How to Write a Research Proposal: Tips from 6 Experts

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How to Write a Research Proposal: Tips from 6 Experts

The classic research proposal often pops up in undergraduate school or masters programs, non-profit science institutions, and even high school!  While the complexity or nature of the proposal differs with each of these examples, they all require a similar attitude moving forward with the process.  Whether it's a proposal for a National Sciences Foundation grant or a mandatory assignment that's due before a final term paper, the research proposal is the time to distinguish yourself from the rest and present fascinating information that will inspire enthusiasm for your project.


Contemplating Your Proposal: Convey Passion for Your Project

When crafting a research proposal, it's important to ensure that it's grammatically correct, well-structured and thorough.  However, there's definitely more to a research proposal than just outstanding grammar or spelling, and you should take this opportunity to present a proposal that isn't plain or run of the mill.  If you've been given the chance to exercise a considerable amount of freedom when choosing your topic, then make the effort to brainstorm ideas and narrow in on a topic that truly intrigues you.  Learning is an empowering process, and your research proposal is a chance to show your teachers, grad school mentors, or grant panel that you're engaged in an exciting research process that can bring a lot to the table.


Appear Like a Confident Scholar

Anyone can become a scholar on a subject they're passionate about, and it's not only the department of published authors, professors, or big name scientists.  "Amateur" scholars throw themselves deep into their subject and invest a considerable amount of time into their passion.  Therefore, approach your research proposal from a similar angle when presenting the exciting details of your research process.

You should apply this exact mindset when approaching a subject that you're not familiar with as well, or a mandatory topic that's been assigned to you.  While an ideal situation would be to research a topic that actually fascinates you, anyone can become an amateur scholar on a subject that may seem uninteresting at first.  If confronted with this common dilemma, try to see the relevancy of the research and find aspects that may interest you.  Regardless of whether the topic is to your liking, you must appear confident about the material in your proposal to make an impact on others.  This is a great learning experience, and you may even surprise yourself and discover another topic to become passionate about!


Crafting Your Proposal: A Sneak Peak of What's to Come

A research proposal is like a movie preview, so this is the perfect opportunity to drum up interest in your upcoming project.  Once you've settled on your subject and invested time into some preliminary research, concentrate on drafting up a rough outline for your proposal.  In graduate or doctoral school, research proposals are often used to present a great idea that requires the help of other people or a class; therefore, it's important to convey a powerful message in the proposal that will persuade others about the significance of the research and why others should be involved.

When a teacher or board member is reading your proposal, they're putting themselves in your shoes and of those who're helping with the project.  Therefore, it's critical to present a clear and concise outline that represents your exact vision for the research.  Clear and concise should not translate into boring or dry; as mentioned earlier, a research proposal needs to be written with authority while still engaging those who're reading it.  As you're writing a rough version of your proposal, ask yourself questions throughout the process.  Why is this research important?  What will be the future impact of this research?  Am I properly conveying my passion for the project?


Setting Up an Outline: Getting All Your Ducks in a Row

After you've gathered up all your ideas for the project and put them in rough draft form, your final proposal will be a lot easier to tackle.  This is the organizational phase of the research proposal and will present all your amazing ideas in a nice, neat package! Depending on the context of the situation, proposals may be significantly more involved or complex than others.  However, the following outline is the base standard for any type of research proposal; to make sure you're on the right track, confer with your teacher, professor, or grant mentor about the required length of your proposal or any other details before submitting.

  • Title Page:
    Now that you've spent some time with your topic and have grown into an amateur scholar, craft a great title page that immediately engages the proposal reader.  A title page may appear simple at first, but it takes a lot of brainstorming to settle on that perfect short description which adequately conveys your vision.
  • Abstract:
    Your abstract is a short summary of the paper or group project you're currently working on.  However, this isn't to be confused with an introduction, which will immediately follow your abstract.  For this section, you'll briefly discuss the topic of your research and the problem (or hypothesis) that you've narrowed in on.
  • Introduction:
    This is your chance to explain why you've chosen to conduct this exciting research and what you're hoping to discover through your methodology.  In this section, try your best to present yourself as a scholar on your topic; you may even want to discuss problems you've encountered on your journey toward your hypothesis, as well.  Like your title page and abstract, the introduction will help set the tone for your research proposal and assure the reader that you're confident and invested in the material.
  • Research Summary:
    After establishing your grasp and direction of the topic, proceed to discuss the various sources you're using for your research project.  Always use highly credible or academic sources that command an authority over the topic you're researching.
  • Methods:
    Those who're reading your proposal need to know how you're actually reaching your goal, so carefully explain all the methods you're employing.  For example, if you're conducing science-related research, discuss specimens you are gathering in the field and how you're analyzing your physical evidence.
  • Polishing Up Your Proposal:
    Once you've written the body of your research proposal, your final paragraph or two can simply talk about your expected results.  Since you have an end goal in mind for the project, this section is the opportune time to delve more in-depth into those goals and relate why they're important to research.



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In many cases involving higher-level academic study, a student must submit a report to a professor or academic institution prior to beginning his or her research.  The research report should outline the reason that the student is interested in performing the research, background information about the topic that the student wishes to research, the student's research proposal thesis, and information about the methodology that the learner will use when researching and writing a reference project.

A research proposal thesis is a one-sentence statement that clearly outlines why the student wishes to perform research.  The research proposal thesis should answer a question that a student also plans to answer through the research.  For example, a research proposal thesis might be something like, "If trees are meticulously groomed and pruned, then it is possible to make any tree a bonsai tree."  Through the student's research, the learner will provide evidence and scientific opinions proving that any tree can be a bonsai tree.  

There are many ways to write or format research proposal theses.  One of the most popular ways is to use an "if, then" statement.  An "if, then" statement is a two-part sentence in which the student states that if one thing happens, then it will have a predictable effect.  "If, then" statements are popular formats for many thesis statements because they are easy to write and clearly state the conclusion of a college report.  

If a student has yet to research background information about a particular subject before writing the report, research proposal theses may be used to indicate why the student wishes to research a particular topic.  In such a case, the thesis statement may look something like, "If my hypothesis proves to be true, then I may discover that any tree can be a bonsai tree through this proposed research."  

When it comes to formatting a report, the report theses should appear in the introductory paragraph either at the very beginning or the very end of the introduction.  These statements are going to be supported by body paragraphs throughout the report, so they should clearly represent the entire purpose of the research and not just one small segment of the proposed research.

Research proposal theses are different than term paper or essay theses simply because they are used in different academic writings.  However, it is possible to use the very same research proposal thesis as the report thesis, as long as the student has followed his or her intended pattern of research and has drawn the same conclusions.



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Viewpoint of Author #3
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A research proposal is a formal document that a learner will write with the intent of getting permission, sponsorship, or funding to perform research.  It is a basic statement that a student makes to express desire to perform specific research.  Research proposals are often used in higher-level educational programs, such as a graduate school or Ph.D. program in which intense research is not only expected, but is also required.  

Research proposals vary a great deal depending on the type of research that the student wishes to perform, the level of academic study, the educational institution that will sponsor the research, and the depth of the research.  Many funding and sponsorships programs also have their own specific criteria for what information should be included in a research proposal.

No matter what kind of research a student wishes to perform, the document should at least include the following: a statement about the purpose of the research, why the student is equipped to perform the research, background information about the topic of the research, information about why the research is relevant, an overview of methods that the learner will take in order to perform the research, research goals, and the research budget.  

Depending on the purpose of the report, the learner will need to include additional information in the report.  If the student is requesting funding for the research, the student should provide a detailed budget or financial estimate for the research and include a statement about how the money will benefit the research project.  

If a student is requiring sponsorship from a professor or university, the student should state why the professor or university is the appropriate sponsor for the research project.  Research proposals should also indicate what is required of the sponsor, such as regular research reviews, access to research facilities, or even simply credibility through association.

When a pupil writes a research proposal in order to get permission to perform research, the report will generally be directed to a professor or academic institution.  Research proposals requesting permission will include similar information to research proposals requesting sponsorship.  However, a research proposal requesting permission is often required simply to provide a record that the research will be performed.

A research proposal is similar to a grant proposal in many ways.  In fact, many grant proposals are also research proposals when the grant requires research to be performed.  However, a report and a grant proposal are often quite distinct.  A grant proposal always asks for funding.  However, only some research proposals ask for funding.  Instead, a research proposal is a basic statement of intent or desire to perform research.  The research proposal only asks for permission, sponsorship, or funding in some cases.



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Viewpoint of Author #4
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Writing a research proposal is different from writing a reference project.  With a report, your goal is to present the reader with a great deal of information regarding a specific topic.  A research proposal, on the other hand, is a document that provides the reader with information while also presenting convincing reasoning for needing more research in the area.

When writing a report, you will need to conduct an extensive amount of research in the area.  This will include conducting a great deal of literature reviews in order to find convincing support for needing more research in the area.

If you are writing a doctoral dissertation, you will likely need to write a research proposal first.  The research proposal that you write will then go before a panel of experts, generally comprised of professors in the field of study, who will then determine whether or not you can conduct this research as the focus of your reference project.  Therefore, if you hope to gain their approval, you will need to produce a great deal of proof that research in the area is necessary, and this proof will need to far beyond your personal opinion.

In addition to conducting research on the subject and proving that there is a need for additional research, your research proposal must also contain an explanation as to how you plan to conduct your research.  The methodology you plan to use must be sound and demonstrate the ability to be observed and measured.  

Since your research proposal will go before a panel and must be approved before you can move onto your dissertation, you need to take steps to draw attention to your proposal.  This means you need to write an introduction that will make an impact on the reader while also leading to the formation of a meaningful hypothesis.  

The hypothesis that you formulate for your research proposal must be very specific and concise.  In fact, it should be boiled down to just one phrase while also demonstrating that it will help advance the knowledge already known within the field.  Remember, your hypothesis is the core of your research proposal.  Therefore, you need to take some time to develop one that is solid and meaningful, as well as one that can be realistically tested.  

After you state the hypothesis, which serves as your thesis, you should then write supporting paragraphs to back up your hypothesis.  In a concise manner, you should discuss what will be learned from the research you plan to conduct as well as how your research will make a difference in the field.  In addition, you should discuss why it is important for the answer to your hypothesis to be found.

In addition to proving the importance of finding the answer to your hypothesis, you will also need to demonstrate that your hypothesis has not already been tested.  This is where the Literature Review portion of the process comes in.  The methodology you plan to implement in order to conduct your research should follow, and then you will end with a conclusion that briefly recaps your proposal.



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Viewpoint of Author #5
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A research paper proposal is a document that a student writes in order to request permission to begin a particular type of reference project.  Not all students will have to write research paper proposals in order to write research papers.  In fact, only professors in some programs will institute this requirement.

However, a research paper proposal may not just be a report to write a document that is submitted to a professor.  If a student requires funding for research, then the student may also wish to write a research paper proposal to a funding source, such as a granting organization or a university.  In such a case, the report proposal is very similar to a grant proposal for the research.  

A third type of research paper proposal would be the type required if the student wanted to perform any kind of unconventional research, such as research that may be unsafe or out of the ordinary.  In such a case, the student may have to submit a research paper proposal to the university that would be sponsoring the research.  

Regardless of the type of research paper proposal that a student needs to write, all reference report proposals should have some similar features.  First, the document should include information about the student's background, including information about why the student wishes to write the document.  The research paper report should also include information about the background of the subject that the student wishes to research.  

The student should also include some methodology that he or she wishes to use in order to write the document.  For example, if the student plans to perform an experiment as part of his or her research, then the student should explain how the experiment will yield the results that the student requires in order to write an effective project.  If the student plans to conduct interviews with industry experts, the student should explain who those experts are.  

While a research paper proposal may be necessary to get funding for research, research paper proposals are different than grant proposals.  In most cases, grant proposals will need to include information about how the research will be used and specific information about why the research is important.  However, in most cases, research paper proposals simply need to state an interest in the research and may not require as much formality as a grant proposal.



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Viewpoint of Author #6
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A research proposal is a document that outlines a researcher's planned approach for a research project.  Research proposals are submitted so that students can receive advice and feedback from their professors before spending time and energy on a project.  Research proposals are drafts of research plans; therefore, they should be as comprehensive as possible in order for the student to receive as much input as possible from their instructors.  

A research proposal is different from a research paper because it only outlines a possible research plan; it does not report on an executed research study.  However, a research proposal does require an element of research in order to contextualize the proposed study and suggest its relevance.  

Research proposals should explain the topic of the researcher's study, give an explanation of the topic and the reason it is deserving of study, present a survey of existing research regarding that topic, and explain how the researcher will approach the topic in his or her own study.  

First, the document should introduce, define, and contextualize the topic.  This should be done by giving an overview of the topic and highlighting its relevance through the use of valid scholarly resources.  Next, the document should suggest why the researcher wishes to investigate the topic by commenting on why the research topic both deserves and needs additional research.  In other words, the document should justify the reasons why the proposed research is important.  

Most sound research proposals further justify the researcher's plan of study by pointing to relevant existing research on the topic.  This section need not always be as comprehensive as a literature review—an exhaustive study of research in a certain topic—but it should point to the most recent and relevant studies related to the researcher's topic of interest.  Each research study discussed should be clearly and thoroughly explained in its own paragraph or set of paragraphs, and should give a complete description of that study's findings.  

Finally, a research proposal will give a summary of the researcher's planned approach to the topic.  This summary should explain how the study will be carried out and provide an overview of any instruments, approaches to data collection, or methods of data analysis the research will use.  This section must be detailed enough for the instructor to have a comprehensive understanding of the researcher's study procedures.

All reports should be written in the future tense.

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