Dorji Khandu

Being an Engineer by Profession and a Servant Leader by Passion.

The main purpose of a research proposal is to tell others that you have a worthwhile project to conduct and possess the necessary competence to carry it out. In other words, you have to tell people what you plan to do, why you want to do it, and how you are going to do it. You need to convince your reader that you have an exciting research idea and that you have a good grasp of the relevant literature, the major issues involved, and the appropriate methodologies. A good proposal need not be long. Typically, a research proposal comes in two forms,

  • A short proposal – a short paragraph to identify the project
  • A long proposal – a formal, multiple page-report that provides background information, your rationale for conducting the study, a review of literature, methods, and conclusions. This type of a proposal runs anywhere between 20 to 40 double-spaced pages.


The Short Proposal

 This identifies the following,

  • The specific topic
  • The preliminary thesis sentence or opening hypothesis (research need), intended audience (general or specialized)
  • The purpose of the proposed work (explain, analyze and argue)
  • The outcome and the constraints


The Long Proposal

Cover Page:

This is optional depending on the length of the report. This should include the title, your name, and the person or agency to whom you are submitting the proposal. Also, the date of submission has to be clearly stated.


It should be concise and descriptive. For example, the phrase, “An investigation of . . .” could be omitted. Try to make the title catchy; a good title not only pricks the reader’s interest, but also predisposes him/her favourably towards the proposal.


It is a brief summary of approximately 300 words. It should include the research question, the rationale for the study, the hypothesis (if any), and the method. Descriptions of the method should include the design, procedures, the sample, and any instruments that will be used.


The main purpose of the introduction is to define the context and boundaries of your proposed research. Therefore, it will begin with a general statement of the problem area and conclude with a specific research question (purpose statement). You need to explain why you are interested in selecting a particular topic. The introduction should cover the following elements:

  • A general statement or description of the research problem, which could be an empirical or theoretical issue. It could also be a technical or non-technical problem. The best approach is to ask a single, important question that can be answered through the proposed research.
  • The background of the problem. It should set the stage or provide the context of the research problem. It should provide both the historical background and the contemporary scene, encompassing all the key players and their major publications. In other words, it should paint the research question in broad brushes and cite representative studies.
  • A brief description of the major theoretical models related to the research problem, indicating the theoretical perspective you have chosen or developed for your study.
  • Identification of the key independent and dependent variables.
  • A clear statement of the purpose and rationale of your research, indicating why the study is worth doing.
  • A statement of hypotheses and an explanation for your predictions. However, for exploratory or experiential types of research, you may not have any hypotheses.

Literature Review:

This is optional. This may be incorporated within the introduction if the report is not very long and descriptive. This section provides a more detailed and critical review of the literature directly bearing on the proposed research. For example, you should evaluate various theories in the light of available research findings. You should also examine the relevant literature related to the key variables, research instruments. Your scholarship will be in question if you fail to cite some of the influential studies or misread the papers you have cited.

Try to use sub-headings to organize your literature review in a logical and meaningful way. For example, having established the importance of your research area and its current state of development, you may devote several subsections to such issues as: theoretical models, measuring instruments, gender differences, etc. Each subsection should represent a major aspect of your proposed research. For each segment, you need to critically examine relevant literature. The purpose of the literature review is to demonstrate your knowledge and understanding of the problem area, as well as justify your study. You need to convince your reader that your proposed research will make a significant and substantial contribution to the field (i.e. resolve an important theoretical issue or fill a gap in the literature).


  1. Describes the design of the proposed study.
  2. Describes your population and sampling procedure.
  3. Describes the measuring instrument to be used.
  4. Describes the procedure and the time frame of data collection.
  5. Describes how you will analyze the data.

You need to demonstrate your knowledge of alternative methods and make the case that your approach is most appropriate for your research question. You also need to explain why you choose a particular sample of subjects.

Please note that your research question may be best answered by qualitative research. Since there are no well-established canons in qualitative analysis, your method section needs to be more elaborate than what is required for traditional quantitative research.


States both the significance and limitations of the proposed research. You need to communicate a sense of enthusiasm without exaggerating the merits of your proposal.


Common Mistakes in Proposal Writing

  1. Failure to provide the proper context to frame the research question.
  2. Failure to delimit the boundary conditions for your research.
  3. Failure to cite landmark studies.
  4. Failure to accurately present the theoretical and empirical contributions by other researchers.
  5. Failure to stay focused on the research question.
  6. Failure to develop a coherent and persuasive argument for the proposed research.
  7. Too much detail on minor issues, but not enough detail on the essentials.
  8. The proposal is not well-organized. For example, some materials are mentioned two or three times in different sections of the proposal. The most common organizational weakness is that the proposal goes “all over the map” without a clear sense of direction. The best proposals move forward with ease and grace like a seamless river.
  9. The writing is neither clear nor concise.