How to write a proposal for a research paper

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Many students don’t fully understand what research proposal is and why it is important. However, keep in mind that research is only good if the proposal is also good. A bad proposal ruins the research even if it goes through the supervisory committee. If you craft a proposal of high quality, not only your project will be successful but it will impress your professor and indicate that you have a potential of becoming a researcher.

A research proposal is the plan your offer for a project that is aimed to do the following:

  • Indicate an accurate question and approach you’re going to take to answer it
  • Outline the significance and originality of the question
  • Give explanations on how it supplements, challenges, or develops existing literature
  • Convince potential supervisors in the significance of the project and why you’re the right person to do it

Research proposals can be different in length so check with your professor what the word limit and guidelines to your project are. Usually, proposals are about 3,000 words long.

Why do you need to have a research proposal?

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Research proposals are used to evaluate the originality and your critical thinking skills, quality of your ideas, and the practicability of your research.

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Research proposals also help assess your experience in the field you are conducting research in as well as your knowledge of the current literature. In addition, they help evaluate and appoint appropriate supervision teams. If you’re interested to work with a certain potential supervisor, make sure you indicate this in your proposal. It is recommended to contact your potential supervisor in advance and talk about your proposal before formally applying to make sure it is of mutual interest and to get information on the scope, design, and practicability of your research.

Through a research proposal you can demonstrate your passion in the topic and make a strong statement about what your research can reach. Even though there should be a plan in the proposal, it should also be viewed as a persuasive paper – a possibility to attract the readers’ attention and persuade them in the significance of your research.

Your research proposal should convince the audience that you have a worth doing research and you have the confidence to finish it. It should include all the main components included in the research and have enough data for the audience to assess the offered study.

No matter what your research field is and the methodology you select, research proposals have to cover the following questions:

  • What do you want to reach?
  • Why do you want to do it?
  • How are you going to accomplish it?

Your proposal should contain enough data to persuade your audience that you have a significant research idea, a good understanding of the relevant literature, and your methods are strong.

Not only the quality of your proposal depends on the quality of your offered project but also on how well you write the proposal. Your project may be rejected simply because your proposal is badly crafted. Thus, it is important for your proposal to be compelling, clear, and coherent.

Structuring a research proposal

Representatives of the selection committee often read a lot of research proposals so good structuring and eligibility is very important.

Title page

Title should be descriptive and concise. It is often indicated in terms of a functional relation since titles accurately determine the dependent and independent variables. Titles can change but ensure you include important keywords that will connect your proposal to relevant probable schemes, supervisors, and so on. Don’t simply describe the topic matter in the title, give any indication of key questions and your approach. To create a clear title, you have to be clear about the focus of your research. Try to craft a title that is no more than 10 words or 60 characters long. Keep in mind the following:

  • Incorporate main words that reference the classification of this subject.
  • Indicate a realistic timeframe, within which you intend to complete a project.
  • Provide the names of your supervisor, university department, and information about all the academics with whom you are going to collaborate.
  • Refer to successful projects to indicate whether your subject fits with the mission of the granting organization.

Overviewing the research

This is the section where you should include a brief overview of your proposal and how it fits in the current academic debates, discourses, and literature. Try to be as concrete as possible in determining debates or influences you want to engage with. However, don’t get beyond the research including long discussions of certain sources. Instead sketch out of the context your work fits into.

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In this section, you should also make connections between your study and the current strengths of the department you are applying to. If you apply to many departments, make sure to craft an original proposal to every department – it is possible to tell if you target everyone.

Establish a strong one and persuasive framework for your study in the section. This includes the following:

  • The main approaches and rationale you will take (theoretical, conceptual, normative, or empirical).
  • Questions of research (usually, from 1 to 3 is enough) and why you are asking them
  • Importance of the study in academic and other fields

Position of the research

This section is usually 900 words long and discusses the texts, which you think are most significant to the research, show your understanding of the problems, and determine both the radical and practical existing gaps that the study is aimed to cover. This part contextualizes your questions without providing analysis of current debates in detail.

Methodology and design of the research

This section is also 900 words long. It lays out the way, which you’ll organize your research in and the certain techniques you’ll use. Design of the research includes but not limited to the following:

  • A debate of the general approach and your rationale for using this approach
  • The parameters of the research (define the subject matter)
  • Specific goals and objectives
  • Short debate of the timeframe, within which you are going to finish your project

It is important to have a section with well-crafted methodology especially if you want to do important empirical research. Make sure to insert certain methods not just your overall approach. This section should include the following:

  • Types of researchers you used and consulted
  • Methods for gathering and analyzing information
  • Specific techniques like semi-structured interview, statistical analysis, participant observation
  • Short rationale for using the methods

References

The references should show the audience that you understand the literature on the subject and how your research can be beneficial to it. Make sure to provide references to the resources and text that you believe are important in your study. Keep in mind that this is not a bibliography that lists all that has been written on the topic. Instead it should demonstrate critical reverberation in the choice of the certain texts.

Abstract

Abstract is a short summary of about 300 words that includes the research questions, the hypothesis, main findings of the study, the method, and the rationale of the study. When describing the method, you may contain the following:

  • Design
  • Procedures
  • Tools you used
  • Sample

Entry

The main goal of the entry is to offer the necessary context for your studied issue. If your issue is placed in the context of general and disorderly literature review, your research issue may see uninteresting and trivial. However, if you place the same issue in the context of a current and very focused research area, it’s importance becomes obvious.

There are no rules on how to place and state your research issue. A lot depends on your ability to think clearly, your creativity, and how well you understand the problem fields.

In any case try to include your research issue in the content of either an existing area or an old area that stays significant. You need to include a short appropriate historical background. Describe the modern context, in which you propose the issue and what place it occupies. Determine the main players and allude to the most representative and relevant publications.

Usually you should begin your entry with a general proposal of the issue focusing on a research problem and then describing the justification of the study. Entries cover the following:

  • Indicate the research issue – the objective of the research.
  • Give the context for your question, show its importance and necessity.
  • Offer the rationale of your study and accurately state why it should be conducted.
  • Shortly explain the main issues and other problems that have to be covered in your research.
  • Indicate the main dependent and independent variables of your study or specify the phenomena you want to explore.
  • Identify your theory or hypothesis. If you’re conducting at phenomenological or exploratory study, there may not be any hypothesis.
  • Underline the limits of your research to present a clear focus.
  • Give definitions to main concepts.

Review of literature

Sometimes you may include the review of literature into the entry section. However, it is preferred to place it in a separate section that makes it easier to go through the literature review.

The review of literature has a few of critical functions:

  • It ensures that your research is original.
  • It gives credit to people who have provided the groundwork for your study.
  • It shows your understanding of the problem you’re researching.
  • It shows your knowledge of the research and theoretical problems connected to your question.
  • It demonstrates your skills to critically assess relevant information.
  • It states your ability to synthesize and integrate the current literature.
  • It offers new theoretical views or develops a model for your study.
  • It tells the audience that your research will have a substantial and significant contribution to the literature.

Most common problems with literature reviews include:

  • Lack of structure and organization
  • Lack of coherence, unity, and focus
  • Being too verbose and repetitive
  • Failure to quote influential sources
  • Failure to stay up-to-date with the recent studies
  • Failure to critical assess the cited documents
  • Too many secondary sources
  • Citing too many irrelevant references

There are many methods you can use to structure your literature review. To bring coherence and order to your review, use subheadings. For instance, once you establish the significance of your study and then its current development state, you may devote a few subheadings to related problems such as measuring instruments, theoretical models, gender differences, etc.

Methods

It is very important to include the section about methods as it tells the committee how you are going to address every issue. It will offer you a workplan and explain the actions you need to take to complete your project.

This section should include enough data for the audience to decide whether the methods you apply are sound. Some believe that if you want to know how to write a proposal for a research paper effectively, you need to include enough details for another researcher to conduct the study.

You need to show that you know alternative techniques and argue that your method is the most appropriate to address the research question.

Results

When working on a proposal, you don’t have the results yet. However, it is recommended to have some understanding about what kind of information you’ll be gathering and what procedures you will follow to answer your question or study your hypothesis.

Discussion

It is necessary to persuade your audience of the influence of your study. You need to show confidence and enthusiasm without exaggerating the benefits of your offer and that is why it is important to also to discuss the weaknesses and the limitations of your research.

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