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How to Write a Winning Research Proposal

How to Write a Winning Research Proposal

Writing a research proposal is a vital step in your thesis writing year. 


Why is the Research Proposal Important?

Your research proposal must persuade potential supervisors and/or funders that your work is worthy of their support and approval. Articulate your research ideas and reasons in a compelling way, while demonstrating your understanding of existing literature. It must also clearly define your questions or objectives and your approach to answering them.

If just reading those requirements is making you feel out of your depth already. Keep reading. This article will give you the all-important structure you need to make a success of this crucial step.

My advice? While it must be well-structured, your research proposal should retain a degree of flexibility to accommodate any changes you need to make as your thesis progresses.

Before you even start writing your research proposal it is crucial that you do plenty of background reading on the research topic. This will lay the foundation for your literature review and should include references to known notable works which exist on the topic already, as well as fresh data that you plan to incorporate. 

Remember, you need to show how your research will make  ‘an original contribution’ to your field.

Drafting a Proposal  

Start by setting out the main headings and subheadings: design your framework. Bee concise and clear. Use plain language to make your point and keep your writing style consistent. It’s good practice to get feedback on your draft proposals from colleagues and supervisors before submission.   This means your proposal will go through many changes and iterations before it is ready for submission. Keep an open mind in terms of feedback, never forget that you are learning.


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An Expected  Structure

The tabulated outline below is the work of David R. Thomas and D. Hodges (2013) published by Sage Publications Ltd. It succinctly poses an accepted and expected structure of the research proposal. 



Description of content 
Cover page  Title of proposal, authors name(s) and contact details, date proposal prepared 
Summary  For proposals longer than about six pages, provide a 300–400 summary of the main features, including the  objectives and proposed research design 
Introduction  Provides the context for the research, including the goals and objectives of the proposed project, the  ‘problem’ addressed, why the problem is important and key literature sources 


Describes the research design and methods to be used in the project, including the sampling plan and  data gathering procedures, methods of data analysis, the rationale for the choice of methods and the  ethical review plan 
Dissemination  of research  


A summary of the ways in which the project results will be communicated to others and the primary  audiences f

or the research findings 

Timeline  The research timeline (or timetable) lists the major phases of the research project in time sequence, along  with the key tasks to be completed in each phase 


Summarises the resources needed to do the research, including people, services and equipment. May  include a detailed budget 
Management  of the project  Describes the people who will be responsible for conducting the research project and their relevant  experience 
References  A list of all publications and other source material referred to in the proposal 


My insider tips in making your proposal a winner

  • Check the specific formal requirements from your university or education facility. This will depend on your field of study and the level of your degree: undergraduate, master’s, or PhD. For example, you may be required to provide a rough (short) outline of your topic or you may be expected to deliver a convincing and detailed (long) compilation of the first three chapters of your thesis.
  • Observing the precise technical requirements for your proposal in terms of heading structure, layout, margins, referencing, line-spacing, or anything else, is fundamental. 
  • Invest time in doing thorough research into the literature to support your research. (Link to Don’t procrastinate, write your literature review)
  • Be realistic about your timeline and talk to an academic coach to help you plan your writing schedule in advance.
  • Get advice from professors and supervisors about the most appropriate and relevant research design for your project. . For example, will your approach be qualitative, quantitative, or mixed methods; will your design be longitudinal or cross-sectional; will you analyse your data manually or digitally? Remember to build in reasonable time to think through and plan these processes.
  • Procure a proofreader or editor to ensure your proposal is (to the best of your ability) error-free.



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