How to Write a Research Proposal Outline ?

The research proposal provides an outline of the premise of what you are proposing to research. However, it is subject to adaptation as the research proceeds. It serves as a starting point for development and discussion with the assistance of your research or thesis supervisor.

Typically the research proposal will include

  • Aims and objectives
  • Statement of hypothesis or research ‘problem’
  • Literature review of previous research in the area and justification for further research
  • Proposed methodology
  • Expected results and contribution to the body of knowledge
  • Requirements for equipment, materials, field trips, and funding (if applicable)
  • Approximate time by which each stage will be completed

The content and structure of the research proposal are designed to answer the key questions of reviewers:

  • What problem, issue or concern does the research address?
  • How will the research contribute to existing knowledge?
  • How will the research achieve its stated objectives?
  • Is the research do-able within the given time and resource constraints? 
  • Are there any special considerations that affect the feasibility of the research?

Good research proposals address these questions by showing that the research:
addresses a problem, issue, concern or conundrum; provides new knowledge that will contribute to addressing this; adopts a method and methodology appropriate to the research question; can be successfully completed within the given time, resource and other research constraints.

Reviewer concerns are typically addressed in research proposals in the following sections which also accord with the key questions introduced above: introduction, literature review, research design, and additional information.

Introduction─includes statement of the problem and aims, definition of key terminology, and description of the field of literature and practice, as well as a summary of the gap in the literature and of the research design.

Literature review─reviews previous research and ends by highlighting what is significant about your research, or outlines the contribution the research will make to a body of literature.

Methods and methodology─explains how the research design will fulfill the aims of the research or answer the research question and addresses any ethical considerations or non-standard resource implications of the research process.

Additional information─a proposed a timeline for the research, budget, references, bibliography, appendices, and any special features of the research.

In general, research proposals are organized into the following sections:

  • Introduction (sometimes also called ‘background’, ‘context’, ‘project description’)
  • Literature review (or heading that reflects the content of the review, for example: ‘sociological studies of play’)
  • Methodology and methods or ‘research design’ (or heading that reflects the content, for example: ‘Auto-ethnography and palliative care’)
  • Proposed timeline,
  • References (works cited)
  • Bibliography (list of all relevant sources)
  • Appendices.

Several university guidelines suggest that the research proposal contains the following elements;
  • Statement of the research topic and rationale for the research including:
  • Explanation of why the topic is important,
  • Proposed thesis title,
  • Review of relevant research and theory,
  • Explanation of why the literature and artifacts cited are important to the research,
  • Research hypothesis or topic (a clear indication of the focus of the research).
  • Research methodology including
  • Information about the theoretical or conceptual framework that will be employed,
  • Analytical techniques and research design,
  • Timetable or project plan,
  • Ethical considerations,
  • Trial table of contents (1 or 2 pages),
  • Brief bibliography.

Words Limits in Research Proposal 
Word limits are designed to discipline the researcher to write with focus and clarity. Many research proposal guidelines allocate word limits to the sections of the proposal, with the majority going in the literature review and methodology sections. You might break down the word limit into the following sections: introduction─500; literature review─1000; methods─1000; other elements of the proposal─500. As you can see, this makes each section quite small requiring that you prioritize the information, and present it in a clear and concise manner as possible.

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