How do you write a Research Proposal?

The information below relates specifically to Warnborough College research proposal requirements. It is intended as a guide only. Research proposal requirements at other institutions may differ.

A research proposal is a short document (1 to 2 pages) that identifies and outlines the main components of your research. They are:

  • The purpose of your research
  • The intended audience
  • Your role
  • An opening statement or hypothesis
  • Brief description of intended methodology, data, materials
  • Expected outcomes (if any)

There are many reasons for doing a research-based program. Research is, after all, finding out something you don’t know. One could write a thesis to review and explain collated factual data. One could also conduct analytical research to study a particular subject in depth. One could discuss, debate and/or argue a certain topic, or come out with a new hypothesis/theory. One the other hand, one could also try persuading others to believe in what s/he is proposing.

You will often find conflicting ideas, biases, and other influences whilst conducting your research. You may even discover things in the course of your research that are contradictory to your personal thoughts, ethics and ideals. These could hinder your research, give rise to doubts, or cause a lack of interest in the work. Quality research demands objectivity, caution in assertion, solid backing from sources/experimental results, and clear rational thinking. You should be prepared for contingencies, to challenge widely-accepted norms/rules in your quest to seek further knowledge.

You will need to identify the audience for your work. Obviously, if you are doing a scientifically-inclined study into the effects of Neon atoms under intense heat, say, your target audience will not likely be Shakespearean thespians. However, your research may also traverse several fields (eg. child psychology research might be of interest not just to psychologists, but also to teachers, doctors and parents). Your target audience determines what style of writing you may use, and/or what theories and experiments to apply.

Your target audience should easily identify with what you are trying to do (whether they agree with it or not). Your research should try and persuade your readers to stand with you on your findings. It should contain adequate information without being unnecessary or boring. The purpose of research is not to rehash information that is easily available but to come up with something new or worthwhile for your audience to think about.

Following on from above, the research is (hopefully) your own. You have to display your knowledge and points of view to be taken seriously. First and foremost, you must be extremely familiar with what you are setting out to do (hence the research proposal). When you quote sources and references, use the information to propel your points of view rather than those of the sources.

This is the “Big Bang” – the one that begins it all. Similar to debates, you can use one sentence, statement or question as a jump-off point to a complete body of research. This opener, though, should not be too broad. For example, “Drinking Too Much Coffee is Bad For Health” is too generalised. What is covered in the term ‘health’? What is considered ‘bad’? Is this from a social, psychological or medical point of view? Does this statement apply to all types of coffee (including decaffeinated coffee)?

This section should outline how you plan to go about doing your research. For example, to find out how many people prefer jogging to walking, would you ask people on the street directly, hand out questionnaires, appeal for volunteers over the Internet, or make up your own figures? (The last option is definitely not recommended!). If you are trying to find out how fast beans germinate under UV light (if at all), how would you go about doing it? What about controlled experiments/samples?

Sometimes, your opener may be a new hypothesis that you are trying to prove. Perhaps you could be working towards a certain expected outcome that you intend to prove. If your research is of this nature, you might wish to include this in your proposal.

Well, a research proposal basically lays out your ideas and intentions in a clear, concise manner. It also acts as a guide throughout your research, and helps keep you on course. Of course, a good research proposal helps in allocating the most appropriate mentor for you.

Heavens, no! The idea behind research is exploration, and delving into the unknown. If it is set in stone, we might as well not bother with research. Your proposal does not even have to be perfect. What we look for is your ability to lay out your ideas step-by-step, with clear intentions and objectives. Sometimes, these may be a bit fuzzy but that is why you have a mentor – to help you bash out ideas and whip and pull the proposal, and ultimately, your research work, into shape. It may sound violent, but it is actually a lot of fun.

If you have any questions regarding how to write a research proposal, feel free to e-mail us. We can also put you in touch with potential mentors.

GOOD LUCK!