Data Analytics Resources: Writing a Research Proposal

Writing a Rsearch Proposal

research proposal describes what you will investigate, why it’s important, and how you will conduct your research.  Your paper should include the topic, research question and hypothesis, methods, predictions, and results (if not actual, then projected).

Research Proposal Aims

Show your reader why your project is interesting, original, and important.
Context Demonstrate your comfort and familiarity with your field.
Show that you understand the current state of research on your topic.
Approach Make a case for your methodology.
Demonstrate that you have carefully considered the data, tools, and procedures necessary to conduct your research
Achievability Confirm that your project is feasible within the timeline of your program or funding deadline


The format of a research proposal varies between fields, but most proposals will contain at least these elements:

While the sections may vary, the overall objective is always the same. A research proposal serves as a blueprint and guide for your research plan, helping you get organized and feel confident in the path forward you choose to take.

Proposal Format

The proposal will usually have a title page that includes:

  • The proposed title of your project
  • Your name
  • Your supervisor’s name
  • Your institution and department

The first part of your proposal is the initial pitch for your project. Make sure it succinctly explains what you want to do and why..
Your introduction should:

  • Introduce your topic
  • Give necessary background and context
  • Outline your problem statement and research questions

    To guide your introduction, include information about:
  • Who could have an interest in the topic (e.g., scientists, policymakers)
  • How much is already known about the topic
  • What is missing from this current knowledge
  • What new insights will your research contribute
  • Why you believe this research is worth doing

Literature review

As you get started, it’s important to demonstrate that you’re familiar with the most important research on your topic. A strong literature review shows your reader that your project has a solid foundation in existing knowledge or theory. It also shows that you’re not simply repeating what other people have done or said, but rather using existing research as a jumping-off point for your own.

In this section, share exactly how your project will contribute to ongoing conversations in the field by:

  • Comparing and contrasting the main theories, methods, and debates
  • Examining the strengths and weaknesses of different approaches
  • Explaining how will you build on, challenge, or synthesize prior scholarship

Research design and methods

Following the literature review, restate your main objectives. This brings the focus back to your project. Next, your research design or methodology section will describe your overall approach, and the practical steps you will take to answer your research questions. Write up your projected, if not actual, results.

Contribution to knowledge

To finish your proposal on a strong note, explore the potential implications of your research for your field. Emphasize again what you aim to contribute and why it matters.

For example, your results might have implications for:

  • Improving best practices
  • Informing policymaking decisions
  • Strengthening a theory or model
  • Challenging popular or scientific beliefs
  • Creating a basis for future research

Reference list

Lastly, your research proposal must include correct citations for every source you have used, compiled in a reference list. To create citations quickly and easily, you can use free APA citation generators like BibGuru. Databases have a citation button you can click on to see your citation. Sometimes you have to re-format it as the citations may have mistakes. 

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