Writing a research proposal


You might be asked to write a research proposal for a course assignment, a dissertation or thesis, or a funded project.

Writing a research proposal can be particularly challenging because proposals tend not to be public documents, so you may not have seen an example. Also, proposals are written for a variety of purposes and audiences, so there is more than one acceptable format.

This guide provides an introduction to writing a proposal, to help you make some decisions about the type of proposal you need to produce.

(If you prefer, there is also a PDF version of this page: Writing a research proposal)


Why write a research proposal ?

A research proposal is an essential step in any research project.

It helps you, as a researcher, to:

proposal image

What is the reader looking for in your proposal ?

Your research proposal helps your supervisor and faculty (and, sometimes, a funding body) to:

  • assess the worth of the proposed research
  • assess your capacity to complete the research
  • assess the institution’s capacity to support the research

So, the proposal must convince the reader of two things:

  • that the research is worthwhile
  • that the research is feasible

The reader will ask themselves a series of questions as they are reading – so, you need to ensure your proposal provides answers to questions such as these:

propsal image 2



Developing the structure

The proposal should include three key elements:

  • what you intend to do
  • why you intend to do it
  • how you intend to do it

The exact format for the proposal varies amongst faculties; your faculty will have specific guidelines and/or a template, and may have example proposals.

Regardless of the format, most research proposals contain:

Research proposals

Some sample proposal outlines

Some sample proposal outlines

Tips & Resources

Tips from proposal writers

Tips from proposal writers

More resources

The Lincoln University Library has an extensive collection to help you write a research proposal. For example:

Divan, A. (2009). Communication skills for the biosciences. Oxford: OUP. [Q223 Diva 2009]

  • Focuses on the sciences; includes annotated examples of proposals

Hart, C. (2005). Doing your masters dissertation. London: Sage. [LB2369 Har 2005]

  • Focuses on social sciences; includes annotated examples of proposals

Locke, L. F., Spirduso, W. W., & Silverman, S. J. (2007). Proposals that work: A guide for planning dissertations and grant proposals (5th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. [Q180.55.P7 Loc]

  • Provides detailed advice on writing proposals

McNiff, J. (2009). Doing and writing action research London: Sage. [LB1028.2 Mac 2009]

  • Advice on writing proposals for action research; includes examples

Paltridge, B., & Starfield, S. (2007). Thesis and dissertation writing in a second language: A handbook for supervisors. London: Routledge. [LB2369 Pal 2007]

  • Detailed advice on structure and language

(NB. Resources on research methods usually provide advice on proposals)


There are also many resources available online. For example:

The Research Proposal

  • A video from Massey University explaining how to write a proposal

For a range of scholarship opportunities check the Scholarships page