What Is the Proper Way to Write a Proposal Paper?

An academic proposal is the first step in producing a thesis or research project.
... Photodisc/Photodisc/Getty Images

In academics, a proposal paper’s purpose is to convince your instructor that you have a worthwhile research project that meets course requirements, as well as a solid plan to complete it. Research proposals should contain all the key elements of the paper the readers need to evaluate the proposed study. Though instructor requirements vary, a basic structure should include front matter, an abstract, introduction, literature review, methodology and end matter.

1 Front Matter

The structure of an academic proposal starts with front matter. Front matter is made up of the pages that precede the main sections of the proposal and can be simple or complex. It gives the reader your topic, purpose and where to locate information in the proposal. According to McGraw-Hill, elements that can be included are a cover or title page, table of contents, list of illustrations, executive summary and a transmittal letter, also known as a letter of introduction. The content of a proposal’s front matter depends on the scope of the project.

2 The Abstract

An abstract provides a concise summary of your proposal and is approximately 200 words. The abstract mentions major objectives and procedures, and should be on a page by itself. It should not include any information that is not discussed in the body of the proposal. Although it is placed at the beginning, the abstract should be written last.

3 The Introduction

The introduction states the research hypothesis, purpose or problem, and provides background information on the history of the proposal. It explains why the research, project or plan needs to be conducted. The introduction provides the reader with the context, scope and organization of the proposal, and includes a clear statement of purpose, explaining how you will conduct the research to obtain your purpose. The introduction should also include the writer’s qualifications.

4 Literature Review

A literature review provides background information and analyzes published work in a specific subject area in order to justify your choice of topic and how you address it. According to the University of California at Santa Cruz, a literature review should categorize works, such as those in support of or against the position, and explain how the works are similar or different. Discuss which works are most convincing and contribute the most to your area of research.

5 Body Details

The body of the proposal is geared toward giving supporting information. The problem or need, and its significance, is discussed in the body of your proposal with a proposed solution or approach. Discuss the people who will help meet the solution and their personal qualifications. Then explain when the work will be done by providing a schedule broken down into separate tasks. A discussion of methods used to meet your goals, such as equipment, material and personnel should also be discussed in the body, as well as a cost section, which emphasizes value received and gives the total cost or cost options.

6 End Matter

End matter comes after the body of the report and includes any relevant information. The audience and purpose of the proposal influences what is included. Elements that may be included are a glossary, bibliography and appendixes.

Based in Virginia, Susan Harlow is an adjunct English professor and writing resource coordinator. She specializes in education and technical communication. She holds a Master of Arts in English with a concentration in literacy, technology and professional writing from Northern Arizona University.