How to Write A Research Proposal: Components, Format, Structure

How to Write A Research Proposal

Writing a good research proposal is important for undertaking a higher degree by research, applying for a research grant or fund, and getting a scholarship to pursue higher study.

Potential supervisors use a thesis or research proposal for a Ph.D. degree to assess the quality and originality of ideas, the researcher’s critical thinking, and the research project’s feasibility.

Research proposals are also used to assess the researcher’s expertise in the area where he/she wants to conduct research.

Having decided to pursue a research study, the researcher needs to develop a written plan or protocol to guide the study. Such a plan is called a research proposal (RP).

What is Research Proposal?

A research proposal is an individual’s or research firm’s formal offer to produce a product or render a service to a client in response to a request from the client. A research proposal is a work plan, prospectus, outline, and statement of intent. It is an agreement between a client and a researcher.

When writing a research proposal, keep in mind that it will enter a competition, being read in line with quite a few other proposals. You have to come up with a document that has an impact on the reader.

Therefore, you must write your proposal clearly and well-structured so your message gets across quickly. Your proposal must explain the study’s purpose and the problem’s definition.

It will systematically outline the particular research methodology and detail the procedures followed at each stage of the research process.

Note that a good proposal must communicate to us:

  • Why is it important to know what you are proposing to research?
  • What information will be obtained to meet your objectives?
  • Where will it be obtained?
  • How will it be obtained?
  • Why will it be obtained?
  • What contribution is it going to make?

Because a research proposal is an outlined plan submitted to a client for consideration, it allows the client to assess your seriousness, sincerity, adequacy of your proposed design, the extent of your background information, competence, and commitment to undertaking the study.

The proposal should have sufficient information to convince your readers that you have an important research idea, a good grasp of the relevant literature and the major issues and that your methodology is sound.

A poorly written or poorly organized proposal damages the researcher’s reputation. Generally, a research proposal should contain all the critical elements involved in the research process and include sufficient information for the readers to evaluate the proposed study.

In writing a good proposal, one needs to follow a step-by-step process. Even after writing a good proposal, procure funds could take as long as a year. And even a perfectly written proposal might be rejected for several reasons.

Developing a Research Proposal

A research proposal is of two types: internal and external.

A company’s experienced staff or research department generates an internal proposal to suit their needs. An external proposal is either solicited or unsolicited. A solicited proposal is often made in response to a ‘request for proposal (RFP).’

Such a proposal will likely compete against several others for a contract or grant. An unsolicited proposal is a suggestion by a contract researcher for research that might be done. Such a proposal has the advantage of not competing against others.

For most outside contracts, proposals are usually submitted in response to a request for bid, or an RFP.

An RFP is a formal document issued by a corporate research department, a decision-maker, or some other sponsor to solicit services from researchers.

Proposals are prepared by the terms of reference (TOR) provided by the client or sponsor and included in the RFP. It becomes almost an obligation on the part of the bidder to follow this TOR in preparing the proposal.

Non- compliance with the specification outlined in the TOR may automatically disqualify the proposal.

If, however, the researcher can demonstrate a superior understanding of the problem and convince the sponsor that their knowledge will benefit the study, the conditions laid down in the TOR may be revised accordingly.

If the sponsor finally agrees with the proposal after reviewing it, it is accepted and approved for execution.

Expression of Interest (EOI)

In most instances, clients request the researchers or research firms to express if they are interested in submitting a formal proposal on pre-selected topics or packages.

This is what we call Expression of Interest or in short EOI.

This EOI aims to identify a researcher or research firm capable of doing the job through an evaluation process following the government procurement rule.

The qualified researchers or research firms are then asked to submit their formal proposals in response to a call for RFP adhering to the TOR. An example of an EOI, adapted from NIPORT, is provided here as an illustration.

Evaluation of the EOIs

The following guidelines were followed to evaluate the EOIs and the firm or consultant. In preparing the guidelines, the World Bank’s Employment of Consultants by World Bank Borrowers, May 2004 were used.

Particulars of the ConsultantRequirements/ CriteriaRating scores*
(The criteria and the rating scores may vary based on the nature of the study)
Age of theConsultant’s or firm’s< 5 years=Poor
consultant (firm)experience (in years) of such works5-10years=Good
10-15 years=Very good
> 15 years=Excellent
Availability ofList of management<2 persons=Poor
key professionaland key personnel with2-3 persons=Good
staff (firm)their experience and qualification4-5 persons=Very good
5 persons=Excellent
Turnover of the consultant (firm)Total transaction<2 Crore=Poor
2-3 Crore=Good
4-5 Crore=Very good
> 5 Crore=Excellent
Experience of theExperience of the< 3 =Poor
consultant (firm)consultant or firm in3-6 =Good
in similar fieldsimilar activities (Number of such projects undertaken)7-10=Very good
10 =Excellent
Support servicesHuman resources,Poor
of the consultantoffice space, trainingGood
(firm)facilities, bank solvency, equipmentVery good
Overall rating Remarks (if any)

As you see, the EOI is a type of pre-proposal designed to make a self-­evaluation of the respective consultant or firm.

If the consultants or firms are confident in their assessment that they can undertake the job, they might submit the EOI for evaluation by the sponsor.

We are now providing below a sample RFP and the corresponding TOR, as prepared by the National Institute of Population Research and Training (NIPORT) in their recent advertisement for contracting out a few research studies.

How to Write a Research Proposal

Generally, a research proposal outlines the proposed area of research. A completed proposal is “the product of a sustained process of planning and designing the research.” The topic of research should match the interests and capabilities of the researcher.

The research proposal also communicates the researcher’s intentions and research plans to those who approve or allocate funds. A research proposal should contain the context and background of the research, develop a research question, and approach it.

In the case of the doctoral research proposal, it must demonstrate originality and significance and explain how it adds to the existing knowledge.

A research proposal should be persuasive to persuade potential supervisors and funders of the importance of the research work.

The length of research proposals may vary. But ideally, a good research proposal should not be more than two thousand words.

A research proposal should contain research questions and address: What? How? Why?

  • ‘What’ means the area of research that a researcher is investigating. It points to research questions.
  • ‘How’ means the ways the research proposes to answer the research questions.
  • ‘Why’ means why the research is important. It indicates the justification, significance, or expected outcome of the research.

A good research proposal should also contain a clear and concise title, problem statement, why the proposed research is significant, and the limitations of the proposed research.

In addition, key terminologies should be well defined in the research proposal, and hypotheses and assumptions should be clearly stated.

Structure of a Research Proposal


The title of a research proposal should be attractive, interesting, and relevant. On the other hand, long and obscure titles should be avoided.

Introduction or Background of the Research

In an introduction, the researcher should create reader interest in the topic, highlight the research problem, place the study within the larger context of the scholarly literature, and reach a specific audience.

The introduction is considered a starting point to persuade, inform, or indicate the reader’s need for the research. This attempts to convince the reader that the research will be useful, interesting, or significant for the academic community. A well-written introduction is an important way to attract readers and set the context of the proposed research.

Aims and Objectives

A research proposal should state the aims and objectives of the research. The research aims should be clear, succinct, and realistic because these can be achieved in a reasonable time frame.

Justification or Rationale or Significance of the Research

This part of the research proposal should demonstrate how the proposed research will refine, revise, or extend existing knowledge in the area under investigation.

  • What will be improved or changed as a result of the proposed research?
  • Is there a gap in knowledge that the proposed research can help fill or a controversy that might help resolve? In what ways will the research fill the knowledge gap?
  • How is the proposed research beneficial, and for whom?
  • How will it build on the existing body of knowledge? Is the research timely, innovative, or responding to a new trend?
  • Is the research project worth doing?
  • Is it significant, and will it make an original contribution to knowledge in the chosen field?
  • What ethical issues are raised by the proposed approaches, and how will these be addressed?
  • Identification of a gap or deficiency in the existing literature is needed for a good research proposal.

To summarize, the research proposal should demonstrate that a researcher is engaged in genuine and worthwhile inquiry. There is a need for the research, is significant, and contributes something original to the field.

Statement of the Problem

The research problem statement should demonstrate a problem or unresolved issues that are yet to be resolved or explored. The problem statement should be described clearly to present a context for the study and identify the area to be investigated.

In addition, the statement of the problem should clearly indicate that the researcher has a comprehensive grasp of the field and are aware of important recent substantive and methodological developments.

Research Questions

There is a difference between research problem and question. A research proposal is largely seen as building or constructing the research problem, and the research question is one of the central components of the problem. The central research question is more general in nature, while related or subsidiary questions are more specific.

Scope of the Research

A research proposal shall carefully delineate the scope of research to be completed within the relevant timeframe.

However, the research proposal is not final as the research work progresses.

The original proposal may be refined and further developed in light of detailed literature reviews, research approaches consideration, and feedback from the supervisors and other academic staff.

Similarly, the initial title can be modified, but it should be related to the research proposal. A research proposal should demonstrate the researcher’s understanding of the research issues and identify gaps in the research literature.

A research proposal should be persuasive and address a demonstrable gap in the existing literature.

Methodological Approach

  • How will the research aims achieve?
  • What methodology will be applied?
  • What methodological issues needed to be addressed by this research?

If the proposed research is quantitative, it should mention which data collection method is appropriate and explain the validity and reliability of data gathering. It will also describe how the data will be used to answer the questions.

In empirical research, data should be linked to concepts and concepts to data, and the links between concepts and data should be tight, logical, and consistent.

Time Frame

The research proposal should indicate the time frame of the completion of research, and it should demonstrate that the research can be completed within the expected or reasonable time frame.

For example, providing a timetable or research action plan explains that each chapter or task is completed within a time frame.

Expected Outcomes

A research proposal should provide the anticipated or tentative outcomes of the research. Expected outcomes are general assumptions about the conclusion to be reached in research work.

Limitation of the Research

Limitations refer to limiting conditions or ‘restrictive weaknesses.’ A limitation identifies potential weaknesses of the study. Every research work has some limitations, and they should be mentioned in the proposal.9


The research proposal should be clear regarding the major approach of the research, including conceptual, theoretical, and empirical approaches, and the rationale and significance of the research.

A good proposal should be forward-looking. It should also state how the research will be communicated to the wider community.

However, a research proposal is an evolving document as it can change over time, and the final research proposal is often radically different from the one originally prepared.

Components of Research Proposal

Components of a Research Proposal

There is no single format for research proposals. This is because every research project is different. Different disciplines, donor agencies, and academic institutions have various forms and requirements.

There are, however, several key components that must be included in every research proposal. The specific research problem will dictate what other sections are required.

Although this delineation is not necessarily final, a project proposal may be structured under the following headings:

The following diagram displays the different stages of a proposal that shows an overview of the whole process:

Steps in the Development of Research Proposal

The question you must askSteps you will takeImportant elements of each step
1. What is the problem, and why should it be studied?Important elements of each stepProblem identification.

Prioritizing problems.

Problem analysis.

Justification of the problem.
2. What information is already available?Review literatureLiterature and other available information
3. What do we hope to achieve?Set objectives.

Formulate hypothesis.
General & specific objectives.

Hypotheses, research questions
4. What additional data do we need to meet our research objectives? How are we going to collect this information?Decide on research methodology.Variables.

Types of study.

Data collection techniques.


Plan for data collection.

Plan for data processing and analysis.

Ethical consideration.

Pre-test or pilot study.
5. Who will do what, and when?Prepare work plan.Human resources.

6. What resources do we need to carry out the study? What resources do we have?Prepare work plan.Material support and equipment.

7. How will the project be administered? How will the utilization of results be ensured?Plan for project management and utilization of resultsManagement.
Identification of potential users.

A brief description of each of the steps listed above is provided in the following sub-sections;

1. Executive Summary

This part of the proposal is the most important section of the entire document. Although it usually appears as the first section of the proposal, it is not written until all other sections are completed.

Here you will provide the reader with a snapshot of what is to follow.

Specifically, it summarizes all of the key information and is a sales document designed to convince the reader that the proposed study should be considered for support.

The executive summary should include all the steps to be followed in executing the study in a very brief manner.

This summary should not be overloaded with unnecessary information. There is a wide general agreement on the structure of a “typical” executive summary. Typically, an executive summary will

  • possibly be 5-10% or so of the length of the main report
  • be written in language appropriate for the target audience
  • consist of short and concise paragraphs
  • be written in the same order as the main report
  • only include materials present in the main report
  • have a brief statement of the problem
  • be a statement of objectives
  • contain expected implications
  • consist of methods followed
  • have a conclusion
  • make recommendations
  • provide a justification
  • be able to be read separately from the main report
  • sometimes summarize more than one document

2. Purpose of the Study

The purpose is a single statement or paragraph that explains what the study intends to accomplish. A few typical statements are:

The goal of this study is to

  • Overcome the difficulty with _.
  • Discover what _.
  • Understand the causes or effects of _.
  • Refine our current understanding of _.
  • Provide a new interpretation of _.
  • Redesign the existing instruments _.
  • Suggest a new method of data collection _.

3. Significance of the Study

The significance section should create a perspective for looking at the problem. It should point out how your study relates to the larger issues and uses a persuasive rationale to justify the reasons for your study.

It makes the purpose worth pursuing. The significance of the study answers such questions as:

  • Why is your study important?
  • To whom is it important?
  • What benefits will occur if your study is done?

4. Problem Statement

A clear and well-defined statement of the problem is considered as the foundation for the development of the research proposal.

It enables the researcher to systematically point out why the proposed research on the problem should be undertaken and what he hopes to achieve with the findings of the study.

The adage ‘a problem well-defined is a problem half-solved is worth remembering. This emphasizes that a well-defined statement of the problem will lead the researcher.

What is the problem you aim to solve, and why is it important enough to be investigated? The problem statement summarizes the topic of your planned research and reviews how your research will affect others in your field.

It deals with such elements as problem identification, prioritizing the problem, analysis, and justifying the problem in response to such questions as “what is the problem and why should it be studied.”

The problem statement, if narrated logically, will enable the reader to learn more about the issue you are addressing.

It presents the facts and evidence, background, and consequences that justify the need for the study and enhances the chances for final approval of the proposal. This section should be concise yet persuasive.

Assemble all the arguments, and present them logically to convince the reader of their importance. In presenting your arguments, take into consideration the following points:

  • Decide which facts or statistics best support the study.
  • Be sure that the data you present is updated and accurate.
  • Avoid overstatement and overly emotional appeals.
  • Determine whether it is reasonable to present the need as acute.

Here you are asking the funder to pay more attention to your proposal because the problem you address is worse than others or the proposed solution makes more sense than others.

Here is an example of a balanced but weighty statement.

Difficult delivery is a national problem. Every day, mothers all over the country die from delivery-related complicacies. The problem is worse in adolescents. More adolescent mothers than mothers of higher ages die from difficult deliveries.Hence more attention is to be given to adolescent mothers than adult mothers.

  • Decide whether you can demonstrate that your proposal addresses the need differently or better than others that preceded it.

While writing this section, take care that the statement does not become too long. Short and concise information captures the reader’s attention.

Contents of Problem Statement

We now turn to enumerate the types of information that should be included in the problem statement. These, among others, should include

  • A brief description of the socio-economic and cultural characteristics and an overview of the issue at the macro-level relevant to the problem to be researched;
  • A concise description of the nature of the problem (the discrepancy between what is and what should be), and of its size, distribution, and severity (who is affected, where, since when);
  • An analysis of the major factors that may influence the problem and a convincing argument that available knowledge is insufficient to solve it;
  • A brief description of any attempt in the past to solve the problem, the outcome thereof, and why further research is needed;
  • A description of the type of information expected to result from the study and how this information will be used to help solve the problem.

Let us examine the following cases to illustrate the problem statement:

Example #1:

Credit plays an important role in accelerating economic growth in any developing country like Bangladesh. A credit program in any economy contributes to (a) increase productivity, (b) generate incomes, and (c) ensure better distribution of wealth.

Keeping this in view, the Government of Bangladesh has been making all-out efforts to ensure the regular flow of credit in rural areas at a minimum interest rate, through liberal lending policy and establishing bank branches in rural areas.

To achieving the goals, credit money must be utilized in a way for which it was sanctioned.
But the borrowers under different constraints are compelled to divert whatever financial facilities they receive from the institutional or non-institutional sources owing to pressing demand and low or no savings.

Such diverted practices cannot surely generate additional income to ensure the repayment of outstanding money in time.

This may, therefore, lead to a high rate of default, making leading institutions hesitant to finance the rural poor. This leads to ultimate frustration to the program and incurs a heavy loss to the loanees.

Justifying the Problem

Once the problem situation has been identified and clearly stated, it is important to justify the importance of the problem. Research often is expensive and time-consuming. Most funding agencies are reluctant to support studies unless results have direct program intervention. Justification of the research topic thus is an important part of any proposal.

It is, therefore, important to know:

  • Why is the problem of study important?
  • Is the problem of current interest and timely one?
  • Will more information about the problem have practical applications?
  • How large and widespread is the problem?
  • How large is the population affected by the problem?
  • How important, influential, or popular is this problem?
  • Would this study substantially revise or extend existing knowledge?
  • Would this study create or improve an instrument of some utility?
  • Would research findings lead to some useful change in best practice?
  • Can others be convinced about the importance of the problem?
  • Does the problem relate to broad social, economic, business, and health issues?
  • Can this be implemented given the resources and other logistic facilities?

Answers to the above questions should be reviewed and presented in one or two paragraphs that justify the importance of the problem.

Example #2 ( Continued from Example #1)

It is ideally expected that the loans received by the rural people will be used for the sole purposes for which they were taken. But there are allegations that the use of loans in many instances does not correspond to the commitment of the loanees. Misuse or misdirection of loans, especially when it is utilized for unproductive purposes, does great harm to the loanees, the financing institutions, as well as to the economy of the country as a whole. In such circumstances, it is imperative to examine the status, pattern, magnitude, and nature of the utilization of credit and the extent of misdirection of the same with the ultimate goal of suggesting measures to overcome the flaws.

Analyzing the Problem

In many instances, a researcher is not very familiar with the problem he is dealing with. This might also be true for those who are directly or indirectly involved in the study.

This calls for a systematic analysis of the various aspects of the problem by the researcher, user, and program manager.

As a first step of analyzing the problem, critical attention should be given to

  • Accommodate the viewpoints of the managers, users and researchers about the problem through threadbare discussions
  • Clarify the issues by listing all the problems in the area of research as they perceive them. The perceived problems should be worded in such a way as to illustrate the discrepancy between the ‘existing {what is)’ and ‘expected {what should be)’ conditions.
  • Facilitate decisions concerning the focus and scope of the research.

Once the core problem has been identified, we should attempt to describe it more elaborately.

  • The nature of the problem; the discrepancy between ‘what is’ and what you prefer the situation to be, in terms of unsafe abortions and/or complications;
  • The distribution of the problem – who is affected, when, and where;
  • The size and intensity of the problem – is it widespread, how severer is it, and what are its consequences (such as disability, death, waste of resources)?

While analyzing the problem, it is important to review the focus and scope of the research with particular emphasis on the

  • The usefulness of the information to be gathered on the perceived problem;
  • Feasibility of the study in terms of the time constraint; and
  • Need for the study in the context of currently available information on the issue under investigation.

Soon after we have identified the core problem, we need to

  • Identify factors associated with the problem;
  • Clarify the relationship between the problem and the contributing factors.

It is helpful to understand these interrelationships in the form of a diagram that will indicate the inter-relationship between the perceived problem and contributing factors.

A diagram, called a conceptual or theoretical framework, may help visualize these relationships and hence analyze the problem. It may be pertinent to give a brief outline of a conceptual framework and how to develop it here.

The conceptual framework of a research study is a key part of one’s research design.

Miles and Huberman (1994) defined a conceptual framework as a visual or written product that “explains, either graphically or in narrative form, the main things to be studied—the key factors, concepts, or variables—and the presumed relationships among them.

The most important thing to understand about the conceptual framework is that it is primarily a conception or model of what you plan to study, what is going on with these things, and why—a tentative theory of the phenomena that you are investigating.

The function of this theory is to inform the rest of your design, to help you to assess and refine your goals, develop realistic and relevant research questions, formulate research hypotheses and select an appropriate research design.

A conceptual framework represents the researcher’s synthesis of the literature on how to explain a phenomenon.

It maps out the actions required in the course of the study, given his previous knowledge of other researchers’ points of view and his observations on the subject of research.

In other words, the conceptual framework is the researcher’s understanding of how the particular variables in his study connect with each other.

Thus, it identifies the variables required in the research investigation. It is the researcher’s “map” in pursuing the investigation.

As McGaghieer al. (2001) put it: The conceptual framework “sets the stage” for presenting the particular research question that drives the investigation being reported based on the problem statement. The problem statement of a thesis presents the context and the issues that caused the researcher to conduct the study.

The conceptual framework lies within a much broader framework called a theoretical framework. The latter draws support from time-tested theories that embody the findings of many researchers on why and how a particular phenomenon occurs.

Before you prepare your conceptual framework, you need to do the following things:

  1. Choose your topic. Decide on what will be your research topic. The topic should be within your field of specialization.
  2. Do a literature review. Review relevant and updated research on the theme that you decide to work on after scrutiny of the issue at hand. Preferably use peer-reviewed and well-known scientific journals as these are reliable sources of information.
  3. Isolate the important variables. Identify the specific variables described in the literature and figure out how these are related. Some abstracts contain the variables, and the salient findings thus may serve the purpose. If these are not available, find the research paper’s summary. If the variables are not explicit in the summary, get back to the methodology or the results and discussion section, and quickly identify the study variables and the significant findings.
  4. Generate the conceptual framework. Build your conceptual framework using your mix of the variables from the scientific articles you have read. Your problem statement serves as a reference for constructing the conceptual framework. In effect, your study will attempt to answer the question that other researchers have not explained yet. Your research should address a knowledge gap.

The underlying principles of constructing such a diagram are illustrated below:

conceptual framework for analyzing problem

A real-life example may help understand the concept of a conceptual framework (a framework of analysis) more clearly. Such an example, along with the framework in question, is provided below.

Example #3Suppose in a health science research, and an investigator wishes to identify the factors responsible for complications from unsafe abortion among teenagers. The core problem in this example is the ‘Increase in complications from unsafe abortions among teenagers.’Keeping in view the core problem, we construct below a framework to analyze the core problem. This framework shows the interrelationships of the core problems and contributing factors.The investigator anticipates the following factors to contribute to the core problem:

  • Increasing numbers of unsafe induced abortions;
  • Poor health services management of complications of induced abortion;
  • The social stigma associated with premarital pregnancy;
  • The illegality of abortion;
  • Negative attitudes of health personnel towards induced abortion;
  • The secrecy surrounding abortion.

Research Methods-30 Note that many of the perceived problems listed above are related to each other in a cause-effect relationship (e.g., poor management of complications from abortion and high complication rate from abortions), or in a mutual relationship (stigma on induced abortion and secrecy surrounding induced abortion).We now proceed to study the core problem of the factors influencing the core problem.As we can see, the diagram suggests that further development of the analysis could proceed in at least two directions:

  • Family and community: an increasing number of unsafe teenage abortions; secrecy surrounding abortion;
  • Quality and accessibility of the services provided (poor management of complications due to abortions negative attitude of staff towards induced abortion.
example framework of analyzing the determinants of complications for unsafe pregnancy

5. Literature Review

A review of relevant literature prompts and strengthens the researcher to assess approaches to the problem and revise the plan accordingly.

A literature review educates a researcher, enhances his knowledge, and increases his confidence, which ultimately contributes to preparing an appealing proposal.

His earned knowledge on the subject of investigation through the reviewing process gives him a fair chance of proving his credibility.

Such a review not only provides him exposure to a larger body of knowledge but also equips him with efficiently setting his objectives, formulating testable hypotheses, identifying the variables to be included, and conceptualizing the theoretical framework for analyzing data.

To summarize, the literature review focuses on the following points:

  • It explains the needs of the proposed study.
  • It avoids duplication of work.
  • It shares with the reader the results of other studies closely related to the study being undertaken.
  • It appraises the shortcomings of others’ works
  • It documents the accuracy of the secondary data
  • It provides a framework for establishing the importance of the study, as well as a benchmark for comparing the results of a study with other findings.
  • It examines the weakness (if any) of the methodology used in other studies.

To ensure a good review of the literature.

  • Make your review brief.
  • Refer to sources only
  • Emphasize the important results of other studies
  • Indicate how your study relates to other studies
  • Identify the weakness of the methodology adopted by others.
  • Say how your study is different from others.

6. Benefits of the Study

This section of the proposal should focus on the importance and urgency of the data needed. It must therefore explicitly describe in two to three paragraphs what benefit will be accrued from the proposed study.

In describing this section, you must take care that you can convince the sponsor that your plan can meet its needs.

7. Research Objectives

This module represents an important section of the research proposal focusing on what is being planned in the proposed investigation.

Specifically, research objectives describe what will be demonstrated, tested, evaluated, confirmed, or compared. They communicate:

  1. why do we carry out the research?
  2. What do we hope to achieve from such research?

The research objective section is the basis for judging the remainder of the proposal and, ultimately, the final report.

Is because of this reason and objectives should be closely related to the statement of the research problem, giving the sponsor-specific, concrete and achievable goals.

The research questions must be clearly stated, specifically, and with appropriate inclusiveness.

In addition to research objectives, all proposals should contain a formal and explicit statement of the research questions or hypotheses wherever applicable.

Whether to use research questions or hypotheses will depend on the type of research.

Exploratory or descriptive research does not involve hypothesis testing; it is based on underlying research questions. All proposals for analytical research must explicitly state the hypothesis.

8. Methodology

The methodology section describes your basic research plan. It usually begins with a few introductory paragraphs that restate the purpose and research questions. The phraseology should be identical to that used in Chapter 1.

This section should aim at addressing four broad questions:

  • Where do we want to collect the data, how will we select our sample, and how many subjects will be included in the study? (This refers to the coverage, target population, sample design)
  • What information do we need to collect to answer the research questions implied in our research objectives? (This refers to the variables we are interested in)
  • What approach will we follow to collect this information? (This refers to the research design we want to employ)
  • What techniques and tools will we use to collect them? (This refers to the data collection techniques and tools, such as questionnaires, observation check-list)

When more than one way exists to approach the design, discuss the methods you discarded, and justify why your selected approach is superior.

While proposing your methodology, you should explore other methodologies and highlight the comparability of those with the one you propose in terms of interpreting the available data, carrying out investigation and analysis, and suggesting alternative approaches if needed.

Data Collection

Data collection methods should be specified in the proposal. These methods may vary from simple observation to a large-scale field survey.

The specific method or methods to collect data largely depends on the objectives of the survey, the research design, and the availability of time, money, and personnel.

With the variation in the type of data) qualitative or quantitative) to be collected, the method of data collection also varies.

Plan for Data Analysis

The proposal should contain this section to assure the sponsor that you are familiar with the correct and theoretically sound techniques of data analysis procedures.

Keeping this in mind, you need to provide a brief overview of these procedures’ treatment and theoretical basis.

In doing so, you may lay out a sketch of sample graphs, charts, and dummy tables and an overview of the statistical techniques ranging from simple regression to multivariate techniques.

You may also indicate the possible statistical tests that you may employ depending on the nature of the data to verify the research hypothesis that you have formulated.

You are also required to specify the type of data you are anticipating and the tentative interpretation you will make in the analysis process.

Note that the data analysis plan that you are proposing is not a commitment, rather, it is an honest desire to fulfill the commitment as outlined in the proposal.

9. Work Plan

This section elaborates on the work schedule of the proposed study, answering such questions as, who will do what and when it will be done.

A work plan has two major components: personnel and schedule. The major issues that a work plan includes are;

  • Preparatory works/questionnaire development
  • Recruitment and training of project personnel
  • Questionnaire revision
  • Field interviews/data collection
  • Data editing and data coding
  • Data entry and data analysis
  • Report writing

Each of these phases should have an estimated time and personnel needed. A chart known as the Gantt chart may be used for this purpose. A Gantt chart is a type of bar chart that illustrates a project schedule.

Gantt charts illustrate the start and completion dates of the terminal elements and summary elements of a project. Terminal elements and summary elements comprise the work breakdown structure of the project.

Some Gantt charts also show the dependency (i.e., precedence network) relationships between activities. As an example, a sample nine-month work plan of a hypothetical study is shown in the following Gantt chart:

The Gantt chart below shows that the planning and preparatory activities will begin at the start of the first month and continue for one month. The second month is devoted to the recruitment and training of the project personnel.

The questionnaire will also be pre-tested and finalized in the second month.

Soon after the finalization of the questionnaire, field teams will be sent for data collection, and the team will remain engaged until the end of the fifth month. During data collection, the editing of data will be started.

Data analysis will be over at the end of the seventh month, and the final report will be available any time during the last month of the project life.

work plan grant chart

It may be emphasized that the proposed work plan must be consistent with the technical approach and proposed methodology, showing an understanding of the TOR and ability to translate them into a work plan.

Analysis Plan

The analysis plan should be described at length. Each research objective and hence the research question will require its analysis.

Thus, the research questions should be addressed one at a time, followed by a description of the type of statistical treatment (tables, statistical tests) that will be performed to answer that research question.

State what variables will be included in the analysis and identify the dependent and independent variables if such a relationship exists.

Indicate in advance what analytical techniques (univariate, bivariate, or multivariate) will be employed if data permits.

Reporting Findings

The proposal should indicate what reports and other means of disseminating research findings are planned. The types of report that are usually included for reporting purposes are

  • Progress report (weekly/monthly etc.)
  • Final report
  • Publications
  • Seminar, workshop, conference
  • Discussion with policymakers or program managers
  • Qualification of the Key Persons

Qualifications of the key persons involved in the study play a vital role in evaluating the proposal.

A proposal with experienced researchers enhances its credibility and assures the program managers and policymakers of a set of policy-oriented recommendations that can ultimately be implemented.

This section should begin with the key qualifications and experiences of the investigators. Particular emphasis should be given to including the previous experience of doing related works.

Relevant societies, to which the researcher belongs, can be included in the curriculum vitae. Include the curriculum vitae of other personnel if the RFP desires so.

10. Budget

The budget details should be submitted in the format of the sponsor requests. In some cases, the budget is submitted as a separate proposal for sear reasons for the quality proposal, where budget is somewhat of secondary importance. In all cases, the budget should be realistic.

Claims for any large and unusual items in the budget should be explained and justified. Arrange the major cost categories under the following major headings:

  • Salaries and benefits,
  • Materials, equipment, and supplies,
  • Travel,
  • Dissemination seminar, and
  • Miscellaneous expenses.

11. Project Management

All administrative activities should be outlined on a master plan. This plan shows how the study team is organized to complete the work efficiently.

This plan is intended to demonstrate;

  1. the relationship between the researchers and the assistants, and
  2. who is to keep liaison with the sponsor.

The plan should also focus on the process of record control, fund handling, mode of preparing and forwarding progress report, progress monitoring, and project supervision.

Also, the mode of payment frequency and several installments in payment should also be included in the plan.

Legal responsibilities, liabilities, and involvement of the sponsors during the entire period of the project should also be delineated in this master plan.


A bibliography is necessary for many of the projects once you have done a literature review.

Following is a frequently used format for bibliographic citation:

Scope and Limitations

All research studies have limitations of one kind or another and a finite scope. If you anticipate any problem during your study, do not try to conceal it.

It may start with designing a questionnaire to data analysis with intermediate problems in sample size determination, selection of the sample, and data collection. Limitations are often imposed by time and budget constraints.

Fairly list the limitations of the study. Describe the extent to which you believe the limitations might degrade the data quality and your findings.

It is best to recognize these limitations rather than to pretend that they do not exist. Be frank and fair to mention any unprecedented or situational factors that you might encounter during the execution of your study. Study the following example:

A study is designed to assess the attitude of school-going children towards TV programs provided by satellite channels. The study is proposed to be conducted during March-May.

It is apprehended that for such a study, the proposed months are not suitable, because SSC examination is scheduled during these months. The key respondents are busy with their examination and are highly likely to be reluctant to participate despite their interest. This will certainly influence the study findings.

In a study on dowry and discrimination towards women, statistical representation cannot be ensured in determining the size of the sample. It is because such events are rare and localized.

This may be indicated as a limitation, and an alternative suggestion may be made for data collection. One may propose to conduct an in-depth interview, case studies, and FGD.


Any additional information that reinforces the body of the proposal can be included in the appendix.

This includes, for example, a CV of the project personnel, a detailed budget, a draft questionnaire, technical notes, an informed consent form, a list of references, and any other information you think might be helpful to the proposal reviewer.

A simple section consisting of the glossary of the terms should also be included whenever there are many words unique to the research topic. A list of abbreviations should also be provided in the appendix so that nobody faces any difficulty in understanding these acronyms.

Here are some examples of glossaries and abbreviations:

If you use technical terms in writing your proposal, you require clarifying them in non-technical terms to make them understandable to the readers with brief explanations of their meanings. Here are a few examples:


ApprenticeshipMethod of on-the-job training in which the employee is trained under the guidance of a highly skilled co­worker.
AdolescentA boy/girl who is between 12 and 19 years of age.
NormsAssumptions and expectations about how members of a group will behave
OrientationA program designed to help employees fit smoothly into an organization.
ReliabilityThe consistency of a measure
ConstantAn attribute in terms of which cases do not differ
OutlierAn extreme value in a distribution of values
Null hypothesisA hypothesis of no relationship between two variables


LCLetter of Credit
TORTerms of Reference
GDPGross Domestic Product
PSUPrimary Sampling Unit
CPIConsumer Price Index
NCBNationalized Commercial Bank
RFPRequest for Proposal
ANOVAAnalysis of Variance
EOIExpression of Interest

Proposal Presentation

In many instances, the sponsor/donor wants you to present the proposal for more clarity and an understanding of the research process you have planned to follow in your proposed study.

This gives them an understanding if you have understood the problem they want to investigate and whether the proposal has been written by the guidelines as delineated in terms of Reference (TOR).

The researcher or the research firm also gets an opportunity to identify his proposal’s strengths and weaknesses and get a chance to modify his proposal accordingly.

Evaluation of a Research Proposal

All proposals submitted for funding are subjected to formal review. The criteria for reviewing the proposal are established in advance. Each criterion is given weights or points.

These points are recorded for each category, reflecting the client’s assessment of how well the proposal meets the category’s established criteria.

Usually, more than one reviewer does this job. After the review, the category scores are added to provide a cumulative total. The proposal with the highest score wins the bid.

Here we show how much scoring is done against some pre­fixed criteria.

1Demonstrating understanding, objectives, and completeness of the assignment15
2Methodology and implementation plan35
3Proposed team (Detailed description of the proposed team, CV of the team leader and other key team members)30
4Organization and Staffing (Profile including administrative and logistic facilities, experience in similar works, management control system, exposure in working with international agencies, and additional resources/logistics which can be made available to conduct the study)20

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