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.

Pre-writing Tasks

Step 1

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.

Step 2

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.

Step 3

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.

Writing the Proposal

Step 1

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.

Step 2

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?

Step 3

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.

Step 4

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

Step 5

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

Step 6

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.