Example of a research proposal structure

Proposals can be put together in many ways, but they generally contain several set components. Always ask your supervisor about precise requirements, such as how long the proposal should be and which elements are mandatory.

Title page

This should be similar to the title page that you will eventually prepare for your dissertation. Include the following items:

  • The document’s title (and subtitle, if relevant);
  • The name of your school;
  • Contact information for your academic supervisor(s);
  • Date and place;
  • Your name (and the name of any co-authors, if relevant).

Table of contents

Use Microsoft Word’s table of content tools to generate this list so that it will be automatically updated whenever you amend your document.

Introduction

After reading this introduction to your topic, people should understand why you will undertake your research and want to learn more. If the proposal itself is long, you can also use this section to briefly outline how the rest of the proposal is structured.

Chapter 1 Background and context

This chapter should more thoroughly explain the problem or question you will look at. It’s particularly important to demonstrate why your research is relevant, which you can do by outlining the context of your project. Briefly explain the history, describe the current situation and highlight important recent developments. You should also introduce the organization you are looking at, if relevant.

Chapter 2 Problem statement and analysis

Use this chapter to present a clear outline of the problem or issue that you will address, including:

  • Who has responsibility for the problem?
  • What has already been done to try to solve it?
  • What will happen if the problem is not solved?

Research design

In this chapter it’s also important to clearly state what is and is not part of your research design, as being explicit will help to avoid later conflict. Be sure to identify which part of an organization will be involved in the research, if appropriate.

Chapter 3 Objective and final outcomes

This chapter should clearly identify what will come out of your research, which ensures that you and everyone involved in your thesis have the same expectations. It will also help to clarify what you are working towards. Include the following components:

  • Objective: Note any targets you aim to achieve through your research.
  • Final outcomes Describe any specific end products that you will create on the basis of your findings (e.g., for the organization you are studying). Examples include a website, model or strategy.

Chapter 4 Conditions and risk analysis

Use this chapter to discuss any constraints that may be associated with your project.

Conditions

Describe what you will need in order to undertake the project. For instance:

  • Money: How much money do you need to conduct the research?
  • Location: Are there any requirements related to where you will conduct your research (for example, a workstation)?
  • Materials: What materials do you need for the research?
  • Expertise: What experts do you need access to?
  • Time: How much time do you need for your research?
  • Expert and participant availability: Will individuals be accessible and free when you need them (e.g., to be interviewed or complete a survey)?

Risk analysis

Identify any possible risks that may be associated with the project and the measures you will take to avoid them.

Chapter 5 Approach

This chapter should outline the steps you will take to achieve your desired objectives and outcomes. You should also include your general planning calendar, to clarify what you will do when.

Example: Time schedule
Step/PhaseResultsDeadlineNumber of hours
1OrientationStructure action plan
2Research design, Research conceptMethods, tools, techniques
3

Sources/reference list

Be sure to identify the sources of any information you use in your plan. Most colleges require students to follow the APA style for this. Taking advantage of the free Scribbr APA Generator will ensure that your citations and reference list are formatted correctly.

Appendices

A research proposal generally doesn’t have too many appendices, but you can use them if you have important items that are too long to include in the document’s main body. Examples include a market share table that helps to justify the study’s relevance and a more detailed planning calendar.

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Koen Driessen

Koen has written multiple theses and founded, together with Bas and Richard, the thesis editing company Scribbr in 2012.

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