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Writing a Research Proposal Step by Step

Writing a Research Proposal Step by Step

Research Proposal Structure: What to Include in Your Paper

The research proposal has two main goals: to present and justify the necessity of studying a particular topic and to present the practical ways in which the proposed research has to be conducted. A research proposal consists of several sections, each with its own aim.

Typically, research proposals are organized similarly throughout most social science disciplines. The text of the paper may take from ten to thirty-five pages, followed by the references list. Generally, a compelling research proposal has to prove you have sufficient knowledge of the subject and show your enthusiasm for conducting the study.

Let’s take a closer look at the structure of this type of academic paper and explain what information should be included in its sections.


Treat this section as the primary pitch of an idea or a careful examination of the importance of a research topic. After reading this part of your paper, your readers should get an idea of your intention, a sense of your passion for the issue, and be excited about the possible results of the study.

Limit this section to two to four paragraphs and make sure it provides answers to the questions below:

  • What is the main research issue?
  • What are other topics of the study related to this issue?
  • What methods should be used to analyze it?
  • What is the importance of this research, and why should your reader care about the results of the proposed study?

Background and Significance

This is the part where you have to explain the context of the proposal and describe its importance thoroughly. You can either add this part to the introduction or write a separate section to help with the organization and narrative flow of the paper. Approach working on this part of the paper with the thought that you cannot assume your readers will have as much knowledge about the topic as you have.

Try to address the following in this section:

  • State the issue of the research and explain its purpose in detail. This is especially important if the issue is complex or multifaceted.
  • Present the rationale of the proposed research and explain why it is worth doing.
  • Write about the main issues or problems to be addressed by the study. Explain how the proposed research builds on previous assumptions about the research topic.
  • Write about the methods you recommend to use for conducting the study. Identify the main sources you intend to use and explain how they can contribute to the analysis of the issue.
  • Clarify the boundaries of your proposed research so that you can provide a clear focus.
  • If there is a need, provide definitions of key terms.

Literature Review

This section is devoted to a more careful review and synthesis of prior studies of your research topic. Here, you should place your project within the larger whole of what is currently being explored, while showing to the reader that your work is unique and innovative. Note the questions that were asked by other researchers, methods used by them, indicate your understanding of their findings and recommendations.

Research Design and Methods

You have to write this section thoroughly and organize it logically since you are not actually doing the research, yet, your reader should gain confidence that it is worth pursuing. So, your goal at this stage is to convince the reader that your general research design and proposed methods of analysis will adequately address the problem. Therefore, make sure that your design and methods have to be perfectly tied to the specific aims of the study.

In this section, describe the general research design, providing examples from your literature review. Consider both methods used by other researchers and methods of collecting data that have not been used but perhaps should be. Provide specific details about the methodological approaches you plan to apply to gather data, the techniques you would use to analyze that information, and the tests of external validity to which you commit yourself.

Preliminary Suppositions and Implications

Just because you do not have to actually conduct the research and analyze the data, does not mean that you can omit to talk about the analytical process and potential outcomes. This section is aimed to argue how you believe this study will refine, revise, or extend existing knowledge in the topic of investigation. Depending on the objectives of your research, describe how the anticipated outcomes will affect future scholarly research, theory, practice, etc.


The conclusion restates the significance of your proposal and sums up the entire research. This section has to be limited to one to two paragraphs and emphasize why the issue is worth investigating, why this study is original, and how it has to improve existing knowledge.


Just like with any other scholarly paper, you have to cite the sources you used. Your professor may prefer either references or a bibliography. References list only the literature that you actually used or cited in your paper. Bibliography lists all the works that you used or cited in the paper with additional citations to any key sources relevant to understanding the issue. Anyway, this section has to testify to the fact that you did solid preparation to ensure the project will add value and not just restate the efforts of other authors.

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