After identifying a problem you’d like to address in your study, the next step is to write a research proposal. In your research proposal, you can provide critical insights into your systematic investigation, including your methodology and the significance of the study. 

In educational assessment, your supervisor would always ask you to present a proposal before commencing the study. If you need research funding, you’d also have to submit a proposal in many cases. So how do you write an effective research proposal? 

First, you need to understand your research problem clearly and show why there’s a need to solve this problem. In this article, we’ll discover several tips for writing an effective research proposal and common pitfalls you should look out for.   

What is a Research Proposal? 

A research proposal spells out the critical issues your research is about and how you plan to go about your investigation. This is where you lay out a solid background of your proposed field of study, outline existing arguments and demonstrate the originality of your systematic research. 

Writing a research proposal is one of the most important aspects of any systematic investigation as it allows you to justify your efforts. After reading your document, people should understand why your topic is essential and why your solution is a feasible approach to solving the issue. 

Sometimes, you might be asked to submit a chapter breakdown with your proposal to give your supervisor a step-by-step insight into how you would conduct the study. 

Learn About: Research Report: Definition, Types + [Writing Guide]

What is the Purpose of a Research Proposal?

Why should you bother about writing research proposals? A research proposal serves two significant purposes: justification of your study and justification of your method. 

First, it is an opportunity to justify the need to study an existing problem. In other words, this is where you show people the far-reaching impact or effects of the research problem. For example, suppose you’re researching the use of drugs amongst teenagers. In that case, you must communicate the impact of this behavior and why it’s necessary to address this problem. 

Next, a research proposal is an opportunity to present the practical ways the proposed study should be conducted. At this point, you should also convince your supervisor and show why your research method or theory is most suitable for this particular investigation. 

Some other reasons why you should write a good research proposal include: 

  • If you’re seeking funding for your research, then a proposal is your chance to explain the significance of your project to organizations who might wish to fund or otherwise support it. 
  • It demonstrates the quality and importance of your work. 
  • It allows you to communicate your competence and ability to conduct the proposed research. 

What are the Qualities of a Good Research Proposal? 

  1. A good research proposal must be brief and concise without fillers or fluff. 
  2. It should be written in simple language that is easy to understand. 
  3. It should describe the relevance of your systematic investigation.
  4. A good proposal emphasizes the significance of your study. 
  5. It should follow the prescribed guidelines from your professor or supervisor. 

Types of Research Proposals and When to Use Them 

Depending on your type of research, you may submit an approval proposal or a funding proposal. In some cases, you’d have to turn in both; that is if your supervisor doubles as the project’s proposed financier. 

1. Approval Proposals 

An approval proposal is common in final undergraduate dissertations where a professor is assigned as your project supervisor. Typically, your supervisor would ask you to draw up a road map that justifies your study and shows that the research problem is worth investigating. You’d need to submit this document for the professor’s approval before going ahead with your research. 

When writing an approval proposal, you need to present information such as the purpose of the research, its importance, previous research in the same area, how your research will be conducted, a timeframe, and the resources that will be needed. 

2. Funding Proposal 

A funding proposal is submitted to an external organization to seek funding for your research. Funding proposals are like business pitches because you’re trying to convince someone or a team to invest in your idea. So, you need to use persuasive language that sells the validity and relevance of your research. 

Funding proposals also require that you emphasize your expertise in the field of study. Have you conducted similar research in the past? Great! Now’s the time to mention that. Do you have academic qualifications in a particular field of study? Mention that too. 

To recap, your funding proposal must communicate the following:

  • The validity of your research design
  • The relevance of your study
  • Research budget and how you plan to utilize it
  • The significance of your systematic investigation
  • The suitability of your research facilities, if any

In educational research, we can also identify five(5) categories of research proposals which are:

  1. Renewal or Competing Proposals
  2. Continuation or Non-competing Proposals
  3. Prepropoals
  4. Unsolicited Proposals
  5. Solicited Proposals 

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1. Renewal Proposals 

A renewal proposal requests additional support for a study that’s already in progress and about to come to an end. Here, you need to show the outcomes you’ve already achieved and why additional support is necessary to the investigation. 

2. Continuation or Non-competing Proposals

This type of proposal applies to research that spans multiple years. Typically, the sponsor has already provided funding for an initial period (typically one year), and you’re presenting the proposal to request the release of additional funds for the following year. Here, the proposal approval depends on the availability of funds and if the sponsor is satisfied with the work you’ve done so far. 

Free to use: 21 Sponsorship Form Templates

3. Pre Proposal 

Sometimes, a sponsor would ask you to submit a pre-proposal in the form of an abstract or letter of intent for your study. After the pre-proposal is reviewed, the sponsor notifies the investigator if a full proposal is required.

4. Unsolicited Proposals

As the name suggests, an unsolicited proposal is submitted when there’s no express call for it. Researchers submit unsolicited proposals to sponsors who might have some interest in their field of study. 

5. Solicited Proposals

Any proposal submitted in response to a formal call or request is known as a solicited proposal. Such solicitations, typically called Request for Proposals (RFP), or Request for Quotations (RFQ), usually have a specific format and technical content requirements and may specify certain award terms and conditions. 

What Should Be Included in a Research Proposal? (Content and structure)

In most cases, your supervisor would let you in on the guidelines for writing a research proposal. In the case of research that requires funding, the sponsors will specify the different information that you should include in your proposal. 

Nevertheless, it pays to have some idea of the content and structure of a proposal. Typically, your research proposal should include the following information:

  1. Title
  2. Research Overview
  3. Research Context
  4. Research Questions
  5. Methods
  6. Significance
  7. References 
  • Title

Your proposal should clearly state the working title of your research paper, and this title should include relevant keywords. Your title should capture the intention of your research and draw attention to the specific issue your study will address. 

  • Research Overview

This section should highlight the critical issue(s) that you want to investigate and why these are important. At this point, you can refer to previous research efforts and any gaps your study will address. 

  • Research Context

This is where you create a well-defined frame for your study, and it’s an intelligent way to grab your reader’s attention. Here, you have the chance to answer critical questions relating to your research, such as, “why is this study important?” How does it fit into the existing strengths of the department? How will it add something new to the current body of literature? 

You don’t have to go into details here, but it pays to highlight key ideas that will build readers’ interest in your work. 

Read: What is Educational Research? + [Types, Scope & Importance]

  • Research Questions 

Prioritize one or two research questions here and use them to narrow the aims and objectives of your study. While you might not answer these questions in your proposal, you should explain how you intend to answer them—are you adopting a qualitative research method? Would your approach be empirical, doctrinal or theoretical, etc.? 

  • Methods 

This ties to responding to specific research questions. Once you’ve narrowed it down to particular aims and objectives, you should show the reader how you intend to achieve them. Depending on how deep you want to go, you can state the primary and secondary data sources, details about fieldwork, sampling technique, and data analysis methods for your study. This section should also contain a realistic timeline for completing your research. 

  • Significance

Why should anyone fund or approve your research? This section is where you convince them that your study is significant and relevant to your field and even related fields. In this section, you should show how your systematic investigation adds to the existing body of knowledge. You should also set out reasons why it is timely to research your proposed topic. 

  • References

Unlike an abstract, a proposal requires a list of initial references and sources for your study. You should mention critical articles and texts discussed within your research proposal, as well as a selection of sources that may be relevant to your project. 

Examples of Research Proposals 

Now, let’s look at some practical examples of research proposals. You can use these samples as templates when drafting your proposal for the first time. 

Example 1: Research Proposals From York St John University 

Example 2: Sample Research Proposal From The Open University 

Example 3: Sample Research Proposal From The University of Houston 

Common Mistakes to Avoid When Writing Research Proposals

If you want your research proposal to be accepted at the first go, you should avoid these common mistakes: 

1. The research topic is too broad. 

If your research topic doesn’t speak to a single, specific problem, it gives the impression that your study lacks a central focus. For example, a research topic that aims to “investigate the behaviors of children” will leave lots of questions like:

  • What type of behaviors?
  • How old are these children?
  • What’s their background? Are they white or black? 

2. The aims and objectives of your research are poorly-aligned 

If there are discrepancies between your aims and objectives, and your specific research questions, your proposal might be rejected. When this happens, your investigation will appear to pull in several directions, making it difficult for anyone to follow through with the core ideas of your study. 

3. There’s no justification for your study 

One of the most important reasons for a research proposal is the justification of your study. In other words, you need to convince all parties that your research is relevant and worth investing in. Poor justification of the research topic is a common reason for proposals to be rejected. 

Other things that can ruin your chances of proposal approval include:

4. When your research has a weak theoretical background and fails to fill a clear gap in the existing literature

5. Failing to acknowledge and discuss landmark studies and critical literature in the topic area

6. Relying heavily on outdated sources and not incorporating more recent research that builds on the “classics.”

7. When your research design is impractical or not well-articulated

8. Poor writing and sloppy presentation of your ideas

How Long Should My Research Proposal Be? 

Different universities and faculties have prescribed word counts for research proposals. For example, the University of Westminster states that a research proposal should be 2,000–3,500 words (4-7 pages) long. In cases where there’s no prescribed word count, you can go with 1,000-1,500 words for your paper. 

Top Tips For Writing Your Research Proposal

  1. Take time to write a good proposal. Well-presented and written proposals are more likely to stick in the reviewer’s mind.
  2. Allow for flexibility as research proposals do not have to be set in stone. 
  3. Avoid plagiarism. You should acknowledge the authors of all publications you reference. 
  4. Make sure that your research ideas and questions are clearly stated. Your questions are as important as your results at this stage of the research.
  5. Spell out the scope of your research and make sure it is reasonable and realistic. 
  6. Make sure that your proposal does not contain any errors. Proofread and edit your work several times before you submit it.


Your research proposal determines whether you’d go further in your systematic investigation, so you want to get it right. If you cannot present your ideas in a way that appeals to your supervisor or prospective financier, you will miss the chance to pursue this area of interest. 

Fortunately, writing a research proposal doesn’t have to look or feel overwhelming. We’ve shared a simple guide for writing an effective proposal and several examples to help out in this article. By leveraging all of this information, you should get through writing your proposal in no time. 

  • busayo.longe
  • on 10 min read


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