Research proposals are generally pieces of writing reserved for graduate and professional level programs. They are complex and difficult works and must be well-written if they are to be accepted by a professor, advisor, or dissertation committee. Most grad students are unfamiliar with how to write a research proposal because they are going into “unchartered territory.” They have never produced one before, and the proposal will speak to some original research that the student has designed – research that will add something significant to the body of knowledge in his/her field. But that research cannot be conducted until that pesky proposal is approved.
Toward a Definition: So, exactly what is a research proposal? It is probably best to think of the proposal as a small research paper with additional very specific sections. Like a research paper, it will pose a question, and it will contain a brief literature review of research related to that question. From there, however, it becomes a different “beast,” and so a brief explanation of the sections may assist you as you prepare one. One more point: At the undergraduate level you may have learned how to write a topic proposal for a research paper, so you can think of a research proposal as a massive expansion of that document.
If you are struggling with your research proposal, you have lots of help on the Internet. You can perform a simple Google search with the phrase “How to write a research proposal example in…(add your specific academic field)". You will have plenty of samples to review and use as models as you create your own!