How to Develop a Research Proposal

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The first step in writing a research proposal is to develop a hypothesis or thesis. You must have a rationale or reason that warrants and justifies your research, whether it’s to determine the effects of rainwater on plants or to reveal the role of rhetoric in educational policy. A solid thesis or hypothesis illuminates a specific point of inquiry and states a general claim, to be investigated through the research you propose. A research proposal for a graduate course on British Modernism, for example, might seek to investigate the role of women in wartime literature, with the claim that women portray their bodies in autobiographic war literature in a way that contradicts Edwardian notions of femaleness. The point of the research would then be to investigate and uncover instances of this and, ultimately, to draw a well-supported, meaningful conclusion based on the findings.

1 Pre-writing Tasks

2 Think

Think about the general nature of your research and how you intend to go about it. Will you primarily consult texts? Interview people? Observe experiments over time? A combination of some or all? The nature of your topic often determines the best sources.

3 Compile a list

Compile a list of resources and other reference materials that will help you with research. Biographies, bibliographies, published studies, newspaper records and documentaries can offer insight on your topic, guide your research, and inform your conclusions.

4 Think about what the goals and objectives of your research are about the goals and objectives of your research

Think about what the goals and objectives of your research are. Why should your professor, advisor or superior grant you permission to conduct the research you propose? Maybe there’s a lack of discussion about your topic in existing scholarship, and the point of your research is to rescue an important author or text from obscurity, or maybe the goal of your research is to design a new business model to generate profits. For your proposal to be approved, you must articulate how and why it is warranted and beneficial.

5 Writing the Proposal

6 Provide a brief background

Provide a brief background on the nature of your research topic, emphasizing any claims, statistics or facts that point toward your thesis. A research proposal seeking to explore the relationship between typing and carpal tunnel might provide an overview of rises in computer literacy, and number of people in the U.S. suffering from carpal tunnel, within the introduction.

7 Discuss similar research on your topic

Discuss similar research on your topic, making sure to cite sources appropriately. How will your proposed study add to this body of knowledge? What do you hope to achieve with this study?

8 State your claim or point

Clearly and explicitly state your claim or point of inquiry, and offer a brief description about any preliminary research that led you to this question or claim.

9 Discuss in detail

Discuss in detail how you plan to go about the research, and include any expenses, permissions or other requirements you need for your research.

10 Discuss any resources

Discuss any resources you plan to consult to inform your work, including texts, people, documentaries and interviews.

11 Conclude

Conclude with a discussion of the outcomes or benefits you anticipate your research to yield, along with a justification for why those outcomes or benefits are important.

  • Always maintain formal prose when writing a research proposal. Do not include any feelings or personal interests you may have about the research, unless a research project assignment calls for it.
  • Write the research proposal in accordance with any additional requirements provided by your professor, advisor or supervisor.
  • Proofread your proposal carefully before you turn it in. Errors are likely to make you lose credibility in the eyes of your reader, and your project may not be approved if you have too many of them.

Debra Pachucki has been writing in the journalistic, scholastic and educational sectors since 2003. Pachucki holds a Bachelor's degree in education and currently teaches in New Jersey. She has worked professionally with children of all ages and is pursuing a second Masters degree in education from Monmouth University.