Guidance on How to Write an Excellent Research Proposal

Last Updated on June 28, 2019 by Chrisantus Oden

How to Write a Research Proposal

So you have been asked to write a research paper and you are rearing to go. You have it all figured out and you can barely wait to dive in and start… well, researching. But hold on! Have you completed your research proposal? If you have, this article is not for you. If you haven’t, here’s what you should know about research proposals.

When do you need a research proposal?

You will need a research proposal every time you need to submit a research paper; it can be for a bachelor’s degree, Master’s degree, a PhD or any other academic program. But that’s not all; it’s also a requirement when applying for a Ph.D. position, research job, Research based master’s program and when applying for research grants. So don’t rule out research proposals from your to-do list just yet.

What is a Research Proposal?

You have probably been familiarized with what a research paper is and entails, but you may be wondering. What exactly is a research proposal? Well…

A research proposal is a concise and coherent summary of your proposed research. It sets out the central issues or questions that you intend to address. It outlines the general area of study within which your research falls, referring to the current state of knowledge and any recent debates on the topic. It also demonstrates the originality of your proposed research.

See? I told you it was important.

The proposal is the most important document that you submit as part of the application process. It gives you an opportunity to demonstrate that you have the aptitude for graduate level research. In other words, it improves your presentation by demonstrating that you have the ability to communicate complex ideas clearly, concisely and critically. The proposal also helps to match your research interest with an appropriate supervisor.

How long should a Research proposal be?

Stop chewing your nails, a research proposal is not supposed to be an epistle. It’s not an email either; so one page won’t cut it. On average, most research proposals are 1,500–3,500 words (3-7 pages) long. However, the length of the proposal is usually provided by your supervisor so it can vary from person to person.

What should a Research Proposal contain?

Since Research proposals are used across a wide swath of disciplines, they tend to look different from each other. However, regardless of what you’re using it for, your research proposal should normally include the following information:


Most times, at this point; the title is tentative, as only the general topic is approved. The title needs to be as catchy as possible without losing professionalism. Here’s a little tip; the title should also be a quick summary of your research.


This is a concise statement about your intended research and is usually 100 words or less. It should be a few sentences presenting the problem, the rational of the research and most importantly, contain the central question of the research.

Research Context

It is important to explain the background of your research in as broad a sense as possible. The research context affords you the opportunity to do so. The research context is a brief overview of the general area of study in which your proposed research falls – it summarizes the “current state of things” as regards your research topic and the current debates on the topic. The research context also allows you demonstrate the familiarities between your study and other relevant work done within the topic.

Research Questions

These are questions that guide the research and its findings. The proposal should set up central aims and questions that will structure your research.

“Take time to reflect on the essential questions your research aims to answer before you start writing your proposal”.

In a research proposal you run the risk of being too broad. Reflecting on your essential questions is a valid method to ensure your research proposal and therefore your research is sufficiently narrow and feasible.

Quick tip: Focus on one or two main questions – from there you can break out into branch questions and grow your research tree.

The research proposal should also efficiently explain the approach you intend on implementing to answer these questions: will your approach be doctrinal, empirical or theoretical?

Research Methods

We have mentioned the importance of research methods a couple of times already. But what do we mean by research methods?

Simply put, it is how you intend to carry out your research. Your methods may vary from cyber research to data analysis and/or focus groups or a number of other different things. These days most research conducted are Cyber-Based. Regardless, you have to state the method or methods used and your reasons for utilizing that method.

Significance of Research

This is probably obvious and self-explanatory but I’ll talk about it anyway. You have to state why your research is significant. The proposal should clearly showcase the originality of your research and also explain why your research is important to the discipline or to humanity in general.


You have to include a list of all references to essential articles, books, research papers etc. used and discussed within your research proposal. This is so your research paper won’t get debunked and thrashed for plagiarism.

Before submitting a research proposal, there are a few things you need to do and/or confirm:

Proofread, Edit and Proofread

This is the first thing you should always do. Chances are; you will need to make large-scale changes when you read through your work. Also, check and recheck the logic behind every statement.

Quick Tip: Ensure that all your ideas are fully developed! And all your claims, recommendations, suggestions are credible and supported by well-reviewed and documented evidence.

Number the pages of your proposal

Be sure to confirm the recommended word count and page number, text formatting and arrangement guidelines. It would be a shame to write a beautiful research proposal only to have it rejected due to the use of the wrong font or text size.

References and Sources

Even though it’s a no brainer… Please ensure you have attached all references and mentioned every source. Especially for critical data.

Timeline and Budget

Be sure to mention any relevant expenditure in your research proposal. Alongside a detailed timeline and cash flow.


After all is said and done, the next task on your plate is proofreading again. You’re sure to have made mistakes along the way whilst correcting and adding missing information. It happens. Better to be safe than sorry.

This time be on the lookout for:

  • Repetitions
  • Incomplete sentences
  • Dangling modifiers
  • Easily confused words (such as to, too, and two)
  • Spelling mistakes
  • Apostrophes for possessives and plurals
  • Quotation rules obeyed
  • Comma use
  • Contractions.

Are you done? Awesome!!!

Quick Tip: I recommend giving the research proposal to a friend or expert in the field to proofread, sometimes a fresh pair of eyes can catch mistakes you missed or overlooked.