A Simple Explainer With Examples + Free Template
By: Derek Jansen (MBA) | Expert Reviewed By: Dr Eunice Rautenbach | June 2020
If you’re nearing the end of your degree program and your dissertation or thesis is on the horizon, or you’re planning to apply for a PhD program, chances are you’re going to need to craft a convincing research proposal. If you’re on this page, you’re probably unsure exactly what the research proposal is all about. Well, you’ve come to the right place.
Overview: Research Proposal Basics
- What a dissertation or thesis research proposal is
- What things a research proposal needs to cover
- How long a research proposal needs to be
- How to structure and write up a proposal
What is a research proposal?
A research proposal is a simply a structured, formal document that explainswhatyou plan to research (i.e. your research topic),whyit’s worth researching (i.e. your justification), andhowyou plan to investigate it (i.e. your practical approach).
The purpose of the research proposal (it’s job, so to speak) is toconvinceyour research supervisor, committee or university that your research issuitable(for the requirements of the degree program) andmanageable(given the time and resource constraints you will face).
The most important word here is “convince” – in other words, your research proposal needs tosellyour research idea (to whoever is going to approve it). If it doesn’t convince them (of its suitability and manageability), you’ll need to revise and resubmit. This will cost you valuable time, which will either delay the start of your research or eat into its time allowance (which is bad news).
What goes into a research proposal?
As we mentioned earlier, a good dissertation or thesis proposal needs to cover the “what”, the “why” and the “how” of the research. Let’s look at each of these in a little more detail:
Your proposal needs to clearly articulate your research topic. This needs to be specific and unambiguous. Your research topic should make it clear exactly what you plan to research and in what context. Here’s an example:
Topic: An investigation into the factors which impact female Generation Y consumer’s likelihood to promote a specific makeup brand to their peers: a British context
As you can see, this topic is extremely clear. From this one line we can see exactly:
- What’s being investigated – factors that make people promote a brand of makeup
- Who it involves – female Gen-Y consumers
- In what context – the United Kingdom
So, make sure that your research proposal provides a detailed explanation of your research topic. It should go without saying, but don’t start writing your proposal until you have a crystal-clear topic in mind, or you’ll end up waffling away a few thousand words.
Need a helping hand?
See how Grad Coach can help you...
As we touched on earlier, it’s not good enough to simply propose a research topic – you need to justify why your topic is original. In other words, what makes itunique? What gap in the current literature does it fill? If it’s simply a rehash of the existing research, it’s probably not going to get approval – it needs to be fresh.
But,originalityalone is not enough. Once you’ve ticked that box, you also need to justify why your proposed topic isimportant. In other words, what value will it add to the world if you manage to find answers to your research questions?
For example, let’s look at the sample research topic we mentioned earlier (factors impacting brand advocacy). In this case, if the research could uncover relevant factors, these findings would be very useful to marketers in the cosmetics industry, and would, therefore, have commercial value. That is a clear justification for the research.
So, when you’re crafting your research proposal, remember that it’s not enough for a topic to simply be unique. It needs to be useful and value-creating – and you need to convey that value in your proposal. If you’re struggling to find a research topic that makes the cut, watchour video covering how to find a research topic.
It’s all good and well to have a great topic that’s original and important, but you’re not going to convince anyone to approve it without discussing the practicalities – in other words:
- How will you undertake your research?
- Is your research design appropriate for your topic?
- Is your plan manageable given your constraints (time, money, expertise)?
While it’s generally not expected that you’ll have a fully fleshed out research strategy at the proposal stage, you will need to provide a high-level view of your research methodology and some key design decisions. Here are some important questions you’ll need to address in your proposal:
- Will you take a qualitative or quantitative approach?
- Will your design becross-sectionalorlongitudinal?
- How will you collect your data (interviews, surveys, etc)?
- How will you analyse your data (e.g. statistical analysis,qualitative data analysis, etc)?
So, make sure you give some thought to the practicalities of your research and have at least a basic understanding of research methodologies before you start writing up your proposal. The video below provides a good introduction to methodology.
How long is a research proposal?
This varies tremendously, depending on the university, the field of study (e.g., social sciences vs natural sciences), and the level of the degree (e.g. undergraduate, Masters or PhD) – so it’s always best to check with your university what their specific requirements are before you start planning your proposal.
As a rough guide, a formal research proposal at Masters-level often ranges between 2000-3000 words, while a PhD-level proposal can be far more detailed, ranging from 5000-8000 words. In some cases, a rough outline of the topic is all that’s needed, while in other cases, universities expect a very detailed proposal that essentially forms the first three chapters of the dissertation or thesis.
The takeaway – be sure to check with your institution before you start writing.
How is a research proposal structured?
While the exact structure and format required for a dissertation or thesis research proposal differs from university to university, there are five “essential ingredients” that typically make up the structure of a research proposal:
- A descriptive title or title page
- A rich introduction and background to the proposed research
- A discussion of the scope/delimitations of the research
- An initial literature review covering the key research in the area
- A discussion of the proposed research design (methodology)
For a detailed explanation of each of these, and step by step guidance covering how to write a research proposal,have a look at this video post.You might also consider using our free research proposal template here.
As you write up your research proposal, remember the all-important core purpose:to convince. Your research proposal needs to sell your research idea in terms of suitability and viability. So, focus on crafting a convincing narrative and you’ll have won half the battle.
Psst… there’s more (for free)
This post is part of our research writing mini-course, which covers everything you need to get started with your dissertation, thesis or research project.
Myrna Pereiraon October 25, 2020 at 12:15 amSee AlsoWhat Is a Budget? Plus 10 Budgeting Myths Holding You BackResearch Budget Definition: 131 Samples | Law InsiderBudget Definition & Meaning | YourDictionaryProposal Budget Development | University Research Administration
I truly enjoyed this video, as it was eye-opening to what I have to do in the preparation of preparing a Research proposal.
I would be interested in getting some coaching.
BARAKAELI TEREVAELIon November 5, 2022 at 6:45 pm
I real appreciate on your elaboration on how to develop research proposal,the video explains each steps clearly.
Christopher Makuvazaon November 14, 2020 at 10:24 am
Thank you for the video. It really assisted me and my niece. I am a PhD candidate and she is an undergraduate student. It is at times, very difficult to guide a family member but with this video, my job is done.
In view of the above, I welcome more coaching.
Zakia Ghafooron February 8, 2022 at 6:03 am
Wonderful guidelines, thanks
Annie Malupandeon May 26, 2022 at 8:26 am
This is very helpful. Would love to continue even as I prepare for starting my masters next year.
KYARIKUNDA MOREENon October 15, 2022 at 6:02 am
Thanks for the work done, the text was helpful to me
Ahsanullah Mangalon December 9, 2020 at 2:47 pm
Bundle of thanks to you for the research proposal guide it was really good and useful
if it is possible please send me the sample of research proposal
Derek Jansenon January 4, 2021 at 9:27 am
You’re most welcome.
We don’t have any research proposals that we can share (the students own the intellectual property), but you might find our research proposal template useful: https://gradcoach.com/research-proposal-template/
Reply(Video) How To Write A Research Proposal 101: The What, Why & How (With Examples)
Cheruiyot Moses Kipyegonon April 30, 2022 at 3:40 pm
Cheruiyot Moses Kipyegon
Thanks alot. It was an eye opener that came timely enough before my imminent proposal defense.
agneliuson May 26, 2022 at 6:54 pm
thank you very much your lesson is very interested may God be with you
Abubakaron January 27, 2021 at 6:56 am
I am an undergraduate student (First Degree) preparing to write my project,this video and explanation had shed more light to me thanks for your efforts keep it up.
Synthia Atienoon January 28, 2021 at 7:13 am
Very useful. I am grateful.
belina nambeyaon March 3, 2021 at 9:57 am
this is a very a good guidance on research proposal, for sure i have learnt something
Zakia Ghafooron February 8, 2022 at 5:59 am
Wonderful guidelines for writing a research proposal, I am a student of m.phil( education), this guideline is suitable for me. Thanks
Derek Jansenon March 4, 2022 at 7:02 am
You’re welcome 🙂
Marjorieon April 20, 2021 at 6:23 am
Thank you, this was so helpful.
Amitash Deganon April 23, 2021 at 10:45 am
A really great and insightful video. It opened my eyes as to how to write a research paper. I would like to receive more guidance for writing my research paper from your esteemed faculty.
Glaudia Njugunaon April 26, 2021 at 7:06 pm
Thank you, great insights
Glaudia Njugunaon April 26, 2021 at 7:07 pm
Thank you, great insights, thank you so much, feeling edified
Reply(Video) Research Proposal 101: 8 Common Mistakes That Will Get Your Proposal Rejected + Examples
Yebirgualon May 31, 2021 at 9:20 am
Wow thank you, great insights, thanks a lot
Roseline Soetanon May 31, 2021 at 10:51 pm
Thank you. This is a great insight.
I am a student preparing for a PhD program. I am requested to write my Research Proposal as part of what I am required to submit before my unconditional admission. I am grateful having listened to this video which will go a long way in helping me to actually choose a topic of interest and not just any topic as well as to narrow down the topic and be specific about it. I indeed need more of this especially as am trying to choose a topic suitable for a DBA am about embarking on.
Thank you once more. The video is indeed helpful.
Rebeccaon June 14, 2021 at 8:57 am
Have learnt a lot just at the right time. Thank you so much.
laramato ikayoon June 28, 2021 at 7:34 am
thank you very much ,because have learn a lot things concerning research proposal and be blessed u for your time that you providing to help us
Cheruiyot M Kipyegonon April 30, 2022 at 3:49 pm
For my MSc medical education research, please evaluate this topic for me:
Training Needs Assessment of Faculty in Medical Training Institutions in Kericho and Bomet Counties
Rebeccaon June 29, 2021 at 7:48 am
I have really learnt a lot based on research proposal and it’s formulation
Arega Berlieon April 21, 2022 at 10:01 am
Thank you. I learn much from the proposal since it is applied
Siyandaon July 1, 2021 at 10:17 pm
Your effort is much appreciated – you have good articulation.
- See Also6 Reasons to Answer the "What's Your Budget?" QuestionHow to Ask for the Prices in EnglishHow to Prepare a BudgetMaking a Budget
Siyandaon July 1, 2021 at 10:19 pm
You have good articulation.
Douglas Eliabaon July 8, 2021 at 9:57 am
I do applaud your simplified method of explaining the subject matter, which indeed has broaden my understanding of the subject matter. Definitely this would enable me writing a sellable research proposal.
Weluzanion October 4, 2021 at 9:39 pm
This really helping
Reply(Video) Research Aims, Objectives & Research Questions (The Golden Thread) - Definitions + Examples 📚
Roswittaon November 27, 2021 at 10:34 pm
Great! I liked your tutoring on how to find a research topic and how to write a research proposal. Precise and concise. Thank you very much. Will certainly share this with my students. Research made simple indeed.
Alice Kuyayamaon January 14, 2022 at 12:47 pm
Thank you very much. I an now assist my students effectively.
Alice Kuyayamaon January 14, 2022 at 12:50 pm
Thank you very much. I can now assist my students effectively.
Abdurahman Bayohon January 23, 2022 at 5:57 pm
I need any research proposal
Silverlineon February 11, 2022 at 6:05 pm
Thank you for these videos. I will need chapter by chapter assistance in writing my MSc dissertation
Nosion April 30, 2022 at 3:31 pm
faith wugahon May 15, 2022 at 11:32 am
the videos are very good and straight forward
Imamon July 14, 2022 at 10:45 pm
thanks so much for this wonderful presentations, i really enjoyed it to the fullest wish to learn more from you
Bernie E. Balmeoon August 14, 2022 at 10:05 am
Thank you very much. I learned a lot from your lecture.
Ishmael kwame Appiahon September 22, 2022 at 3:39 pm
I really enjoy the in-depth knowledge on research proposal you have given.
me. You have indeed broaden my understanding and skills. Thank you
David Mweembaon December 5, 2022 at 4:57 am
interesting session this has equipped me with knowledge as i head for exams in an hour’s time, am sure i get A++
Reply(Video) How to Write a Successful Research Proposal Introduction