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:
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:
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:
Some sample proposal outlines
Tips & Resources
Tips from proposal writers
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:
- A video from Massey University explaining how to write a proposal
For a range of scholarship opportunities check the Scholarships page