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When you advance to the point in your education where you will take on a major research project or a thesis project, you will need to know how to write a research proposal. This might be for a PhD research proposal or a proposal for your undergraduate studies. However, research proposals aren’t just for academic purposes. When you graduate and go into the workforce, you might also have the need to write research proposals.

What does this mean for you?

You need to master the skills required to write an effective research paper proposal so that you can easily produce one whenever it is needed during your education or your career. With that in mind, let’s take a look at exactly what a proposal essay is.


The purpose of a proposal

A research proposal will provide your instructor with your research topic and your research plan so he or she will know precisely what you are doing and how you plan to accomplish your task. You will also be required to write a research proposal when you work in a research-oriented career. It is common to have to write research proposals to acquire funding for various research projects.

But that’s not all:

Perhaps the most important function of a research proposal essay is that it will help give you direction when you begin your research project. Learning how to write a proposal essay will provide you with the foundation you need to get on with your work by:

  1. Ensuring you think carefully about your research project
  2. Helping you narrow down your topic
  3. Helping you create a plan and stick to it
  4. Helping you get your ideas and thoughts organized
  5. Allowing you to convince the reader that your work is important
  6. Encouraging you to consider potential difficulties and analyze them
  7. Allowing you to demonstrate your level of cooperation with your instructor

Now it’s time to learn how to write a research proposal, starting with what you should do before you start writing.


How to approach your research proposal

When learning how to write a research proposal, remember that a research proposal is only as good as the research plan. Keep in mind that your research project plan is not necessarily carved in stone. Once you show it to your supervisor, he/she might have some good recommendations for you. There are three main stages of research proposal writing:

  1. Selecting a research proposal topic from a range of research topics
  2. Identifying the sources you will reference
  3. The actual research proposal writing

Selecting a topic for your research proposal is probably the most difficult part of the process because there is such a long list of research proposal topics. When choosing a topic for your research, it is important to take the following into consideration:

  1. You should find the topic interesting.
  2. The topic should be worthy of investigation.
  3. There should be an adequate number of sources related to the topic.

It can also be a challenge to collect the reference sources for your research proposal, but you have so many possibilities to explore, such as the internet, thematic catalogues in your university library, and public libraries, that you can overcome this obstacle.

But this is just the beginning:


Once you have a topic, you need to carefully consider each and every aspect of your topic and include the outcome of this thinking process in your research proposal. When contemplating your topic, answer the following questions:

  • WHAT topic will you choose? This is a good time to choose a topic or narrow down a topic if it is too broad.
  • WHY have you chosen this topic? Present information on the implications of the topic and present what you intend to achieve.
  • HOW will you approach the research for this topic? Indicate the research method you plan to use.
  • WHY are you going to approach the topic in the proposed manner? Provide your justification for selecting this particular method of research.
  • WHEN will you finish your research? Provide a timeline for your research, dividing it into smaller, more manageable pieces and setting milestones for each.

Be sure to write down the answers to these five questions and then you will be well on your way to writing a spectacular proposal. At this point you should also spend time reading through your reference material and making notes from all your different sources.

You can find out more about the purpose of a proposal and how to approach it from the University of Southern California.

Once you have done all of this, you have a solid direction in which to move. This means you now can start writing, so let’s get down to the details of how to write a proposal paper.


How to write a research proposal

Let’s take a look at the research proposal format. The following is the basic outline for a proposal:

  • Title page
  • Introduction
  • Problem statement and hypothesis
  • Objectives
  • Literature review (use between 10 and 15 sources)
  • Methodology (research method used and sampling)
  • Research plan, including milestones
  • Conclusion
  • References

When it comes to creating your title page, here is a research proposal template that lays out the format for writing a proposal title page so it is easier to conceptualize:


When it comes to the actual proposal, it is helpful if you use subheadings to divide your content. You can find additional research proposal templates with Newcastle University and the University of Adelaide.

Remember that one of the primary purposes for your proposal is to make your life easier. By taking the time to truly establish your goals when writing your proposal, you will save yourself frustration later on because you will have the opportunity to foresee potential problems. The following are the main issues that are normally addressed in a good research proposal:

  • The broad topic of your research project
  • The narrowed down topic of your research paper
  • Your thesis statement
  • The research questions you will address (do not tackle more than three questions)
  • A preliminary review of relevant literature that demonstrates what others think of your research topic
  • Your research method, including what it is and why you chose it
  • Any limitations you face in your research (remember nothing is ever perfect)
  • Your research plan laid out in terms of milestones
  • The expected outcomes of the research (this is where you predict what will happen)


Additional tips

Naturally, writing something as important as a research proposal can be daunting, even with the information provided above, so here are some additional tips:

  1. Start writing early so you can take your time. Keep in mind that if you want to wow your supervisor, you won’t write the ideal proposal overnight.
  2. Do not submit the first draft of your proposal; it can be better!
  3. Proofread the final draft of your proposal! I can’t say this enough! Proofread it at least twice.
  4. Keep the word count in mind. A proposal generally makes up about 10% of the total word count of the project. This means if you are writing a research paper that is 20,000 words in length, your proposal should be around 2,000 words.
  5. When it comes to your literature review, use 10-15 credible sources. You will need more than this for your research paper, but the proposal will allow you to provide a preliminary literature review.
  6. Don’t just discuss what has already been discussed. This is your research, so be original!
  7. You can mix approaches in your research and paper because it can help provide proof of your objectivity.
  8. Be consistent in your arguments.
  9. Avoid using the passive voice when writing.
  10. Avoid the use of clichés or phrases that are commonplace or predictable, such as “In conclusion.”


Mistakes to avoid

There are a number of common pitfalls you need to avoid when writing a research proposal. In order to avoid them, take a look at this list of mistakes and the correct approach for each:

Mistake Correct Approach
Notional Mistakes
1.      paper goal = paper objectives

2.      paper subject = paper object

3.      thesis statement (TS) = hypothesis (H)

4.      the facts = the major paper argument

1.      Objectives are smaller parts of the primary goal.

2.      The subject is the broad focus of a research paper and the object is the narrow focus or issue of the research.

3.      The TS is your argument and the hypothesis is a potential solution you present in the paper.

4.      Your argument is solidified by comparing and contrasting the facts.

Grammatical Mistakes
1.      Poor paraphrasing

2.      Wrong or incorrect format

3.      Lack of connection between sentences

4.      Avoiding the1st person singular

1.      Use synonyms to paraphrase well.

2.      Pay attention to the details of the format and strictly follow the requirements.

3.      Use conjunctions, such as however, nevertheless, moreover, and since.

4.      Use “I” when it’s reasonable to do so.


Research proposal example

Here is a breakdown of the most important sections of your research proposal, along with a sample of a research proposal that demonstrates the best way to write one:

OBJECTIVE: This is a brief roadmap of your research project. Be direct when stating your objective: “This study analyzes…”

This study analyzes the effects of teachers’ non-verbal responses on students’ outcomes. Specifically, it investigates the relation between teacher’s postures, gestures, facial expressions, eye contact, and humor and compares this to the students’ perceptions of his/her professionalism. First, this project will demonstrate that the students consider teachers’ non-verbal responses as an important means of communication in the classroom setting. Next, this study will explore the teachers’ attitudes to non-verbal communication. Finally, the study will offer possible solutions that can help teachers utilize non-verbal cues more effectively.

HYPOTHESIS: State what you will prove and keep it simple: “The hypothesis of this study is…”

The hypothesis of this study is that there is a direct relationship between a teacher’s positive non-verbal cues, such as postures, gestures, facial expressions, eye contact, and humor and their students’ motivation.

BACKGROUND: Discuss whether this problem has been addressed by past researchers and whether there any controversies or gaps in the literature.

Subapriya (2009) and Negi (2009) stated that that the non-verbal communication of a teacher can be a good alternative to more traditional forms discipline. In contrast, Andrade and Williams (2009) noted that the effect of a teacher’s non-verbal responses on the performance of their students is inconsequential. A gap in the literature exists in terms of identifying students’ views of teacher’s non-verbal cues. This study will try to fill this gap.


SIGNIFICANCE: State why your study is valuable in today’s educational environment.

Teaching methods used today are different from more traditional methods in which students were simply “passive listeners.” These days, students are required to be active participants in class. For this reason, the close relationship between teachers and their students and the psychological atmosphere in the classroom both play a critical role in modern education.

THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK: Discuss the definitions and/or categories you plan to use in your research.

This study will utilize the classification of non-verbal cues and responses that was created by Subapriya (2009).

METHODOLOGY: Discuss the research methods you will use and outline who will be the participants in your study.

It is the intention that this study utilizes the qualitative research method. Questionnaires will be handed out to 50 students and 20 teachers of Seattle High School. Convenience sampling will be the method by which participants will be chosen because it is the most cost-effective method for this type of research.

EXPECTED OUTCOMES: Discuss the results you expect to get from your investigation.

This study will assess the significance of non-verbal cues as a constituent of teaching strategies. The primary outcome to be expected is a set of useful solutions that will aid teachers in making the best use of non-verbal cues asa component of their teaching strategies.

REFERENCES: Provide a list of the literature you used to write your proposal. Note that this is a sample research proposal APA style used to cite sources, but you should follow the citation style recommended by your supervisor.

Reference List:

Andrade, M., & Williams, K. (2009). Foreign language learning anxiety in Japanese EFL

university classes: Physical, emotional, expressive and verbal reactions. Sophia

Junior College Faculty Journal, 29, 1 – 24.

Negi, J. (2009). The role of teachers’ non-verbal communication in ELT classroom.

Journal of NELTA, 14 (1), 101 – 110.

Subapriya, K. (2009). The importance of non-verbal cues. The Icfai University Journal of

Soft Skills, 3 (2), 37 – 42.

What makes this a good research proposal paper example? Here are five reasons:

  • It includes only specific and relevant information.
  • It discusses only the most critical aspects of the proposed investigation.
  • It provides arguments for the use of certain methods.
  • It is well-structured.
  • It uses simple and direct language.

After reading and analyzing this sample, you have a much better understanding of how to write a research proposal. You will also find excellent research proposal examples from the University of Queensland, York St John University, and Vanguard University.

The University of Toronto, the University of Edinburgh, and the University of Hawaii all offer excellent overall guidelines for writing a research proposal. Now it is high time you started working on your own research proposal.

If you have procrastinated in an attempt to avoid the unpleasantness involved in writing your research proposal, you are not alone. But remember that your statement of purpose research proposal is your chance to launch an amazing investigation into a subject area that fascinates you.

If you need additional guidance, then check out this video that demonstrates how to write a research proposal.

You can also check out these articles on writing the methodology for a research paper and writing a dissertation to help you later on. If you find yourself really stuck when writing your research proposal, then you can always get help from a custom writing service so that you can show your instructor precisely what area of research you will delve into!


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