Writing the research proposal

Writing a research proposal

A research proposal is a more detailed description of the project you are going to undertake. Some departments want you to submit a research proposal as part of a separate module before you start your project, but it is worth preparing one even if it is not a formal requirement of your course. It should build on the thinking that you have done in defining your research problem; on the discussions that you have had with your supervisor; and on early reading that you have done on the topic. A comprehensive research proposal will make you think through exactly what it is that you are going to do, and will help you when you start to write up the project.

You could try outlining your project under the following headings (Booth, Williams, & Colomb, 2008. The craft of research. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.):

  • Topic: this project will study...  
  • Question or problem: to find out...
  • Significance: so that more will be known about... 
  • Primary resources: the main data will be...
  • Secondary sources: additional data comes from... 
  • Methods: the research will be conducted as follows...
  • Justification: the method is most appropriate because...
  • Limitations: there are some matters that this methodology may not help me to explain. These might include... 

You may find that some of these headings are difficult to fill in right at the start of your project. However, you can use the gaps to help identify where you need to begin work. If, for example, you are unsure about the limitations of your methodology you should talk to your supervisor and read a bit more about that methodology before you start.