After reading the introduction, your
readers should not only have an understanding of what you want to do, but they
should also be able to sense your passion for the topic and be excited about
its possible outcomes.
Think about your introduction as a
narrative written in one to three paragraphs that succinctly answers the
following four questions:
- What is the central research problem?
- What is the topic of study related to that problem?
- What methods should be used to analyze the research
- Why is this important research?
II. Background and
This section can be melded into your
introduction or you can create a separate section to help with the organization
and flow. This is where you explain the context of your project and outline why
it's important. Approach writing this section with the thought that you can’t
assume your readers will know as much about the research problem as you do.
Note that this section is not an essay going over everything you have learned
about the research problem; instead, you must choose what is relevant to help
explain your goals for the study.
To that end, while there are no hard
and fast rules, you should attempt to deal with some or all of the following:
- State the research problem and give a more detailed
explanation about the purpose of the study than what you stated in the
- Present the rationale of your proposed study and
clearly indicate why it is worth doing. Answer the "So what? question
[i.e., why should anyone care].
- Describe the major issues or problems to be addressed
by your research.
- Explain how you plan to go about conducting your
research. Clearly identify the key sources you intend to use and explain
how they will contribute to the analysis of your topic.
- Set the boundaries of your proposed research in order
to provide a clear focus.
- Provide definitions of key concepts or terms, if
Connected to the
background and significance of your study is a more deliberate review and
synthesis of prior studies related to the research problem under investigation. The purpose here is to
place your project within the larger whole of what is currently being explored,
while demonstrating to your readers that your work is original and innovative.
Think about what questions other researchers have asked, what methods they've
used, and what is your understanding of their findings. Assess what you believe
is still missing, and state how previous research has failed to examine the
issue that your study addresses.
Since a literature
review is information dense, it is crucial that this section is intelligently
structured to enable a reader to grasp the key arguments underpinning your
study in relation to that of other researchers. A good strategy is to break the
literature into "conceptual categories" [themes] rather than
systematically describing materials one at a time.
To help frame your
proposal's literature review, here are the "five C’s" of writing a
- Cite: keep the primary focus on the literature
pertinent to your research problem.
- Compare the various arguments, theories,
methodologies, and findings expressed in the literature: what do the
authors agree on? Who applies similar approaches to analyzing the research
- Contrast the various arguments, themes,
methodologies, approaches and controversies expressed in the literature:
what are the major areas of disagreement, controversy, or debate?
- Critique the literature: Which arguments are more
persuasive, and why? Which approaches, findings, methodologies seem most
reliable, valid, or appropriate, and why? Pay attention to the verbs you
use to describe what an author says/does [e.g., asserts, demonstrates,
- Connect the literature to your own area of
research and investigation: how does your own work draw upon, depart from,
or synthesize what has been said in the literature?
IV. Research Design
This section must be
well-written and logically organized because you are not actually doing the
research. As a consequence, the reader will
never have a study outcome from which to evaluate whether your methodological
choices were the correct ones. The objective here is to ensure that the reader
is convinced that your overall research design and methods of analysis will
correctly address the research problem. Your design and methods should be
absolutely and unmistakably tied to the specific aims of your study.
Describe the overall research design
by building upon and drawing examples from your review of the literature. Be
specific about the methodological approaches you plan to undertake to collect
information, about the techniques you will use to analyze it, and about tests
of external validity to which you commit yourself [i.e., the trustworthiness by
which you can generalize from your study to other people, places or times].
When describing the methods you will
use, be sure to cover these issues:
- Specify the research operations you will undertake and
the way you will interpret the results of these operations in relation to
your research problem. Don't just describe what you intend to achieve from
applying the methods you choose, but state how you will spend your time
while doing it.
- Keep in mind that a methodology is not just a list of
research tasks; it is an argument as to why these tasks add up to the best
way to investigate the research problem. This is an important point
because the mere listing of tasks to perform does not demonstrate that
they add up to the best feasible approach.
- Be sure to anticipate and acknowledge any potential
barriers and pitfalls in carrying out your research design and explain how
you plan to get around them.
Suppositions and Implications
Just because you don't have to
actually conduct the study and analyze the results, it doesn't mean that you
can skip talking about the process and potential implications. The purpose of this section is to
argue how and in what ways you believe your research will refine, revise, or
extend existing knowledge in the subject area under investigation. Depending on
the aims and objectives of your study, describe how the anticipated results of
your study will impact future scholarly research, theory, practice, forms of
interventions, or policy. Note that such discussions may have either
substantive [a potential new policy], theoretical [a potential new
understanding], or methodological [a potential new way of analyzing]
When thinking about the potential implications of your study, ask the
- What might the results mean in regards to the
theoretical framework that frames the study?
- What suggestions for subsequent research could arise
from the potential outcomes of the study?
- What will the results mean to practitioners in the
- Will the results influence programs, methods, and/or
forms of intervention?
- How might the results contribute to the solution of
social, economic, or other types of problems?
- Will the results influence policy decisions?
- What will be improved or changed as a result of the
- How will the results of the study be implemented, and
what innovations will come about?
The conclusion reiterates the
importance or significance of your proposal and provides a brief recap of the
entire study. This
section should be only one or two paragraphs long, emphasizing why your
research study is unique, why it advances knowledge, and why the research
problem is worth investigating.
Someone reading this section should
come away with an understanding of:
- Why the study was done,
- The specific purpose of the study and the research
questions it attempted to answer,
- The research design and methods used,
- The potential implications emerging from your proposed
study of the research problem, and
- A sense of how your study fits within the broader scholarship
about the research problem.
As with any scholarly research
paper, you must cite the sources you used in composing your proposal. In a
standard research proposal, this section can take two forms, so speak with your
professor about which one is preferred.
- References -- lists only the literature that you actually used or
cited in your proposal.
- Bibliography -- lists everything you used or cited in your proposal
with additional citations of any key sources relevant to understanding the
In either case, this section should
testify to the fact that you did enough preparatory work to make sure the
project will complement and not duplicate the efforts of other researchers.
Start a new page and use the heading "References" or
"Bibliography" at the top of the page. Cited works should always use
a standard format that follows the writing style advised by the discipline of
your course [i.e., education=APA; history=Chicago, etc]. This section normally
does not count towards the total length of your proposal.
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Writing Centre. University of Toronto; Punch, Keith and Wayne McGowan.
Developing and Writing a Research Proposal. In From Postgraduate to Social
Scientist: A Guide to Key Skills. Nigel Gilbert, ed. (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage,
2006), 59-81; Sanford, Keith. Information for Students: Writing a Research
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