the research operations to be carried out and the way to interpret the results of this operation about the research problem. What is intended to be achieved from applying the chosen methods should not just be identified, but there must be a clear statement on how time will be spent while doing it.
    2. Keep in mind that a methodology is not just a list of research tasks; it is an argument as to why these tasks add up to the best way to investigate the research problem. This is an important point because the mere listing of tasks to perform does not demonstrate that they add up to the best feasible approach.
    • Acknowledge any potential barriers and pitfalls in carrying out a research design and explain how to get around them.

    Research Proposal Writing: Preliminary Suppositions and Implications

    Just because the study can be conducted and the results analyzed, it doesn’t mean that talking about the process and potential implications can be skipped. The purpose of preliminary suppositions and implications is to argue how and in what ways the researcher believes the research will be refined, revised, or extend existing knowledge in the subject matter under investigation. Depending on the aim and objectives of the study, how the anticipated results of the study will impact future scholarly research, theory, practice, forms of interventions, or policy should be described.

    It is essential to note that such discussions may have either methodological (a potential new way of analyzing) significance, theoretical (a potential new understanding), or substantive (a potential new policy).

    When thinking about the potential implications of a study, the following questions should be asked:

    1. What might the results mean regarding the theoretical framework that frames the study?
    2. What suggestions for subsequent research could arise from the potential outcomes of the study?
    3. What will the results mean to practitioners in the “real world”?
    4. Will the results influence programs, methods, and/or forms of intervention?
    5. How might the results contribute to the solution of social, economic, environmental, or other types of challenges?
    6. Will the results influence policy decisions?
    7. What will be improved or changed as a result of the proposed research?
    8. How will the results of the study be implemented, and what innovations will emanate?

    Research Proposal Writing: Conclusion

    The conclusion reiterates the importance of the proposal and provides a brief recap of the entire study. It should be only one or two paragraphs long, emphasizing why the research study is unique, why it advances knowledge, and why the research problem is worth investigating.

    It should provide readers with the following:

    1. Why the study was carried out;
    2. The specific purpose of the study and the research questions it attempted to answer;
    3. The research design and methods used;
    4. The potential implications emerging from the proposed study of the research problem; and
    5. A sense of how the study fits within the broader scholarship about the research problem.


    As with any scholarly research paper, all the sources used in composing the proposal must be cited. In a standard research proposal, there are two forms of citation (Krathwohl, 2005). The preferred one depends on the format of each school.

    1. References: This lists only the literature that is used or cited in the proposal.
    2. Bibliography: This lists everything that is used or cited in a proposal with additional citations of any key sources relevant to understanding the research problem.

    In either case, citations should testify to the fact that enough preparatory work is carried out to make sure the research will complement and not duplicate the efforts of other researchers (Punch & Wayne, 2006).

    Start a new page and use the heading “References” or “Bibliography” at the top of the page. Cited works should always use a standard format that follows the writing style advised by the Research Institute or discipline under which the research is carried out [History = Chicago; Education = APA].

    Note: This section normally does not count towards the total length of a proposal.


    Krathwohl, D. R. (2005). How to Prepare a Dissertation Proposal: Suggestions for Students in Education and the Social and Behavioral Sciences. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press.

    Punch, K., & Wayne, M. (2006). Developing and Writing a Research Proposal. In From Postgraduate to Social Scientist: A Guide to Key Skills. Nigel Gilbert, ed. (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage), 59-81.