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How to Write a Research Paper Proposal: 4 Steps

All university and college students are usually fully aware that they will, at some point in their academic life, handle research paper proposal projects. Armed with such knowledge, the proactive students often take the time to familiarize themselves with the ropes of research paper writing, and that is when they first learn of the research project proposal.

If this describes you, then you are in good company. This article explores the research proposal outline, the research proposal format, a few research proposal examples, and, most importantly, answers what it is so you can walk away confident you know how to write a paper proposal.

What is a Research Proposal?

The first step towards learning how to write a paper proposal relates to understanding what it is and why it is of the essence. That said, a research project proposal is simply a summary of your intended research.

This form of academic writing describes the central argument or the thesis of your research paper, provides an overview of the methods, theories, and strategies used to conduct the research, and explains the importance of researching on that particular topic.

In other words, if your professor or fellow student was to ask you what a research paper proposal is. Tell them that the document that describes what you want to investigate in your research paper, how you plan to do it, and why it is essential.

The Purpose of a Research Proposal

1.    Justify Your Research

The primary purpose of a research project proposal is to convince the prospects that the project or proposed study is valuable.

It should persuade your professor or committee members that your project is relevant, original, exciting, and that once complete, it’ll add significant value to your field of study.

Your proposal should articulate your argument clearly and concisely, and at the same time, should be compelling enough to achieve this purpose.

2.    Demonstrate Knowledge

The research paper proposal is also meant to convey your competence in the proposed area of study, demonstrate your understanding of the existing research, and prove to the prospects that the proposed area of study is academically valid.  

3.    Explain Your Approach

A proposal should show the reader you’ve reviewed the existing data on the proposed study and have a well thought out methodology and tools you need to propel the research from ideation to fruition.

4.    Confirm Viability

Your research project proposal is also meant to confirm the feasibility of the project. It should show that the proposed study is achievable within the required timeframe and the constraints of the available resources.

Research Proposal Format

Now that you know what a research proposal and its purpose are, now look at the standard research proposal format below:

a.    Title Page

The title page is the first section of the research proposal format. It should give the reader all the necessary information pertaining to the proposal. This includes the proposed title, your name, your instructor’s name, institutional affiliation, and the department.

As the first thing your reader encounters before they see the content of your research paper proposal, you should strive to make your title page clear, but well-detailed.

Avoid writing in a generalized format, and instead use a catchy, brief, and informative title to attract the reader.

Check out the research proposal examples titles to get an idea of what’s expected of you.

Research proposal examples title format:

Main title

Your Name

Instructor’s Name

Academic Institution, Department

b.    Abstract

The abstract is that section in a proposal where you summarize the relevance of your research. Abstracts for research project proposals are short, usually between 150-300 words.

The summary should be in the future tense since you are essentially providing an overview of what you intend to do in the actual study. It gives the reader a glimpse of your proposal and is particularly essential if your proposal is long.

The abstract should mention the research topic; briefly highlight the methodology, the main findings, and the main results.

c.    Introduction

The introduction provides the background of your research question. It should offer a description of your research area, followed by the justification of the proposed study.

Note, in a research project proposal, the introduction serves as your first pitch.

The title page and the abstract may help introduce your reader to the topic, but this section tells them whether your proposal addresses what they need. To capture the attention of the reader and get them hooked, make sure your introduction addresses the following pain points:

  1. What compelled your interest in the research area
  2. Who’s interested in the topic
  3. Existing research, evidence and facts on the study question
  4. Limitations of the existing research and evidence on the research question
  5. How your research will address these limitations, or help in knowledge advancement
  6. Why your research is of the essence

Keep in mind that unlike the abstract, your introduction is not a summary. Sure, it gives an overview of what’s to come, but it’s also your only opportunity to get your reader hooked.

Wow them with your choice of words but do not go all the way in so you can keep readers in suspense, and leave them with no option but to continue reading so they can find out more.

The rule of the thumb is to write an introduction from a generalized point of view.

d.    Literature Review

As noted in our definition of what is a research proposal, the purpose of proposal writing is to demonstrate the relevance of your project and convey your competence. Now in this section of the research proposal format is where you get the chance to do so.

This section is usually one of the most important, but also can be one of the most difficult to complete. It calls for a lot of preliminary research, and this is where having a research proposal outline comes in handy the most.

The key is to ensure your literature review portrays you as an expert. Work towards maintaining a competent front by providing your literature review does more than just reinvent the wheel by:

  1. Critically evaluating existing research relevant to the proposed study
  2. Demonstrating how your research contributes to knowledge advancement
  3. Giving credit to researchers who laid the foundation for your research

While at it, make sure your literature review is appealing and up to par with professional standards by avoiding common mistakes made by students. These mistakes include

  1. Lacking proper organization
  2. Lacking focus and coherence, or rather being too repetitive
  3. Citing irrelevant sources or being too reliant on secondary sources of information.

e.    Research Methodology

This section tells the reader how you plan on doing the research. You should ensure that your research methodology section defines the type of data or the sources you will use.

Breakdown how you’ll go about the data collection process, and the theoretical techniques you will use to analyze or interpret the data.

Address these questions clearly and logically, but at the same time, be careful not to turn your research methodology section into a mere list of tasks.

To create an informative Methodology section, try to be precise about the data collection strategies you’ll use and their relevance to your research questions.

Keep in mind that no data collection, analysis, or interpretation strategy is perfect. So, be sure to highlight the shortcomings of your approach and strategies to overcome them.

Try as much as you can to use original and authentic research strategies and data analysis methods instead of just repeating what other researchers have done in the past.

f.     Research Significance

Since you do not have the results of your proposed study at this point, leave the reader anticipating it by breaking down the potential impact of the research question exploration on the related field.

Use an enthusiastic and confident tone to get the reader even more interested in the actual research project, but be careful not to exaggerate things.

g.    Timeline

With some research paper proposals, you will be required to include a timeline of your research project. The timeline should estimate how long each project objective may take and the steps you will take to turn each goal into reality.

h.    Reference List

The last thing you want is your proposal to be rejected for plagiarism. Ensure you include the reference list or the citation section listing all the data sources you’ve used. In some instances, you may also be required to include a bibliography.

How to Write a Research Proposal?

Now that you know what is a research proposal, and what the research proposal format should include, writing one just became easier, right? Well, we are about to make it even easier for you with the tips on how to write a paper proposal below;

1.    Understand the Requirements

Different academic facilities have different research paper proposal format expectations. You might be thinking of writing your proposal is APA style, but your supervisor expects you to use MLA or Harvard formats.

You might assume your professor wants you to submit the proposal as part of the research paper when they expect you to submit beforehand instead.

Make sure you take the time to go through project-specific requirements from your supervisor before you put pen to paper.

2.    Identify and Define Your Topic

The first step to nailing any research is selecting an excellent topic. Remember, the rest of your research proposal revolves around the issue.

The rule of the thumb is to choose a topic you’re passionate about or well-versed. Once you’ve identified a research topic, take time to review it to see whether it’ll be adding any value to your field of study and whether it provides a viable area of research.

Ask yourself questions like is the topic interesting enough? Is the topic-specific enough for you to study and provide answers within the project limits? Here are some excellent research paper examples topics to get you started;

  1. How has feminism helped women secure their rights in the past decade?
  2. Is the death penalty effective?
  3. What are the implications of video games on young brains?
  4. Describe the impact of cultural differences on social interactions
  5. What factors caused the 2nd world war
  6. Do violent video games impact mental health?
  7. Explore the history and evolution of Buddhism
  8. How can modern businesses maintain environmental sustainability?
  9. Describe the instability of modern-day democracy
  10. The history and evolution of racism in the United States
  11. How do religious extremists impact society?

3.    Create a Research Proposal Outline

A research proposal outline comes in handy during the research paper and proposal writing. It helps you keep your work organized and prevents you from leaving out any key points and the limitations you come across during your literature review.

To put it simply, it makes research proposal writing a tad easier. Since it’s like a rough version of your project, the research proposal outline follows a structure similar to the one above.

4.    Perform a Literature Review

Once you’ve determined the topic you want to take on, the next, most critical step in learning how to write a paper proposal is reviewing the literature.

The evidence and facts you come up with are the backbones of both your research paper and the proposal.

So read as much literature on the topic as time allows, and note down the key points you come across as well as the limitations on your research proposal outline. 

Research Proposal Writing Help from Experts

Writing a research proposal is equally as hectic as writing the research report itself.

Our comprehensive how to write a research paper proposal will ultimately make you a better writer than you were before you came here. However, if you still need a little more help, do not hesitate to get in touch with our experts.

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