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How to Outline and Write a Flawless Research Proposal

Most probably, every time you face another assignment, you question yourself why you have to do all this writing in the first place. With some tasks, it is indeed hard to explain why. The curriculum is not always that logical and straightforward. With a research proposal, the answer is on the surface, so put your skeptical mood aside and read on.
A research proposal is a cornerstone of your graduation paper or grant application. As profs like to say, your thesis is only as good as your proposal is. So, pay attention to this guide on how to write a research proposal, since it will significantly reduce your efforts of writing your research properly.

A research proposal mentions in a very brief and clear manner:
– the specific narrow topic and question you want to explore and highlight;
– why it is necessary to do this research (gap in knowledge, an insufficient amount of research in the field, etc.);
– how you will conduct the research (research design);
– what sources you will use for research.
So technically, the key elements of a proposal will be a title page, an introduction (do not confuse it with an abstract), review on pertinent literature, your suggested design of research to undertake, a kind of conclusion to sum your proposal up, and a list of references.

What is a Research Proposal?

Hence, technically a research proposal is a detailed outline (including a hypothesis and questions to clarify) of your big research project that you will present in partial fulfillment of your degree requirements. Or else, a research proposal is a detailed outline of your proposed study that you submit in a grant application. If you get a grant, you get to conduct and present your full research.
So, no matter the purpose, the research proposal needs to demonstrate that your potential research is actually scientific and interesting, has current significance and that you have the capacity and schedule to complete it. So, two key demands that are put towards a proposal are the following:

  • it should be persuasive for readers so that they agreed to its importance while evaluating it;
  • it should present all important elements of your future research so that it was evident you understand what and how to investigate.

So, the first big tip of writing a proposal is this: you should know really well the area you plan to write about and you should focus on saying how interesting and important your proposed topic is in the context of the given area. Thus, the goal of a proposal is not only to outline but also to argument the topic and persuade your readers. And the better you know the topic and the more you like it, the higher the chances that your writing will be enthusiastic and contagious enough to persuade and catch your readers as well.
In this case, writing and editing are as important as a research design itself. Many a potentially useful research proposals have run aground with the application committees only because they were slapped together in haste, like an ordinary research paper, with young researchers usually thinking they will polish everything in the research itself. Alas, the researches never came to be exactly because the half-baked proposals were not convincing enough to enable the implementation of this researches. So do not repeat this mistake, for science’s sake, and as for the rest, we will help you with structuring and polishing the proposal to make it look really advantageous.

Research Proposal Outline

Now let us approach the research proposal outline and decide what its necessary parts are and how to approach them. A proposal is an outline of research itself, so why outline this framework document, in the first place? The conciseness and clarity are the keys, as we have already said. So by creating a plan of these few pages, you will guarantee that you do not omit anything important. The outline of a proposal looks like this:

  • title page (the title is a part of the content of the proposal, mind that);
  • abstract (of required by your institution);
  • introduction;
  • literature review;
  • hypothesis and questions section;
  • design of research including method, instruments, design and limitations, procedure, data processing, analysis, ethical considerations, and budget;
  • significance;
  • conclusion;
  • references list.

As you can see, designing a research proposal is quite far from designing a typical research paper. This is why crafting and following this outline will help you move smoothly through your project.
Further, we will review each of the mentioned sections and explain how to write them clearly and impressively. So read on!

How to write a research proposal (12 steps)

Please keep in mind that we cannot guarantee 100% acceptance of your research proposal for a grant or a thesis. But we can guarantee that if you follow recommendations and steps, you will produce a decent solid research plan worth attention. And if the committee pays attention, your chances for a positive outcome are higher.
The key (no, we are not tried to repeat it) is a painstakingly thorough and detailed description of what you want to research and how you want to research. An important detail is to show that you have explored the existing literature and so you do not plan to do the job already done by someone else.
After reading your document, the audience should get the impression:

  • that you defined and formulated a real scholarly problem;
  • that you researched the area and know your way about all existing materials on the issue;
  • that you have a plan that will work out within acceptable time and budget limits.

Keep these goals in mind and set to planning the proposed study and its parts.

1. Plan your research

Planning means that you foresee your immediate audience, people who may benefit from your research in the future, timeframe and budget, and your own capacities and limits in conducting and delivering the research. You may aim for professors, other teaching staff, funding agency officers or representatives or R&D of institutions to pay attention to your work. Clarify for yourself in advance, who the audience is, and write correspondingly. Professors may be more interested in scientific significance while granting organizations want to see words ‘optimization, cost-cutting, delivering better service’ and other markers that point toward practical application of your project.
When you have settled on these factors, consult your supervisor on the technical details of the paper. A number of pages, number of references necessary for a proposal, abstract or no abstract policy, font, spacing, the format of a title page – all these details need to be clarified in advance to avoid unnecessary changes in the last moment.
Research the literature to see what you have and what you don’t. Discuss your proposed hypothesis and questions with a supervisor. They are mostly happy to assist in the early stages because it saves them from rereading several variants of the same proposal with a slightly adapted hypothesis or questions. Decide upon the budget. Yes, this section is included separately into the list, but you need to set the budget before you write the final draft. Otherwise, you may have to rewrite the whole paper because the final budget exceeds the size of the grant you apply for. Create a brief research proposal outline to keep track of writing.
When you have undertaken these steps, you are ready to draft.

2. Craft a title page

It is important because it says a lot about you and your project.
Provide your full name, institution, degree, supervisor, place of conducting research (if different from your own institution); if applying for a grant, add your contact information.
The title of the project counts toward the general persuasiveness of your work. Aim for a title of up to 10 words that reflects functional relations between variables and not variables of your research problem. For instance, ‘Functional correlation between workdays sports activities and professional productivity of employees. You say what you want to explore and what you will compare or correlate it to. The clearer the title reflects your idea, the better. Just do not do it too scholarly sounding, as the simpler language for scholarly papers is a current trend in the academic world.
Congrats! You have completed the first portion of your proposal.

3. Summarize your research proposal in an abstract

Clarify in advance if this section is required. The abstract is your study in a nutshell. It includes your topic, new aspects of it, significance, and possible applications of the research. Aim for half a page to one-page length. It will be optimal.

4. Create a table of contents

Yes, this is a technical detail, but in evaluators’ opinion, it counts toward general validity/invalidity of the project you present. Table of content structures your writing for readers who can find any section they want immediately. If you fail to include this section, it means you cannot think logically and foresee the simplest things, not to mention design really valuable research. Thus, you are obviously incapable of delivering what you promise in your paper.
The content page includes names of sections, their numerical indices, and pages. Use word processor tools to create it and you will update page numbers automatically, without any manual work involved.

5. Provide the background information in your introduction

Introduction catches readers and says why you decided to investigate the topic, in the first place. So here you outline the problem (what needs to be solved and improved) and what is the context of the proposed study. Thus, you have two key components: context and narrowing it down to a specific question.
Briefly mention what has not been studied or needs deeper exploration and how you will go about filling the gap. Remember, this is just a teaser that says: ‘This is a very important problem, and I want to contribute to its solving’. Do not delve into great details, it will come in other sections.
Sometimes hypotheses and questions are included in the introduction, but more often you create a general thesis. Elaboration on questions will come after the literature review (because you cannot start asking specific questions before you have analyzed the available literature).

6. Write a literature review section

This is one of the biggest and rich sections. Although it is briefer than it will be in the full research, it should be profound enough to show you have the grasp of the background.
While compiling a review, aim to systematize it and find common and opposing points. It will lead to more accurate questions and hypotheses. Do not just slap together everything you found.

  • Focus on the most renowned and important studies in the field. They are present in every area. Without showing your knowledge of them, you fail to show that you have done your homework. so maybe your question has already been solved, and you just do not know it.
  • Bring in some supporting sources, they may confirm or deny findings in the critical papers, but they will connect to them anyway.
  • By comparing, contrasting, providing reasonable critique and connecting the works you provide a full description of the field, and so assumptions about gaps and need for research look valid.
  • First, summarize findings of the work in a paragraph, then link it to other works. Do not overdo on it, you will go in-depth in the full paper. And please provide generous in-text citations to the credit work of others.

Now it is time to focus on a specific hypothesis that you have formulated with regard to explored material. This is your research problem. It will be further broken down into several questions, 2-3 will be more than enough. Departing from your topic and question, you will shape your methods.

7. Describe a research design and methods

As we said, this section will include the following subsections (depending on your research, they may vary): method, instruments, design and limitations, procedure, data processing, analysis, ethical considerations, and budget.
Research design and methods depend on what you want to explore. They may be an experiment, an empirical study, data collection, and analysis, etc.
Instruments will follow from your method: interview forms, questionnaires, personal communication, statistical programs, databases, archives of some institutions, etc.
Design and limitations mean that you plan the research according to available resources, and are aware of data, time and funding limitations. You mention it all here.
The procedure describes how you will go about research, i.e. collect data, analyze, interpret, present findings, etc. Or you can observe, interview participants, record data, interpret it and present.
Here you also mention sample and population, if any is involved. Be very careful with this point, since if you fail to pick the appropriate (accessible, ethically plausible) population for your research, your project may get rejected as well.
Data collection and processing need to be mentioned in detail because they ensure success (or failure) of your research. You should indicate any foreseeable obstacles and how you plan to overcome them. Mention what software and tools you will use to interpret the data.
If you work with humans or animals, mention the ethical aspect. Some things may be unethical or dubious, so research everything before you decide to experiment on people or on animals.
Budget. Mention it here. Say what costs will be involved, and what can be gained for free. You should show that you are aware of costs, especially if you need a grant.

8. Write about the impact of your research

This is only a prediction and assumptions. So, mention them sensitively, since you cannot be 100% about the outcomes. Write in positive key, like, it will contribute to or fill the gap in knowledge on the research problem, so it is worth trying. It is too early to say about tremendous impact, but some optimism will be fine.
Write a couple of sentences for the conclusion and move to the bibliography.

9. Provide a reference list or bibliography

Here you include only papers that you have cited in the literature review. If you cited 5 or 6, list them. Do not list all the sources you plan to include in the research. And learn about formatting style in advance.

10. Plan a research schedule

You will need to mention how much time the research will take in general, from beginning to presentation of results. You may say it in the introduction or in the design and research section. But set for yourself reasonable deadlines of each stage, and in future comply with them. Look at your research design, account for everything and calculate your time.

11. Project your budget

Plan and calculate how much money you will need for everything you have mentioned. Compare it to the desired grant all the time, so that not to go beyond the limits. For university research, the costs will be probably close to zero (students are tight on money), but some office supplies costs may be included.

12. Proofread your paper

This stage is as important as writing. Many a paper got rejected because of silly mistakes or typos. Check grammar and spelling. If you doubt your skills, ask a person you trust, or go to the Writing Lab or Center of your institution. They should provide such a service. Just plan it in advance to allow time for them to read and check.
Well done! You’ve accomplished it. Or at least you are ready to start with a detailed guide in hand.

Craft a Perfect Research Proposal with Help of Qualified Writer

If you still hesitate in doubts and feel that completing the proposal is beyond your capacity, fear not. We are the reputable and long-standing research proposal writing service that can solve your problem within assigned time and budget limits.
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