Guide to Writing Research Proposal

A research proposal is simply a document that is meant to convince a supervisor for approval of a topic for research. It could be used to convince a funding body of the relevance of your research given its intending contribution to the body of knowledge, society or any other form of solution to a problem.

According to USC Libraries, a proposal describes a detailed methodology for conducting the research consistent with requirements of the professional or academic field and a statement on anticipated outcomes and/or benefits derived from the study’s completion.

Scholars are often required to write a research proposal on the research topic they intend to explore or study. Research Proposal as a part of the requirement for embarking on an undergraduate, graduate, or postgraduate thesis.

It can also be written for admission to graduate schools. A research proposal as the name implies is a qualitative summary or plan of an intended or proposed research study. Its coherent research problems show a sufficient relationship between intended studies and works of literature, it meticulously discusses the central issues, the objectives for the intended study, the research questions to be adopted, possible limitations as well as the justification for the proposed research study.

A research proposal ideally presents the content scope of the intended study as well as the methodology that will be followed while conducting the proposed study.  Notably, the format at which the research proposal will follow differs depending on the discipline. However, most research proposals follow the following format;

  1. Introduction – At this stage, it is expected that the research extensively discusses the keywords in his/her proposal topic, showing its relationship with existing works of literature and the gaps identified.
  2. Statement of the Problem -Here, the researcher is expected to discuss the central issues surrounding his/her proposed study, providing detailed information on the effect of the status quo on the intended population to be studied.
  3. Objective of the Study -Here, the specific objectives which will guide the study are formulated. The specific objectives are influenced by the identified gap and should be constructed in a manner that reflects and supports the general objective of the proposed study.
  4. Research questions -The formulation of research questions allows the researcher to obtain data from respondents. Research questions can be formulated by turning the specific objectives into questions.
  5. Justification or significance of the study -Here the researcher is expected to discuss the importance of the intended study, and how his/her study would contribute to the development of his/her targeted population, the wider society and the body of knowledge.
  6. Literature review -Here, the researcher briefly reviews existing works of literature in his/her proposed line of study. Areas covered by other researchers in this line of study, as well as gaps in knowledge. Also, it is essential for the researcher also to showcase the uniqueness of his/her proposed study, as this serves as a distinguishing factor between the previous research studies conducted by various researchers in the intended line of study.
  7. Methodological approach -There are so many research methods. Hence, it is expected that the researcher explains the approaches he/she would adopt while conducting the study. It is essential to ensure that the research method adopted is appropriate for the intended study.
  8. Limitation of the study -This segment provides details on the possible setback the intended study is likely to face. Limitations can come in the form of time constraint, unavailability of related works of literature, lack of finance, the delimitation of study b and in some cases the inappropriateness of the instrument to be employed for data analysis among others.
  9. Operational definition of terms -Here the keywords and other related words used in the study are defined and explained in a manner that aid understanding.
  10. References -It is expected that the researcher provides a comprehensive list of all the works of literature he/she consulted while carrying out the study as well as detailed information on all the authors cited or quoted in the proposal. References may appear at the end of the work in case of endnotes, while it may appear at the bottom end of every page, such as the case in footnotes.

What is the word count or the number of pages for a Research Proposal?

A research proposal is expected to be around 1500-3500 words long, or 6-15 pages. Always find out from your school thesis writing guide. If your school do not have a thesis guide, then 7-12pages could be fine.

Formats or Outlines for writing a Research Proposal

Format 1:

  1. Introduction
  2. Statement of the Problem
  3. Objective of the Study
  4. Research questions
  5. Justification or significance of the study
  6. Literature Review
  7. Methodological Approach
  8. Limitation of the study
  9. Operational definition of terms
  10. References

Format 2:

  1. Working Title
  2. Context
  3. Research Questions
  4. Objectives of the Study
  5. Methodology
  6. Plan of work/Timeline
  7. Reflection
  8. Conclusion
  9. References

Format 3:

  1.  Introduction, presenting your topic idea and problem statement
  2. Objectives, research questions/hypothesis
  3. Thematic background + conceptual/analytical framework (integrated or as separate sections), in the form of a review of relevant literature
  4. Research design plan
    4.1 Study area/setting if applicable
    4.2 Methods of sampling, data collection, analysis
    4.3 Limitations, ethical considerations
    4.4 Timetable and budget (resource needs and how they will be met)
  5. References
  6. Appendix

Format 4:

  1. Abstract
  2. Introduction
  3. Research Objectives
  4. Problem Statement
  5. Thesis Statement/Hypothesis
  6. Literature Review
  7. Research Methodology
  8. Societal and Scientific Relevance
  9. Ethical Considerations
  10. References

Format 5:

  1. Introduction
  2. Statement of Problem
  3. Methodology
  4. Time Scale
  5. Data Analytic Procedure
  6. Ethical Issues
  7. References

Please note, there is no specific outline to writing a research proposal but you need to consult your school manual before choosing any of the outlines above.

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