Writing a good research proposal is an important step for undertaking a higher degree by research, application 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 critical thinking of the researcher, and the feasibility of the research project. Research proposals are also used to assess the researcher’s expertise in the area in which he/she wants to conduct research.
Generally, a research proposal is an outline of 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, explain how it adds to the existing knowledge. A research proposal should be persuasive in nature 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 are.
- ‘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
- Introduction or Background of the Research
- Aims and Objectives
- Justification or Rationale or Significance of the Research
- Statement of the Problem
- Research Questions
- Scope of the Research
- Methodological Approach
- Time Frame
- Expected Outcomes
- Limitation of the Research
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.
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 research work progresses. The original proposal may be refined and further developed in light of detailed literature reviews, further consideration of research approaches, and feedback received 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.
- 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 in nature, 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.
The research proposal should indicate the time frame of the completion of research, and it should demonstrate that the research can be completed in 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.
A research proposal should provide the anticipated or tentative outcomes of the research. Expected outcomes are genera; 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 as to the major approach of the research, including conceptual, theoretical, empirical approaches and 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.