How to write a research proposal

A research proposal describes what you will investigate, why it’s important, and how you will do the research. The format of a research proposal varies between fields, but most proposals should contain at least these elements:

There may be some variation in how the sections are named or divided, but the overall goals are always the same. This article takes you through a basic research proposal template and explains what you need to include in each part.

Purpose of a research proposal

Academics often have to write research proposals to get funding for their projects. As a student, you might have to write a research proposal to get your thesis or dissertation plan approved.

All research proposals are designed to persuade someone — such as a funding body, educational institution, or supervisor — that your project is worthwhile.

Research proposal aims
Relevance Convince the reader that your project is interesting, original and important
Context Show that you are familiar with the field, you understand the current state of research on the topic, and your ideas have a strong academic basis
Approach Make a case for your methodology, showing that you have carefully thought about the data, tools and procedures you will need to conduct the research
Feasibility Confirm that the project is possible within the practical constraints of the programme, institution or funding

How long is a research proposal?

The length of a research proposal varies dramatically. A bachelor’s or master’s thesis proposal can be just a few pages, while proposals for PhD dissertations and research funding are often very long and detailed.

Although you write it before you begin the research, the proposal’s structure usually looks like a shorter version of a thesis or dissertation (but without the results and discussion sections).

Download the research proposal template

Title page

Like your dissertation or thesis, the proposal will usually have a title page that includes:

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

Check with the department or funding body to see if there are any specific formatting requirements.

Abstract and table of contents

If your proposal is very long, you might also have to include an abstract and a table of contents to help the reader navigate the document.

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The first part of your proposal is the initial pitch for your project, so make sure it succinctly explains what you want to do and why. It should:

Some important questions to guide your introduction include:

  • Who has an interest in the topic (e.g. scientists, practitioners, policymakers, particular members of society)?
  • How much is already known about the problem?
  • What is missing from current knowledge?
  • What new insights will your research contribute?
  • Why is this research worth doing?

If your proposal is very long, you might include separate sections with more detailed information on the background and context, problem statement, aims and objectives, and importance of the research.

Literature review

It’s important to show that you’re familiar with the most important research on your topic. A strong literature review convinces the 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 already done or said.

In this section, aim to demonstrate exactly how your project will contribute to conversations in the field.

  • Compare and contrast: what are the main theories, methods, debates and controversies?
  • Be critical: what are the strengths and weaknesses of different approaches?
  • Show how your research fits in: how will you build on, challenge, or synthesize the work of others?

If you’re not sure where to begin, read our guide on how to write a literature review.

Research design and methods

Following the literature review, it’s a good idea to restate your main objectives, bringing the focus back to your own project. The research design or methodology section should describe the overall approach and practical steps you will take to answer your research questions.

Methodology in a research proposal
Research type
  • Exactly what or who will you study (e.g. high school students in New York; Scottish newspaper archives 1976-80)?
  • How will you select subjects or sources (e.g. random sampling, case studies)?
  • When and where will you collect the data?
Research methods
  • What tools and procedures will you use (e.g. surveys, interviews, observations, experiments) to collect and analyze data?
  • Why are these the best methods to answer your research questions?
  • How much time will you need to collect the data?
  • How will you gain access to participants or sources?
  • Do you foresee any potential obstacles, and how will you address them?

Make sure not to simply write a list of methods. Aim to make an argument for why this is the most appropriate, valid and reliable approach to answering your questions.

Implications and contribution to knowledge

To finish your proposal on a strong note, you can explore the potential implications of the research for theory or practice, and emphasize again what you aim to contribute to existing knowledge on the topic. For example, your results might have implications for:

  • Improving processes in a specific location or field
  • Informing policy objectives
  • Strengthening a theory or model
  • Challenging popular or scientific assumptions
  • Creating a basis for further research

Reference list or bibliography

Your research proposal must include proper citations for every source you have used, and full publication details should always be included in the reference list. To create citations quickly and easily, you can use our free APA citation generator.

In some cases, you might be asked to include a bibliography. This is a list of all the sources you consulted in preparing the proposal, even ones you did not cite in the text, and sometimes also other relevant sources that you plan to read. The aim is to show the full range of literature that will support your research project.

Research schedule

In some cases, you might have to include a detailed timeline of the project, explaining exactly what you will do at each stage and how long it will take. Check the requirements of your programme or funding body to see if this is required.

Example research schedule
Research phase Objectives Deadline
1. Background research and literature review
  • Meet with supervisor for initial discussion
  • Conduct a more extensive review of relevant literature
  • Refine the research questions
  • Develop a theoretical framework
20th February
2. Research design planning
  • Design questionnaires
  • Identify online and offline channels for recruiting participants
  • Finalize sampling methods and data analysis methods
13th March
3. Data collection and preparation
  • Recruit participants and send out questionnaires
  • Conduct semi-structured interviews with selected participants
  • Transcribe and code interviews and clean survey data
24th April
4. Data analysis
  • Statistically analyze survey data
  • Conduct thematic analysis of interview transcripts
  • Draft the results and discussion chapters
22nd May
5. Writing
  • Complete a full thesis draft
  • Meet with supervisor to discuss feedback and revisions
17th July
6. Revision
  • Redraft based on feedback
  • Get supervisor approval for final draft
  • Proofread
  • Print, bind and submit
28th August


If you are applying for research funding, you will probably also have to include a detailed budget that shows how much each part of the project will cost.

Make sure to check what type of costs the funding body will agree to cover, and only include relevant items in your budget. For each item, include:

  • Cost: exactly how much money do you need?
  • Justification: why is this cost necessary to complete the research?
  • Source: how did you calculate the amount?

To determine your budget, think about:

  • Travel costs: do you need to go to specific locations to collect data? How will you get there, how long will you spend there, and what will you do there (e.g. interviews, archival research)?
  • Materials: do you need access to any tools or technologies? Are there training or installation costs?
  • Assistance: do you need to hire research assistants for the project? What will they do and how much will you pay them? Will you outsource any other tasks such as transcription?
  • Time: do you need to take leave from regular duties such as teaching? How much will you need to cover the time spent on the research?

Revisions and Proofreading

As in any other piece of academic writing, it’s essential to redraft, edit and proofread your research proposal before you submit it. If you have the opportunity, ask a supervisor or colleague for feedback.

For the best chance of approval, you might want to consider using a professional proofreading service to get rid of language errors, check your proposal’s structure, and improve your academic style.

Is this article helpful?
Shona McCombes

Shona has a bachelor's and two master's degrees, so she's an expert at writing a great thesis. She has also worked as an editor and teacher, working with students at all different levels to improve their academic writing.


October 27, 2020 at 5:33 PM

In fact, this was really meant for me, it's really going to help me about my dissertation proposal. Thanks very much.


Hailu Sebeho
October 22, 2020 at 11:37 AM

It is very critical,helpful and an excellent idea,specially for thesis workers(bachelor,Masters& PhD,).So i am very tanks you from my heart.


tsigabu gesesew
October 15, 2020 at 10:53 AM

very helpful, about how to writing any thesis proposal


Faith Akiru
October 8, 2020 at 5:59 PM

This was so helpful to me as I am continuing with my Bachelor's degree in English Literature .Great work indeed .I love you helpful work so much.
I have a question ,i am currently doing a research proposal and in the research methods if i use observations instead of interviews will that give enough strength to my proposal?
Thank you in advance.


October 4, 2020 at 6:00 PM

Good day
I need to write a research proposal for a PhD scholarship opportunity and I need to follow the specifications and guidance of the opportunity if there any template for it I will be thankful .


October 4, 2020 at 3:31 PM

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How does job insecurity lead to low production.


Thandeka Ntshingila
September 16, 2020 at 6:02 AM

This is enlightening indeed, thank you. However, I am currently trying to write a proposal on a project where I will only be analyzing existing data. I am wondering how a research schedule/design for such looks like? Which method should I use and how about sampling?


Kebba Fatty
August 12, 2020 at 2:42 PM

This is very helpful i understood the concept now. Thank you.


mavin onayngo
August 10, 2020 at 9:42 PM

just awesome!


July 28, 2020 at 1:42 PM

Thank you for the usefull information!

I have a question regarding the proposal: do you include hypotheses already or just the research question(s)?
If yes, where?

Thanks in advance!


Shona McCombes
Shona McCombes (Scribbr-team)
July 29, 2020 at 8:19 PM

Hi Anne-Marie,

It's common to only include the research questions in a proposal, as it's often written at an early stage when your hypotheses are not yet finalized.

However, if you have already developed hypotheses, you can certainly include them. In this case, the beginning of the research design would be the most appropriate place: you can state your hypotheses before explaining how you will test them.


Geoffrey Peter Shirongo Khwasi, July 19, 2020 at 9.45 AM
July 19, 2020 at 10:52 AM

Excellent. Your research " teaching model " has enabled me to learn, understand and successfully write a Research Dissertation for my Bachelor's Degree in Nursing, at Kisii University, Kenya. I salute you. Thanks.


Jeanette J. Bawengan
July 17, 2020 at 5:32 AM

Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge. It's very helpful.


Bridgette Modise
July 16, 2020 at 1:23 PM

Good day

I trust that you are well.

I need to write a research proposal for a PhD scholarship opportunity and I need to follow the specifications and guidance of the opportunity. Would you be able to assess my paper and make recommendations that will help me stand a very good chance of getting the scholarship? I am not only looking for grammar corrections but that I have addressed all the specifications of the opportunity and the golden thread throughout the proposal. Can you assist with that?




Shona McCombes
Shona McCombes (Scribbr-team)
July 21, 2020 at 3:04 PM

Hi Bridgette,

If you select our Structure Check and Clarity Check services, you'll get in-depth feedback on the different elements of your proposal. Our editors can check that you've included all the necessary parts in the correct order, and they help ensure that your text tells a clear, logical story.

You can easily upload your document and specify your requirements. If you have more questions about our services, feel free to contact our support team by live chat, phone or email.

Hope that helps!


Nametso C. Bernard-Bobonong
June 30, 2020 at 7:25 PM

This is just too good....thank you.


June 29, 2020 at 6:34 PM

Thanks alot, very educative and interesting.


June 13, 2020 at 10:18 AM

I'm grateful for such a comprehensive structure of the proposal. I have learned a lot, and I have questions considering the research proposal.
There is given ready-made template, at the 1st page of it, I have to write my name and scientific adviser's, departure, institution and etc. Should I write my current institution of the one that I have chosen for funding?


Shona McCombes
Shona McCombes (Scribbr-team)
June 25, 2020 at 8:41 PM


You should usually give the name of your current institution. If you are applying to conduct the research at a different institution, I'd recommend checking with your (potential) supervisor what to include on the title page.


June 10, 2020 at 1:17 PM

txs alot it is ahelpful .


Leah Njigua
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Lakshmi Anil
May 30, 2020 at 3:00 PM

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December 23, 2019 at 10:57 AM

It was very useful indeed as at now i understood the concept of research proposal and i can write it very well. Thanks for sharing it with us here.


December 22, 2019 at 9:34 PM

Very useful, thanks .

But I hav a question, How much the literature review in proposal stage differ from the one in thesis stage?


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Laban Amazo
September 30, 2019 at 1:35 PM

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McLyn Elakane
September 19, 2019 at 2:30 PM

Hey helpful, cos I'm about to start a proposal ??


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September 2, 2019 at 10:18 PM

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September 21, 2018 at 4:19 AM

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