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Research proposal

A research proposal is the first stage in writing a dissertation

It is the academic equivalent of a business proposal, and must be accepted by your professor and the relevant funding body in order for you to receive sponsorship for your research.

The basic elements of a research proposal are as follows:

  • Statement of purpose for the study
  • What factors make the student able to perform the research
  • Background on the subject matter
  • Explanation of how the research is relevant
  • Methodology
  • Research goals
  • Research budget
  • Role required of the sponsor

The length of the actual proposal will vary depending on the requirements of the particular institution, the degree level of the student, the amount of funding requested, and the type of research undertaken. For example, a microbiology PhD. student at Harvard will probably need to undertake long-term, expensive clinical studies. Her proposal is likely to be up to 40 pages long. However, a media studies BA student is able to submit a shorter document, given her degree is lower and the type of research probably less involved.

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It is important to make a strong case in your research proposal for the value of the research you want to perform. What is the issue your proposal deals with? How will your work address the issue and why will it be of interest to the academic community? You need to prove your study is current and valuable.

A well laid out methodology (how you will conduct your research) and review of the literature that has already been published on your subject will back up your case. A properly planned methodology should take account of the standards of your area of study. You should describe the design of the experiments - sampling, case studies, clinical trials, or surveys - the procedures, and the instruments to be used.

A detailed budget and a description of what is expected from the sponsor are also necessary if you want to get your research proposal approved. If you cannot provide an exact budget, then a detailed estimate of costs is expected. The university or academic body that will be your sponsor usually has a greater role than simply funding the project. You should specify what type of input you require, and why you have chosen this particular sponsor. Some sponsorships involve access to facilities or periodic research reviews.

Remember that a good research proposal will demonstrate your competence to carry out your research and write your dissertation. The goal is to prove that you know your subject matter and that your approach will make a valuable contribution to your field. The funding body also wants to gain by your proposed project, as high-quality research strengthens its reputation. The better the quality of academic research that a university or professor sponsors, the better the quality of students that will attend the school.

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