How to Write A Research Proposal

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Don’t Know How to Write a Research Proposal? Here’s Some Help

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.

  • The Title: Your title must address the “key” to your research as precisely as possible. For example: The Relationship of Specific Differentiated Programming for At-Risk Middle School Students to Academic Success and High School Graduation. This title tells the reader that you are going to study at-risk middle school students and some type of educational programming that may make them more successful and keep them I school until graduation.
  • The Introduction: One of the biggest issues in understanding how to write research proposal papers, is the introduction. Unlike an essay or basic research paper, your introduction may well be 3-4 pages long. In it, you must identify the problem you propose to address, make a clear summary of the purpose of your study, provide key definitions of terms, give a brief literature review, and then post your specific question and/or hypothesis. For the example given above, you may want to begin with some alarming statistic, such as drop-out rates of students who have been identified as at-risk during their middle school years. Such a statistic will help to point out the importance of your research.
  • Statement of the Problem: This must be clearly and succinctly written in one sentence. The ensuing paragraphs will expand upon that problem, explaining what you will be researching and briefly how your research will be conducted.
  • This section will speak to your goal – what do you hope to contribute to the field of knowledge through your research?
  • Research Design and Methodology: Hopefully, you have a pretty clear idea of how you intend to conduct your study. Will you used experimental and control groups? Will you used matched pairs? You will also want to speak to the types of instruments you may be using, even though those instruments may not yet be full designed. You will also need to present your timeframe for the study.
  • Potential Limitations and Nuisance Factors: You will need to identify these carefully and propose how you plan to deal with them. I a study of middle school at-risk students, for example, that uses a matched-pair control and experimental group, you may need to account for such things as students who move and thus destroy a matched-pair or any qualitative factors that may be difficult to quantify, such as teacher personality.
  • The Conclusion: What do you see as the potential significance of your study? Will you be able to delineate specific learning environments and methodologies that will positively impact student academic success and thus result in greater continuance to high school graduation? You need to be very clear on the potential importance of your research to the goals you have set in section 4.

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!