How to write a proposal for a research paper

How to write a proposal for a research paper, ideas, study, knowledge, words, thesis, subject, audience

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

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

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

Research proposals can be different in length so check with yourprofessor 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?

How to write a proposal for a research paper, ideas, study, knowledge, words, thesis, subject, audience

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

Research proposals also help assess your experience in the fieldyou are conducting research in as well as your knowledge of thecurrent literature. In addition, they help evaluate and appointappropriate supervision teams. If you’re interested to work witha certain potential supervisor, make sure you indicate this inyour proposal. It is recommended to contact your potentialsupervisor in advance and talk about your proposal beforeformally applying to make sure it is of mutual interest and toget information on the scope, design, and practicability of yourresearch.

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

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

No matter what your research field is and the methodology youselect, 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 youraudience that you have a significant research idea, a goodunderstanding of the relevant literature, and your methods arestrong.

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

Structuring a research proposal

Representatives of the selection committee often read a lot ofresearch proposals so good structuring and eligibility is veryimportant.

Title page

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

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

Overviewing the research

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

In this section, you should also make connections between yourstudy and the current strengths of the department you areapplying to. If you apply to many departments, make sure to craftan original proposal to every department – it is possible to tellif you target everyone.

Establish a strong one and persuasive framework for your study inthe 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) andwhy 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 yourunderstanding of the problems, and determine both the radical andpractical existing gaps that the study is aimed to cover. Thispart contextualizes your questions without providing analysis ofcurrent debates in detail.

Methodology and design of the research

How to write a proposal for a research paper, ideas, study, knowledge, words, thesis, subject, audience

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

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

It is important to have a section with well-crafted methodologyespecially if you want to do important empirical research. Makesure 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


The references should show the audience that you understand theliterature on the subject and how your research can be beneficialto it. Make sure to provide references to the resources and textthat you believe are important in your study. Keep in mind thatthis is not a bibliography that lists all that has been writtenon the topic. Instead it should demonstrate criticalreverberation in the choice of the certain texts.


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

  • Design
  • Procedures
  • Tools you used
  • Sample


The main goal of the entry is to offer the necessary context foryour studied issue. If your issue is placed in the context ofgeneral and disorderly literature review, your research issue maysee uninteresting and trivial. However, if you place the sameissue 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 ofeither 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 andwhat place it occupies. Determine the main players and allude tothe most representative and relevant publications.

Usually you should begin your entry with a general proposal ofthe issue focusing on a research problem and then describing thejustification 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 andnecessity.
  • Offer the rationale of your study and accurately state why itshould be conducted.
  • Shortly explain the main issues and other problems that haveto be covered in your research.
  • Indicate the main dependent and independent variables of yourstudy or specify the phenomena you want to explore.
  • Identify your theory or hypothesis. If you’re conducting atphenomenological or exploratory study, there may not be anyhypothesis.
  • Underline the limits of your research to present a clearfocus.
  • Give definitions to main concepts.

Review of literature

Sometimes you may include the review of literature into the entrysection. However, it is preferred to place it in a separatesection 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 groundworkfor your study.
  • It shows your understanding of the problem you’reresearching.
  • It shows your knowledge of the research and theoreticalproblems connected to your question.
  • It demonstrates your skills to critically assess relevantinformation.
  • It states your ability to synthesize and integrate thecurrent literature.
  • It offers new theoretical views or develops a model for yourstudy.
  • It tells the audience that your research will have asubstantial 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 literaturereview. To bring coherence and order to your review, usesubheadings. For instance, once you establish the significance ofyour study and then its current development state, you may devotea few subheadings to related problems such as measuringinstruments, theoretical models, gender differences, etc.


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

This section should include enough data for the audience todecide whether the methods you apply are sound. Some believe thatif you want to know how to write a proposal for a research papereffectively, you need to include enough details for anotherresearcher to conduct the study.

You need to show that you know alternative techniques and arguethat your method is the most appropriate to address the researchquestion.


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


It is necessary to persuade your audience of the influence ofyour study. You need to show confidence and enthusiasm withoutexaggerating the benefits of your offer and that is why it isimportant to also to discuss the weaknesses and the limitationsof your research.

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