How To
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How to Write a Research Proposal That Will Get Approved

Soniya Khubchandani

June 16, 2022

Writing a research proposal is no easy feat. When it comes to making sure your proposal gets approved or funded. Every word counts.

It doesn't matter whether you're writing for a college program or a company; if you don't present your proposal correctly, you won't get the results you want.

Perhaps even more importantly, you’ll need to ensure your research proposal or funding report meets any and all requirements when it comes to structure, formatting or presentation. 

To ensure you get the funding or approval you need, we’ve created this comprehensive guide containing everything you need to know about writing and submitting research proposals.

This guide will answer the following questions:

  • What is a research proposal?
  • What is its purpose?
  • What should it include?
  • How long should a research proposal be?
  • How do I write a research proposal from scratch?
  • What are some tips for getting a research proposal approved?

What is a research proposal?

A research proposal is a document that clearly and concisely explains the what, why, and how of your proposed research project.

The WHAT

The WHAT part of a research proposal explains what the study will be about and what the researcher hopes to find.

The WHY

The WHY part of a research proposal gives the reader insight into your thought process, how you arrived at your ideas, and the significance of conducting your research.

The HOW

The HOW part of a research proposal tells the reader how you plan to accomplish what you've proposed.

How long should your research proposal be?

There is no standard length for a research proposal, but it is generally considered a thorough, detailed document that can range anywhere between 1500-2500 words on average.

Many factors can affect the length of your proposal, including your research topic, your experience level, submission guidelines, funding amount, and more.

If you are unsure how long your proposal should be, ask your supervisor or reviewer for feedback before submitting it.

It is also important to note that the length of your research proposal is not necessarily a reflection of its quality. 

More words aren’t always better — clarity and concision are always key. However, a research proposal should be long enough to give the reader an idea of what to expect from your paper and how much time they should spend reading it.

What should you include in a research proposal?

A well-structured research proposal can make it easier for readers to understand your research topic, aims, and why the project is worthwhile.

In addition, it shows that you have considered the audience reading your research proposal and what they may be looking for.

Although there is no universal structure for writing a research proposal, here are all the elements that a comprehensive document should contain:

  • A tentative title for the research topic
  • Abstract or summary
  • Table of contents
  • Background with literature review
  • Aims and objectives
  • Significance of research
  • Methodology or approach
  • Bibliography

Detailed steps to write a research proposal

A practical approach to writing a proposal without overwhelming yourself is to take one section at a time and expand on it.

Let us take up each of the above elements, understand what they are, why they are essential, and what they should cover to achieve the best results.

A tentative title for the research topic

The purpose of adding a tentative title to your research proposal is to convey your study's main idea or focus.

This short phrase should summarize the main topic, problem, or issue being studied.

It’s a good idea to write the tentative title first. This will help you think about what you want to say in your research proposal and how it will be organized. It will make it easier to write your proposal abstract more concisely.

The best way to determine if your title is appropriate is to see if it leaves the reader with any questions that need answering. If you think that your title leaves some questions unanswered, consider revising it. You can do this by swapping out different words or phrases until you feel confident that your title accurately reflects what you want to say in your research proposal.

Titles don't always need to be catchy or clever, but they should always be descriptive of what's inside.

Abstract or summary

An abstract is an integral part of your proposal. Because it shapes the reader's initial impression of the work, it plays a significant role in approval/ funding decisions. 

Even when read separately from the proposal, the abstract gives the reader a first impression of the proposed study.  In fact, many reviewers only read the abstract in a research proposal document in order to get a quick overview of the topic and the proposed research. If you don't have an abstract that clearly states this information, you may lose potential reviewers, collaborators, and funding sources.

For an abstract to convey the essential meaning of the proposal, it should:

  • Summarize the significance (need) of the work
  • State the hypothesis and primary objectives of the project
  • Detail the procedures you will follow to achieve these objectives
  • Describe the potential impact of the work

Although the abstract typically appears first, it’s wise to edit the abstract last since it summarizes the proposal.

Table of contents

The table of contents in a research proposal helps the reader get an idea of what to expect from each individual section of the document. It also helps them better understand the flow and scope of your proposal.

Whether long or short, all research proposals should include a table of contents near the beginning.

If your proposal is very long, it is recommended to divide it into chapters and include a table of contents for each chapter.

Here are some things to keep in mind when writing your table of contents:

  • Keep it concise and straightforward. A good rule of thumb is to keep your table of contents no longer than one page.
  • Use headings consistently across all sections. It’s best to use the same titles throughout your research proposal so readers can easily locate specific topics.
  • Maintain a consistent structure for each section, such as listing subheadings under main headings in numerical order (1., 2., 3.). This will help readers avoid any confusion while reading your proposal.

Background with literature review

In this section, you should describe the current state of knowledge and activities in your field and identify any gaps that need to be filled to move the field forward.

This is usually carried out by reviewing relevant literature in your chosen field of study.

A good literature review should clearly answer the following questions:

  • What has been written about your proposed topic?
  • What are the major debates happening around the topic?
  • What significant gaps in knowledge have you identified?

Useful tips for writing your literature review:

  • Write about the most recent publications first. These are more likely to be relevant to your topic than older publications, which may no longer be applicable as far as your research is concerned.
  • Explain how each source is relevant to your topic or argument.
  • Make sure all references are properly cited.
  • Don’t forget about online journals and articles, which are becoming increasingly popular in many fields.
  • You may also want to consider using Google Scholar, which provides links to various articles from scholarly journals and books through its search engine tool.

Aims and objectives

The purpose of a research proposal's aims and objectives section is to convey what you want to achieve with your research. It may be helpful to think about this as a statement explaining what you will accomplish if your proposal is approved or funded by the granting institution.

Keep in mind that "Aims" and " Objectives" are two separate yet related terms, but both are critical elements of a research proposal.

Your aim will be the overarching purpose of the research study, usually described in the form of a single, broad statement that summarizes what you intend to achieve.

Objectives, on the other hand, are the specific actions you will take to achieve the overall aim. They are usually written as a numbered list of statements and are expected to be specific and measurable.

How many aims and objectives should you have?

A single aim statement is commonly written with 3-5 corresponding objectives underneath it.

Examples of research proposal aims and objectives

Research proposal aims and objectives examples. Credit

Significance of research

A section on the significance of your research describes the value of your work or study, particularly in terms of what makes it unique, groundbreaking, or useful.

The importance of this section depends on whether or not you can explain why your research will impact your field and even society at large. 

The goal is to show readers that they will learn something new and valuable if this project is carried out.

You can convey the significance of the study from several different perspectives.

For example, if you are conducting a study on the effects of a new drug on rats, you could highlight the economic effect, social impact, or scientific implications of your findings.

The "scientific" perspective would focus on how this new drug will impact the treatment of certain diseases or conditions.

The "economic" outlook would focus on how much money this new drug will save by reducing doctors' visits and hospitalizations.

The "social" perspective might focus on how this new drug will improve the quality of life for patients who suffer from heart disease by allowing them to live longer without the need for invasive surgeries or treatments like dialysis.

Methodology or approach

This section is important because it provides information about how you plan to carry out your research project. The primary purpose of this section is to convince readers that you have a solid plan for conducting your research and that they can trust you to do so successfully. This is often the primary concern of technical reviewers.

It’s best to divide this section into several subsections tailored to your work to make it easier to understand.

Data collection methods

Data collection methods are the tools you use to collect your data, such as surveys, interviews, focus groups, observation, or even physical measurements.

The purpose of stating these data collection methods is to show reviewers that you have identified the best and most efficient possible way to collect data for your research problem. The methods you choose should be relevant and appropriate for your study.

Data analysis methods

Use this section to explain how you plan to analyze your data so other researchers can replicate it in their studies.

Data analysis methodologies can include different statistical analyses, qualitative data analysis techniques, and mixed methods techniques.

As a result, other researchers will know precisely which methods were used so they can either agree with how specific results were obtained or disagree with them based on their own interpretations of the data.

Resources and permissions needed

This section aims to explain to the reviewer what resources you will use and why they are necessary.

You should include a list of any software, hardware, and other resources you need to conduct your research.

This information will further help the reviewer understand how much it will cost to conduct the work, who will pay for it, and the overall financial feasibility of the study.

You should also state any ethical considerations, such as obtaining consent from participants to use their data, as well as any legal considerations, like getting permission from an institution or other authority before conducting your research.

Work plan

A well-structured work plan can show the approval authority that you have considered the time and effort needed to complete your project. You can also use it to elaborate on how you will manage your time throughout the project.

This is particularly important if you are applying for funding. Most grant providers want to see that you have put thought and planning into your proposal and that it has a realistic timeline.

It's also useful for anyone else reading your submission, as they’ll be able to understand what phase in the process you are in and when any next steps will occur.

Possible risks

This section can be used to inform the reviewer when there are potential risks involved with the research. It is wise to include this information because it can reduce any panic or concerns if something goes wrong during the study.

You may want to include details such as:

  • Potential risks to participants (for example, if you're going to recruit volunteers for a clinical trial)
  • Risks for both people and animals involved with animal studies (if any)

It helps to show that you have considered all possible risks and have a plan to deal with them.

The statement should be written clearly so potential readers can understand exactly what you mean by "possible risks."

Bibliography

If you are writing a research proposal, the bibliography section is a must.

It should provide the reviewer with a list of references that you used when drafting your proposal. The information provided by these references will help readers better understand the topic as well as evaluate the quality of your submission.

When compiling a bibliography section for your document, you should follow these guidelines:

  • Use a consistent format for all entries, citing every source similarly. This will help readers find information quickly. Here's a helpful guide on formatting a bibliography.
  • Ensure that all sources are credible and trustworthy in order to assure readers that what they are reading is accurate.

General tips to polish your research proposal

The structural instructions above will get you an excellent first draft, but you can further refine your output by incorporating a few helpful tips.

Handle revisions with an open mind

If you are writing a research proposal, it is vital to plan for revisions.

Revisions are part and parcel of getting any document approved. You may be required to make changes to your proposal for multiple reasons.

No matter why revisions have been requested, here are a few valuable tips to make this process simpler for you:

  • Keep an open mind when making changes to your work.
  • If you need more time for revisions or changes, ask for it immediately after receiving instructions.
  • Keep track of all your revisions.
  • Don't be afraid to ask questions.
  • Accept help from friends and colleagues for internal review.

Maintain a professional tone

Professionalism is an essential part of any business or academic submission. It lets your readers know that you take your work seriously and that they should too.

However, maintaining a professional tone in your research proposal can be difficult. After all, it requires you to use a different vocabulary and style than you would typically use in everyday life.

You may feel that you're already on familiar terms with the person reading your proposal. However, if you're not careful, you might accidentally sound too informal or casual. This can hurt your chances of getting funding for your project and even damage your professional image.

If you find it challenging to write consistently in a professional time, you can try out this AI-powered tone changer tool.

Tone Changer tool from CopyAI

Proofread and copy edit patiently

There are countless reasons why proofreading and copy editing are essential steps in completing your research proposal.

  • To save time, effort, and money
  • To avoid embarrassment
  • To improve the quality of your research proposal document
  • To avoid plagiarism
  • To ensure that all guidelines are met

Tips to make proofreading easy for you:

  • Read your writing out loud.
  • Get another pair of eyes on it.
  • Use a style guide.
  • Run your work through a proofreading tool.

Closing remarks

The secret to writing a successful research proposal lies in thorough preparation and planning.

Only then can you be sure that your research proposal will meet reviewers’ expectations and captivate your audience so your proposal can get approved or funded successfully.

Hopefully, the guidelines listed here have helped you better understand the ins and outs of what makes a cohesive, informative research proposal.

Coming up with a research proposal is just a part of the job, but it's arguably one of the most critical components. As long as you keep this in mind, you'll be on the right track for a successful career.

If you ever feel like offloading some of the writing work in your busy research career, try out CopyAI's suite of AI-powered copywriting tools.

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