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Types of research proposals.
In all sectors (academe, government, and the private sector), research scientists typically seek and obtain competitive funding for their research projects by writing and submitting research proposals for consideration by the funding source. There are two kinds of research proposals:
Solicited proposals are those that are written and submitted in response to the issuance of a “Request for Proposals” (RFP), a document that identifies a specific research problem of interest to the funding agency for which they are specifically seeking a solution. The interested investigator then submits a “concept” or “white paper” briefly outlining their proposed solution to the problem. If the funding agency or company is interested, they may then request that the investigator submit a full proposal for consideration of funding.
Unsolicited proposals are those proposals that are submitted by an investigator in response to a “general call” for proposals that is issued by a funding agency or company in a field or area of study. The majority of funding agencies issue calls for proposals which have firmly established deadlines and for which the format of the proposals is fairly well defined. Thus, it is vitally important at the outset after you have identified a funding source that you obtain all of the relevant information on the specific grant program and its requirements. Today most funding agencies have searchable websites where they post detailed information concerning their grant programs.
- Purpose of a Research Proposal
The purpose of a proposal is to sell your idea to the funding agency. This means that the investigator must convince the funding agency that:
- The problem is significant and worthy of study
- The technical approach is novel and likely to yield results
- The investigator and his/her research team is/are the right group of individuals to carry out and accomplish the work described in the research proposal
- Typical Proposal Format
The title of your proposal should be short, accurate, and clear. A single sentence containing ten or fewer words is best. Don’t use acronyms and technical jargon as your reviewers may not come from your technical specialty. For example, “Web-GURU: Web-based Guide to Research for Undergraduates.”
As in a technical paper, the proposal abstract should “abstract” the project for the reader. It should be a brief (100 – 200 words), tightly worded summary of the project, its objectives, the problem’s significance, the project’s scope, the methods that will be employed, the identity and relevant technical expertise of the research team, and the results that are expected to result. Be sure to write this section last so that its content indeed abstracts your proposal.
The introduction section should introduce the research problem, its significance, and the technical approach your work will take to investigate/solve the problem. It should introduce the research team that will carry out the work.
This section should present a concise review of the primary literature relevant to your proposed research efforts. As such it should:
- Cite the key literature sources
- Be up to date
- Critically appraise the literature
- Take science in a bold new direction?
- Build on the prior work of others (whose?) in the field
- Address flaws in previous work (again, whose?)
- Develop infrastructure (instrumentation, methodology, collaborations) that will take science in exciting new directions
If the project builds on past studies from your laboratory, then you should include a brief section outlining what you have already accomplished and explain how these results relate to the work outlined in the present proposal. If the ideas you are proposing are novel, then it is especially important to include this section and to present evidence supporting the probable success of your project.
This section should outline your plan of attack. Specific information that should be contained in this section includes information on the research team and its technical expertise as it relates to the project, a realistic timeline, description of the specific experiments that will be accomplished together with alternate plans in case of potential difficulties/challenges. If more than one person will do the work described in the proposal then a division of labor should be provided together with an explanation of why each person is best qualified to do the work described. The timeline should define the length of the project and provide a schedule of who will do what specific tasks approximately when during the project period. Problems always arise in research. Things never go as anticipated. So, it is important to provide the reviewer with enough information to give them confidence that when problems arise, as they inevitably will, that you will be able to handle them in such a way that meaningful science results.
The budget should identify the anticipated cost for everything (salaries, materials, instrumentation, travel costs, etc.) that will be required in order to accomplish the research project. Usually budgets are prepared and submitted as tables with prescribed format. A budget justification typically accompanies the budget request. The budget justification is simply an explanation, item-by-item, stating why you must spend the money requested in order to carry out the experiments planned.
The most important point in preparing a budget is to make sure that you ask for what you really need. Some people underestimate the importance of working through a budget in advance of writing the actual grant proposal. This is really important because most grant programs provide grants with a certain set monetary value. It is critical to ask for the amount you really need because if you don’t ask for what you need you simply won’t be able to do the work and if you can’t carry out your project, it is highly unlikely that you will ever be able to obtain funding from that funding agency again in the near future. At the same time, it is important not to go overboard in padding your budgetary request. A thoughtful budget demonstrates that your project is well conceived and likely to yield quality results. If the reviewers feel that your budget is naïve or over-inflated, that can work against you – your project could be funded at a lower rate or certain items requested might simply be eliminated from the budget by the funding agency – so be sure to think through your budget requests carefully and make sure that all requests are thoughtfully justified.
There are two major components in a budget:
Direct costs are the costs that you incur that are directly attributable to the project. Examples of direct costs include personnel salary, fringe benefits, materials and supplies, major instrumentation, and travel costs. We will briefly examine each of these:
- Personnel Salary. An important budget request in most grants is the salary for the personnel who will carry out the research on the project. Salary is usually requested for the principal investigator, postdoctoral students, graduate and undergraduate students. Some funding agencies will provide secretarial support. Academic faculty, who usually receive academic year ( 9-mos typically) salary from their institutions, often supplement their salary (summer salary) by carrying out external research programs.
- Fringe benefits refers to the costs incurred by your institution/employer in providing group health insurance, retirement, unemployment, workers compensation, FICA (Medicare), etc. Undergraduate salaries are not normally assessed fringe benefits when the student is supported during the academic year.
- Materials and supplies include a wide range of items such as laboratory supplies, chemical reagents, research animals, computer software and supplies, etc.
- Major Instrumentation. A purchase is typically identified as major instrumentation rather than materials and supplies when the cost of the instrument exceeds a thousand dollars and when the device has an anticipated lifespan of more than a year. Examples of major instrumentation purchases include laptops (cost typically $2k), UV-vis instruments, desktop centrifuges, etc. When requesting major instrumentation it is important to specify the manufacturer and model of the specific instrument that you wish to purchase and to indicate what if any features this model has that make it uniquely required in order to accomplish your proposed work. If you do require a specific instrument, it is wise to obtain a quotation from the manufacturer. Since it may be six months or more before you begin your project be sure to inquire what the anticipated cost of the instrument will be at the time you anticipate purchasing it (i.e., allow for inflation).
- Travel Costs. If you intend to attend a professional meeting in order to present the results of your research, you may include the anticipated cost of traveling to and attending the meeting in your budget request. You may include the cost of a round-trip coach class fare airplane ticket, meeting registration, hotel, ground transportation (taxi, car rental, etc.), and food. Many funding sources place strict limitations on travel so be sure to research this carefully before making your request.
- Subcontractor Costs. If you are working on a collaborative project with an investigator at another institution, then you will need to include the costs that they will incur in carrying out the proposed work. Your collaborator is viewed as a subcontractor in terms of the grant proposal. Their institution may assess its own indirect costs and those will also need to be included in your budget request to the funding agency.
Indirect costs are the facilities and administrative costs that are incurred by your institution/employer in support of your research activities. These are typically assessed as a percentage of the direct costs for the project. Indirect costs are often assessed on either a modified total direct costs basis (MTDC) or a total direct costs basis (TDC). MTDC rates do not include the costs of major instrumentation, student tuition, or subcontractors in the total for the direct costs on which the indirect costs are assessed while TDC includes all costs when assessing the indirect costs for the project. The MTDC and TDC rates are set by your institution so be sure to check with them to determine what the current rates are.
Cirriculum Vitae for Principal Investigators
Most funding agencies require the principal investigator(s) to include some form of curriculum vitae. Curriculum vitae are the academic-version (extended) of a resume. They provide useful information on the education, technical expertise, and research productivity of the principal investigator. In an effort to ensure the brevity and uniformity of the information provided, many funding agencies require that this information be provided according to a specific format. Be sure to include only the information requested. Do not embellish your accomplishments.
This ancillary section should be used only to provide secondary information that is relevant to the research project. For example, if you are collaborating with another investigator, it is appropriate to obtain a letter from him/her indicating his/her willingness to collaborate and detailing what specific support (personnel, equipment, research materials, results, etc.) they are willing to provide for the research project. Some funding programs do not allow investigators to submit appendices so be sure to find out in advance whether or not you can submit supporting materials and what if any limitations there may be concerning these materials (content, page limits, etc.).
Human and Animal Subjects
If your project involves experimentation on either animals or people, you will need to obtain approval for your project through your institution’s office of Institutional Compliance.
- General Suggestions
- Don’t be afraid to ask your advisor or other scientists if you can read copies of their successfully funded proposals.
- There is no substitute for a good idea. This means the idea should be important and technically sound. If the idea is of interest to you, it is likely going to be of interest to others. Your job is to clearly make the case that this is work worth funding by the particular funding agency and program to which you have applied. In terms of the work being technically sound, make sure that you research it before you begin writing. This may mean doing some preliminary experiments in order to obtain data that clearly demonstrate that your ideas will work. This is particularly important if your ideas are truly novel.
- Before you begin writing, map out your project. Identify the key experiments you will need to do. Determine who and what you will need in order to carry out these experiments and figure out how much it will cost to do the actual work (i.e., work out the budget). Be sure that the anticipated cost of your project fits the scope of the funding agency’s program.
- Read the application instructions thoroughly and follow them carefully. If you have any questions telephone or e-mail and ask. Don’t make any implicit assumptions about your reviewers including their technical expertise, what they know about you and your work, the conditions under which they will read your proposal, etc. If you don’t follow the directions, don’t be surprised if your proposal is returned to you un-reviewed.
- Write your proposal to address all of the review criteria of the grant program.
- Start writing your proposal well in advance of the deadline for submission.
- Presentation and written expression count. Think about the reviewer’s workload (see “The Review Process”). Don’t use a lot of technical jargon. Write simply and clearly. Use the spell checker and grammar checker. Don’t fault the reviewers for equating a poorly written and poorly proofed proposal with evidence of a sloppy scientist likely incapable of carrying out a quality project if funded.
- Ask your advisor, a friend, and/or colleague to review your proposal (be sure to provide them with a copy of the funding agency’s review criteria) before submitting it and when you receive their feedback modify your proposal accordingly.
- If your proposal is not funded, seek feedback. Don’t take the rejection of your proposal personally. Learn from it! Modify your proposal accordingly, and resubmit it. Perseverance is everything when it comes to research funding – just about everyone has submitted a proposal that didn’t get funded.
Prepare your proposal
Use these tips and our sample proposal sections to develop a strong proposal and increase your chances of being awarded.
Jump to writing resources, proposal examples and workshop info.
Proposal writing tips
- Manage your time – Know the deadlines and plan ahead to obtain requirements like transcripts and recommendations.
- Follow directions carefully – Applications that are missing elements or submitted incorrectly are usually removed from consideration. Double check the requirements before submitting.
- Use simple language – Keep in mind that many members of the panel will not be experts in your field. Your proposal should be intelligible to someone with little to no background in your subject matter.
Outline for a proposal
- In simple language provide a very brief overview of your project.
- Start with one or two sentences about the issue.
- State the objective of what you plan to do.
- Finish the abstract by two or three sentences about how you will conduct the research/creative work.
- This is the place to tell us what your research is all about.
- Clearly state the problem you are addressing.
- Point out why your research or study is necessary or important.
- Discuss the research of others pertaining to your topic.
- Identify any gaps in previous work that your research would fill.
- The objectives should be stated very specifically.
- Bulleting or numbering the objectives is a useful way to stay on track and clearly present the aims of your project.
- Include study questions or hypothesis as appropriate
- Explain the purpose of what you want to do
Plans for research/creative work
- Remember that many members of the review panel will not be experts in your field.
- Spell out the tasks of your project step by step. Use numbers or bullets if appropriate.
- Clearly explain how to accomplish your objectives.
- Discuss in detail how your research will address gaps in previous research on your topic.
- Be realistic about how much you can accomplish in the timeframe provided. Reviewers will be looking to see if your project is feasible.
- Explain how you will accomplish the steps in your research plan.
- A chart may be a helpful aid in this section.
Plans for dissemination of results
- Demonstrate who will benefit from the work you have done and how you will share it with the public, other students, and the academic community.
- Sharing your results is very important to the review panel.
- State whether you ultimately will be preparing a paper, report, or a presentation for a conference.
- This section allows you to justify the expense of your project.
- Provide a specific list of items required for your project.
- Provide justification for each item in your budget.
- Hosting is not permitted in your budget.
Human subjects or vertebrate animals
- If your study includes human subjects or vertebrate animals, your application must include documentation.
- Visit the Research Integrity website for more information about studies with human subjects.
- Visit the Animal Resources website for more information on studies with vertebrate animals.
Campus assistance for proposal writing
The University Writing Center offers services dedicated to proposal writing.
Visit the University Writing Center
Sample application sections
- Budget & justification
Proposal writing workshops
We have partnered with the Writing Center to provide you with research, scholarship and creative activity writing workshops.
Check the workshop schedule
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Writing Tips For Undergraduate Research Proposal Sample
By: Angelina Grin
Purpose Of a Research Proposal
Ideal length of a research proposal, unsolicited, abstract/summary, background and introduction, methods and approach, applicant’s preparation, figures, charts, and images, missing the deadline, poor choice of topic, overlooking or miscomprehension the instructions, research proposal - what does it mean.
In a students’ academic life, a research proposal is a fundamental piece of information work that involves planning, in-depth research, questions from different perspectives, and a range of resources to investigate a research problem, be it social, corporate, or any other. Theoretically speaking, a research proposal creates a path to the proposed research project. Research proposals are the process of unleashing theoretical frameworks and concepts in different scenarios, offering a glimpse of a student's social and academic experiences.
In some proposals, students conduct a detailed cost-benefit analysis (CBA) to persuade the audience towards the significance of an event or problem picked for further investigation. Generally, undergraduate students use plentiful information to plan and write a university project. The process would include laying out the rationale, describing and justifying the methods, and highlighting the proposed project’s significance.
A research proposal aims to convince why a study is worth it. Undergraduate students heap up an assortment of resources by reading specific information to identify and present a researchable question or problem. Undergraduate students would discuss feasibility and need to conduct information work, which can significantly contribute to the existing knowledge database around their chosen area.
Let us unfold two essential points that can be extremely helpful as you try to pinpoint the purpose of your research:
- Identify a problem, raise questions, shortlist credible resources, and write a justifiable plan to reach a comprehensive conclusion;
- Prepare information work that is valuable for your audience.
As an undergraduate student, you should be competent in identifying a problem, aligning the resources for information work, and addressing untapped or under-researched questions. For further comprehension, let us take the example of COVID-19 and its poisonous impact on different operational activities within an organization. Undergraduate students could write a proposal about “The Impact of COVID-19 and Shifting Paradigms in a Workplace Environment”.
If you look closely, you will observe that the two events, namely COVID-19 and the workplace environment, relate to each other. Due to its recent outbreak, COVID-19 is an unfamiliar phenomenon for corporations worldwide, while shifting paradigms play a vital mediating role. This concise statement can make your professor’s eyes sparkle since the proposal promises to address a problem or question that requires information work, which is scarce in the existing literature.
Nonetheless, an essential question that arises in every student's mind is “how to write a proposal?” It is necessary to determine the length of a proposal to plan and search for information accordingly. For an undergraduate student, the size of the research proposal varies with the requirements of universities. As a thumb-rule, an undergraduate research proposal should be 4-6 pages long with double-spaced line spacing. The specified page limit does not include the list of references, figures, tables, or any other add-ons.
Undergraduate students must understand that an undergraduate research proposal is a sketch of what you will investigate and explore in your final research. It should not reveal all the information pre-handily to the audience. In such experiences, the audience would remain uninterested in the final research project. Proposals mean to capture the attention of audiences prematurely and create momentum for the final work.
The research proposals feature different segments. Still, undergraduate students should utilize the allocated length of smartly to fulfill their purpose. When it comes to length, never confuse a research paper with a proposal. Students are strictly recommended to refer to the research paper example to recognize the difference while writing a research proposal.
Students must pay attention to the paper's length and style for complete adherence to the basic requirements while writing for academic purposes. Any disparity could result in total rejection of work, which is not a pleasant experience for undergraduate students. Stressing again, the page lengths are not specific and vary with the university requirements. Said that the average size of an undergraduate application remains between 4-6 pages maximum.
Types Of Research Proposals
It is now crucial for undergraduate students to understand the types of research proposals presented to the audience. First, the solicited proposals are one that students have to carry out as a mandatory step along their academic career path. For example, your research proposal during the summer session in university is a solicited one. Your professor/s would ask you to create a proposal containing a list of problems, events, and questions worthy of time and effort.
Once your application draws approval, students or researchers could embark on the information work by gathering resources and studying the problem area. Solicited proposals are commonly identical to undergraduate programs. The Request for Proposals (RFPs) is part of the process if a student intends to submit a solicited proposal to the audience.
On the contrary, an unsolicited proposal is one that the researcher voluntarily sends to persuade the audience towards an area of study. Unsolicited proposals are not mandatory; students send the proposals to articulate areas of problems, involved events, and questions that research would be addressing in later stages. Through unsolicited proposals, audiences could read specific research provisions and create a premature image of the outcomes. In the academic domain, the use of unsolicited proposals is rare to find.
Since the process is predefined and the primary focus is to identify a niche for the area of study, the solicited approach dominates. Unsolicited proposals are most frequent in the corporate sector. Nonetheless, students must understand the difference between solicited and unsolicited proposals while working within an academic boundary.
What Is The Format of An Undergraduate Research Proposal?
The structure of a proposal serves as a bridge that interconnects the journey to explore problems and events related to a particular area of study. Students must understand that proposals are more professional in representation. Unlike essays, a proposal does not allow a student to modify the roadmap according to preferences. Instead, students are more confined to a particular structure that requires strict compliance to accomplish the objective of persuasion. If you want to impress your professor, you should maintain a complete flow between each section.
An irregularity or absence of logic would prompt your professor to tear the work into half in seconds. Remember, proposals are the first impression that holds a lasting impact on the audience. In simple words, you need to ensure that audiences experience a smooth walkthrough while reading from the start and find the application of relevant concepts where it is necessary. To make it easy for you to understand, we aligned each component sequentially so you can create the required impression in front of your professor.
The story starts from here. A professional proposal's title page contains necessary details about the subject, student, and related aspects that can help your idea stand out. The title page varies with the instructed guidelines provided by your professor. For example, if instructions require you to make it APA style paper , your title page will look one way.
Similarly, some universities focus on a Harvard style of paper that has another title page.
Regardless of the selected style, your title page must contain necessary details for your professor to differentiate while reviewing the information work.
The abstract is the first section that encloses the full work of 4-6 pages into standard 150 words. In your thesis program, the abstract is a mandatory section that the professor would use to extract an educated idea about your proposed research project’s direction and rationale. Ideally, the researchers address the abstract to incorporate all the necessary details, from introduction to conclusion.
The abstract must be a perfect blend of the miniature of each component. Ideally, it starts with an introductory sentence following the description and application of the research problem, objectives, and methods, and closing with a clear rationale. Remember not to overload abstract with too much information otherwise, as it would defeat your proposed research project's purpose besides eating into your valuable time.
An introduction can be a make-or-break chapter for your application. An impressive and comprehensive introduction would enlighten the reader at an early stage. Disclaimer, if your professor finds that the introduction unconnected or least persuasive, your rejection is just a wink away. Your introduction should touch on the core problem and focus on the event briefly. Introducing a few studies to create a concrete foundation is a smarter approach for students that makes your introduction stand apart. You should limit the introduction to 20% of the total word count.
Your methodology section makes for the foundation of research full of the description and justification of key methods. Notify that your methodology section has a specific and significant cohesion that you must maintain to reach rationality. Any inconsistency would steal the relevance from the outcomes of research immediately. Layout all the methods that you have picked for the proposed project, and do not forget to explain why you have dropped other alternatives. For example, if you go with a qualitative approach, justify why you think a quantitative approach does not serve the purpose.
The applicant’s preparation is one of the core components of the application for an undergraduate research proposal. In most scenarios, applicants gather resources and construct information work without reading specific and adequate materials in the study area. As a result, you set your application up for a possible rejection. A student must do the homework and prepare for any question that the professor may put forth. The applicant’s preparation shows dedication and motivation towards the proposed topic, which pushes the audience to invest in the proposed research project.
Students are not mostly adept at writing a conclusion, or they have a wrong impression of it. They might feel that summarizing the things would suffice. Professors would identify such gaps quickly in conclusion, and it may drive them into rejection. Students should ideally:
- Summarize key points of their plan;
- Exhibit the value of the project for a particular segment, society, or academic/industrial practitioners to creating a final impression;
- Specify the anticipated challenges while completing the research in the latter stages once the proposed idea is accepted.
An undergraduate research proposal's last page is reserved for the bibliography or detailed references (unless an appendix is to be there). The references contain all essential details, including authors’ names, titles, publishers, volume numbers (for journal articles), URLs that correspond to the in-text or narrative citations in your text. Remember, references are necessary components in academic research. An educational piece of writing without reference is subject to plagiarism and intellectual property theft. With this in mind, you should learn the art of information skimming and acquire credible resources to complete your study with academic compliances.
You can beef up your evidence and application by adding relevant stats and charts (if possible). Well-placed charts and diagrams in your document may immediately catch your professor’s attention and add to the prospects of your success. It would help if you used statistical insights into the pictures, informative matrix tables, and related tools of graphical representation to make your information work more relevant and comprehending in nature. Remember, figures, charts, and images are not part of your word count and counted as additional material for support purposes.
The final inclusion in the undergraduate research application is budget. The budget is a tabular presentation of all the expenses to bear as you proceed with your proposed study. It is your responsibility as a professional to incorporate the costs of performing research. The budget needs to be justifiable. If you think the budget exceeds the maximum upper limit, try to reconsider your choice of methods so you can adapt your preferences to the time and budget constraints.
Why Do Research Proposals Get Rejected?
Arguably, one cannot ascertain the reason behind rejection. Sometimes, your professor’s bad mood may combine with a silly error upfront to draw a rejection right away. Normally, your failure might be attributable to your preoccupation with other activities resulting in unwanted distractions, your inability to keep up with the deadline, choosing a poor topic, and missing some key parts of instructions.
One of the reasons is missing the deadlines. While studying into an undergraduate program at any university, discipline is a primary professional component under development. Students should ensure their compliance with deadlines to achieve each milestone throughout their academic tenure. Missing a deadline is one reason for proposal rejection during summers; since students are indulged in holidays or meetings end through odd jobs. Regardless of your committed schedule, you should respect your deadlines if you want your professor to respect your work.
The second reason is the inappropriate selection of a topic, which sets your proposal up for an imminent failure. Your instructor or professor wants to make sure that your proposed idea is worthy of time and effort. The topic of your proposal should make a convincing case. If it is something already well-researched or not worthwhile in any way, you are most likely on the road to rejection.
Another common reason for the rejection of proposals is the lack of adherence to the guidelines. Make sure that you wade through the guidelines before you finally embark on your undergraduate research proposal. The guidelines include format, length, the content of the proposal, and all other essential specifications. Make sure that you have not missed any single point, as it might trigger the red flag.
Lastly, some external factors for rejection include unrealistic budgets, minimal value against the project's cost, and a high probability of researcher prejudices while conducting an investigation. As an emerging professional and undergraduate student, you must focus on the smart allocation of resources, write a value that justifies the cost, and avoid any possible biases while presenting the information work. Besides, do not let your summer activities mess with the quality of your proposal.
We hope if you follow all these tips, you are on your way to pull off a go-ahead in the first go!
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The writing required for a research proposal is not like other, more familiar, forms of writing. In particular, it does not work like an essay where you weave your ideas in and out of the different sections. Grant proposals are very segmented; each section is its own little pod. In general, you complete the section and never revisit the content in it – you simply move on to the next argument you have to make.
OUR runs a number of different grant programs. Our core proposal writing advice is connected to the Undergraduate Research Grant programs, where students apply to do independent research and/or creative projects in the summer or academic year. What follows is a brief rundown of a basic research grant proposal, and we encourage you to use our URG Proposal Writing Guide for a fuller exploration of what we want to see. We also have lots of Sample Grant Proposals across a range of fields to help you. Finally, OUR offers one-on-one advising for students applying to our programs, and we regularly review and provide feedback on multiple drafts.
We also have two other programs which use slightly modified proposal formats, and their guides can be found here (plus we have advisors for them too).
- Undergraduate Language Grant Proposal Guide
- Circumnavigators Travel-Study Grant Proposal Guide
RESEARCH GRANT PROPOSAL BASICS
A proposal introduction is part abstract for your entire project and part movie trailer pitching its value. A good introduction tell us what the topic/issue is, why it is significant to study, and what you specifically propose to do about it. Grant proposals are an ask for money, so if they don’t know what you are asking for money to do (aka your actual project, not just its subject), we are in trouble! You are setting the frame for the entire proposal, so make it clear, compelling, and free of jargon. We recommend that you wait to write the intro until you are finished drafting the rest of the proposal because it is much easier to summarize a proposal once you know what it actually says!
WHY IS THIS PROJECT NEEDED? YOUR LIT REVIEW
Your first main argument needs to justify that the topic warrants the work you intend to do. What is currently known/explored about your topic, and why is your project needed/what value will it add? It is not enough to say that something hasn’t been done before; you also have to show that it should! This section focuses on citations and quotations; use the words of experts to craft your argument about why this project is needed in your field. Focus on making an argument for your project, not just listing a bunch of citations. The goal of this section to reveal your research question as the logical choice to make in the field. Make your lit review a funnel that leads clearly to your intended research question, so the reader will see that this project 1) needs to be done and 2) needs to be done that way you intend.
WHAT'S THE PLAN? YOUR METHODOLOGY
Now that the reader believes that this project should be done, you now need to show them how you will do it. Take them step by step through the process you will follow. This section is the beating heart of your proposal, so focus on specifics. Think through (with your faculty) the full trajectory of the project and outline the steps and processes involved. Remember to not stop at research collection; they will want to know how you plan to analyze the data you collect, whether that is interviews, literary analysis, or scientific procedures. At the end of this section, the reader should be believe that you have a viable plan – if you follow these steps, then you should be able to answer the question at the end of the lit review.
CAN YOU DO IT? YOUR QUALIFICATIONS
We don’t need a list of everything you have ever accomplished in your life. Instead, we want to see that you have the specific skills needed to do what you describe. In this way, this argument needs to be based upon the methodology you laid out in the previous section. If you lack a critical skills, don’t worry (we know you don’t have a PhD!), but demonstrate how you will fill that gap, i.e. I will do this training course or my faculty will work with me on preparatory interviews… Finally, end the proposal (there is no formal conclusion) telling the reader how this project will help you achieve your academic and professional goals. They want to know that this project makes sense for you.
THE KEYS TO SUCCESS
- Start early! Writing a good proposal takes time.
- Read examples of successful proposals.
- Get lots of feedback. From your faculty, and also from the advisors at the OUR , who are happy to read through drafts.
- Be prepared to write multiple drafts.
- If you are struggling with jargon, try this nifty resource!
Have a language expert improve your writing
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- How to Write a Research Proposal | Examples & Templates
How to Write a Research Proposal | Examples & Templates
Published on October 12, 2022 by Shona McCombes and Tegan George. Revised on January 3, 2023.
A research proposal describes what you will investigate, why it’s important, and how you will conduct your research.
The format of a research proposal varies between fields, but most proposals will contain at least these elements:
- Research design
While the sections may vary, the overall objective is always the same. A research proposal serves as a blueprint and guide for your research plan, helping you get organized and feel confident in the path forward you choose to take.
Table of contents
Research proposal purpose, research proposal examples, research design and methods, contribution to knowledge, research schedule, frequently asked questions about research proposals.
Academics often have to write research proposals to get funding for their projects. As a student, you might have to write a research proposal as part of a grad school application , or prior to starting your thesis or dissertation .
In addition to helping you figure out what your research can look like, a proposal can also serve to demonstrate why your project is worth pursuing to a funder, educational institution, or supervisor.
Research proposal length
The length of a research proposal can vary quite a bit. A bachelor’s or master’s thesis proposal can be just a few pages, while proposals for PhD dissertations or research funding are usually much longer and more detailed. Your supervisor can help you determine the best length for your work.
One trick to get started is to think of your proposal’s structure as a shorter version of your thesis or dissertation , only without the results , conclusion and discussion sections.
Download our research proposal template
Writing a research proposal can be quite challenging, but a good starting point could be to look at some examples. We’ve included a few for you below.
- Example research proposal #1: “A Conceptual Framework for Scheduling Constraint Management”
- Example research proposal #2: “Making Healthy Connections: Mentoring, Monitoring and Measurement”
- Example research proposal #3: “Medical Students as Mediators of Change in Tobacco Use”
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Like your dissertation or thesis, the proposal will usually have a title page that includes:
- The proposed title of your project
- Your supervisor’s name
- Your institution and department
The first part of your proposal is the initial pitch for your project. Make sure it succinctly explains what you want to do and why.
Your introduction should:
- Introduce your topic
- Give necessary background and context
- Outline your problem statement and research questions
To guide your introduction , include information about:
- Who could have an interest in the topic (e.g., scientists, policymakers)
- How much is already known about the topic
- What is missing from this current knowledge
- What new insights your research will contribute
- Why you believe this research is worth doing
As you get started, it’s important to demonstrate that you’re familiar with the most important research on your topic. A strong literature review shows your reader that your project has a solid foundation in existing knowledge or theory. It also shows that you’re not simply repeating what other people have already done or said, but rather using existing research as a jumping-off point for your own.
In this section, share exactly how your project will contribute to ongoing conversations in the field by:
- Comparing and contrasting the main theories, methods, and debates
- Examining the strengths and weaknesses of different approaches
- Explaining how will you build on, challenge, or synthesize prior scholarship
Following the literature review, restate your main objectives . This brings the focus back to your own project. Next, your research design or methodology section will describe your overall approach, and the practical steps you will take to answer your research questions.
To finish your proposal on a strong note, explore the potential implications of your research for your field. Emphasize again what you aim to contribute and why it matters.
For example, your results might have implications for:
- Improving best practices
- Informing policymaking decisions
- Strengthening a theory or model
- Challenging popular or scientific beliefs
- Creating a basis for future research
Last but not least, your research proposal must include correct citations for every source you have used, compiled in a reference list . To create citations quickly and easily, you can use our free APA citation generator .
Some institutions or funders require a detailed timeline of the project, asking you to forecast what you will do at each stage and how long it may take. While not always required, be sure to check the requirements of your project.
Here’s an example schedule to help you get started. You can also download a template at the button below.
Download our research schedule template
If you are applying for research funding, chances are you will have to include a detailed budget. This shows your estimates of how much each part of your project will cost.
Make sure to check what type of costs the funding body will agree to cover. For each item, include:
- Cost : exactly how much money do you need?
- Justification : why is this cost necessary to complete the research?
- Source : how did you calculate the amount?
To determine your budget, think about:
- Travel costs : do you need to go somewhere to collect your data? How will you get there, and how much time will you need? What will you do there (e.g., interviews, archival research)?
- Materials : do you need access to any tools or technologies?
- Help : do you need to hire any research assistants for the project? What will they do, and how much will you pay them?
Once you’ve decided on your research objectives , you need to explain them in your paper, at the end of your problem statement .
Keep your research objectives clear and concise, and use appropriate verbs to accurately convey the work that you will carry out for each one.
I will compare …
A research aim is a broad statement indicating the general purpose of your research project. It should appear in your introduction at the end of your problem statement , before your research objectives.
Research objectives are more specific than your research aim. They indicate the specific ways you’ll address the overarching aim.
A PhD, which is short for philosophiae doctor (doctor of philosophy in Latin), is the highest university degree that can be obtained. In a PhD, students spend 3–5 years writing a dissertation , which aims to make a significant, original contribution to current knowledge.
A PhD is intended to prepare students for a career as a researcher, whether that be in academia, the public sector, or the private sector.
A master’s is a 1- or 2-year graduate degree that can prepare you for a variety of careers.
All master’s involve graduate-level coursework. Some are research-intensive and intend to prepare students for further study in a PhD; these usually require their students to write a master’s thesis . Others focus on professional training for a specific career.
Critical thinking refers to the ability to evaluate information and to be aware of biases or assumptions, including your own.
Like information literacy , it involves evaluating arguments, identifying and solving problems in an objective and systematic way, and clearly communicating your ideas.
The best way to remember the difference between a research plan and a research proposal is that they have fundamentally different audiences. A research plan helps you, the researcher, organize your thoughts. On the other hand, a dissertation proposal or research proposal aims to convince others (e.g., a supervisor, a funding body, or a dissertation committee) that your research topic is relevant and worthy of being conducted.
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Examples of research proposals
How to write your research proposal, with examples of good proposals.
Your research proposal is a key part of your application. It tells us about the question you want to answer through your research. It is a chance for you to show your knowledge of the subject area and tell us about the methods you want to use.
We use your research proposal to match you with a supervisor or team of supervisors.
In your proposal, please tell us if you have an interest in the work of a specific academic at York St John. You can get in touch with this academic to discuss your proposal. You can also speak to one of our Research Leads. There is a list of our Research Leads on the Apply page.
When you write your proposal you need to:
- Highlight how it is original or significant
- Explain how it will develop or challenge current knowledge of your subject
- Identify the importance of your research
- Show why you are the right person to do this research
- Research Proposal Example 1 (DOC, 49kB)
- Research Proposal Example 2 (DOC, 0.9MB)
- Research Proposal Example 3 (DOC, 55.5kB)
- Research Proposal Example 4 (DOC, 49.5kB)
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CUR Program Proposal Samples
Need an illustration to assist you in writing your undergraduate research proposal? Take a look at a few examples of winning proposals below.
- Non STEM CUR Program Proposal Sample
- Non STEM II CUR Program Proposal Sample
- STEM CUR Program Proposal Sample
- STEM II CUR Program Proposal Sample
Sample Project Proposals
Check out a few sample grant proposals below. Read ones annotated with reviewer notes (even if the topic is outside your area of interest) to learn what reviewers look for. You can also see also how resubmitted proposals respond to reviewer comments.
Please note that these proposals serve as exemplars for students applying for VPUE Student Grants. They may not be copied, retained, or distributed, and their use is subject to the Stanford Honor Code.
**To view the following samples, Stanford affiliates will be required to login with their SUNET ID. Individuals external to Stanford will not be granted access to these proposals and any requests for access will be automatically declined/deleted. **
- Arts, Creative Project, Visual Arts, Major Grant ( S. Bedford )
- Arts, Creative Writing, Chappell Lougee Scholarship ( J. Kim )
- Arts, Creative Writing, Chappell Lougee Scholarship, annotated (w/ remote plan) ( L. Laniyan )
- Arts, Music, Theater, Small Grant, annotated ( T. Pauly )
- Humanities, English, Major Grant ( J. Schaffer )
- Humanities, History, Chappell Lougee Scholarship, annotated (w/ remote plan) ( A. Kassam )
- Humanities, History, Major Grant, annotated ( J. Sonnenberg )
- Humanities, Religious Studies, Small Grant, annotated ( L. Funk )
- Humanities, Classics, Chappell Lougee Scholarship ( S. Beller )
- STEM, Biology, Major Grant, annotated ( J. Bui )
- STEM, Biology, Major Grant, annotated (w/ remote plan) ( S. Kong )
- STEM, Biology, Small Grant ( J. McGregor )
- STEM, Chemical Engineering, Major Grant ( J. O'Leary )
- STEM, Geological and Environmental Sciences, Major Grant, annotated ( V. Rosen )
- STEM, Geological and Environmental Sciences, Small Grant, annotated ( C. Kremer )
- STEM, Mathematics, Major Grant, annotated (w/ remote plan) ( M. Stevens )
- STEM, Physics, Major Grant ( J. Chaves )
- Senior Synthesis Project, Small Grant, annotated ( J. O'Leary )
- Social Science, Anthropology, Chappell Lougee Scholarship ( N. Follmann )
- Social Science, CDDRL, Small Grant ( A. Schickele )
- Social Science, Psychology, Major Grant, annotated ( C. Eggleston )
- Social Science, Sociology, Chappell Lougee Scholarship, annotated (w/ remote plan) ( A. Gomez )
- Social Science, Urban Studies, Major Grant, annotated ( K. Parish )
The sample methodology in a research paper provides the information to show that the research is valid. It must tell what was done to answer the research question and how the research was done.
The unifying theme of successful nursing research proposals is that the author(s) observed a problem, did research to make sure the observation was not personal bias, and then wrote to describe not only the problem, but a potential solution...
Sampling, in statistics, is a method of answering questions that deal with large numbers of individuals by selecting a smaller subset of the population for study. One of the most prevalent types of sampling is random sampling.
Typical Proposal Format · Title · Abstract · Introduction · Background · Preliminary Studies · Research Methodology · Budget · Cirriculum Vitae for Principal
Introduction · This is the place to tell us what your research is all about. · Clearly state the problem you are addressing. · Point out why your research or study
Caution: These samples represent student work products and may contain errors. Sample Student Research Proposals. 2008-2009 Senior Seminar. Dorothy Kenney. JURI
What Is The Format of An Undergraduate Research Proposal? · Title Page · Abstract/Summary · Background And Introduction · Methods And Approach · Applicant's
We also have lots of Sample Grant Proposals across a range of fields to help you.
Who could have an interest in the topic (e.g., scientists, policymakers) · How much is already known about the topic · What is missing from this
Identify the importance of your research; Show why you are the right person to do this research. Examples of research proposals. Research Proposal Example 1 (
Need an illustration to assist you in writing your undergraduate research proposal? Take a look at a few examples of winning proposals below.
Title: First-year undergraduate calculus students: Understanding their difficulties with
Stanford. Undergraduate Research and Independent Projects.
Feb 7, 2020 - Undergraduate Research Proposal Examples - √ 20 Undergraduate Research Proposal Examples ™, Research Proposal Grant Sample – Essays Hub.