Writing a Research Proposal - Outline, Format, and Examples

Writing a Research Proposal - Outline, Format, and Examples

Published by on 2021-04-09 09:54:49

A research proposal is a type of academic paper like a research paper, essay, etc. A student writing a research proposal has their goal clear: to substantiate the need to conduct certain research. If necessary, the same paper serves as a request for financial support required to implement the project.

Before you proceed to the guide explaining how to write a research proposal outline and showing how to format the paper itself appropriately, there is one thing to remember. Let’s define what that paper is and what its core elements and main purposes are.

What Is a Research Proposal?

Even if you checked at least one example of a research proposal paper available on the web previously, it is worth reminding the focus points again. That work is a type of academic paper answering three main questions. You can call them WWH:

  • What is the subject?
  • Why is it critical to gain more academic knowledge about it?
  • How do you intend to investigate it (in detail)?

The research proposal formatting requirements may vary depending on your education field, school, faculty, and even supervisor. However, the majority of those papers have at least the following parts as their core:

Parts may have other names or division principles. Still, the main point of the paper remains unchanged all the time. All research paper proposal samples you can find online have the same purpose: persuasion. A student or scientist crafts this paper to show their research value to their supervisor, school, or sponsor. Simply put, you need to prove to officials that it is worth spending time, effort, and (or) money on your research.

Scientists mostly craft research proposals to receive funds to initiate and implement some projects. Also, students are writing those proposals to ground the value of their plan for a future dissertation or thesis paper.

Summing up the points above, one might give the following recommendations to keep up with if you want to write an effective research proposal:

  • Show it is relevant – prove the originality, importance, and scientific interest behind the investigation to the supervisor.
  • Provide context – do not forget to show your knowledge about the chosen field. Let them know you are aware of the current investigation status and achievements and bring your substantial basis on top to support stated ideas.
  • Describe methods – let them see your thorough approach towards the data, instruments to use, and actions to take to finish the exploration appropriately and effectively.
  • Prove feasibility – provide reasons confirming why the research is possible to conduct within the current practical frames of the syllabus, foundation, or any educational establishment.

How long should be your paper? Research paper proposals examples available on the web are of different lengths, and that’s more than normal. The word count of a particular paper mostly depends on the academic level of a person writing it. While a thesis proposal of a future bachelor or master is fine to contain only several pages of contents, that of a dissertation for a Ph.D. candidate can easily be a couple of times longer and written with greater attention to detail.

Although you need to finish the proposal previously to even starting the planned investigation itself, those two documents’ structure reasonably looks pretty similar. It’s your thesis, yet not containing info on outcomes and a chapter with a scientific discussion of your investigation.

Why and How to Write a Research Proposal Outline?

If a proposal is the shortened version of your thesis or dissertation, its outline is obviously the basis of the proposal. Crafting an outline can help you navigate through the chosen topic easier, as that draft shows the milestones on the way to the final research proposal copy.

Additionally, a research proposal outline allows your school’s officials (for example, your supervisor) to evaluate the exploration’s potential outcome even before it is conducted and described.

Of course, nobody would expect you to develop the full version of the proposal at this stage. That’s why it is called an outline. However, it would be great if you approach it with the same thoroughness and carefulness. Here are the elements that the supervisor will expect you to show in an outline:

  • The topic of your investigation (choose your area)
  • The topic’s rationale (explain its importance)
  • The basic info on methodology (discuss the potentially suitable approach shortly)

Consideration Points of a Research Proposal Outline

The best outline format depends on the field of your exploration. So, it will be the most useful solution to discuss the milestones suiting almost any of the research topic proposal examples you might need to write.

Project title

That’s simple but critical. Here, you just come up with a short title serving as a message describing the upcoming academic research’s general perspective.

Short Research Description

What is the focus point of the project? Make sure you narrow down the problem to make it suitable to explore and review within your current paper’s volume that depends on the academic level. Avoid going too far, building too big plans, and expressing too ambitious goals. Here are more questions to think over at this stage:

  • What’s the planned investigation’s location?
  • What (who) is the subject?
  • What ideas will you explore embody?


The best way to help you set the suitable research proposal background is to show a list of questions again:

  • What’s your reason for conducting an investigation?
  • Why do you think it is critical?
  • What do you plan to explore or learn with it?
  • What will the school get from it?

A great backup for this section will be if you provide info about existing analysis or topical literature.


It is the place to define your approach towards the investigation of the chosen topic or problem. For instance, you can mention such ways as:

  • Small exploratory study 
  • A survey
  • An intervention study 
  • Scientific data evaluation 

Don’t forget to come up with the supposed data collection method. Should you focus on quantitative or qualitative evaluation? Or do you think the mixed approach would suit your topic the best?

The outline does not have to include too many prescriptions, as you write it to get possible suggestions from the supervisor or mentor after you analyze the draft together. Here, it is enough to define frames suitable for a relevant sample and prepare for possible problems by coming up with basic solutions beforehand. It would be great to think over the produced data analysis methods where it is possible.

Bibliography (Reference List) 

A supervisor definitely expects you to study some topical literature. Create a list of reference sources behind your suggestions. Additionally, it would be great to mention particular literature titles that could potentially become basic at the beginning of your investigation.

How to Format a Research Proposal?

Research proposal formatting would be nothing difficult if you did a good job on your outline. Simply put, the final draft of a research proposal is an extended outline packed with more incoming data. Below, you can check the elements of its structure that are required regardless of the planned style.

Title page

On a title page, you need to specify the following info:

  • The project’s title
  • Your name
  • Name of your supervisor
  • Educational establishment, faculty (department), etc.

Title page formatting guidelines may vary depending on the school or faculty, so make sure you specified them precisely.

Abstract and table of contents

In case the word count of a proposal is big, it would be suitable to craft an abstract explaining the content shortly. A table of contents is an effective navigation instrument tested by time, and it suits extended proposals, too.


In an introduction, you define the topic, set up the context and background, and then come up with the questions that your future research should answer.

See the list of critical questions to answer in your intro:

  • Who is interested in the investigated topic? (for example, the scientific community, practicing professionals, certain social groups or their members, etc.)
  • What’s the existing knowledge on the issue?
  • Which knowledge gaps exist?
  • What will be the contribution of your paper?
  • What gives value to your work?

Literature review

Just like in an outline, your knowledge of the existing cornerstone research materials and explorations in your area is critical to be shown in a proposal. A worthy review lets your supervisor get clear evidence of your confidence and orientation in the topical knowledge and available theories of your chosen academic field. Additionally, that is how a supervisor sees that the planned investigation is not just a repetition of the processes and outcomes already made by other researchers.

Here, the potential contribution of your investigation to the branch’s discussions should be shown and explained as well:

  • Compare and contrast: key methods, discussions, and controversial inconveniences.
  • Critical approach: strong and weak sides of various methods and conclusions.
  • A place for your study: ways how it synthesizes, expands, or challenges the existing works by other researchers.

Research design and methods

After the literature review is done, it would be great to repeat the focus goals of your project once again to switch the attention back to it. The discussed research proposal section is called to frame the general approach and main stages you plan to pass to find the desired answers. The points of this proposal stage are:

  1. Research type
  • Kind of exploration: quantitative, qualitative, or mixed
  • Data: primary/secondary sources or originally collected info
  • Design: experiment, correlation, or description
  • Data sources
    • Study subjects (for instance, college students in Washington D.C.; biology articles between 2000 and 2019, etc.)
    • Selection rules (case studies, randomized samples, in-depth search, and so on)
    • Time and place to gather the info
  • Planned methods
    • Instruments and activities to apply and take (a survey, an observation, a series of experiments, etc.)
    • Proofs explaining why the chosen instruments are the most suitable (how they help you to find answers to the posed exploration questions)
  • Practical part
    • The time required to gather the wanted data volumes
    • Planned access channels to reach sources and participants
    • Possible problems and ways to overcome them

    In a research design description, you should not only show the set of methods. Your goal here is to mention the reasons making the chosen approach (and its elements) the most suitable to find answers and generate outcomes you expect to get.

    Potential Contribution

    This is the best point to finish the entire research proposal strongly. The showcase of the possible contribution it could bring for theoretical basis or practical knowledge is a solid proof of a future paper’s value. For instance, the research outcomes may result in:

    • Improved scientific or practical processes of a particular field of study
    • Strengthened theory
    • Doubting or denying the existing theories or popular assumptions
    • Setting up the fundamentals for further exploration of the topic.

    Reference list or bibliography

    Make sure you provided the required citation for each source used and mentioned in the paper’s content. Additionally, the details of every publication must be mentioned in the list of references.

    In certain cases, they may want you to provide a bibliography. A bibliography contains all sources used to prepare the paper, including those not cited directly or only planned for you to study. The goal is to demonstrate the entire selection of literature materials standing behind the project.

    To Conclude on Writing the Example of Research Proposal Paper

    Now you know how to write a research proposal example perfectly on your own. To prepare a worthy paper, be thorough with every point, stay concentrated on details and be maximally precise. And don’t forget that crafting an outline beforehand will simplify the process for you significantly. So, it is definitely worth taking your time to create a draft of the future research proposal.