Developing a Research Proposal

Developing a Research Proposal
A well-developed research proposal is a critical first step for researchers needing to seek approval, support or funding.  The following module will discuss the components and strategies on how to develop a good proposal.

Learning Objectives

  • Explain the function, purpose, and components of a research proposal.
  • Describe methods of writing a research proposal.


A research proposal is really a request for support that attempts to convince others that you have a worthy project and a well-designed plan to carry out that project. There are many types of proposals and reasons that researchers need to submit a proposal.  For example, a graduate student may need to submit a proposal to their faculty mentor to have his or her research approved.  A researcher may need to submit a proposal in order to seek funding or support for a project.  Regardless of the type of proposal, the area of research, or the methodology, all research proposals should describe what you want to do, why you want to do it, and how you plan to do it.

A high quality proposal is critical to gaining support for the project and getting it started.  Great research projects may never receive support and run the risk of rejection due to a poorly written proposal. The following list provides an overview of the basic components of a research proposal.  The resource links on this page provide in-depth information about each component of the proposal as well as tips for preparing high quality proposals.

Components of a Research Proposal

  • Title:   Should be clear and concise and the most important words should be first. The title should also be descriptive and may even contain information about the variables/relationships that will be studied.  The title should catch the reader's interest.  Example:  The impact of problem-based learning strategies on test scores in a physics classroom.
  • Abstract:  Is an effective summary of the project that should include the research question, the rationale for the project, the objectives of the project and a short description of the overall research design and methodology.  Proposals are often pre-screened using the abstract, therefore, it is an important piece. Abstracts are often limited in length to approximately 300 words, therefore, it is important to be clear and concise.
  • Introduction:  Should include a statement of the research problem and should frame the research question, providing the necessary context or background for the question.  This section should address the significance of the project and it is often helpful to provide historical background information to accomplish this goal.  The introduction also includes major issues or sub-issues and any hypotheses that have been formed.  The introduction sets the stage for the reader in terms of understanding the importance of the project.
  • Literature Review:  This section should be an organized, focused review of the work that has been previously done the research topic.  The literature review will demonstrate to readers that the researcher is not repeating previous research, but rather is asking a new question that will expand the knowledge base of this topic in a meaningful way.  The review should demonstrate to the reader that the researcher is knowledgeable about the topic has critically evaluated previous work.  The literature review will also give credits to those have done the groundwork on this particular topic.
  • Methods:  This should be a comprehensive explanation of the research design.  The Methods section needs to provide enough detail for a reviewer to evaluate whether or not it is sound methodology.  It should demonstrate that the researcher understands the problem and has developed a procedure that is focused and will meet the research objectives.
  • Results:  Obviously, there are no results to present with the proposal.  However, the researcher should discuss the type of data that will be collected and how it analyzed.
  • Discussion/Conclusion:  This section should communicate to the reader the importance or significance of the research and how it will contribute to the field.  If the proposal is a request for funding, this section may important in convincing the reader of the value of the project.
  • References:  Should be formatted correctly and follow the guidelines for the style chosen.
  • Personnel and Budget:  These sections are only necessary if the proposal is a request for funding.  Funding agencies and sponsors often have guidelines regarding how to present this information.

Tips on Writing a Research Proposal - The following YouTube video provides some basic tips that should be considered when writing a research proposal.


Suggested Readings: 

  • Best, J., & Kahn, J. (2005). Research in education (10th ed.), Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.
  • Dunford, R. (2004). Developing a research proposal. In Burton, S. & Steane, P. (Eds.) Surviving your thesis (pp.46-58). New York, NY: Routledge.
  • Robson, C. (2002). Real world research: A resource for social scientists and practitioner-researchers (Vol. 2). Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Vivar, C. G., McQueen, A., Whyte, D. A., & Armayor, N. C. (2006). Getting started with qualitative research: developing a research proposal. Nurse researcher, 14(3), 60-73.
  • Wong, P. T. (2002). How to write a research proposal. Langley, BC: Trinity Western University. Accessed December, 29, 2005.

Resource Links

How to Write a Research Proposal  - This webpage outlines the importance of a good research proposal and provides a brief description of each component of a proposal.  The page also discusses common mistakes that are made when writing a proposal.

 Develop a Research Proposal - Would you like to view an example of a research proposal in your field of study? The following link provides of sample research proposals from a wide variety of academic disciplines.

 How to Write  A Research Proposal - The Study Guides and Strategies website has a created a basic guide describing the parts of a research proposal. This site also lists the primary reasons that research proposals are rejected and pitfalls to avoid.

 Writing a Research Proposal -  What is a proposal?  What are the types of proposals? What are the parts to a proposal? And what are some great resources that may be helpful when writing a proposal?  This site is an excellent resources for answering those questions.

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