A guide to preparing a strong research proposal
Considering a Ph.D. or research master’s degree but aren’t sure where, to begin with, your research proposal? We’ve got you covered. Follow the steps in our guide.
A research proposal should present your idea or question and expected outcomes with clarity and definition – the what.
It should also make a case for why your question is significant and what value it will bring to your discipline – the why.
What it shouldn’t do is answer the question – that’s what your research will do.
Why is it important?
Research proposals are significant because of Another reason why it formally outlines your intended research. This means you need to provide details on how you will go about your research, including:
- your approach and methodology
- timeline and feasibility
- all other considerations needed to progress your research, such as resources.
Think of it as a tool that will help you clarify your idea and make conducting your research easier.
How long should it be?
Usually no more than 2000 words, but check your degree requirements and your supervisor or research coordinator.
Presenting your idea clearly and concisely demonstrates that you can write this way – an attribute of a potential research candidate that assessors value. What should it include?
Your title should clearly indicate what your proposed research is about.
State the name, department, faculty, or school of the academic who has agreed to supervise you. Rest assured, your research supervisor will work with you to refine your research proposal ahead of submission to ensure it meets the needs of your discipline.
Proposed model of research
Describe your proposed mode of research, which may be closely linked to your discipline and is where you will describe the style or format of your research, e.g., data, field research, composition, written work, social performance, and mixed media, etc.
This is not required for research in the sciences, but your research supervisor will guide you on discipline-specific requirements.
Aims and objectives
What are you trying to achieve with your research? What is the purpose? This section should reference why you’re applying for a research degree. Are you addressing a gap in the current research? Do you want to look at a theory more closely and test it out? Is there something you’re trying to prove or disprove? To help you clarify this, think about the potential outcome of your research if you were successful – that is your aim. Make sure that this is a focused statement.
Your objectives will be your aim broken down – the steps to achieving the intended outcome. They are the smaller proof points that will underpin your research’s purpose. Be logical in the order of how you present these so that each succeeds the previous, i.e., if you need to achieve ‘a’ before ‘be before ‘ca then make sure you order your objectives a, b, c.
A concise summary of what your research is about. It outlines the key aspects of what you will investigate as well as the expected outcomes. It briefly covers the what, why, and how of your research.
A good way to evaluate if you have written a strong synopsis is to get somebody to read it without reading the rest of your research proposal. Would they know what your research is about?
Now that you have your question clarified, it is time to explain the why. Here, you need to demonstrate an understanding of the current research climate in your area of interest.
Providing context around your research topic through a literature review will show the assessor that you understand the current dialogue around your research and what is published.
Demonstrate you have a strong understanding of the key topics, significant studies, and notable researchers in your area of research and how these have contributed to the current landscape.
Expected research contribution
In this section, you should consider the following:
- Why is your research question or hypothesis worth asking?
- How is the current research lacking or falling short?
- What impact will your research have on the discipline?
- Will you be extending an area of knowledge, applying it to new contexts, solving a problem, testing a theory, or challenging an existing one?
- Establish why your research is important by convincing your audience there is a gap.
- What will be the outcome of your research contribution?
- Demonstrate your current level of knowledge and how pursuing your question or hypothesis will create a new understanding and generate new information.
- Show how your research is innovative and original.
Draw links between your research and the faculty or school you are applying at, and explain why you have chosen your supervisor and what research have they or their school done to reinforce and support your own work. Cite these reasons to demonstrate how your research will benefit and contribute to the current body of knowledge.
Provide an overview of the methodology and techniques you will use to conduct your research. Cover what materials and equipment you will use, what theoretical frameworks you will draw on, and how to collect data.
Highlight why you have chosen this particular methodology and why others may not have been as suitable. You need to demonstrate that you have put thought into your approach and why it’s the most appropriate way to conduct your research.