What is a research proposal?

1. Purpose

The main reason of writing a research proposal is to make sure that your writing or thesis is guided by an outline. In fact the research proposal is some sort of an outline to guide you through the research. Remember that research and writing in academia is an uncertain pursuit in which your mind and ideas will wonder and flicker into areas, which may not be connected to your thesis, or areas which should be added to your thesis. You will therefore always need thesis-writing tips to take you through. If you have to either include or exclude into or out of your thesis, this can only be conveniently done through your research proposal.

In most cases, students will want to single-handedly come up with a research proposal. This is very common for write-ups at the lower levels of academia like writing an undergraduate thesis. But in more serious forms of research and writing such as writing a postgraduate research paper you will be guided on how to write a thesis by a supervisory committee. This is recommended because research and writing at this level means you are adding something more scholastic and useful to the whole of academia. The committee is there to make sure that your proposal has this singular purpose and direction.

In making a good research proposal, you will need to present something feasible. You will need to identify something endemic. This is because whenever your research proposal has been approved, either all of it or most sections of the research proposal will become part and parcel of the final thesis. Remember that most features such as the headings and the data collection sections of your research proposal will simply be transferred to form part if the research paper. There is no prescribed length for the research proposal. A research proposal can normally take between ten and forty pages. However, the research proposal should not be very long. But remember that brevity in the length of a research proposal does not determine the length of the research project.

2. Content

The written research proposal should include the following content:

Your name

Working title of your research paper – ‘this may be your first attempt at the title, it may change as your work progresses’ (Saunders et al. 2003, p.30).

Background information – in about 400 words, state the reason for this topic, some recent and relevant background information that you have found. This section ‘should tell the reader why you feel the research that you are planning is worth the effort’ (Saunders et al. 2003, p.30); it must show a clear rationale and demonstrate your motivation behind the particular research topic. The background information will also state the aim of your research paper. However, ‘do not fall into the trap of stating research aims that are little more than statements of intent (e.g. “to discover the level of effectiveness of the team briefing scheme”)’ (Saunders et al. 2003, p.30). The aim of any study is to answer the research question – which you will present in the next section together with the research objectives.

Research question and objectives – ‘The background section should lead smoothly into a statement of your research question and objectives. This should leave the reader in no doubt as to precisely what it is that your research seeks to achieve’ (Saunders et al. 2003, p.30) or attempts to answer. In no more than 100 words, state the focus research question and the objectives of your research paper.

Literature review section outline – identify the proposed number of chapters with working titles, briefly identifying the content of each. This section is of approx. 500 words.

Timeframe – outline within the period during which your research paper is written, specific scheduled times for completion of key tasks. This is your own personal plan, so it must include your own specific working goals. The timeframe must show some degree of detail.

References – where references have been cited in the background and other sections, identify those in a short list. It is imperative that the system for the recording and citation of references is the ‘Harvard Referencing System’.

When you have finished your paper it is very important to review your own work. Read the whole document as closely as possible, checking for typographical errors and possible changes to improve the readability of the work. It may also be useful to revisit formative comments you have received from previous work absolved in this area. This will allow you identify things that you have done well in the past, but more importantly it will allow you to make sure that you don’t repeat previous mistakes.